G.I. Joe - Real Belgian Operating Entity
Fearing that the American soldier is not the ideal international marketing figure in the current climate, the makers of the forthcoming G.I. Joe movie have decided that not only is “G.I. Joe” not an American G.I., he’s no longer even named “Joe.”
While some remember the character from its gung-ho fighting man ’60s incarnation, he’s evolved. G.I. Joe is now a Brussels-based outfit that stands for Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity, an international co-ed force of operatives who use hi-tech equipment to battle Cobra, an evil organization headed by a double-crossing Scottish arms dealer. The property is closer in tone to “X-Men” and James Bond than a war film.
This news is two months old but just starting to bubble in the blogosphere. Mike Pechar, Betsy Newmark, and RightWingSparkle are some of the bloggers I recognize who are on the story today. [Update: Via Memeorandum, I see John Hawkins, Mark Noonan, and John Cole have weighed in.]
So why the changes? Hasbro and Paramount execs recently spoke about the challenges of marketing a film about the U.S. military at a time when the current U.S. administration and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are at a low-point in global polls. When a studio makes a film as expensive as G.I. Joe will likely be, they want to know that as many people as possible around the world will want to see it. In other words, G.I. Joe — “A Real American Hero” — is a tough sell.
It’s especially galling that G.I. Joe is being stripped of its American military identity while the American military is deployed to a war zone. As Vin Suprynowicz points out, “G.I. Joe” was modeled on a real real American hero, Mitchell Paige, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on Guadalcanal. He agreed to let Hasbro use his likeness on the condition that “G.I. Joe must always remain a United States Marine.”
Then again, Hasbro is an international conglomerate and business is business. As a review of its Wikipedia entry makes clear, G.I. Joe has constantly evolved over the years. The version I played with in the early 1970s was sold at a time when the American military was a hot button and was marketed accordingly:
Indeed, my first G.I. Joe has red flocked hair and a beard and came with desert safari gear. I later acquired both a kung fu grip variant and got Mike Power, the Atomic Man, for my 10th birthday. My dad was in the Army at the time and I spent a substantial part of my G.I. Joe period living on military installations. It never occurred to me to note that it was unusual for a military man to sport a beard or that none of the “action figures” had traditional uniforms and insignia. I suspect today’s kids won’t ponder the political implications of this rebranding with any more vigor.
- By 1970, in the wake of the Vietnam War, Hasbro sought to downplay the war theme that had initially defined “G.I. Joe”. The line became known as “The Adventures of G.I. Joe” for a time. G.I. Joe was now cast as the leader of the “Adventure Team”, an adventuring/spy-like organization with the goal of rescue missions and fighting evil. The look of the doll was also changed in 1970 with the addition of a flocked hair and beard (an innovation developed in England by Palitoy for their licensed version of Joe, Action Man). A retooled African American Adventurer was also introduced around this time.
- In 1974, named to meet the growing cultural popularity of Kung Fu, Hasbro introduced the “kung fu grip” to the G.I. Joe line. This was another innovation that had been developed in the UK for Action Man. The hands were sculpted in a softer plastic that allowed the fingers to grip objects in a more lifelike fashion.
- In 1975, after a failed bid to purchase the toy rights to the Six Million Dollar Man, Hasbro issued a bionic warrior figure named Mike Power, Atomic Man, which sold over one million units. Also added to the Adventure Team was a superhero, Bulletman. Both figures were not in the mold of the rest of team, and further confused the GI Joe line.
And, frankly, the fact that the organization is based out of Brussels doesn’t necessarily render it anti-American. After all, that’s where NATO is headquartered. Still, the move is annoying.