Teenagers in Space (The Secret History of G.I. Joe, Part 2)


| 8/15/2013 2:45:50 PM


Tags: G.I. Joe, Star Wars, Cold War, Vietnam War, Consumerism, Children's Culture, Tom Dispatch, Tom Engelhardt.,
Star-Wars-Toys

How warfare reentered childhood 

[The following excerpt from Tom Engelhardt’s book The End of Victory Culture is posted with permission from the University of Massachusetts Press. Part 1, “The Secret History of G.I. Joe (Part 1),” can be found by clicking here. This essay originally appeared at Tom Dispatch.]

1. “Hey, How Come They Got All the Fun?” 

Now that Darth Vader’s breathy techno-voice is a staple of our culture, it’s hard to remember how empty was the particular sector of space Star Wars blasted into. The very day the Paris Peace Accords were signed in 1973, Richard Nixon also signed a decree ending the draft. It was an admission of the obvious: war, American-style, had lost its hold on young minds. As an activity, it was now to be officially turned over to the poor and nonwhite.

Those in a position to produce movies, TV shows, comics, novels, or memoirs about Vietnam were convinced that Americans felt badly enough without such reminders. It was simpler to consider the war film and war toy casualties of Vietnam than to create cultural products with the wrong heroes, victims, and villains. In Star Wars, Lucas successfully challenged this view, decontaminating war of its recent history through a series of inspired cinematic decisions that rescued crucial material from the wreckage of Vietnam.

To start with, he embraced the storylessness of the period, creating his own self-enclosed universe in deepest space and in an amorphous movie past, “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” Beginning with “Episode IV” of a projected nonology, he offered only the flimsiest of historical frameworks -- an era of civil war, an evil empire, rebels, an ultimate weapon, a struggle for freedom.