G.I. Joe: The (Un) American Hero?

Published 6 years ago by , Updated August 6th, 2012 at 5:18 pm,

gi joe history G.I. Joe: The (Un) American Hero?

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:


gi joe original action man figures G.I. Joe: The (Un) American Hero?

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?


gijoe real american hero G.I. Joe: The (Un) American Hero?

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.

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  1. I can see his point and to an extent I agree with him. I mean look at Superman Returns even. “Does he still stand for Truth Justice and all that other stuff.” Hell when Spiderman 3 came out there was a controversy over the fact that near the end when he is back in red he swings by a building with an American Flag on it. We are certainly in a very anti America time to the point where you have to edit pro america things out of films just to get people to watch it. This makes me very worried about the Captain America film and how far will they go in that movie. They will have to walk a fine line to not be to pro america while not stripping away what makes Cap who he is. I can promise you that when he hits the present times we will see him start to hate his country and become disgruntled. Pro America will work in WW2, but when he hits the 21st Century people won’t want to see someone pro America on the big screen.

    Still I would be less concerned about dropping the pro america stuff and more concerned that GI Joe looks like the worst major release of the year. My guess is that Transformers when all is said and done will be considered better than GI Joe which looks like absolute crap.

  2. Oh boy…by ‘niggy’ I meant ‘biggy.’ My bad.

  3. With the reasoning of diluting the “America” brand for overseas consumption, I really do worry what they might do to Captain America to make him/the movie more palatable to overseas markets.

    Heck, with attitudes today, how will they make the squeaky clean, all-American character appeal to U.S. audiences? 8)


  4. Captain America to be renamed Captain Planet? Thank goodness that name is already taken. Phew.

  5. Actually, I see all of this working VERY WELL for a Captain America film. Think about it: how would a Captain America frozen in the ice for so long react and deal with the America that we have today? The attacks on September 11th? Having a Black Commander-in-Chief?

    If they take their time, do it right and have the balls to really take on those subjects, Captain America could be an incredible film.

  6. @OllieJ

    Good point, and I think Captain America would be wildly proud to see a black President.


  7. Yeah as already said, GI Joe was Action Force over here. (I have some toy figures and comics hidden about still).
    So they have done it before. The real problem would be if it was very pro-american and then was a crap movie. It would be ridiculed then.

    As for Cap America, that has to be flag waving. Anything else would just look wrong. People will care more about the quality of the movie anyway. They should.

  8. Seems G.I. Joe has bigger problems. I understand the studio isn’t showing it to critics. Never a good sign.

  9. OllieJ The problem is I don’t see them doing it that way. I see them turning Cap away from America when he enters the present. He’s a good guy and good guys can’t love America at least not todays America. That seems to be the general census. They will probably have cap screaming about an unjustified war or Gutanimo Bay.

  10. The only problem I have is Snake Eyes shooting a gun. Im a child of the 80s, and from what I saw of GI Joe was a multi ethnic group of heroes which wasn’t Sidekick from Japan anyway?

  11. @Vic: I’m sure he would be as well. I think he’d be tremendously proud.

    @Daniel F: I agree with you unfortunately. His confliction would be too heavy for a summer block-buster, but it would be an amazing film. And good guys can and do love America.

    (Remember, in the midst of all the terrible things that have been committed beneath our flag, we still managed to elect an African-American as President. My history knowledge is lacking, but I doubt any other country outside of African countries can make that claim.)

  12. As long as the Joes behave heoricallyare are not “Secret Renegade officers of The Guantanamo Project” or something like that I will be fine .

  13. While I’m proud we were able to elect a black president I’m not at all proud of the man we elected. Sadly I think while we made a revolutionary choice we also made a bad one. I don’t really want to go on and on about how we elected an african american I’d rather just elect someone worth a damn regardless of sex or color.

  14. I think it was a slow news day for a conservative talking head. Maybe he realizes that people are tired of hearing the haterade they point at Obama and the rest of the Dems. So now they have to find something else to attack as “un-American.” It’s a movie, gimme a break.

  15. What we are forgetting is that today’s America stands for something completely different than in the 60’s. Hell, we even stand for different things than in the 80’s. We now police the world so that all people regardless of nationality can live in a free and democratic society. So by creating an international team which I have heard all speak correct English with very little accent they are representing the new diverse America; that expands life, liberty and pursuit of happiness to the world’s citizens.

    As far as Captain America goes the movie should highlight the patriotism that he sparked in the 1940’s. And if you haven’t read the Civil War books from Marvel, Captain America became an outlaw and acted against the government to defend his views of what America should stand for. Which is really the issue at hand. We each have a different opinion on what America stands for. So who is to say that something expressing it’s patriotism is unamerican when really the berating of said object is unamerican.

  16. In your long, drawn out article defending a movie whose very trailers make one cringe, you failed to mention the Latino Review article where the producer admitted throwing the director OUT of the editing booth after it scored lower in test screenings THAN ANY OTHER MOVIE IN PARAMOUNT HISTORY. Instead, you give us a long article describing a live action “Team America: World Police.” We’re not that lucky.

  17. Keith,
    The movie will speak for itself.
    No need to bash it.

  18. @Daniel F: Political preferences aside, my point was in response to the “good guys can’t love America, at least today’s America” comment.

    Captain America is a good guy AND he loves America, which is still less than three centuries old, even when it may not be exactly how he remembers it or it should be. He would still love it and still be willing to fight for the principles upon which it was founded.

    I think a terrific film could be had if those themes were explored.

  19. It’s good to read an article by someone who’s familiar with the full scope of G.I. Joe history! Here’s what I wrote about this very subject on my own blog recently:

    “The international composition of the team doesn’t bother me at all. There are other, far more important things wrong with this movie – foremost among them being that it looks like an Austin Powers sequel. So whether or not a few of the C- and D-list actors in the cast are butchering their lines with bad foreign accents is the least of my concerns.

    “Besides, in its heyday, G.I. Joe was marketed as an international team all over the world. In Europe, for example, G.I. Joe was merged with a British toyline called ‘Action Force,’ which had an international roster. In Asia, G.I. Joe was marketed under the name ‘G.I. Joe: International Heroes.’ You get the idea. As far as much of the world is concerned, G.I. Joe is an international team, and always has been. So some of us Americans just need to get over it.”

    In a sense, just adding to what NHOJ said.

  20. The excuse of removing Americanism to make it globally acceptable is a farce. Iron Man made plenty of money worldwide, so did The Dark Knight, though it’s Americanism was less pronounced. Spider Man trilogy made tons of money overseas and featured the web slinger proudly swinging against the American Flag.

    It’s also incredibly naive to suggest these companies are interested in making money. 12 anti-Iraq war flops say differently. I would say 13 including Hurt Locker, but they at least tried to pretend it was apolitical. They are interested in making money only if it fits their narrow ideology and there are only a couple of exceptions where pro-American sentiment slipped through the censors.

    I think they will have toned down the pro-American sentiment while keeping a little of it in to pay lip service to those who still love our country. It makes sense, like the director said, “It’s an Obama world.” Maybe we can get a bailout to pay for some movie tickets. They might specify which movies we can see, but hey, I don’t need that freedom either.

  21. This a thread about GI Joe, lets not go off topic (Perhaps you fine folk at Screen Rant could write a separate article about how The Cap’s movie might fair in the current world climate??)

    back on topic I think the internationalization (is that a word?) of GI Joe is a necessity to appeal to the world at large, like it or not the world is becoming more and more unified (except for those rapscallions over in the middle east god bless their socks) its only a matter of time before we eliminate the pesky need for sleep and can market on a global scale on international time with an international currency

    in reference to the aforementioned film, i was never a GI joe fan, too busy with transformers xmen and spiderman, but knowing nothing about GI Joes history i think this movie looks pretty cool

  22. OllieJ I think a great film could be made, but I think it will be to important to the people involved to distance them selves from doing something pro america in any way. That is the current trend for the film industry in general.

  23. @Daniel F: Certainly so. With the economy being what it is, movie studios are having to rely on those international dollars to really make a solid profit. I think that’s the point Donny/Danny/loud-talking-guy was trying to make lol

  24. I don’t really mind the un-Americanization of G.I. Joe, and I even was a big fan of the cartoon. Here’s the deal… as a grown-up, I don’t buy into the idea of G.I. Joe. Politically speaking, something like G.I. Joe just going into foreign countries without any real permission or what not just couldn’t happen. It doesn’t work that way… not without consequences. Of course, that very argument for making the concept of G.I. Joe more “realistic” probably doesn’t carry much weight when applied to a Stephen Sommers film. haha

  25. Oh, and I gotta add… the male anchor in that interview seemed like an absolute jerk. I found it difficult not to want to agree with Miller just because of that. Compared the anchor, he seemed rather reasonable.

  26. @Bill: Agreed. That’s Donny Deutsch for you.

  27. The whole idea to me as a kid of GI Joe was tha they were these everyday guys who were American Heros..that one day I too could become like Hawk or Duke or Flint and be a hero. It was why i played with the toys and read the comics. When u saw GI Joe u thought America!!!!

  28. MSNBC might consider itself a major news network
    but it is more like the Ministry of Disinformation.
    The argument is lost once you call someone
    ignorant because you cannot answer
    the question repeatedly asked.

    The neutering of G.I. Joe may please
    the media elites but I doubt it
    will please any audiences.

    The limp-wristed political correctness
    surrounding this new production is
    a profile in filmmaking cowardice.

    I’ll be rooting for this film’s failure.

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