G.I. Joe PSAs: Part Three

Let’s tackle a final round of those wholesome-yet-weird PSAs that were tacked on at the end of every G.I. Joe cartoon in the 1980s! We’ll begin with…

Clothes On Fire

I don’t know about you, but if anyone ever made a movie called “Clothes On Fire,” I’d have to see it on sheer principle and curiosity. In this case, it’s more like “Jacket Lightly Steamed,” but it’s a decent attempt at another trademark Joe childcide.

Two kids are deep in the woods at night, making camp all by themselves. Strangely enough, there’s no Joe called Babysitter who jumps out and chides them for being so foolish to think they could survive the night alone without parental supervision. One of the kids — a kid who looks faintly like Michael J. Fox — puts more wood on the fire. We’ve so far learned that fire in Joe PSAs are so ravenous for child flesh to char that it often migrates thousands of miles out of its way just to take down a youngster. Mikey here quickly discovers this, as an ember lands on his jacket sleeve and quite possibly the smallest flame known to mankind takes root there.

Now, if it were me and I really wanted to install the fear of God in kids watching, I’d have Mikey lit up from the crown of his head to the bottom of his feet like the Human Torch in under two seconds, waving his arms and screaming that his only regret is that he’ll never be able to smile again without give small children night terrors. Clothes on fire, my patootie. I’ve had worse from a slight sunburn.

However, as we will soon learn, the G.I. Joes have a different idea of installing fear in kids foolish enough to get their clothes on fire.

Mikey’s friend urges him to make a run for the stream. WRONG, idiot friend! DEAD WRONG! That wouldn’t allow our Joe of the Day, Spirit, his chance for action. Unlike many Joes who merely step out from wherever they’ve been playing hide-n-seek and offer words of sound(er) advice, Spirit the Native American comes barreling out of the dark, dark woods and grabs a huge blanket. Naturally, both of the kids quickly find the front of their pants stained with terror pee, a common response whenever strangers tend to dart out of the midnight woods with the apparent intention to kidnap them and feast upon their livers for dinner. “****!” they shriek. “HOLY **** GET AWAY YOU **********-***!!!”

Well, they would have, if this PSA had any roots in reality. In this case, Mikey meekly allows Spirit to take the blanket and scoop him up in it. To rub in Mikey’s failure, Spirit rolls the little piggy on the ground, like he’s kneading dough. Fry, piggy, fry! “Remember, running only makes the fire worse!” is his sage advice. I’d beg to differ; ever try running with a lit match? Does the match STAY lit? This is why Spirit had his kitchen privileges revoked in the Joe H.Q.

“AND KNOWING IS HALF THE BATTLE! G.I. JOE!”

Stealing

It’s nice to see the Joes take a break from putting kids’ lives in danger/saving them to teach a bit of strong-armed morality. Stealing, if you didn’t know, is wrong. By the end of this PSA, you’ll know exactly how wrong, and the agonizing punishment it entails.

Two teens walking. “Nice bike!” the one points out. “Maybe we could… borrow it?” the other implies, thoughts of Grand Theft Auto rampaging through his small, deluded head. And that’s how the criminal mind begins, with the theft of a ten-speed and no intention of leaving a note behind. “It’s STEALING!” the other kid says, upset that the only thing he sees to snatch is either a tricycle or unicycle. Tough day.

Making minor adjustments to the jeep that he boosted in San Francisco earlier that day, Shipwreck spots yet another opportunity to be a pushy know-it-all. He dashes out into the path of the biker, his exposed chest the only weapon he needs to stop the crime! The parrot that Shipwreck swiped from the home of a little old lady roosts upon his shoulder as he grimly assesses the situation. “Uh oh,” he growls. “You’re askin’ for trouble now!” Ooooh, the stealer’s gonna get it! What will it be? A lengthy jail sentence, sharing a cell with a constantly weeping gang leader named Hinky? A short but brutal kneecapping with a lead pipe that Shipwreck keeps for these occasions?

Nay, it’s worse: a lecture. He leads them, step by step, through the life-wrecking act they just committed. “How would you like it if someone stole YOUR bike?” Considering that this kid had to steal one, I’m guessing he doesn’t have a bike to call his own, but no matter. “Taking something that isn’t yours just isn’t right!”

“Now I know,” says the thief, very pointedly not getting off the bike.

“AND KNOWING IS HALF THE BATTLE! G.I. JOE!”

Fainting

I’m guessing the message here will be “Don’t Faint.” I only wish I could’ve remembered that on my wedding day. Alas, no Joes attended.

We are introduced to a mall built by and possibly for giants, considering how tall each of the doors are in comparison to the size of the people. Book World seems to be a popular store. A girlish voice from completely off-screen yammers on: “Look at all the people! [cue danger music] Billy, what’s wrong?” Um, who’s Billy? Why can’t we see who’s talking?

Oh, it’s Billy. Billy has a butterfly collar and a forehead full of mop sweat. For an unknown reason, Billy collapses on the hallway floor. His companion turns around with hands outstretched and pleads, “My friend passed out!” It’s only of passing oddity that he’s already saying this before Billy hits the ground, so I’m calling it a slight case of precognition.

“Help me get him up!” says Billy’s girlfriend. They need to dispose of the evidence, and fast!

“Not so fast kids!” Aw drat, it’s a Joe. Don’t they have international terrorism to combat? What’s with the mall excursions? And it’s not just any Joe, but probably the most unappealing character ever, Airtight. His name suggests to me that he’s the Tupperware quartermaster of the Joes, but his yellow-and-green jumper might also imply that he moonlights as Aquaman’s stunt double. Anyway, Airtight is the creepiest Joe I’ve ever seen: wide eyes, receding hairline, and a hungry glare as he talks about “loosening [Billy’s] clothes.” I really wish someone would’ve socked him across the back of his skull with a bag of nickels, but nothing doing.

Looks aside, Airtight tells them never to lift the head of someone who’s fainted, because it will surely fall off. Instead there’s a lot of foot-lifting and clothes-loosening and opportunities to rifle through his wallet. Billy comes to and wants to know what happened and why his head is now shaved.

“AND KNOWING IS HALF THE BATTLE! G.I. JOE!”

Saying No To Strangers

Gosh, I wish I could say No to more strangers these days. “Care to donate to the American Red Cross?” “NO! NO! A THOUSAND TIMES NO!!! G.I. Joe told me to say that.”

Yes, this is actually a pretty serious PSA that unfortunately still needs to be shown, but it’s decked out in a goofy package that makes it hard to take seriously. There’s a lot going on here for 30 seconds, which is probably why it starts with some blonde kid (Kyle) staring abstractly into the camera at something we can’t see.

Oh, it’s a Stranger driving his Stranger Car. “Your mom, uh, had an accident. I’ll, uh, take you to her,” he says.

Problem #1 for Stranger: He’s dressed as The Riddler, with green and blacks galore. This sheds new light on the old 60’s Batman show, I see now. Problem #2: Stranger has a shaky baiting line — particularly with the “uh’s” thrown in there. It’s like he hadn’t even rehearsed this scene beforehand; some Strangers like to wing things. Problem #3: He’s being tailed by a Joe who’s more of a stalker than he is.

Wild Bill appears and Stranger takes off. For some reason, all of the kids in these PSAs seem to know the Joes by name, which makes this PSA easier than if Wild Bill showed up and the kids were like, “Who the heck are YOU?” and he, a stranger, would have to tell them to avoid strangers.

Sunglasses, bushy moustache and all, Wild Bill gets to the bottom of the situation. “Well, just don’t DO whatever a STRANGER says!” Remember, kids: most policemen, firemen and teachers are still strangers to you, so you’re not obligated to obey them for any reason! “A stranger…” Wild Bill starts.

Kid picks up the rhyme. “…means danger! Now I know!”

“AND KNOWING IS HALF THE BATTLE! G.I. JOE!”

Suffocating

I like this one, because the ones where the kids are already suffering are a great deal more interesting than the ones where they’ve narrowly averted some horrible fate.

A whole bunch of kids are in a yard, failing completely at playing hide and go seek, for the yard boasts all of one good hiding spot (a tree) and nothing but a whole lot of crab grass. “Olly olly oxen free!” one boy yells. What the heck does that phrase mean, anyhow? Summons up mental images for me of happy cows suddenly released from their pens to go on safari.

“Hey, where’s John?” one boy queries. Electrocuted? Drowned? On fire? Lost? Fainting? In the world of Joe PSAs, there’s so many places John could be!

“What’s the excitement?” Rocondo (?) (That’s how it sounded, anyway; as I said, I’m no Joe lore expert) asks. He walks into the frame with such calm assurance that I get the impression he just got permission from his mom to come out and play games with the other kids.

“We can’t find John!” one kids bleats. “He was headed that way!” another boy says. The girls here are just window dressing.

As the boy points, the camera pulls back to show us a refrigerator a short ways away. And when I say “short” here, I mean it’s about “three feet” from the end of the finger to the handle on the door. These kids are the WORST hide and seekers EVER if they can’t figure out where John went.

“Oh NO!” Rocondo cries. “Check that old refrigerator!” He really wants to win the game, eager for the alpha male’s approval. Sure enough, there’s John gasping for air. You think John would’ve been hitting the door in desperation when his air supply started to run out, but John wanted to win too.

Rocondo starts his lecture on why kids should never, ever pick good hiding places. My mind wanders and fixates on his moustache, yet another wild, untamed Joe expression of virility and vigor. Rocondo also has a pistol affixed to his chest, within easy grabbing distance of any of the youngsters. Small hope.

“AND KNOWING IS HALF THE BATTLE! G.I. JOE!”

Handicaps

I’m going to jump ahead to the moral here, which is “handicaps don’t make a person useless,” which is noble and admirable and all that. Of course, the Joes have to spruce it up to the point where “handicaps make a person have superpowers and should be treated like minor gods,” which maybe takes the message a little too far.

A group of possibly lost kids are roaming through nature, with Blind Kid trailing behind. We know he’s blind, because he adheres to the movie formula of (a) having giant blue sunglasses that make him look like Cyclops from X-Men, and (b) tapping a walking stick around in the dirt. Nobody seems to concerned that he’s being left behind, and the wolves have taken up his scent. Survival of the fittest, after all!

Abruptly, and I do mean abruptly, one of the boys turns around and shouts, “Oh no! My kitten’s lost!” This seems to be an odd thing to suddenly realize and announce for a nature hike — was he walking his kitten? Did he have it stuffed into his back pocket and it squirmed its way out? It all has the same sincerity and impact as if one of the kids smacked themselves on the forehead and said, “Oh no! Ross Perot lost the 1996 presidential election!”

Blind Kid offers to help. “We don’t have time to waste!” a petulant girl says, hands on her hips, wasting time. Blind Kid then realizes that his contribution to society lies somewhere between hamburger flipper at McDonald’s and a cockroach.

Nature- and liver-loving Spirit moseys on by. “Blind does not mean you cannot see to solve problems,” he notes with awkward double-negatives. Well, yes, Spirit, that’s exactly what “blind” means. “Can’t see.” Unless the boy’s developed sonar, which would make for the grooviest PSA ever! “Let’s ALL look!” he advises. Unfortunately, no one tells him to get lost and go find his own kitten.

One screen wipe later, and the kids are still standing around like they’ve somehow forgotten what those two things jutting out from the bottom of their waist are for. The kitten better darn well be within a ten-foot search radius if it wants to be found. Blind Kid takes special note of the meowing going on in a nearby log. Hm, what could his super blind powers be telling him? Earthquake coming? Little Timmy fell down the well? Nay, it’s the kitten! Reaching down to grab the cat one-handedly — far, far more smoothly than one would expect from a person without sight — Blind Kid redeems his purpose in life. “You found Poppy!” the girl shrieks.

Poppy does not look amused.

Spirit rubs it into the rest of their faces. “Mark has learned to use his OTHER senses BETTER!” Like, spider-sense! Only, kitten-sense! “Remember, having a handicap doesn’t mean you’re helpless!”

“AND KNOWING IS HALF THE BATTLE! G.I. JOE!”

Life Jackets

Three buddies are sailing their boat on a river. I’m now green with envy, because they’re all about 10 years old, and I certainly never got to take watercraft out unsupervised at 10, nor did I get to stay up past 8:30pm! Losers. I hope, but can’t expect, that the danger in this PSA will be a 20-foot man-eating squid summoned up from the deeps.

“Are you gonna wear THAT sissy thing?” one kid teases. We get a close-up of what the “sissy thing” is — it’s a boy’s life jacket, garishly orange and having the effect of making him look like he’s a minor He-Man action figure. Truthfully, it does look pretty sissy. I think he should take it off and just learn how to swim like the rest of us.

We’re introduced to Sissy Boy’s two companions. His one friend is wearing a goofy white sailor hat, and should definitely not consider himself in the position to make fashion judgments upon others.

The other boy turns the ship, and the sailboat’s mast makes spectacular contact with the jeerer’s face. Seriously, I was cheering. He does a flip and dive into the water, where he promptly starts to drown (of course) and shouts “help!” His one friend just stands there, ready to spit out, “Hm, I can’t hear you, with this life-saving sissy thing on me!”

Fortunately for the victim, Deep Six is back, this time in his chunky sub-boat-thing. Deep Six shows an abnormal level of concern for a Joe in a PSA, and actually does a major rescue in the water. He brings the drownee over to the boat, showing them and us that the water there goes only up to his mid-calves. Hard to drown in that, but I’ll give the kid creative points for doing so! “Life jackets are good protection,” Deep Six says, wearing a huge metal suit with no jacket in sight.

“Now I know,” sputters the kid, riverwater gushing from his lungs.

“AND KNOWING IS HALF THE BATTLE! G.I. JOE!”

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