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Posts tagged ‘Fantasy’

G.I. Faux

In the 1986 G.I. Joe cartoon episode, “Computer Complications”, the Joes and Cobras are at their ‘good vs. evil’ antics again. In this particular program-length commercial, both regimes are after a radioactive stash of antimatter located at the bottom of the ocean. The antimatter is so dangerous that the Joes have to send in robot submarines to recover the radioactive substance but not before Cobra orders a strike to dismantle the operation and intercept the antimatter for himself. While many battles ensue at the Joe’s ocean platform base, Cobra and his entourage of baddies try to invade the Joe’s home base to reprogram the submarines. Zarana, Cobra’s stealth and tech specialist, goes undercover as a sexy cadet who seduces and subdues the head of top secret operations for the Joes, Mainframe.


The creation and success of the G.I. Joe PLC through the 1980’s was in great part due to the success of the futuristic Star Wars trilogy from which G.I. borrowed ideas of weapons, space-tech, and most importantly the transcendence of the good vs. evil genre condensing it into a 30 minute cartoon. Drawing upon Gary Cross’s concerns with children and their fantasy play worlds, G.I. Joe: Great American Hero offered very little other than the notion of “good vs. evil”. In fact, the show ended up in stalemates so often that it was hard to tell the difference between the two Cobras and the Joes. Cross adds that “because it was so unrealistic, it was not to take seriously” (298). The narrative of this PLC coincides with Cross’s idea that when kids take home these action figures and their miniature laser canons instead of toy guns modeled after government issued military equipment, they are disconnecting the “national narrative” of war play. The result: parents ended up ignoring their children’s war play and because it was so appealing, the parents of two thirds of American children between the ages of five and eleven ended up ignoring their children’s play in general.


PLC Prompt: Transformers

Tranformers Episode 65 – Bot

Will those despicable Decepticons blow up the moon? Stay tuned...


Evil and tyranny and blowing the moon out of its orbit – oh those despicable Decepticons.  In Transformers Epidsode 65, evil machinations mount to once again wreak havoc upon the Earth, and it’s up to three scrappy kids and a whole bunch of Autobots to save the day.


In this episode, the Decepticons‘ destructive multi-robot is needed to operate a laser cannon that will blow the moon from its orbit, hastening the Earth’s destruction.  At the beginning of the episode, this destroyer bot gets destroyed itself, and one of its personality chips gets lost in the shuffle.  Some scrappy kids (two rebellious boys and a smarty pants nerd girl in glasses) working on a science project find the lost personality chip, put it in their own robot project, and let the new beast loose.  It wreaks havoc thanks to the evil robot personality inside it, but the Autobots come to the aid of the kids and help them deactivate the beast.  The kids then reprogram it and use it to help the Autobots foil the Decepticons‘ evil plan.  Hurray.

As Cross mentioned, most events in the episode are marginal and not based on any particular threat.  There are moments, however, when the Decepticons deal with an Hispanic dictator for spare parts and weaponry.  They also break into a pseudo-Russian base and steal more parts for their evil robot.  Other than this, however, the action is between the robots and is kept light with humor mixed-in here-and-there.  In such, it reflects Cross’ statement of a lacking real world presence in PLCs.  The conflicts are located in the now, as well, despite the oblique reference to Soviet soldiers.  The three high schoolers are roped into the episode as well, due to their crazy science experiment gone awry.  There aren’t really any adult concerns, except for the kids’ teacher who berates them and challenges them to really apply themselves.  Overall, the episode is bland and not compelling, with a rote message on finding your place in the world even if your a weirdo, hellion, or poorly functioning robot.  The time is displaced, and the consequences seem minimal.


I watched the pilot for the original Transformers animated series, which premiered in September 1984. The name of the pilot was More Than Meets The Eye. In the episode we are transported “many millions of years” before the present (1984) to a planet called Cybertron. This is a technologically advanced planet populated by shafeshifting machines. The planet is being ravaged by a civil war being fought between two sides- the Autobots and the Decepticons. The Decepticons are said to be greedy, evil machines bent on total domination; the Autobots, on the other hand, seek only to stop the Decepticons and return peace to their beloved planet. The energy sources on Cybertron are depleted, so both sides leave the planet in search of alternative sources with which they can fuel their ongoing battle. They end up crash landing into a volcano on Earth, where they lay in wait for four million years until the Volcano erupts, somehow switching their power switches back on. The Decepticons regroup decide to mine Earth for all its energy supply, then return to Cybertron to create a weapon capable of dominating the universe. The Autobots take it upon themselves to stop the Decepticons, and protect life on Earth at all cost. With this, the stage is set for the rest of the series.

The Transformers animated series is basically the embodiment of Gary Cross’s argument that

The old view that children should learn from the past and prepare for the future is inevitably subverted in a consumer culture where memory and hope get lost in the blur of perpetual change. (course packet page 290)

The world which the Transformers inhabit, Cybertron, could be the pictorial representation of the word fantasy in the dictionary. It is a distant planet, tucked into some obscure corner of the universe. The beginning scene of the animated series’ pilot involves a period of “space travel” as an introduction- no doubt meant to communicate to children the remoteness of this faraway land- isolating them from their worldly surroundings while simultaneously engaging their focus with measured buildup. As we meet the Transformers, they are amazing marvels of engineering. Otherworldly aliens that, oddly enough, when shifted resemble vehicles we normally encounter here on Earth. The sight of a car speaking in the first scene, then later empathizing with his fallen comrade quickly remove all semblance of familiarity. These are not vehicles like we have on Earth- these are much cooler. As we shift scenes from battling on Cybertron to intergalactic space travel and later to mid space battle, the characters somehow end up on Earth. The scenes on Earth are deliberately staged in areas where humans would not inhabit: the desert, open ocean, a volcano. Even when humans appear in the series, they are tiny, thoughtless, impulsive beings. Their role on the show is much like a mouse or a dog would be portrayed on a present day sitcom- our function is to be weak, frightened lifeforms dependent upon the autobots for our salvation. There is no tie in towards learning from the past. Absolutely no mention of how children should prepare for the future (unless calling down forty foot robot guardians from space counts as a plan- pretty sure Newt Gingrich would approve). There are no lessons taught, to be quite honest. Even though the show takes place in our world, it strives to maintain its “other-worldliness” by reducing mankind and its achievements to a mere side-show- “ants” that the glorious Transformers may step on at their will. The show is about one thing and one thing alone- promoting the Transformers toys. The real world has no relevance here…

The ’80s Did It Right

If I was a child of the 1980s, program-length commercials of My Little Pony would have given me reason to wake up early on Saturday mornings, assuming that is when the show aired. For this assignment, I watched an episode of My Little Pony, titled “Bright Lights”, which first televised on October 13, 1986. In this episode, the three baby ponies are kidnapped by two circus performers who force the ponies to sing and dance. While doing so, the shadows of the three ponies are stolen from them by the circus performers, and as a result the ponies are drained of their energy and talent. It is explained that the ponies’ shadows, and all other shadows, are the source of power needed to fuel Erebus, the villain of this episode.  The rest of the episode focuses on the search party led by the other ponies and two children, Megan and Molly, and their quest to rescue the baby ponies. After many chase scenes, the baby ponies are finally rescued, their shadows and all other previous stolen shadows are returned to their rightful owners, and Erebus is defeated.

My Little Pony, along with most other 1980s toy-based programs, focused all of its attention on kids, and kids alone. Gary Cross mentions this 1980’s toymaker trend of catering  just to children in his work “Spinning Out of Control”,  he writes: “One toy executive in 1983 claimed that 90 percent of toy consumption was driven by children’s wants; toymakers convinced themselves that they served children’s desires, not those of adults” (290).  My Little Pony justifies this claim, for it is a show about flying pastel-colored ponies who sing and dance, what more could a child ask for?  Cross makes further arguments surrounding the idea that children’s television and play of the ’80s differed from that of the previous decades. Not only was play of the ’80s seemingly  focused solely on children’s desires, but even more bothersome to parents was this new generation of TV programs that completely disregarded reality and emphasized fantasy. Cross states: “The old view that children should learn from the past and prepare for the future is inevitably subverted in a consumer culture where memory and hope get lost in a blur of perpetual change” (290). Traditionally, the purpose for play was to prepare children for adulthood and their predestined roles; boy’s play was more physical, and girl’s play more nurturing. The 1980s broke these traditions and replaced them with a more imaginative form of play, which was free from adult intervention. In the episode I watched of My Little Pony, there were no human adults present; rather, the character that seemed to be in charge most of the time, Megan, looked no older than ten years old. This concept of an adult-free fantasy world was all too appealing to kids, and at the same time bothersome to the parents.

Talking ponies, villains who devour shadows, and zebra sidekicks–it is safe to say that My Little Pony contained very little reference to the “real world”, but this does not mean the show was of no value to children. While this PLC may not have prepared kids for their future adulthood roles, it did allow for creativity and imagination to flourish. My Little Pony also incorporated valuable lessons on friendships, teamwork, and forgiveness. Based on our so far study of toys and the reactions they have received from adults over the years, I think it is fair to say that parents are hard to please. If toys are too realistic, parents seem to complain that they provoke violence, but if toys are not realistic enough then parents see no benefit to them. Toys are for kids, thus I think the strategy of the 1980s, which focused on the children’s wishes rather than the adults, should be praised.

The World of the Care Bears

Birthday Bear wants a hug. Awww. (click for source)

The episode of Care Bears that I watched, called “Birthday Bear’s Blues,” took place on Birthday Bear’s birthday. The Care Bears are celebrating after scaring off the villain No Heart. Thinking the other Care Bears forgot his birthday, Birthday Bear goes to Earth to cheer up a rich little boy, Charles, because nobody has come to his birthday party. Meanwhile, No Heart is plotting revenge. He tricks the Care Bears into going to Charles’s estate and bewitches a maze with thorns and no way out. The Care Bears are tricked into the maze and trapped. Birthday Bear and Charles watch from outside the maze and seek out Charles’s classmates for help. No Heart begins to track The Care Bears inside the maze. He almost catches Gentle Heart, but the Care Bears team up and “scare” No Heart, sending their beams to find him. Evil is defeated, and Charles learns that you can’t buy friends.

I think this episode of Care Bears refutes Cross’s argument in “Spinning Out of Control.” He argues that 80s kids TV was removed from the “real world,” but this episode deals directly with a topics relevant to kids, friendship and that money doesn’t buy friends. The episode does have a clear moral lesson, even though it is hidden within a world of fantasy.

Cross argued that toys for “no longer needed to conform to the simplest laws of nature” (p. 302). While he sees this as a bad thing, I think personification is a big part of how kids play naturally. Stuffed animals have voices and personalities to kids, so talking bears on television isn’t much of a stretch for them.

However, there are some aspects of this episode that support Cross’s position. The world of Care Bears is obviously very separate from the real world, but the parts of the show that are trying to depict the real world are unrealistic. The villain is “reduced to the killjoy, often pitiful figure whose opposition to the happiness of a colorful world came only from ignorance or fear of caring” (p. 300).  “Evil” in the world of the Care Bears has no relation to evil in the world of today. Additionally, there are no adults. Charles’s own parents don’t come to his birthday party. His classmates are off by themselves flying kites. When the Care Bears are trapped in the maze, Charles doesn’t turn to his parents. They just aren’t there.

The world of the Care Bears is removed from the real world, but the lesson in this episode was clear and not distorted beyond something kids can translate the the real world.

Sanrio: Friendship Characters

Ah, Sanrio. The company behind Hello Kitty and all those other Japanese kawaii characters. Everyone knows who Hello Kitty is, however I may have had a slightly different experience with Sanrio characters because I spent every summer of my childhood in Hawaii. Hawaii has a very large Japanese population, and Sanrio is a very Japanese phenomenon which became wildly popular among children in America, but especially children in Hawaii. I, like all other children in Hawaii, owned numerous items covered with images of these characters. I remember loving my Keroppi lunch container and taking it to school with me every day, using my Hello Kitty chopsticks and plastic-ware often at dinner, wearing my Pochacco shirt to summer camp, writing in my Little Twin Stars notebook, and drinking out of my Chococat mug. Every drugstore in Hawaii has an entire aisle devoted to Sanrio characters. I remember whenever I would go with my mom to the store, I would spend the entire time walking down the Sanrio aisle and begging my mom to buy me a toy or some new item with a Sanrio character printed on it. There was an entire Sanrio store in every mall and I would visit it with every mall excursion. Even when I got older, I still looked upon the Sanrio characters with a smile because they reminded me of summer and my childhood.

Sanrio products similar to ones I owned in the 90's

According to Sanrio’s website, the company “was founded in 1960’s Japan by Shintaro Tsuji, whose simple dream of bringing smiles to people’s faces, grew into the brand’s ‘small gift, big smile’ philosophy”. An online company history of Sanrio states that the company launched the Hello Kitty character in 1974, originally aimed toward girls too young for barbies or similar toys. This spread beyond the intended age group partially because it tapped into the Japanese ‘kawaii’ trend, the obsession with cuteness. They sell anything from tiny toys, erasers, and candies to big things like suitcases, golf clubs and TVs, all with an image of a character and the brand-name pasted on each item. In 1976 the company set up a base in San Jose CA as a result of growing popularity in the U.S. and set up licensing agreements which brought Sanrio characters into toys included in McDonalds children’s meals. In 1988 Sanrio came out with its first boy character, Keroppi the frog, whose success caused the creation of new gender-neutral characters to bring boys into the market. In the early 90’s, two theme parks were built to keep up with the craze: Puroland and Harmonyland. Sanrio also created TV shows in the 90’s based on Hello Kitty and friends.

I never knew the friendship stories behind the characters, and I never watched the TV shows that accompanied them, but I still loved the characters anyhow. Sanrio characters play into the idea of the PLC, or “program-length commercial” mentioned in the Spinning Out of Control (Gary Cross) reading. Cross says, “These programs were ‘originally conceived as a vehicle from providing product exposure to the child audience’” (295). by providing an extensive story and extra characters around the Hello Kitty trend, the TV series surrounding Sanrio characters served just to market more toys and items with the brand to children. Cross also talks about the problem this causes for parents: “PLCs stacked the deck against parents by manipulating young children into wanting a particular toy while ostensibly entertaining them” (296). The Sanrio characters also show the idea of how toymakers “also shaped little girls’ play around licensed characters and fairytale story lines” (299).  In these characters and storylines, most of the time characters “worked together for the common good and did so in a world largely free of adult authority” (300). The Sanrio characters seem to follow the trend of Strawberry Shortcake, Care Bears, Herself the Elf, and other ‘friendship’ characters of this kind of formula.

Moral Lessons from Care Bears


Care Bears from

In the Care Bears episode “Care-a-Lot’s Birthday,” Noble-Heart and True-Heart give Brave-Heart and Tender-Heart the task of organizing the land of Care-a-Lot’s birthday party. As they start out the planning, Brave-Heart isn’t very cooperative with Tender-Heart and basically does all of the planning as he wants. Then, the baby bears, Tugs and Hugs try to help and mess up the party plans when they try to help and Brave-Heart yells at them for making a mess. As Tugs and Hugs walk off because they are upset, Mr. Beastly comes and kidnaps them to take to the evil No-Heart.  Eventually all of the bears in Care-a-Lot realize Tugs and Hugs have been kidnapped, so they all join together to go rescue them. In the end the Care Bears’ teamwork helps them rescue Hugs and Tugs and escape No-Heart. When all of the bears return to Care-a-Lot they realize that all of the birthday party must be planned in a short amount of time, but together they make it happen and it ends up being a great party.

After watching this episode, I do understand Cross’ argument that kids’ TV is separated from the real world. This is apparent with Care Bears because they live in clouds and have super powers. However, I disagree with Cross’ view that these PLCs don’t contain any value for children. In the episode of Care Bears that I watched, many themes popped up that I think are important lessons for children to learn. The whole episode seemed to be about working together. When Brave-Heart tried to plan the whole party his way and by himself he failed and ran into problems. When all of the Care Bears came together the party went well and they were able to rescue Hugs and Tugs. The lesson of cooperation is clearly shown in this episode even though it is shown through a fantasy world. I also think the whole Care Bears series does a good job of showing kids to care for one another and be nice. Overall, while Cross is right that shows like Care Bears are very separated from the real world, I think he is wrong that they do not have value to children. Moral values and lessons can be learned from these fantasy shows and be applied to real world situations.