When The Revolution Comes

First I want to say that going to swap-o-rama for me was like giving a bottle of Jack Daniels to a recovering alcoholic.  I spent a good 6 hours on Sunday running around like a kid in a candy store.  I told my wife that from now on all parties and social gather will be held at swap-o-rama.  She’s not happy with my newfound hang out.  So, to Randel and Scott I say thank you, but my wife has couple of choice words for the both of you.

For my assignment I gave in to nostalgia and collected an assortment of my favorite childhood toy “GI JOE”.  There was a mother and child selling a massive amount of GI JOE action figures.  I found myself at the booth a couple of times trying to give myself a reason why I should not buy all of my assignment from one booth.  But, I just couldn’t help myself.  As I rummaged through the bin of smelly JOEs, I began to reminisce on specific characters that I collected as a child.  I decided within the barrel to purchase the hand full of African-American/Caribbean characters.  There weren’t many.  I remembered my parents going out of their way to find action figures and toys that reflected my race.  My father was very conscience of what toys, music, and media where brought into the house and the social implications attached.

I remember wanting to join GI JOE, get my cool Snake Eyes outfit, and kick some COBRA(bad guys) ass.  GI JOE were “Real American Heroes tm”. They sacrificed their lives for their country every weekday at 3pm. (Even though Duke was the only one that ever got severely injured).  It wasn’t until the late nineties that I realized that the show and its merchandising were all propaganda to make youth want to enlist.
Whereas they used to remind me of my childhood now they make me think of working in the Chicago Public Schools and the types of disadvantaged youth that are targeted to enlist.
I also began think about the 80’s and some of the negative images of black males that where pushed by the media.  For me, my interaction with these black characters as a child was very one-dimensional. I had no knowledge of their history…I knew them as soldiers. I was curious as to how they were envisioned by their creators.  So I decided to go online and look up some the stories behind the characters I collected and play around with how I presented their characters on the blog.

So, to summarize, this collection represents a couple of things.  One was my need to access positive images of myself in the things that I interacted with as a child.  Also that most of the characters in GI JOE seemed one dimensional at a glance, but each had a back-story created by the creators that was rarely highlighted.   Those back stories juxtaposed to the one-dimensional imagery of black males in the 80’s makes me conflicted.  Even though I realize that the characters where created as propaganda to help enlist masses of youth, for the most parts these characters where represent an array of positive role models…………..(with guns).  I am quite conflicted.

Now You know, and knowing is half the battle.



3 responses to “When The Revolution Comes

  1. Thank you for posting these Faheem. Apologies to your wife – 6 hours is a LONG time to be immersed in Swap-O-Rama but I’m glad you enjoyed yourself. I also appreciate the personal history of your own involvement with these toys.
    Revisiting something like this years later can be a much different experience.

    Did you take these photos yourself or find them online? I particularly like the smaller frontal and profile or three-quarter view portrait photos. They humanize the dolls and have an almost emotional quality that gets a bit lost when you see the rest of the bodies with their various joints and other more exaggerated features. The degraded image quality – as though they were taken with a cell phone camera – also adds something. The image quality generalizes some of the details a bit. It perhaps makes these more like a private photos someone took of a person, and less like the kind of crisp, perfectly lit photo the toymaker might use to represent the product in a catalog. The cat image is funny, but not effective in this way.

    The texts are also interesting – particularly the one for DJ which has a casual ‘street’ tone that makes me wonder about the race of the author, or how some of the texts might read for white GI Joe characters.

    How race plays out in dolls, and toys in general, is a very rich field to consider and certainly something you could come back to later on as we head toward the final projects. With some dolls and toy-makers, a Black or Asian or Hispanic doll is exactly the same as a White doll in every aspect except that they throw a different pigment into the plastic. I once read a doll makers’ magazine that had a whole article which described (with no irony or critical distance) how one doll form was incredibly versatile, as it could be painted to resemble any race with no other changes to the overall shape. These GI Joe dolls seem more differentiated from character to character.

    It could be interesting to compare and contrast this collection with some other type of collection – perhaps another kind of military doll-oriented toy, photos of actual Black soldiers in the military from the same time period, or something else.

  2. Marc,

    I took the photos of the Joes myself. Comparing the toys to actual soilders is a great idea. Part of looking up the bios of these characters and using their real names was to humanize them or to make them more real. I will look around and see what else I can come up with. And yes I thought the cat was funny but out of place. She just wouldn’t stop attacking the Joes. BAD MILKSHAKE!

  3. Faheem, there are many examples of photographers who have rephotographed toys in their work. It’s almost its own genre at this point and something you should probably be aware of if you keep working with these (you might already know some of this work). A lot of fascinating work out there. Particularly look at David Levinthal (who has used a lot of older racist toys, as well as more recent things) and Laurie Simmons – particularly her collaboration with Allan McCollum where they used a microscope to make portrait photos of tiny train set figures (the faces get horribly distorted and really interesting with the enlargements).


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