G.I. Joe took a beating the other day.
G.I. Joe is not a man, the courts ruled; he is a doll.
Hasbro Industries, Joe's maker, was not pleased. The decision didn't just tarnish Joe's manlihood; it hurt Hasbro's pocketbook. Since 1982, Hasbro has been importing G.I. Joe, America's hero, from Hong Kong. The U.S. Customs Service imposed a 12 percent tariff duty on Joe as an imported doll.
Hasbro claimed, however, that Joe's just a good old toy soldier, which isn't subject to the import tariff imposed on dolls. All he's been for the last twenty-five years is a simple grunt doing his duty. He never wet his pants when you pulled a string and he never dressed up to go to a tea party, except that one time when it got real lonely in the trenches . . . But that's beside the point.
The judges didn't buy it. The tariff was one duty Joe just couldn't get out of. Despite his fatigues, helmet and submachine gun, both the trade court and the appeals court ruled that Joe was indeed "a representation of a human being used as a child's plaything." Joe's a doll, albeit a heavily armed one.
The juges humiliated Joe, but he still had his self-respect left. "Even though G.I. Joe has lost his battle, hopefully he will not lose his courage for combat," wrote Judge Paul R. Michel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
"G.I. Joe is still one of the guys," said Donald Robbins, Hasbro vice president and general counsel. "Boys know who he is."
Hasbro lost some money, but millions of war-hungry boys lost whatever self-respect they had on the playground. they trusted Joe, played with him when all the other kids went for those high-tech Transformers and that musclebound pansy, He-Man. And now, to think that all this time he was just a doll.
I can see it now. Some eight-year-old boy's sending Joe out on a covert mission in some Third World sandbox, happily destroying a Smurf village in order ot save it, when some creepy girl comes along.
"Hey, Billy!" she'd yell. "Having a fun time playing with your doll?"
"He ain't no doll!" he'd reply. "He's an action figure." "Sure he is," she'd sneer, holding her toy pick-up truck in one chocolate -smeared hand. "And so's My Little Pony."
"G.I. Joe could blow up that ol' truck any day! He's got a demolition pack and everything!"
"And Barbie'd turn him over her knee and spank him for it. He's only three-and-a-half inches tall, for cryin' out loud."
She'd stick her tongue out at him and go four-wheeling over by the slide. Billy would sigh, think for a moment, and stick Joe's head in the sand. To heck with covert doll missions, he'd think to himself, I wanna be a corporate lawyer when I grow up.
© 1990 Randel Shard
First published in The Minnesota Daily on July 28, 1989