G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is the big summer tentpole of the week and of course, with the premiere of the film comes all the attention uninformed mainstream networks try to pile on at the eleventh hour.
In regards to G.I. Joe, it was an inevitable that we would eventually have to hear one particular voice of dissent speaking up: Those who think that G.I. Joe has been stripped of the ‘Americanness’ that once made it great. I wouldn’t call this news, per se, but it definitely made it onto a major news network (MSNBC), so if you haven’t seen it, take a look at the video before we get into the lengthy debate:
The guy crying foul in the video is John Miller from the Conservative publication National Review. Now before you dogpile Mr. Miller and start tearing him down for expressing his opinion (as it is), let’s at least consider his point of view:
THE OLD DAWGS
If you’re over the age of 45, then you’re probably ancient old enough to remember the days when G.I. Joe was a 12″ “Action Man” figurine inspired by WWII soldiers (with some Korean War influences thrown in the mix). The original toy line – launched by Hasbro in 1964 – included four figures corresponding to the four branches of the U.S. Military (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines). Accessory packs (or “blades” for you old-timers) were sold separately, allowing kids to customize each “Joe” with the “blades” they purchased. If that sounds like Barbie for boys, that’s because it was.
This early incarnation of G.I. Joe was unapologetically an American icon and a proud military warrior crafted in homage of those who were out there in the world, fighting the good fight on behalf of the U.S. And that depiction is exactly what guys like John Miller remember: It is the core essence he feels has been lost from the G.I. Joe franchise with it’s new international scope and ‘Robocop-style’ outfits.
And while it might be easy to say “Let it go, dad,” just take a minute first and think about all the beloved staples of YOUR childhood that have been “ruined” by Hollywood in the last couple years (or will be ruined in the next few years to come). Suddenly it’s easy to sympathize with the cranky old-timers, isn’t it?
THE 80s BRIGADE
Yes G.I. Joe got his start as an over-sized, pro-military, knock-off Barbie doll, but what really turned the franchise into a permanent cultural fixture (and a cash-cow for Hasbro) is undoubtedly the G.I. Joe resurgence of the 80s, which turned a whole new generation (mine) onto the franchise and also coined the phrase “A Real American Hero.”
The 80s G.I. Joe came in the form of “modern” action figures (3.75″ short now), and a toy line that included vehicles, accessories and massive play sets. Hasbro also pioneered new strategies in merchandising with G.I. Joe, marketing the toy line while simultaneously launching other media ventures. These included an accompanying Marvel comic book series and, of course, two installments (1985-87, 1989-91) of an uber-popular cartoon series (and one legendary cartoon movie), which helped lure millions of young kids (me included) into the revamped world of G.I. Joe and their nemesis, an evil terrorist organization known as Cobra.
If you’re between the ages of 20-40, then G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero is probably the G.I. Joe you’re familiar with. Names like Duke, Scarlett, Lady J, Hawk, Snake Eyes, Cobra Commander, Baroness, Destro, Zartan, Serpentor or (my fav) Sgt. Slaughter are ones you know and love – and you certainly know all about epic gunfights using red and blue lasers.
That’s MY G.I. Joe.