Monday, February 23, 2009

How Toyetic Can You Get?

I was born in 1980, which put me at that golden age of children's TV marketing. I grew up with the Transformers, G.I. Joe, the Silverhawks and the Thundercats, but most of of all I grew up with M.A.S.K.

This show defined "awesome" for me as a kid. The good guys are led by Matt Tracker, gazillionaire philanthropist with his own monorail that runs from his palatial estate to a disused gas station in that favorite terrain of kids' cartoons: the featureless desert. And he's got a cadre of compadres, each of them armed with a special (and presumably highly radioactive) helmet that grants them special powers. They're all from disparate walks of life and every week would ditch their jobs as teachers, rock stars, pizza delivery guys, race car drivers and toy manufacturers to go do battle with the evil forces of VENOM. I don't know how or why any of them bothered to hold a job. I'm trying to imagine what my own boss would say when I told him that I had to ditch work to put on a radioactive hat and fight a bunch of guys whose motorcyles turn in to helicopters.

Heroes always seem to have secret identities. The Joker never goes home to his job as a gas station attendant, Doctor Phosphorous isn't a practicing surgeon anymore. In proud superhero tradition, VENOM is essentially MASK's opposite number. Presumably they also have a mountain hideout for their radioactive hats and they get to spend all day planning capers. I can see holding down a job as a good guy. Good guys don't get paid shit. But neither do bad guys, because every time they try to steal the crown jewels or burrow a hole to the center of the Earth, the good guys stop them.

This being a show primarily geared toward selling toys to boys, each team had only one girl. The good guys had Gloria. The bad guys had Vanessa.

Oh, Vanessa. Root of my infatuation with icy, red-haired dominatrices. (Her mask was called "whip," people.)

Also: cultural sensitivity? Not quite the program's strong suit. (Could you tell?) When I said that MASK's agents came from "all walks of life" I mean "they were a bunch of hackneyed stereotypes." Bruce, the Japanese guy, gets at least one bizarre proverb an episode which only series lead Tracker can decipher. Besides ol' Bruce there's an uptight Brit, a hooo-wheee Southerner, it's a wonder they didn't have a German who shouted all the time or a graduate student that never got paid. I couldn't find a Bruce-ism, so you get this:

As a kid I didn't think anything of it. Of course, as a kid I didn't think anything of owning a red Camaro whose gull-wing doors were actual wings or at the amount of infrastructure needed just to move their little conference table from the sub-basement to the regular basement where they kept the radioactive hats. As a kid I chalked up Bruce's inscrutability to his being Bruce and not being some broadly drawn Japanese archetype. They went to England, to Japan, Peru, Iceland, India & Unidentifiable African Countries, and everywhere was populated with crude accents and broad brush strokes. As a kid I didn't think anything of it. Mostly I wanted my parents to buy the toys. And they did. Loads of them. I'd like to think these were just narrative loopholes conjured by underpaid children's TV writers. I think I probably turned out okay.

I dare you to get that fucking song out of your head.

You're welcome.

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