5 Subliminal Messages You Didn't Notice In G.I. Joe
There is absolutely no proof that cartoons rot your brain. And even if cartoons did want to warp children's minds, why settle for making them dumber, when they could instead mold an army of morally gray, dissociative terror lords? Well, one cartoon may have done just that. It was called G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, and it may be the reason you stole that blind man's dog yesterday.
The Design Of G.I. Joe Toys Made You Root For The Bad Guy
If Snake Eyes wasn't your favorite G.I. Joe character, you did not understand awesome. You were born without the vital area in your brain that processes badass. You probably grew up to be an IRS auditor, and you talk about it for hours.
Maybe use some of that math to calculate how you became a real American zero.
This is partially because he's a ninja with grenades, but also because he combines two very important immersive elements: Not only is his face concealed, he's also a mute. Depending on whom you ask, that's either due to the face full of helicopter shrapnel he received, because he took a vow of silence until he can one day avenge the death of his master, or because it's just really, super cool.
His tertiary weapon is a fucking wolf.
Generally speaking, we more readily identify with masked figures, since we can project ourselves onto them. It's the same reason most video game protagonists are strangely quiet. Well, that, and the vicious strain of strep that devastated NintendoLand back in the '80s.
That whole mirror-face thing just clicked, didn't it?
Now, forget everything you know about G.I. Joe. It took us 16 hours to accomplish this step, so feel free to take a minute. All set? Good. Whip out your G.I. Joe action figures. We know you still have them -- you told your big brother you destroyed them all, but we know about the shoe box under your bed marked "really nasty porn STAY OUT." Jumble up all the toys into one big pile, and with no knowledge of their characters -- just their names and appearances -- sort them by team.
Yeah, "Snake Eyes" -- the murdered-out space ninja with the terror wolf -- ended up on "Cobra," didn't he? That's because, in the G.I. Joe toy line, the overwhelming majority of masked figures are Cobra operatives. And that meant ...
Cobra Was Always More Popular Than The Joes
Yes, in the G.I. Joe toy line, the bad guys looked friggin' awesome, and the good guys looked like they were attending a nerd-themed costume party at a weenie convention. Here's Croc Master, Cobra's reptile trainer:
Because it's better to have a reptile trainer and not need one,
than need one and not have one.
Now, here's Shipwreck with his trusty animal pal, a parrot:
"Uh, yeah ... 'pal.'"
We're no zoologists, but it doesn't take much fancy book-learnin' to figure out which of these animal companions would eat the other and still be hungry.
According to former editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics Jim Shooter, although the villain figures made up only 25 percent of the toy line, they accounted for a full 40 percent of the total sales. That's a whole lot of kids clamoring to be the bad guys. If that doesn't sound like a big deal, consider experience-taking, a phenomenon by which people "[feel] the emotions, thoughts, beliefs, and internal responses of [the] characters as if they were their own." Studies have shown that the less you're reminded of differences between you and said fictional character, the more likely you are to identify with that character, and even take on his artificial personality traits. So sure, as a kid you're just harmlessly playing with an action figure -- but now it's 25 years later, and have you ever stopped to wonder why you ride an alligator to work?
Other than the kickass parking.
Cobra's Color Scheme Excited You; G.I. Joe's Repulsed You
Maybe we didn't root for Cobra just because we inherited the bastard gene. Studies have shown that simply seeing a specific color prior to making a decision can greatly influence said decision. Advertising firms take advantage of this by using colors to "increase or decrease appetite, enhance mood, calm down customers, and reduce perception of waiting time." You probably didn't know that yellow is the secret puppet master tweaking all of society, but now you do, and knowing is half the battle.
Now, let's take what we know about the influence of color on our psyche and apply it to the Joe/Cobra conundrum. Cobra Commander is blue and red -- colors that trigger thoughts of amazement, passion, and rocket pops. Pick any Joe figure at random and we'll give you 15-1 odds that he's brown, green, tan, or some combination of the three. Green and brown are most commonly "associated with rotting food and feces."
To be fair, garbage is where Captain Grid-Iron toys belong.
Sure, we recognize the designer's intent -- they painted them that way to remind kids of U.S. military camouflage -- but all this time we may have been accidentally associating heroism with the business end of a porta-potty because of it.
G.I. Joe Taught You That Ideals Are Shifting And Unimportant
In a perfect world, every parent would spend one weekend a year teaching their children that attempting to take over America with exploding snakes is generally frowned upon. But they don't, so it's up to pop culture to show kids why they shouldn't build a lava-tank and drive it through the Lincoln Memorial. G.I. Joe made that pretty clear ... until they introduced Mercer:
Mercer became a Cobra Viper solely for adventure and material gain -- only to later defect to G.I. Joe, where he could instead murder Cobra Vipers for adventure and material gain. He didn't even take the Cobra badge off -- he just lazily scratched it out with a Sharpie.
"Sharpie? Hell no. That's just electric tape until I go back. They make you pay for new ones."
Done a bunch of evil in your life? No problem -- as long as you're on our side now! Only in it for the money? Who cares about your motivations as long as they're serving the greater good? Mercer's tale wasn't one of painful atonement for past misdeeds; he just felt like switching sides because it served his needs at the time. Children already "have difficulty negotiating the boundary between fantasy and reality," and now here's G.I. Joe saying that paying lip-service to morality is more than enough.
The G.I. Joe Leaders Were Always Absent, But Cobra's Were Always There
This is the G.I. Joe Headquarters Command Center.
Seconds before half the Joes take down their own chopper.
Notice anything missing? There are precisely zero commanding officers depicted in the box art. And it's not just the Command Center -- leaders of the G.I. Joe team, like General Hawk, only made a handful of cameos in the original animated series. They're also mostly AWOL from the toy line. As a matter of fact, the only way to land an Admiral Keel-Haul action figure was to convince your parents to spring for an aircraft carrier toy the size of a Hyundai, presumably after first winning the goddamn playground lottery.
Now, let's have a look at a Cobra vehicle:
See that? Even when they're just out doing some fun sideways boating, Cobra Commander and Destro are right there in the fray beside their troops. The Joe's leaders were conspicuously absent, leaving their soldiers to fight and die alone. But Cobra Commander wouldn't do that to you. Cobra Commander is in this with you, together, forever. Kids caught on, too, which is probably why CC was the most heavily produced leadership figure, bar none.
There's a theory that "regardless of whether a toy is specifically designed to educate, every toy educates," and that toys "establish worldviews and explain to children why things are the way they are." If that's true, then the message here is clear: The Joes may have the big, expensive toys, but Cobra actually cares about both their troops and their cause. So, in conclusion: Cobra is holding a recruitment drive behind the Home Depot on Birch Street.
Long live Cobra! Long live Cobra Commander!
Gregory Fricker is on Twitter @art1fice.
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