G.I. Joe, kids' toys of the '80s and '90s, and the powerful pull of childhood nostalgia

click to enlarge G.I. Joe, kids' toys of the '80s and '90s, and the powerful pull of childhood nostalgia
Yo, Joe! The animated G.I. Joe recently turned 40.

In case you missed the big news, the G.I. Joe cartoon recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, and to celebrate, Hasbro has been running a 24/7 livestream of remastered episodes on its YouTube channel.

As a girl of the '90s with not even the slightest interest in G.I. Joe back then, watching the flat, 2-D antics of all the goofy-named characters — Roadblock, Dusty, Shipwreck, Sgt. Slaughter and even Barbecue, to name a few — was unexpectedly entertaining, and oddly soothing. The plot of each G.I. Joe episode is pure silliness, with just enough absurdity to make grown-ups chuckle. (At times, you really wonder what the writers were going for.)

My also-just-turned-40 partner, Will, grew up with the cartoon. One night after catching a few episodes after dinner, we fell deep down the rabbit hole of the internet, finding catalogs of old G.I. Joe action figures that he and his brothers once had.

While Will's G.I. Joe figurines are long gone (along with most of my own childhood toys, save for a few Barbies and Pound Puppies), the memories of them live large in the kingdom of adult nostalgia.

Companies like Hasbro and others take full advantage of this fact, pumping out a ridiculous number of special collector edition reissues of the original toy models. The real deal from back in the day are hot items on eBay, and in local antique shops.

During a recent visit to the Pine Street Market vendor mall in Spokane Valley, I saw original G.I. Joe figures — still sealed in plastic — with price tags of $200 and up. Others that had once been played with, even sporting a few backyard battle scars to show for it, were just as much.

Even if we grown-ups don't orchestrate grand showdowns between the evil Cobra and the heroic Joes, many still desire to put them up on a shelf to collect dust, if only just to glance over and relive that gloriously golden, carefree past.

As they say, nostalgia is a helluva drug, and the feelings evoked by the defining toys of our youth might be one of its most potent forms. Among the many other toys I saw that day scattered throughout the vendor mall, waiting to be rediscovered, were Beanie Babies, Matchbox cars, Star Wars action figures, Barbies and so much more.

Toys like those and the old school G.I. Joes are generationally defining. And as we age, their former center place in our lives fades to an almost dreamlike state.

"I think we had that guy?" Will said to me as we scrolled that site listing all the G.I. Joe toys from the mid-'80s.

Even his own memory of a thing once beloved had blurred. ♦

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About The Author

Chey Scott

Chey Scott is the Inlander's Arts and Culture Editor and editor of the Inlander's yearly, glossy magazine, the Annual Manual. Chey (pronounced "Shay") is a lifelong resident of the Spokane area and a graduate of Washington State University. She's been on staff at the Inlander since 2012...