He-Man and the Masters of the Universe regularly stop the evil forces of Skeletor. However, what are they doing to battle the social injustices found in Eternia? That’s what I tried to find out during a Masters of the Universe binge watching sessions this past weekend.
The Barbarian with Moral Fiber
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was a toyline created by Mattel in the early 1980s. In 1983, Filmation was hired to make a cartoon. As I’ve said in previous articles, this was when the FCC changed restrictions on television programming aimed at children had been changed. It ran for two seasons between 1983 and 1985.
Parent groups were against television that targeted children for marketing purposes. To try and appease these concerned parents, Filmation tried their best to make He-Man as wholesome and family-friendly as possible. They hired a child psychologist by the name of Donald F. Roberts to help in this process.
He-Man was as inoffensive as possible and seldom resorted to violence. He occasionally used his sword and only hit inanimate objects. If he had to manhandle his foes, he usually just tossed them into a conveniently placed mud puddle.
As one could expect, some of the things in a cartoon made over 30 years ago haven’t aged very well. What was perfectly fine back then is starting to look pretty not okay now. It’s interesting to watch how, even a show as squeaky clean as He-Man, fall behind on what’s socially acceptable when time moves on.
Here are five disturbing things I found re-watching He-Man:
5. Eternia is a Classist Monarchy
He-Man’s home world of Eternia, on its surface, appears to be an ideal wonderland that merges technology and magic. King Randor and Queen Marlena, ruled the planet. Their son — Adam — is secretly He-Man. Most of the stories focus on life at the royal palace and Skeletor’s plots to take over Eternia. Life at the palace is pretty sweet: it’s big, it’s spacious, it has guards, and everyone gets fed. Also, there are flying motorcycles and other gadgets of technological and mystical origin.
However, not everyone is so well off in Eternia. You’re living like medieval peasants unless you’re related to the royal family. The people who live outside of the castle who have the technical or mystical know-how to protect themselves from attack is very limited.
In the episode “The Shaping Staff“, Evil-Lyn uses the Shaping Staff to make Beast Man resemble King Randor. In that story, “Randor” then orders an attack on Castle Grayskull. Adam and Man-at-Arms both remark that the ruling class of Eternia is no longer conquerors.
Their predecessors crushed all forms of resistance and made them dependent on the royal family for everything. The only time He-Man and his allies get involved in anything is if it upsets the status quo of the kingdom.
If Skeletor weren’t thoroughly evil, you’d think he was a freedom fighter trying to smash an oppressive state.
4. Being a Girl in Eternia Sucks
I’ll give credit where credit is due, the female characters in the world of Masters of the Universe, at least in the cartoon, have believable, natural-looking body types. The men of Eternia are the ones with unrealistic bodies, what with all their ripped muscles.
That said, women still got the short end of the stick when it came to life choices. The episode “Teela’s Quest” punctuates this point pretty well.
First, that episode delves into the origins of Queen Marlena. Marlena crash landed on Eternia while on a mission in space from planet Earth. There she meets King Randor, and the two get married, and she becomes his queen.
Why did nobody go looking for her? It’s not like this is a Challenger mission scenario. If the scientists on Earth had a means of traveling beyond our solar system, you’d think they’d send out a search party or something to try and find out what happened to find Marlena. In the episode “Visitors from Earth“, a new team of astronauts arrive on Eternia and still remember her. By that point, she had settled in her new life on Eternia, but it proves that people on Earth still remembered her, and they didn’t search for her?
Then there’s Teela, the Captain of the guard, who in “Teela’s Quest” tries to find out who her birth mother is. As it turns out, she is the daughter of the Sorceress who protects Castle Grayskull. Man-At-Arms raised Teela after the Sorceress gave her up.
The Sorceress erases Teela’s memory when she found out. The Sorceress needs a replacement and chose Teela as her successor. I should point out that being the guardian of Castle Grayskull means spending centuries trapped in said castle. The forces of evil always attack the castle. If you wanted to leave the castle, you transformed into a falcon. The fact that the Sorceress wipes out Teela’s memory implies that Teela has no choice in the matter. To be fair, raising your daughter in a nest when you have a perfectly good castle is a pretty good sign you’re a bad parent.
3. Orko is a Slave (who might kill everyone)
In the episode “Dawn of Dragoon” we learn that Orko was from the world of Trolla who accidentally transported himself to Eternia. Orko once saved a young Prince Adam from the tar swamps. Orko becomes the court buffoon because his spells don’t work properly on Eternia. They often have catastrophic results, and even to the point of possibly harming people.
Case in point in the episode “Teela’s Quest“, Orko tries to build a music box using his magic. Instead, he makes a bomb that almost blows up Man-At-Arms. Man-At-Arms is always putting down Orko and ordering him to do menial tasks, so this being an accident is suspect.
2. Ram Man has Brain Damage (and nobody seems to care)
You have to feel sorry for Ram Man who, as his name implies, is magnificent at ramming things — with his head. Ram Man is not the brightest guy on the block. Anytime someone suggests he do something; he does it. Unfortunately, most of these suggestions involve hitting something with his head as hard as possible.
Clearly, Ram Man’s ability has severely impaired his cognitive ability. Nobody seems to overly care about his issues as they call on him time and again.
Ram Man even warns children not to ram their heads at the end of the episode “House of Shokoti Part 1.” The He-Man fan community often refers to this as “heartwarming”, but I seeing the slack relaxed look on Ram Man’s face and his slowed speech pattern, I think “haunting” and “telling” are more accurate description.
1. Cringer: Constant Victim
Cringer is Prince Adam’s faithful pet tiger who can talk. Whenever Adam turns into He-Man, he also changes Cringer into Battle Cat. Which sounds cool on paper, I guess, but when you think about it, it’s quite disturbing.
He’s easily afraid of even the slightest sign of danger. Cringer isn’t just a dutiful pet, he can speak, has a personality, can convey his thoughts and emotions. Despite this, whenever Prince Adam decides it’s time to turn into He-Man, Cringer always protests. Here are some exact quotes:
“Oh No, not again!”
“I don’t want to!”
“Please, I’m begging you!”
I can understand how that is horrifying, Cringer increases in size and his entire personality changes. What purpose does Battle-Cat serve? Usually transporting He-Man around Eternia. Given that He-Man has access to all sorts of mechanical devices to carry himself around, he sure seems bent on dominating his will on the poor guy.