Death Row Marv is sitting on my desk, strapped to an electric chair, staring at me. This "toy," marketed for kids ages 13 years old and up, came from a local comic book store. It's a half-foot-tall replica of a violent character created by surly graphic artist Frank Miller.
I feel sick just looking at this prison-gray chunk of plastic. And I haven't even installed the batteries. These are the times that make you long for the good old days of Cabbage Patch Kids and Betsy Wetsy dolls.
Death Row Marv can move his neck, shoulders, waist and wrists. He comes with "the chair, wired helmet, floorboards and electrocuting switch." For $23.95, you, too, can purchase the "deluxe box set" and share the cheap thrill of executing a murderer: "Feel the burn as the electric buzz fills the room and he starts to shake and convulse," an ad promotion for Death Row Marv beckons. "Experience the pain as the shaking continues and his eyes start to glow bright red. Enjoy the torment as he utters his famous last words, 'Is that the best you can do, you pansies?'"
American kids squeal with delight when they encounter Death Row Marv in toy stores. Todd McFarlane, an action figure entrepreneur based in Arizona, rolled out the macabre novelty item earlier this summer. According to one newspaper account, 65,000 Marv dolls have been produced and sold in the United States. There are waiting lists across the country.
McFarlane says the toy is "cool." Lighten up, Marv fans tell their critics. I am not interested in seeing Marv toys or comic books banned by government, and of course it is parents' responsibility to monitor what their children buy and read. But have we grown so accustomed to bloodlust marketed as youthful entertainment that nothing is beyond the bounds of good taste?
The National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children is one of the few groups that has objected to Death Row Marv. "Is this the type of toy we want our children playing with?" the group asked in a recent alert. "What will they come up with next -- a rape doll, complete with bottles of 'blood'? How about an incest doll? Why isn't murder just as disgusting as these two examples?"
Death penalty supporters should be just as sickened by Marv as death penalty opponents. The power of the State to punish is both its greatest and worst power of all. Mockery of that power is mockery of the administration of justice -- and it is all too common.
In suburban Maryland, there's an arcade ride called "The Original Shocker" that simulates the electric chair, down to the morbid detail of smoke rising from the top of the rider's head. In Texas, the state Department of Criminal Justice posts final meal requests on the Internet for readers' amusement: "Two double meat cheeseburgers (all the way with mayo and mustard), fries, fried chicken (well-done), chocolate cake, onion rings, a pint of vanilla ice cream, and a six pack of Sprite," one entry on the voyeuristic site reads.
Conservative columnist George Will notes that "capital punishment, like the rest of the criminal justice system, is a government program, so skepticism is in order." So, also, is a sense of sobriety and self-restraint. The National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children has a simple request: "If you are as disgusted with McFarlane Toys as we are, and wish to let them know that murder is not entertainment, you can contact them at: Todd McFarlane Productions, P.O. Box 27228, Tempe, Ariz. 85285-7228."
Help put market pressure on manufacturers to pull the plug on tasteless humor for profit. It's not soft on crime to be tough on those who treat the death penalty as a joke.