G.I. Joe messed me up as a kid. It did. Let me explain:
In the 1980s, when cartoons were mostly half-hour toy commercials, a lot of producers added Public Service Announcements at the end of the show in order to appease concerned parents. It was okay that Hasbro or Mattel were being invited into your living room on Saturday morning, provided all the senseless violence of G.I. Joe and He-Man were balanced out with 30 seconds of wholesome information. This usually came in the form of safety warnings, teaching kids how to be safe and not get themselves killed.
The most iconic were the ones tacked on the end of every G.I. Joe cartoon. Well known for the slogan “Now you know, and knowing is half the battle!” it is something that has latched itself to the cultural zeitgeist like some kind of benign safety cancer.
If you’ve only watched the Fenslerfilm overdubs, go back and re-watch the original PSAs. The Fensler versions are not funny. Like at all. It’s a known fact that laughing at those YouTube videos makes you sterile.
These old PSAs are messed up, as anyone with a key eye can tell you. Here’re five observations I made re-watching these PSAs.
5) No Parental Supervision
The first thing that strikes me is the fact that there are no parents anywhere. Which might be fine in the world of Peanuts where the worst thing that can happen is having a nightmare about drowning with husky dogs…
But in the world of G.I. Joe the lack of parental supervision in a world where there is an active terrorist organization taking over the weather, or trying to poke holes in the ozone layer to sell expensive sun-screen, that’s particularly terrifying.
The children of the G.I. Joe universe are left to their own devices and the only way to save them from potential danger is the coincidental intervention of a member of G.I. Joe.
Is this the best way to use their resources? Between the hardware and costume budget, G.I. Joe is probably stretched pretty thin, why assign Joes to just — run around teaching children to be careful?
Look, I’m sure people will care less about if Mutt prevented a kid from losing fingers in the mouth of a rabid dog if we’re suddenly subjugated by our reptile themed overlords.
Speaking of Joe’s coming to rescue hapless children…
4) Big Brother’s Watching and It’s Kind of Creepy
When you consider how often one of the Joes arrives at the scene to save a kid from jumping his bicycle over some power lines, it just seems too convenient to be a coincidence.
Which leads to some uncomfortable realities: G.I. Joe is watching you. Say goodbye to your privacy. Sure, they might arrive in the nick of time to save you from death by misadventure, but does it really stop there?
Where is the line drawn? If you try to stay up an hour later will a Joe pop out from under your bed and tell you the dangers of staying up late? If I try to eat junk food, can I expect Footloose hiding in my fridge to tell me about healthy alternatives?
If I want to log into the Playboy website for the… uh… articles…. How can I be sure that Bazooka won’t pop up on Skype and tell me that what I’m doing is going to make me go blind? The implications of this are chilling. Even more chilling…
3) Stranger Danger is Epidemic
In one PSA about strangers, a creepy man in a large hat, glasses, and a trench coat, approaches a young boy and tells him his mom is hurt.
Suddenly, he is spooked off by the arrival of Wild Bill, who is also known for his large glasses and hats. Wild Bill, also a stranger to this child, warns him not to talk to strangers because they could be dangerous.
Here is the strange paradox in the world of G.I. Joe. With no parents around, who isn’t a stranger? Look, I get it, the kids know who these guys are, but that’s only because they’re famous soldiers. That doesn’t make them any less strangers to these kids. Based on the logic of this world, anyone in a garish costume and a silly accent qualifies as “not a stranger”, I don’t think it will take long for the creep in the trench coat to pick up on that.
2) There Are NO Smoke Detectors
A lot of G.I. Joe PSAs are about fire safety, rightly so, as children are incredibly flammable.
Whenever a fire starts in a house the children are always alerted to danger by heat, smoke, or the fire. Never by a smoke detector.
Which, these PSAs were made in the mid-1980s, people had smoke detectors. Either these domesticated orphans lack smoke detectors, or there’s something fishy going on.
1) The Kids Aren’t All Right
There’s only one way to describe the kids on G.I. Joe: Stupid.
From standing on the edge of cliffs to trying to dose themselves on Pepto-Bismol to ill-advised treehouse projects, these kids are prone to getting into dangerous situations.
Also, these kids are complete spastics that will crumple at the mere moment something happens. Watching a kid faint, or getting separated from your old brother sends these kids into a full-blown panic.
If it weren’t for the timely intervention of G.I. Joe, the child-size coffin business would be booming. We’d be weeping “Darwin was right!” at each funeral. An entire generation of survivors would try (in vain) to breed curiosity out of the gene pool, the children of the future wouldn’t be enticed by the horrifying randomness of fire, electricity, or adult medications ever again.