Wednesday, September 06, 2006


As I mentioned in the previous entry, G.I. Joe and I were born in the same year. Consequently, I have no memory of Joe as the hot new toy. He just always seemed to be there. Even in my earliest memories I already owned two or three Joes with various costumes and accessories. Accessories such as canteens, hand grenades, ammo belts, and the like peppered our basement floor. I recall the clunky, wooden footlocker with the diagram stuck inside to show which compartment each accessory was supposed to go into. Of course, I never bothered with that, choosing instead to simply cram the stuff in and force the metal latch shut before my mother screamed for the third time to come to dinner.

I had the basic Army outfit with requisite Colt .45 and M-1 rifle, along with the dress Marine uniform with that funny white rifle. Specialty outfits like the scuba suit, deep sea diving suit, and the Air Force flight suit came along later. There was even a German G.I. Joe with a German uniform. My friends and I tortured that doll mercilessly, punching holes in its chest and smacking it across the room like we were trying to force him to tell us the latest Nazi plans.

That was a strange phenomenon right there. Watching World War II movies and t.v. shows like The Rat Patrol and Combat, I think we kids had a sense that war was this great adventure which all young men would experience like a rite of passage. In my early brain, I thought that there was always a war going on so that young men could go fight in it. My dad was in the Army while there was a war in some place called Korea, and there was this Viet Nam war on the television every night. There had to be wars so the armed services could stay employed. I had no sense of danger, since only the bad guys died, and the U.S. was always the good guys. Such was the naiveté of youth.

No wonder parents groups were pushing the toy companies to get war toys off the market. Although the creation of G.I. Joe was motivated primarily by the success of Barbie, I see G.I. Joe as an interim step toward de-militarizing boys' toys. My brother played with toy guns and rifles, some of which fired real ammo in the form of plastic or rubber bullets. There was no doubt that these toys were making the connection that shooting other humans could be a form of recreation. G.I. Joe took the concept to a slightly more abstract level: action figures killing other action figures. Kids were no longer aiming weapons at each other; one kid’s G.I. Joe aimed a rifle or pistol at another kid’s G.I. Joe. Still, as resistance to the Viet Nam War increased and Americans saw Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy assassinated in their living rooms, war toys were no longer desirable. Hasbro saw the writing on the wall and drastically changed G.I. Joe’s image. This revamp of the G.I. Joe image gave me my first brush with being bowled over by a media blitz for next hot toy.

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