My friend and colleague Anna sent me the video below, filmed at an Adventure Playground in America.
I found it unsettling even before it loaded, because my slow internet connection gave me plenty of time to consider the other videos suggested for me in the sidebar. They all featured guns, and they all had phrases like “World War Three” and End Times.
For the benefit of any Brits reading this who aren’t up on American Christian fundamentalism, end times are politically charged stuff…. My first reaction was to recoil, and shiver. I wondered where this Adventure Playground was – there are so very few in the US, but was this presumably super-right wing family in Berkeley, of all places? There are some very conservative parts of California state, but still. My thoughts kept cycling round, unable to progress.
Aren’t I supposed to be cool about gun play? I asked myself questions in fast rounds. Don’t I advocate for children’s right to run and fight and shout and blow things up all the time? Don’t I understand that children are raised all over the world in beliefs and values very different to my own? Isn’t my academic background in anthropology? So why was I so thrown?
It’s in part because adults are lifting these moments from their context, for their own enjoyment and agendas. Children’s gun play being appropriated and valorized, glamorized, feels as inappropriate as a video of girls playing dress up put to a background of stripper music.
I’m also, like Anna was, concerned about the associations that the largely unknown phrase “Adventure Playground” might gather for an American audience. In a deeply divided country, children’s right to play ought to be a true cross-party issue.
But then, these conversations happen whenever children’s play comes against adult prejudices and concerns.
Just look at the photo below, taken by Hadi Mizban of the AP. Whether you find it disturbing is probably related to how you already feel about children playing with guns, whether you know that these children are in Iraq and playing a hostage game, and whether, like me, you’re wondering if the smallest child is crying because he doesn’t want to play – or because it was ‘his turn’ to hold the gun.