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Babes in Warland
Babes in Warland
By Victoria Harper
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Friday 02 September 2005
The toddlers were at the pizza parlor to celebrate Kristina's 3rd birthday. A dozen youngsters jumped and clapped their hands as a giant rat, Chuck E. Cheese, came out to greet them. The Iraq War was far from my mind.
If you have never been to Chuck E. Cheese, it is a mix of carnival and play park, with so-so pizza, lots of video games, coin operated kiddie rides, and arcade games like ski ball. The place is designed for 2- to 10-year-olds, with occasional adults playing the games. There is even a designated play area for babies. I was escorting 4 little boys for the evening, to free their parents for a night out without the children.
A birthday party in progress caught my attention, and I watched the children clapping and singing. The stage above the little party was equipped with a number of seven-foot-tall animated puppets. From time to time, they would move around to music, shifting their eyes from side to side and batting their eyelashes. They all sang "Happy Birthday to You" and clapped their hands. The ringing of the bells and sounds of children playing the arcade games provided the background to the animated show, which ran for about 15 minutes, ending with Chuck E. Cheese walking about the room to greet the tiny children, who were thrilled to meet him.
When the birthday party settled into eating pizza and birthday cake, a second feature began. A series of large screen TVs came to life to show Chuck E. Cheese TV. The program was, at first, MTV-like. Performers in large animal garb sang and danced through an idyllic scene with herons and alligators. A man clad in a blazing yellow shirt and red vest skipped across the screen, singing and snapping his fingers to the lively music. The scene shifted to a person dressed in a dog costume fishing in the lake with 3- and 4-year-old children and then shifted again from pictures of the children to mothers holding small babies. Although it was disjointed and a bit crazed, it was what one might expect at Chuck E Cheese.
Then my jaw dropped: the MTV segment shifted to a promotional piece compiled by the Department of Defense! The promo showed happy, smiling soldiers in Iraq handing out toys and candies to delighted children. This was followed by a series of scenes showing war planes, tanks and more happy soldiers. This production lasted for 5 minutes of the 15-minute CEC TV show. Throughout the segment, the large animated puppets' eyes shifted toward the TV as they nodded in approval and clapped. Then their eyes shifted back to the children, who were spellbound by the movie.
Several telephone calls I made to Chuck E. Cheese headquarters were not answered. Finally reaching someone at the local outlet, one of over 500 company owned and operated locations, I learned that the CEC TV show was a regular part of the offerings at all CEC sites and that it was run a number of times during each day.
I was stunned. Chuck E. Cheese, a place for 3-year-olds to have a birthday party, was playing promo films for military recruitment to the babies and their "youngish" parents! The problems with military recruiting in high school and middle school have been well documented, but now the Pentagon is targeting an even younger group!