GI Joe - soldier and socio-ecologist

Text of play with the toy

  • My son’s great gameswith heroes and dastardly villains
  • Alone: setting up the goodside and the bad side, then a fight. With others: each participant is a person and plays a role. Participants can change roles during the game.
  • Goodfights against evil
  • Role playwhere the “baddies” are often adults or children of our acquaintance who my son doesn’t like.
  • The goodies kill the baddies even though it isn’t always that easy.
  • Each participant has a couple of men who fight
  • The figure men are dolls, the country is the bed, the floor or the air.
  • We split the men into teams and then charge each other. Then we swap men and play on our own for a while so that we are not against each other.
  • There are books written and films made about it, so we play them.
  • The good guys fightthe bad guys and the good guys always win. During the game the child invents things from his own knowledge and the individual man’s strength, personality, etc.

Supplementary toys

  • 6-10 year old boys’ playwith Action Force and supplementary toys:

Transformers, Action force, tin soldiers, cowboys/soldiers, rope/string, bed, LEGO/DUPLO products, Playmobil, wooden bricks, natural materials

About the toy

The GI Joe doll’s degree of reality is concrete, its degree of complexity uncomplicated, its degree of development traditional, it is industrially produced and materials used are mostly plastics and other synthetic materials.

The story of GI Joe is the story of the most popular war toy ever. At the same time, it is a lucid X-ray picture of the United States, exposing the neuroses of the Super Power, her defeat, self-defence and attempts to reconstruct national self-respect in the wake of the Vietnam War.

In the beginning the doll was designed by Stanley Weston who presented it to the toy company Hassenfeld Brothers, which later changed its name to HASBRO.

In the early days, nobody in the company was allowed to call GI Joe a doll so he was described as an “upright action figure for boys” - After all, everyone knew at that time that boys “don’t play with dolls”.

In the early 1950s, “Government Issue” Joe (his full name) was produced in four versions - one for each branch of the armed forces. There was no specific figure called Joe and no one Joe was given another name.

A “Negro Joe” and a “she Joe” (a nurse) were produced later. The dolls were very large, almost 30cm tall and were initially marketed without a story, without instructions and without an enemy. As the Vietnam War dragged on, GI Joe literally and symbolically shrank.

At the end of the 1960s his facial characteristics and clothing were changed because the company feared a popular boycott of “war-oriented toys”. He got short hair and a beard and by the end of the 1970s HASBRO had created a “GI Joe team of daredevils”.

Since then GI Joe began to show an interest in Nature and for fighting against non-human enemies, like tigers and sharks, rather than against people. He was no longer a warrior but in losing warrior status, he lost his personality. Joe was literally shelved at the end of the 1970s. As HASBRO put it, Joe was sent on leave.

In the mid-1980s, the company decided to market him again, this time as “Joe and a gang of good guys”, who fight “the bad guys”.

By now, Joe is only 10cm tall and fits into a Star Wars universe. HASBRO created a series of earthling fantasy figures which were not authentic soldiers.

A number of comic book series and films were produced and they gave Joe a modern story line. The company was innovative in its use of the back of the sales pack. The doll’s profile, an “intelligence dossier”, was printed as a collector card. Each individual doll now had his own, often bizarre, code name (Air Tight to Zartan) and his own life history. Each individual member of the “good side” now carried his own story “on his back” - a story closely connected to the history of the United States.

However, in this historical concept, the enemy has no connection to American war history nor to American Indians, Communists, Arabs, Asians or Nazis. Instead, the enemy is vague and ridiculous and his appearance conveys this. For example, the “hostile leader, the Cobra Commandant” has no face as it is more or less completely covered by a hood very similar to the hood used by the American racist organisation Ku Klux Klan. His body resembles a hangman’s with leather gloves and boots. His dossier states:

Primary military speciality: Intelligence

Secondary military speciality: Artillery (weapons development)

The Cobra Commander’s aim is to gain total mastery of the world, the people who live there, their riches and resources. This fanatical leader rules with an iron grip. He demands blind obedience and loyalty. He aims to achieve mastery of the world through revolution and chaos. He is responsible for the kidnap of scientists, businessmen and military leaders. Once having captured them, he forces them to reveal their most important secrets. The Commandant is hate and evil personified, corrupt, a man without scruples, probably the most dangerous man alive!

His characteristics (also as a drugs dealer) are easily recognisable and in the new concept, he tries to attack the Earth’s “vulnerable ecological system”.

Even though GI Joe as a toy is not the real world, he imitates the real world in his fight of good against evil on the realistic level and on the level of a fantastic adventure. Both good and evil are easily identified and the case relations are both comprehensible and multiple.

The texts refer to the conflicts inherent in the good versus evil dilemma, even though no person-at-play is in doubt who will win, if the integrity of the game is maintained.

“In reality no war is ever just but it is always okay that the good guys win - especially when they are guys fighting for a just cause. They are on the right side of the Law and look good too!”, is what the toy’s concept seems to tell the person-at-play. However, through its uncompromising outline of the story which is so indispensable for the play with the toy, it communicates something bordering on falsity - despite the “indisputable goodwill of the heroes”.

Maybe Joe as an environmental hero is just as false a toy as he was when he was a soldier during the Cold War or the Vietnam War. Eternal war, which will probably always pop up in new concepts, is only legitimate as long as it is accompanied by goodwill.

The metaphysical element is present in play in the speculative dimension through concrete dialogues between good and evil.

A war doll always refers to a certain social (or asocial) group, i.e. heroes and people who demonstrate the force of social justice. Idols of this kind, which are part of play, can indicate the direction of the person-at-play’s progress in life. The war doll has full control over his own strength and over the implements of war, his machinery and weapons.

In play, the person-at-play will therefore try to imitate the hero or idol and try to master the toy implements which are imitations of the real implements. The war doll is very much a “pluralistic” toy, which emphasises the concept of war and individual achievements. This presents power structures and systems in perspective so that the play scene tends to resemble a game or theatrical performance where there will always be a winner, i.e. the hero, and a loser, the villain.



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