Accessibility navigation

Representing violence, playing control: warring constructions of masculinity in Action Man toys

Bignell, J. ORCID: (2016) Representing violence, playing control: warring constructions of masculinity in Action Man toys. In: Wesseling, E. (ed.) The Child Savage, 1890–2010. From Comics to Games. Ashgate Studies in Childhood, 1700 to the Present. Routledge, London, pp. 189-202. ISBN 9781409455981

Text - Accepted Version
· Please see our End User Agreement before downloading.


It is advisable to refer to the publisher's version if you intend to cite from this work. See Guidance on citing.


This chapter analyses how children, and especially boys, are constructed as ‘savage’ in relation to warlike toys and representations that narrate particular versions of conflict, such as war and terrorism. The chapter uses Action Man toys as a case study that is contextualized against a wider background of other toys, television programmes and films. Action Man is most familiar as a twelve-inch costumed toy figure, but the brand also extends into related media representations such as television programmes, comics and advertising. The chapter focuses increasingly on the specifics of Action Man representations produced from the 1960s to the 1990s, prefacing this detailed discussion with some examples of transmedia texts aimed at children in film and television. This chapter suggests that making the toy a central object of analysis allows for insights into representations of the gendered body that are particularly useful for work on the child-savage analogy. Some of the cultural meanings of war toys, warlike play and representations of war that can be analysed from this perspective include their role in the construction of masculine identity, their representation of particular wars and warlikeness in general, and their relationship to consumer society. This complex of meanings exhibits many of the contradictions that inhabit the construction of ‘the child’ in general, such as that the often extreme masculinity of war toys and games is countered by an aesthetic of spatial disposition, collecting and sometimes nurturing that is more conventionally feminine. Such inter-dependent but apparently opposed meanings can also be seen in the construction of the child as untainted by adult corruption yet also savage, or as in need of adult guidance yet also offering a model of innocence and purity that adults are expected to admire.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Arts and Communication Design > Film, Theatre & Television
ID Code:64337
Uncontrolled Keywords:Child childhood children toy play violence doll


Downloads per month over past year

University Staff: Request a correction | Centaur Editors: Update this record

Page navigation