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.
THE NEWEST RECRUITS
If you are too young to be served at a bar (or are just that much of a fan), then the G.I. Joe you’re probably most familiar with is the more recent comic book incarnation that was launched after A Real American Hero faded from memory. Passed between several comic book publishers (who each did various spin-offs or miniseries), the main run of the revamped G.I. Joe comics was done by indie comic book publisher Devil’s Due, from 2001 through 2008. That G.I. Joe comic expanded the series universe to include things like mystical ninja clans (Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow’s backstory), while also broadening the scope of the series to have more international relevance. Since the conclusion of the Devil’s Due series, comic publisher IDW launched a new G.I. Joe comic book last year, which is still in publication.
I tried to read the comics a few times (the Devil’s Due and the IDW versions), but have yet to be engaged. In the end, it’s just not MY G.I. Joe, though it had undeniably been built on the foundation of that 80s incarnation.
(NOT) AMERICAN HEROES???
…Which brings us back around to this feature film adaptation of G.I. Joe. As we reported when we first got word on the movie, The Rise of Cobra borrows many of its elements (the look, the backstories for certain characters) from the more modern version of the comic books. Sure, there are many characters we recognize but even for us 80s kids, the notion of “accelerator suits” or the Joes as a worldwide special ops force – even some of the ninja backstory between Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) – is somewhat new and unfamiliar.
But so what – it’s a movie. A blockbuster movie. A blockbuster movie that is supposed to play all over the world. Of COURSE there were going to be changes – changes that not only reflect the studio’s desire to make a buck in the global market, but also updates that are needed to reflect the changed attitudes toward the military, military engagement, terrorism, a “globalized” modern age, etc… etc…
John Miller complaining that this new film version doesn’t honor the original “patriotic” G.I. Joe is pointless. It’s like me complaining (as an 80s G.I. Joe kid) that the film is using realistic weaponry instead of silly red and blue lasers.
More to the point: Miler’s complaints skip over the fact that G.I. Joe has been an evolving entity for going on half a century now! While this big-screen version has been the most drastic conversion of G.I. Joe – from “Real American Hero” to “Everybody’s Hero” – it is by no means the first time such a move has been attempted.
In fact, if anyone cares to dig around, they would find that in the late sixties, in face of all the anti-Vietnam sentiment that was sweeping across America, Hasbro sought to downplay the toy’s military origins by renaming the line “The Adventures of G.I. Joe” and eventually, “Adventure Team.” The toys were relaunched in the early 70s as a team of vaguely military adventurers, all so Hasbro could continue to make a buck at a time when public sentiment had turned against their product.
So what is so different today, when Hasbro (yes, the same company) is once again re-envisioning G.I. Joe in order to sell this film at a time when public sentiment (now across the world) is once again not in favor of their product? Had Hasbro taken a hard stand and NOT changed with the times would G.I. Joe or its “patriotic” origins once again be at the forefront of American culture?
Bottom Line: Companies like making money and NOTHING is, or has ever been, too sacred for them to toss aside in order to put a newer, shiner, more widely-appealing version in its place. What could be more American, than the notion of making a profit by repackaging something old?
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra will be in theaters this Friday. Wait to see it (or don’t) and let us know what you think about this whole American/Un-American debate in the comments.
Source: Progress Not Congress via You Tube