80's Cartoons That Weirdly Despised The Middle Class
A good chunk of the most beloved memories from our collective youths come not from loving parents or good friends, but from faceless conglomerates trying to sell action figures. Practically every classic cartoon from the '80s was created in boardrooms and focus groups, which means that some weird-ass lessons slipped in there. Like, for instance: that hard-working, middle class people are evil and you should hate them. No, really. Just look at what we learned from shows like ...
Skeletor Was WAY More Human Than He-Man
As the title indicates, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was supposedly a cartoon about He-Man and ... whoever the hell the Masters were supposed to be (Orko? Fisto? Panthro?). But, in actual fact, the most relatable character in the show was the villain, Skeletor, a bleached skull in a hoodie on the body of a bodybuilding leather daddy.
Whereas He-Man's only two moods on the show are "brave" and "punching," Skeletor exhibits a range of emotions you can actually recognize in other human beings. He gets super hyped up over his own plans, cheers joyfully when they work ...
... and mopes around when they inevitably fall apart within 22 minutes. How many times have you seen He-Man expressing frustration or looking like the Sad Keanu meme?
Skeletor is the only regular character in this show who demonstrates any ambition or desire. The average episode revolves around him creating these elaborate plans and working his ass off to realize them, only for a ridiculously-haired himbo to dismantle them without breaking a sweat. Skeletor exists in a constant state of frustration towards his dumbass underlings and despondence towards the nebulous forces above him -- he's every person who's ever been stuck in a middle management role. Plus, his entire motivation is to take over a magical skull-shaped castle, and who can't relate to that?
Sure, Skeletor's a petty, envious, frequently abusive asshole, but those qualities only made him more human to the kids this show was shamelessly trying to sell toys to. Meanwhile, of course He-Man is nice: dude is loaded. His dad is king of an entire planet. He was born rich and then life handed him awesome powers just for being so swell. This show's message is basically: "Hardworking average people are vile clowns who deserve to be scorned while those born in privilege are flawless heroes. Also, seriously, buy some goddamn toys."
Cobra Commander Was A Used Car Salesman (Seriously)
Cobra Commander was one of the most fearsome villains of the '80s simply because you couldn't see his face, so anything you were afraid of could be under there. Freddy Krueger? 300,000 spiders shaped like a man? Communism?! Then, in an issue of the Marvel comic the animated show was based on (yep, the comic came first), we find out that the true identity of the vile and despicable leader of Cobra is ... a used car salesman.
By the way, he's supposed to be wearing a fake mustache in that issue, but a later one reveals that this was completely redundant, because this is actually what he looks like:
Yes, the G.I. Joes' sinister nemesis was, ironically, just an average Joe. His origin story is more sympathetic than any of the good guys'. Cobra Commander had an older brother who repeatedly re-enlisted in the Vietnam War to save his little bro from being drafted. As a result, big bro got PTSD, took to reckless driving, and died in a car crash. Angry at "the system," the future Cobra Commander grabbed his son and started driving across America to pull off pyramid schemes revolving around "vitamins and cleaning products." So far, he doesn't sound any worse than most of our former school classmates on Facebook.
Eventually, he used the money from those scams to start a grass-roots terrorist organization, recruiting disillusioned people from economically depressed areas. All those faceless goons the heroes shoot down in the cartoon? They're not evil, they're just jobless and misguided. Today, they'd probably be fond of red hats. This series is explicitly about representatives of the status quo versus those who have been let down by it, and guess who we're supposed to cheer for?
The 1987 animated G.I. Joe movie went in a slightly different direction for Cobra Commander's backstory: he's a six-eyed reptile creature from another dimension (it's unclear if they have capitalism in snakeland too). At least that explains the voice.
The ThunderCats Invaded Mumm-Ra's Planet
ThunderCats is the tale of a bunch of space furries who crash down on Earth after their planet blows up (the same premise was later adapted into a live action series titled ALF). The bad guy is an occasionally buff mummy called Mumm-Ra, and we know he's bad because he's powered by "the Ancient Spirits of Evil," acts all evil-like, and looks like this:
But if you put those little details aside and look at the story from his perspective, Mumm-Ra is actually the victim here. Even though he's the most powerful being in the Third Earth, everything in the show indicates that things had been pretty chill in the planet for hundreds if not thousands of years before the ThunderCats showed up. During that time, Mumm-Ra even got rid of some off-world troublemakers called the Lunataks. And it's not like he's racist or something, since he tolerated the presence of peaceful alien races like the Berbils, those robot bears who looked like they were from a whole other cartoon.
Even when the ThunderCats crash down, Mumm-Ra doesn't give much of a shit about them until they start building a giant cat-shaped tower in his turf and talking about helping the inhabitants of the Third Earth against this supposed tyrant. The ThunderCats aren't scrappy immigrants -- they are a militarized alien force who show up on a planet, try to impose their way, and blow up an ancient pyramid, all while fighting a diverse staff of multicultural villains, most of whom look like Asian/Middle Eastern stereotypes. Huh.
Yeah, that's pretty bad. On the other hand, the animation was way better than He-Man's, so there's that.
The Decepticons Sure Knew How To Party
The Decepticons are killer robots from outer space who want to steal our planet's resources and the shape of our weapons, aircrafts, and cassette recorders. They have no respect for human lives or intellectual property laws. They display vices like greed, duplicity, and ... getting drunk with their friends and remembering the good old days?
Even in the Japanese continuity, Megatron/Galvatron had a fondness for alcohol. And this wasn't the only time the Decepticons acted like old buddies shooting the shit. Here's a lively party scene from the episode where they convince the humans they're heroes:
That party isn't part of the ruse. Like everyone else, human or sentient vehicle, they just want to make a connection, man. At times, Megatron even put aside his differences with Optimus Prime and joined forces "for the benefit of his Decepticons." Contrast that with Optimus snapping at the other Autobots like a regular Michael Bay when things aren't going his way (at least he didn't force any of them to wash his windows in a bikini):
Ironically, what motivates this strange camaraderie between the Decepticons might be the same thing that has them trying to murder each other the rest of the time. Unlike the Autobots, who let a magical Matrix of Leadership pick their leader like it's some divine right, the Decepticons are a meritocracy -- whoever can convince the others to call him the leader is the leader. In the show, this involves a lot of fighting and backstabbing between the biggest Ds, but what about all the others? Little Ds get a vote too.
Winning the hearts and minds of the rank and file Decepticons must mean demonstrating everyday leadership skills Optimus (as a Very Special Chosen Boy) doesn't have to bother with. Group activities and socializing are a big part of that, and when you're an ill-tempered brute, alcohol can come in very handy there. Megatron might not be the kindest or most morally upstanding boss, but he has to put in the effort to stay where he is, unlike that truck-shaped bastard. In short: Megatron is essentially an evil, robotic Michael Scott. Should have gotten Steve Carrell for the movies.
Follow Maxwell Yezpitelok's heroic effort to read and comment every '90s Superman comic at Superman86to99.tumblr.com.
Top Image: NBCUniversal Television Distribution