Happy Birthday, Joe! Mar 1, 2014

by RICK RADER, MD * EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

If they really wanted to give young boys the excitement, challenges and thrills of a real life adventure hero, they should have reinvented him as "G.I. Joe the Group Home Action Hero."

"War is hell!" declared Union Army General William Tecumseh Sherman; and I have no doubt it is.

That is, unless you're seven, you're home from school with a low grade fever and you have the entire carpeted living room for your battlefield. Of course you'll need more than a high pile battlefield to wage war. You'll need "soldiers." And we had them, bags full of them. Little plastic ones that could easily stand erect on their little plinths, but not so stable on carpeting or bedspreads. We could line them up in rows, brigades, have them advance, retreat, attack, outflank... become wounded... or worse... and, when it was time for tomato soup and grilled cheese, we could leave them alone knowing they would be there when we got back. We waged warthe way we innocently imagined it was supposed to be.

Before the green plastic toy soldiers there were table top soldier smade from tin, resin, composition, cardboard and pewter. Military figures have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs. In the 1700's, tin soldiers were produced in Germany by molding the metal between two pieces of slate. Miniature soldiers were used by military strategists to plan battle tactics by using the figures to show the position of real soldiers. Many a West Pointer has received harsh criticism from military science professors based on how they moved (or didn't move) toy soldiers on battlefield tables. The miniature toy soldier has been a coveted possession by virtually every boy around the world.

In 1964 the stakes and the soldiers got bigger when the Hasbro Toy Company introduced G.I. Joe at the annual New York City toy show. This year is the 50th Anniversary of what is called the world's first action figure.

"Joe stood for everything that was meant to be good: fighting evil, doing what's right for people," said Alan Hassenfeld, the former CEO of the company. According to an article by the Associated Press, Don Levine, the company's head of research and development, and an ex-GI who served in Korea was the "father" of G.I. Joe. Levine and his design team "came up with an 11½ inch articulated figure with 21 moving parts, and since the company's employees included many military veterans, it was decided to outfit the toy in the uniforms of the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force, with such accessories as guns, helmets and vehicles." Not only was this patriotic, but it played into the marketing battle cry, "Hey kids, collect them all." And they did, in droves, and at four bucks a piece. G.I. Joe remained popular until the late Sixties, when protests against American involvement in Vietnam soured the positive sentiment about the military. Hasbro created their own internal "special forces marketing" team and recreated G.. Joe into "Adventure Team G.I. Joe, playing down his military heritage and outfitted him with scuba gear to save the ocean's and explorer's clothing for discovering mummies."

Hasbro stopped production in the late 70's and, in the early 1980's, shrank him down to 3 ¾ inches to compete with the "Star Wars" miniature fleet figures.

Six years after Barbie was elected to the Toy Hall of Fame G.I. Joe was enshrined too. G.I. Joe never could get to first base with Barbie as Ken was more cerebral and didn't carry a gun. Let's face it, leathernecks and metro-sexuals just don't shop at the same haberdashers.

I think Hasbro was on the right track when they "redeployed" G.I. Joe to being "G.I. Joe the Adventure Team" action hero... only they didn't go far enough.

If they really wanted to give young boys the excitement, challenges and thrills of a real life adventure hero, they should have reinvented him as "G.I. Joe the Group Home Action Hero." He could have appeared in a number of roles, requiring a variety of accessories (batteries not included). Every boy would need at least one of the following:

  •  "Joe the Van Driver" – comes equipped with a van with four wheelchairs, each one requiring strict adherence to approved tie down protocols.
  •  "Joe the DSP" – in this guise, Joe is outfitted as a Direct Support Professional, spending his time on the front lines insuring the safety, health, security, comfort and development of individuals with complex intellectual and developmental disabilities.
  •  "Joe the SO Coach" – this version requires the additional purchase of a whistle on a lanyard, a clip board, bottle of sunscreen and water bottle. In this outpost, Joe the Special Olympics Coach is required to teach, inspire, encourage and train a select group of Special Olympic athletes in a variety of activities designed to promote friendship, achievement, health and participation.
  • "Joe the Job Coach" – this figure is prepared to be dispatched to a variety of community settings where he is responsible for the evaluation of an individual's skills and match them to employment opportunities where they become part of the economy and part of the fabric of the community.

Hasbro missed the mark. Any one of the iterations of "Joe the Group Home Action Hero" could have had Barbie chasing after him. In comparison, Ken would have been just another Mr. Potato Head.

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