For forty years, GI Joe has been a bellweather for America’s view of the military. If the new GI Joe movie is any indicator, we’re headed for a dry spell for pro-military sentiment under President Obama.
Originally launched in 1963 as a male version of the Barbie doll, GI Joe’s creators intended for the “action figures” to be a tribute to the armed services (prototypes included “Rocky,” the Army soldier, “Skip,” the sailor, and “Ace,” the pilot). GI Joe wore WWII or Korean War issue uniforms. For the next five years, GI Joes (including black GI Joe figures in particular areas) would dominate the market.
During the Vietnam era, Hasbro, GI Joe’s maker and distributor, decided to tone down the action figure’s military theme as a result of the Vietnam War. Instead, Hasbro shifted the marketing to “Adventure Team,” which included turning GI Joes into superheroes and having them fight “The Intruders: Strong Men from Another World.”
With the coming of Reagan, GI Joe regained his footing. Hasbro began marketing the product again as “GI Joe: A Real American Hero.” The action figure even spawned a successful TV series, which touted GI Joe as “the code name for America’s daring, highly trained special mission force. Its purpose: to defend freedom against Cobra, a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world.”
Fast forward twenty years. Hollywood, always eager to capitalize on already-lucrative marketing, is ready to release its version of GI Joe: GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra. And the creators of the movie are marketing it specifically to the so-called NASCAR crowd. Says Paramount Vice Chairman Rob Moore, “Our starting point for this movie is not Hollywood and Manhattan but rather mid-America.”
Or not. Director Stephen Sommers, wary of international audiences, says that GI Joe will be in the mold of the Adventure Team 1970s. “This is not a George Bush movie,” Sommers explains. “[I]t’s an Obama world. Right from the writing stage we said to ourselves, this can’t be about beefy guys on steroids who all met each other in the Vietnam War, but an elite organization that’s made up of the best of the best from around the world.”
So GI Joe isn’t a Real American Hero – he’s a UN peacekeeper. This is reminiscent of the determinedly unpatriotic Superman Returns, which deliberately refused to state that Superman was fighting for “truth, justice and the American way.” Even GI Joe is now subject to the dictates of political correctness. We wouldn’t want Europeans thinking that we idolize the men and women of the American military. That would be uncouth.
This is a reflection of Hollywood’s read on the Obama Administration. When Hollywood tackled GI Joe back in the 1980s, it focused on the GI Joes as Americans through and through – undoubtedly, a stance impacted by the renewed patriotism of the Reagan Administration. But with Obama, it’s different – we’re supposed to think of American soldiers as pieces in a larger coalition. GI Joe is supposed to be GI Hans, GI Vladimir, and GI Cho.
GI Joe may be a good movie. It may not. But if the creators’ intentions are reflected in the film, there’s little doubt it won’t be an American movie.