Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Issue with Jem and the Holograms Live Action (yes it has to do with gender)

80s style realistic artwork

JEM began as a series of 7 minute segments, sandwiched between ROBOTIX and MONSTER TRUCKS in the weekly first-run syndicated animated anthology series SUPER SATURDAY. The idea was to create a series aimed at girls that had enough action that the boys wouldn't switch channels, while waiting for the next "boy" cartoon to come on. 

For anyone who would like a more in depth read on how deregulation of children's media affected the types of cartoons being produced for television in the eighties CLICK HERE.

Cartoons in the eighties were product based, and created to sell. The animated Transformer's movie killed off the majority of the main characters as a marketing ploy to sell a new line of Transformer toys to children. Like most cartoons during this time period, plot and character decisions were based around what new products were going to be sold. Each episode an advertisement.

Many girls enjoyed G.I. Joe as much as boys did. But, in terms of marketing, cartoons in the eighties were designed and advertised in a very gendered way. G.I Joe toys were created with boys in mind, the majority of characters are male, cartoons revolved around what marketers thought boys wanted.

Nostalgia has been hitting hard. Transformers and G.I Joe have already been reinvented as live action flicks. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has had multiple reincarnations and Thundercats and He-Man are said to be in some vague stages of pre-productions.

It was not surprising to me that the cartoons being turned into big-budget live action flicks are "boys toons" because we still see media staring and targeting men as universal, while stories staring and targeting women are seen as "for women only."

So, I was genuinely shocked when I heard they were making a JEM live action film. Of course I should have known...

For anyone who didn't watch JEM as a child, the series revolved around Jerrica Benton, a young woman in her twenties, who lives in the halfway house she helps run for twelve foster children. Jerrica, her sister, and their two best friends are the four members of the band Jem and the Holograms.

Jerrica's father owned Starlight Music, and when he died he gave the company to her, along with a secret high tech computer he had built. This tech, Synergy, could create complex holograms which they used to hide Jerrica's identity when performing, and to help them escape whatever action adventure plot episodes would have them fall into. Jem's creator Christie Marx talks about  how the series was unique for having an action adventure story targeting girls (She-Ra being one of the only others at the time).

Much of the tension of the show came from the villainous manger Eric Raymond who had been embezzling money from Starlight Music and his rival band The Misfits. Jerrica used her band, secret identity, and Synergy to help try and win back her family company. Jerrica was also in a love triangle with her long term boyfriend Rio, who had feelings for Jem. Every episode was cut in with two or three trippy music videos that would tie in to the plot.

I'm not trying to say this was a fabulous classic of a cartoon. It was designed to sell dolls and fashion accessories to girls. Yes, it was eighties cheese, but JEM was no more convoluted in plot or silly in writing then G.I. Joe or Transformers.

2015 comic artwork.
2015 comic on the other hand, worth reading
As John Swansburg of Slate writes: "Bay's Transformers bears no resemblance to the original in terms of plot, but both movies are grounded in the same fundamental mythology."

JEM the live action film is not. This isn't a situation of hardcore fans being upset about changes to canon. JEM appears to be so far removed from the source material that it makes I, Robot look like a glowing homage.

I want to give the makers of this movie the benefit of the doubt, but everything we know about the creation process was problematic. There were no women involved, they cut out the original creator, and wouldn't consult with her. They released a strange brotastic video about wanting to crowd-source ideas for their film. I can't find any proof of if they actually incorporated any crowd-sourced ideas, so feel free to comment with a link if you have more information on this.


If G.I. Joe  had been made into an action-less "now you know" inspired young adult flick about teenage boys in a military academy it would have been a loss for fans, but not for men or the movie industry over all. There are many action movie targeting boys, with male protagonists. There are not many movies targeting girls with a female protagonist who is a CEO who uses sci-fi technology to hide her secret identity while working alongside a makeshift family of other capable young women. 

There was the potential for this to be an incredibly unique movie: a fashion forward musical action adventure. Just as when Jem was created, and the action was originally added to try and draw a male audience. It is as if little has changed in what marketers think men and women want. Why have action in a movie whose only audience is going to be girls?

So, instead of a creative reinvention of the original material, nearly all aspects of the plot and characters have been erased. We now have a Hannah Montana rip-off with little base in the animated world besides names.

And I will leave you with this SNL joke:

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