I know many people my age idolize the 80s and the toys and cartoons that came out of the decade. I often find myself remembering scenes from Robotech or singing the Monchichies theme song. But we should all keep in mind that the people who were peddling this stuff to us in our childhoods didn’t have any understanding of child development or even narrative consistency. They just wanted to make money.
This is one of the points of “Betrayal of the Mouse.” As with all marketing, marketing to children involves trying to get the consumer to form a relationship with the product, to get them to identify themselves with it. But since we are talking about children, they are in the process of forming their identities, so the association that they create with a toy or cartoon is especially strong. The undying love by people in their forties is a testament to this.
I had already felt betrayed by Masters of the Universe long before I watched the Netflix show The Toys that Made Us. I had gotten into the toys early on and fell in love with the story depicted in the mini comics that came with the figures.
To me, the world in those comics was the world of Masters of the Universe. And it was the world I was in when I played with my toys. There was no king, no Prince Adam, no Cringer, no Orco. So when the tv show came out, I hated it. I couldn’t bring myself to watch even a full episode. I think I’m one of the few people of my generation who didn’t enjoy the show as a kid.
But The Toys That Made Us documentary adds insult to injury. As it turns out, the people who created the toy line were just upset that they didn’t predict the popularity of the Star Wars toys and so were trying to create something that Mattel could cash in on. There was no grand vision, no narrative. They just wanted any old crap to get kids to part with their parents’ money.
I’m thinking about all of this now because I ran across an admission from the executives who made Transformers: The Movie from 1986. If you don’t know, the movie basically killed off many of the characters from the tv show, including Optimus Prime. Those of us who devotedly watched the show and who had fallen in love with the characters were horrified. There were reports of kids crying and needing to leave the theater. And why did the creators of the film do this? Did they want to teach children about loss? Was is a political statement? Of course not.
They just wanted to clear the decks so they could make more toys and so make more money. The decision didn’t consider the emotions of the children whose emotions they had manipulated to sell their products. It didn’t even occur to them to think about the reactions of the kids. They were so out of touch that they even had no idea how popular Optimus Prime was.
So when you love the 80s, you are loving the executives who manipulated you into caring about things that they themselves had no respect for. You are celebrating your abuse.