Surreal American Heroes

I like weird stuff. Whether it's the mind-bending comics of Grant Morrison, the multi-layered time-trippery of Lost, the borderline insane novels of Philip K. Dick or the trippy-dippy sci-fi of 2001: A Space Odyssey. And while stuff like Star Wars, Transformers and He-Man fueled a lot of weird childhood daydreams, I would have to say that it was G.I. Joe that took up a bulk of my headspace for very many years.

I remember my first G.I. joe figure. It was Rock N Roll, the blond-bearded machine gunner. My dad was pretty furious my mom bought them for us, thinking the whole toy line was some mind-control plot hatched by the Reagan administration to make kids want to go fight commies (and who knows, it may have been). But the truth is that G.I. Joe was pretty apolitical and, as I will illustrate, pretty weird. I mean, unless the Commies sided with, I dunno, an underground race of mutant snake people, I wasn't gonna enlist.

Then there was the cartoon, which informed the line in a lot of ways. And while it was at times a shameless half-hour (crappily-)animated advertisement for the figures, playsets and vehicles, there were some pretty awesome stories being dropped on my pliable young brain at the time. As I said, the Joes fought much more bizarre foes than Commies, they fought Cobra, who was just as likely to be found creating a device to block out the sun as something political like, I dunno, destabilizing developing nations to create panic or whatever. Cobra's plans were always half-baked and pretty gonzo. It was the weird fringe, the feeling that there was a weird world of stuff that the Joes were keeping us safe from that really attracted me to the toys. (From what I understand, the comics were a bit more grounded, but what's the fun in that?) Looking back, I can see how this little toy line of crappy Chinese-made figures has informed a lot of my popular culture decisions.

And there was one (well, a two-parter, but whatever) episode of the TV series that I remember as being reeeeally seminal, really epicentric to my eventual nerdiness. It's entitled "There's No Place Like Springfield" and it's pretty much the Rosetta Stone of my love for weird stuff. Written by Steve Gerber who is famous for his bizarre and cultured 70's Marvel comics like The Defenders, Omega the Unknown and Howard the Duck, it pretty much blew my mind to pieces. I realize now that it's pretty much a rip-off of The Prisoner, but still, to rip that off and feed it to kids is really awesome and pretty messed-up, so yeah, thanks Steve. You won another weirdo.

You can watch the episodes below. It's four parts, each about 10 minutes long. I rewatched it the other day and was still floored by the straight-faced bizarreness. Keep in mind this is a show for kids primarily designed to make them want to buy toys. How a two-part existential thriller fulfills that edict is beyond me, but I'm really glad it exists. Whoever greenlit this should either be locked up or given the Nobel Prize for Face-Melting Radness.



Allen TenBusschen said...

oh snappy, there it is. The bane of my childhood dreams. This episode still makes me cringe, I think it traumatized me as a kid. I can still remember most of the episode, which is saying a lot considering most of them were nothing more than a plug for the newest G.I Joe adventure play-set. I think this episode ruined a lot of cartoons for me, and created; what I like to call the "Truman show" effect. Now I am constantly trying to figure out if everyone around me is fake, and whether or not their face will melt off.

Luckily for the adult me. G.I Joe has been replaced in whole, by Brock Samson.

Great post Dylan. always a fan

jason quinones said...

even though i can't view this at work your description and the title does make it sound extremely familiar. once i see it it'll prob all come back to me. it's amazing how subliminally subversive our cartoons were growing up.

scifi channel gave an all day land of the lost marathon awhile back and was stunned by some of there somewhat trippy, subversive, left wing plot lines they had!

but sid and marty kroftt were always pretty wierd guys though.

thank crom for those crazy ba$tards