The iconic GI Joe line of military-inspired toys is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, but recent news suggests toymaker Hasbro is planning to mark the occasion by killing off the brand. The official GI Joe Con recently announced that Hasbro wouldn’t be attending the show. This news came as a huge surprise, since Hasbro has always been at the official convention to give fans a preview of the coming year. The reason for this turned out to be both simple and very significant: Hasbro no longer has a “GI Joe brand team,” the group responsible for planning, designing and marketing the toys. The toy line is dead. With its inherent ties to the US military, GI Joe has always been affected by American politics. Though the original 12” action figure was hugely popular when it was first introduced in the 1960s, growing cultural dissatisfaction with the war in Vietnam led Hasbro to make the line more adventure-oriented in the 70s. By the 80s, GI Joe was pretty much science fiction. They were still ostensibly an elite unit of US military specialists, but they were different enough not to scare off parents who remembered Vietnam. Rather than sticking to loyal recreations of military gear, GI Joe members were armed with lasers and flew around in futuristic pods. Some of them were sailors and Marines, but some were also ninjas and astronauts. And with those changes, the reinvented “GI Joe: A Real American Hero” was a success, though never quite as much as its sister toy line Transformers. Some of that is likely due to the simple fact that humans, even with jetpacks, will never be as cool as giant robots, but it certainly helped that Transformers, as a concept, is apolitical. Transformers was a huge international success, even becoming one of the first Western cartoons to air in Communist China, but GI Joe never found an audience outside of the US. The cartoon never felt entirely comfortable with its own political implications, either. The military aspect was often overlooked in favor of personal stories mixed with sci-fi craziness. It felt like a military cartoon as written by liberals in need of a paycheck. It was likely due to this discomfort with the heroes that the villains became the most memorable characters. According to one former Hasbro employee, “The problem with GI Joe is that they have a GREAT set of villains and a worthless protagonist team—arguably, one tied so directly to the US Military that combined international disapproval of US military actions and domestic fatigue from two decade-long wars have rendered the brand toxic. The last time that happened, we got 'Adventure Team'.” In the end, one good thing can be said for Hasbro’s stand-down: A walk through any West Virginia Walmart will tell you there IS a market for toys that fully embrace American militarism, but it’s one a company like Hasbro would be rightly wary to court. And in our obsessively capitalist society, the idea that they would just as soon shelve the brand as groom it for the kids of Fox News viewers shows a surprising and admirable restraint. Its unwillingness to make a genuine political statement is likely what killed it. At this point that seems like a mercy killing.

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