Knowing is half the battle

I’ve been slowly going through the entire run of GI Joe cartoons since I got back from San Diego in July. It’s brought back a lot of good memories, but it has also impressed me more than I expected. The plots are often centered around fairly difficult ideas that are pertinent to understanding today’s complex geopolitical climate. Looking at the writing credits, maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise: Steve Gerber, Jerry Conway, Paul Dini, Dan and Roy Thomas, and Marv Wolfman to name a few. The weird thing is that it’s almost as though the writers of the show were intentionally preparing kids of the 1980’s for the world of 2009. Which brings me to:


6 things I didn’t know I learned as a child while watching GI Joe

1. The music industry isn’t about art or craft. It’s about money…and subliminal messages. Cobra’s scheme to rebuild it’s finances using the rock band Cold Slither is reminiscent of corporate bands like Styx or the Monkees. Just like Disney’s glut of teen stars and musical “talents” in the last decade, Cold Slither was all about making money. Jaded writers for this show felt that kids should learn the ugly truth about music early. Too bad most didn’t pick up on this lesson.

2. DNA and genetics makes for good television. Long before CSI and Bones, long before every cop show had lab techs and DNA evidence, GI Joe was taking DNA samples (albiet in a difficult and totally bullshit science way). “Arise, Serpentor, Arise” is all about collecting DNA, and who better than Sgt. Slaughter and Dr. Mindbender to guide young minds through the science and technical jargon surrounding such heady material? GI Joe did it first, and getting a DNA sample was never more dangerous.

3. Genetic engineering is a tricky and often dangerous business. This one sort of ties into the one above, but there are enough non-DNA examples that it should stand alone. “Memories of Mara,” “Iceberg Goes South,” and “The Greenhouse Effect” are prime examples of this. I suspect that “The Greenhouse Effect”‘s giant vegetables are exact why the EU has banned genetically modified crops. For me, the stronger case was made against genetic manipulation when I saw Iceberg turn into a half killer-whale. It’s a haunting moment, especially when he tries to talk and beg for help. Gene therapy just ain’t right.

4. Having a currency with no real backing can bring a nation to it’s knees too easily. “Money to Burn” is a lesson in why world currencies are worthless excep t for the fact that we say they’re worth something. Too bad Bernanke and Greenspan were too old to have seen this episode. Might have changed the last year or two.


5. Know who your candidate is, and research who is backing him/her. Cobra, like any large multinational business/ terrorist organization, needs some legitimate political pull from time to time. So Cobra buys a candidate and hires some street-toughs to strike fear into the citizens…just like in real life. As voters-to-be we needed to learn how to consider our choices carefully. “Cobra’s Candidate” is a morality tale all about voter responsibility.

6. Our energy resources are too precious to be controlled by terrorists. AND alternative energy is the wave of the future…one day.  There are several stories on the show surrounding these themes. Whether Cobra has created a pyramid of darkness to stop all electrical machinery, or they’ve taken the world’s oil supply and hidden it in the middle of the ocean, the writers were showing us that foriegn oil is a dangerous commodity. Alternately, they also showed the importance of other sources of energy. Naturally the science was a bit wonky, but the principle was the important thing to teach kids right?

And all this time you thought the learning came at the end of the show.

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4 comments on “Knowing is half the battle

  1. Jesse says:

    “Taken the world’s oil supply and hidden it in the middle of the ocean”??? WTF?

    I just picked up the second season set of Transformers, which is better than season 1 but doesn’t hold up after 25 years as well as I’d like. I’m thinking I may need to start picking up GI Joe instead.

    • Matt says:

      This actually started as a post about both TF and GI Joe. I’ve split them up. The TF one will come out in a few weeks.

      You are right though; TF doesn’t hold up nearly as well. Some of them do, but others (Autobot Spike springs to mind) are too goofy.

      • Jesse says:

        That’s the one I watched this morning! Ouch! Still, the production value on the new DVD’s is excellent.

  2. […] More than meets the eye! October 21, 2009 Last month I wrote a piece about lessons that were spoon fed to me as a child via the cartoon G.I. Joe. At that time, I suggested that a Transformers equivalent would soon follow. Time got away from me, […]

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