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Posts tagged ‘PLC’s’

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.

 

Caring Out of Control

In “Spinning Out of Control,” Gary Cross argues that  children’s television  began to focus on fantasies rather than prepare children for the adult world with the emergence of the “program-length commercial” during the 1980s (290). In order to analyze Cross’s argument, one must be familiar with these “program-length commercials.” Therefore, we will first study an episode of “Care Bears,” a popular 1980s PLC, so we can apply Cross’s argument to the television show.

In the episode “The Long Lost Care Bears,” the Care Bears come across a photo album of the Care Bear family. While looking through the pictures, they come across a photo of two Care Bears that they do not recognize. However, before they are not able to really study the picture in detail because the Caring Meter drops and they must go help who is in trouble. As they are on their way to the victims, the Cloud Mobile becomes caught in a snow storm and crashes. After enduring an avalanche, the Care Bears wake up in a valley. They then meet Perfect and Polite, the two bears that were in the photo in the photo album. These bears saved them from the blizzard and brought them back to their village. After exploring what seems to be a perfect village, the Care Bears realize Perfect and Polite were who the meter was sending them to help. Polite and Perfect were sad because they felt they had no friends or family in the valley. So, the Care Bears invite them back to Care-a-lot to become Care Bears and become a part of a big family of friends. After arriving back in Care-a-lot, Perfect and Polite cannot handle the Care Bear training as they fail at every task. They decide that  perhaps being a Care Bear is not meant for them and decide they will go back to the village. As they are discussing returning to the village, the Caring Meter once again drops and leads them back to the valley. When they return, however, the valley has been hit by a blizzard and is not longer a paradise. A village family is caught in the middle of the blizzard in their cabin and will not leave in fear of freezing to death. Though Perfect and Polite were scared to talk to them before, they decide to try to in order to save them. However, when they will not leave because they are scared of freezing to death, the bears decide to try a “Care Bear Stare” to melt the snow. While doing the stare, Polite and Perfect are unable to stabilize the power of the stare and lose control, causing them to fall to the ground. After they fall and tears fall onto the symbols on their stomachs, glowing spirits raise from their “tummy symbols” to the sky, and suddenly all the snow begins to melt and the valley returns to its normal climate. The villagers thank the bears for saving their lives. Polite and Perfect then decide to stay in the valley rather than return to Care-a-lot because they realize they do have friends in the  valley with the villagers.

Cross’s argument is somewhat supported in this “program-length commercial” based on several factors. First, unless there really is a Care-a-lot in the sky with Care Bears that we do not know about, then the show is set in a fantasy land with fantasy characters, which is what Cross argues is one of the major problems with the PLCs because they are not preparing children for the real world. However, despite the fact that the show is unrealistic, it does contain morals within the story line. For example, in the episode “The Long Lost Care Bears,” Perfect and Polite realize they really do have friends when they make an effort and talk to others more often. This can teach children that, even when they feel lonely and as if they have no friends, they can make friends with the people around them if they have the right attitude and are a little out going. Therefore, Cross is correct in his argument that the PLCs are set in fantasies rather than real life scenarios, but fails to recognize the fact that the “program-length commercials” have underlining themes that contain morals and are set in a fantasy in order to make the visuals and story line more appealing to the child viewer (296).

Here is a link for the “The Long Lost Care Bears” Care Bears episode:

http://youtu.be/w9672GeM-N8

(Embedding disabled.)

 

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero?

In the chapter Spinning out of Control, Gary Cross states that during the 1980′s, “toys lost their connection to the experience and expectations of parents” in order to enter “a realm of ever-changing fantasy” (309). With this he implies that when toys became centered around fantasies instead of realistic issues, they lost their educational value and became less useful for the lives of children. He then goes on to argue how through the use of program length commercials, Television played a major role in the further detachment of toys from any realistic context.

Program length commercials, or PLC’s, were TV shows that promoted a specific toy by giving children “a set of fantasy situations and personalities upon which to model play”. Among the most popular PLC’s, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero is the only one that caused me to agree with Cross’s argument. When referring to this particular PLC he says that it “offered boys no more than a simple vision of ‘good’ vs. ‘evil’ in a fantasy world where violence was a constant” and that it “certainly did not orient children to the real world of international politics”. When looking at the current American political atmosphere, it is curious to see how the rhetoric revolving American Foreign Policy is so similar to that in G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.

On the day of 9/11, President George W. Bush told the American people that we were attacked because we are “a beacon for freedom” and because the attackers were “evil”. Since that day, this oversimplified view of the problem has actually been the prevailing view among politicians and citizens across the country. In the G.I. Joe theme song, there is one particular part that echoes a profound similarity to the speech given by President Bush:

GI Joe is the codename for American’s daring, highly trained
special mission force.
It’s purpose, to defend human freedom against Cobra-
a ruthless, terrorist organization determined to rule the world.

This is probably the reason why many critics “complained that G.I. Joe and other action-figure lines celebrated the United States as high-tech world policeman” (298).

Gary Cross is right when he says that this PLC fails to teach children that world politics is not simply an issue of good vs. evil, where the U.S. government is the good guy and whatever country they happen to be fighting at the time is the evil enemy. As Ron Paul explains in one republican debate, there are a lot of reasons behind the 9/11 attack other than pure hatred and desire to spread terror. It is important to teach children that their actions have consequences and that before judging a situation they have to look at the context as well as the different perspectives of those involved.

Side Note: I am not trying to justify the 9/11 tragedy in any way.

Transformers

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 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.

Barbie Explosion

Barbie was a huge part of my childhood, like many other girls. The doll, launched in 1959 and beloved ever since, comes with many different variations of skin color, career, and clothing options. It is widely available in toy stores and even grocery stores. My journey with Barbie began quite simply. My mother got me a Barbie doll when I was 4 or 5. For Christmas and my next birthday, I asked for a few modest accessories so that I could enjoy a few different adventures with my Barbie. Next, I began seeing commercials featuring the rest of Barbie’s family: Ken, Skipper, and Kelly. Of course, I had to have them all. How could I let Barbie live her life alone?! Pretty soon, Barbie needed a van to get around with her new family, but Ken didn’t like the van, so he needed his own Jeep. When Barbie’s first movie came out, I needed a whole new set of Barbies to live out the Rapunzel story. My old dolls already had a life I couldn’t take them away from. My parents and other family members gladly obliged my Barbie fantasies for years, but the final straw came when I got the Barbie Hotel. It cost over $100, had an elevator, and working telephones. I had never considered Barbie needing a hotel until a slew of commercials came out telling me I needed it. After that, my mom said I would have to make do with what I already had. She was sick of me seeing new commercials every day and deciding I had to have the latest item. Although Barbie does not classify as a PLC (program length commercial), I think the popularity of the Barbie movies, and the heavy advertising (a Barbie commercial ran during every kid-related show I watched, and it was usually more than one) would lead to the same effects as a PLC. It did for me. The article we read was titled “Spinning out of Control”, and that’s exactly what happened during my childhood. I started with one doll, and ended with a van, jeep, VW Beetle, 2 houses, a boat, a hotel, over 20 different dolls, and enough clothes and accessories to fill a real closet. It was never enough. That’s the type of environment PLCs and heavily advertised toys create.

 

Barbie Hotel

A picture of the Barbie Hotel, the final item of my Barbie Collection

He-Man the Master of the Universes

Ileena Drinking the magic potion. He-Man the Master of the Universes Season 1 Ep 16

I recently watched an 80’s episode of the show He-Man the Master of the Universe called “A Friend in Need” on Hulu.com.  In the episode, He-Man’s friend, Ileena, lacked self-confidence and wanted to be stronger and braver. Her weakness was vital to the evil sorcerer, Jarvan, who was looking to seek revenge at He-Man. Jarvan, disguised as a kind old lady, befriends Ileena and provides her with a  magic potion that will make her feel stronger and more confident. The magic brew works wonderful when you first take it but after it wears off it makes you feel weaker and craving even more. Unaware of the side effects, Ileena takes the illusive potion and finds herself doing things she never had the courage to do before. While under its effect, she almost crashes her father’s flying car. Soon the young girl becomes addicted to the magic mixture. When she tries to get more from Jarvan he tells her she has to do something for him before he can provide her more. She must steal the transmutator that her father has invented. The transmutator is a machine which turns anything into whatever you desire; in the wrong hands it can cause great evil. This is something Ileena would have never done but she finds the addiction to the potion stronger than her will and decides to do as Jarvan asked. Once she gets the transmutator and hands it to Jarvan, he finally reveals himself and Ileena realizes she has made a grave mistake. After clearing her head, Ileena confesses to her father and friends what she has done and has He-Man come and save the day.

At the end of the episode He-Man speaks about the moral of the clip and how the potion compares to drug use. He explains about how drugs are bad for you and your health no matter what other people say about them. Gary Cross’s theory about how children are not being taught to be better adults like “the dolls and play sets that encouraged girls to act out their mothers’ role” (pg 290) did, is not applicable in this episode. Even though the episode did not prepare or teaches children about their adult roles, it does capture a significant problem in life, drug abuse. Drugs have been around since the 19th century and continue to be embraced by more people since the 1960’s when marijuana, amphetamines, and psychedelics entered the market. The epidemic for drug abuse and addiction is a continuing problem our government struggles to keep under control. Children must be made aware of the seriousness of this issue so they do not fall victim like Ileena did.