Tuesday, January 31, 2006

welcome to the dome

The Pseudoviolence of the Fusion Dome
By Valerie Welch (guest blogger)

This Christmas, my six-year-old son wanted two things. The first was a Sponge Bob beach ball. His old beach ball, given to him by his Granny, met its untimely demise in a family game of “Throw the beach ball inside as hard as you can.” His second request was rather mysterious; known only to him and his father, it was referred to as “the set.” Cooper and Chad saw this toy at Wal-Mart, but neither has a knack for memorization of details such as the actual name of the toy. Here’s what I first learned about “the set”:

1. It was a toy.
2. It was at Wal-Mart.
3. It had “men” that “came together.”

Now, this description was about all that my husband or son could come up with. I didn’t worry about it too much, trusting my husband to at least be able to visually identify “the set” and intervene with the North Pole accordingly.

To get even closer to Santa that year, we went to the eighth floor of Marshall Field’s in Minneapolis to see the holiday display and speak to the big man himself. After a long wait in line with some other children’s overzealous grandmother breathing down our necks, Cooper finally got to hop aboard the old man’s lap and answer the traditional question: “So, what do you want for Christmas?”

With a conspiratorial smile, Cooper raised his little hand to his mouth and related in a stage whisper, “I want a set.”

“Ohhh…a set. A set of what?”

“Of the men. That come together.”

Santa gives a jolly, yet slightly questioning glance to us, the proud parents waiting in the wings beside Brittany, the teenage elf photographer. We nod and smile knowingly...we are aware of the meaning of “the set.” All is well. Cooper and Santa briefly discuss the Sponge Bob beach ball, then we’re off to watch the Holidazzle parade.

On Christmas Day, I discovered at long last the true identity of “the set.” It is a toy made by Fisher-Price known as the Fusion Dome. This consists of a plastic, stage-like apparatus, upon which various plastic beings are set. The beings are each part of their own gang, posse, or “Fusion Crew.” There’s the animal crew and the monster crew. Each creature has the same “tough-guy” stance, with arms braced for action and legs slightly bent at the knees. The figurines also have the unique talent of splitting in half, down the middle of the body, in what we would call in medicine the mid-sagittal plane. The creatures then are able to merge the right halves of their bodies with the left halves of other creatures bodies, creating an entirely new beast by means of strategically placed magnets.

This is where Fisher-Price cleverly appeals to a young boy’s zeal for testosterone-laden violence, yet skirts the actual appearance or mention of such. Any given beast and his “opponent” are placed on the stage and covered with a semi-opaque hemisphere—The Fusion Dome. Next, the “opponents” are “challenged” to a “match.” Again, note the lack of words such as “fight.” Lights start to flash, and we hear the figurines grunting and crying out—yet we do not see any actual hits, kicks, or blows whatsoever. After a few minutes, one beast is declared the winner, and the other is quickly dumped down a miniature plastic tunnel to make space for the next “challenger.”

I find this concept in male-oriented toys intriguing, and at the same time confusing. Is this promoting violence, or providing a safe, relatively non-violent way for children to express their natural desire for competition and aggression? Is this a “starter drug” for more violent games and toys later in life, or a more positive alternative? At any rate, my son loves playing with it, and actually is much more interested in combining the half-figurines in various permutations than conducting “matches.” Eternal questions, therefore, have surfaced in my household about the nature of masculinity, violence, aggression, and competition—all because of “the set, where the men come together.”

Virtual Fusion Dome


margaret said...

Masculinity, violence, aggression... believe me, I understand. Linus has uttered (in the same breath) "Mom, you're the prettiest girl in the whole universe...can we do the lightsaber fight where I cut your arms and legs off?"

Chris Good said...