So, usually I just talk about comic books and crap and it all comes out fine. Today, we are going to diverge a bit, to a cool piece of intellectual property owned by Hasbro which has been treated poorly.
To be fair, I could write a great many articles on great IPs that sit, languishing in some proverbial IP warehouse layered with years of dust, stacked on two stories of wooden shelves, where they will be studied by top men…
Many of these properties hail from the realms of syndicated 1980s cartoons, where greatness was cancelled and mediocrity ruled. There was this astounding period of time where every single insane idea that television and toy manufacturer executives threw on the table ended up with a toy line, a comic book, and a cartoon series. This series would air on Saturday mornings or on weekday afternoons, mostly, so if you were paying attention, you could check out some of the most fucked up concepts ever to foisted upon an unsuspecting public!
Among these was a little gem called ‘Jem.’
Not a typical cartoon I might have followed, Jem aired on Sunday mornings as part of a block of short cartoons called ‘Super Sunday’ that included Bigfoot and the Muscle Machines, Robotix, and (my favorite) The Inhumanoids. As an ignorant youth, I considered this to be dirty pool, shoe-horning a ‘girl’s cartoon’ in with cool ‘boy cartoons.’ This point of view soon altered, however, as I found Jem to be well-written and engaging, even so far as to avoid the general level of condescendence that nearly every other animated show embraced.
Sure, it had a goofy premise: Jerrica Benton was the owner and manager of Starlight Music who used a holographic computer called ‘Synergy’ to transform into superstar pop sensation Jem. Backed up by her biological sister and three foster girls as the Holograms, Jem became an international sensation after the death of her father.
Having inherited half of Starlight Music and the Starlight House, a home for foster children after his passing, Jerrica found herself in need of money from the music company to keep up the foster house. Finding Synergy, which had been built by her father to be the ultimate light show system, under mysterious circumstances, she decided to become Jem to build a following and leverage enough influence to take back her company. All the while, she foiled the plots of her father’s rival, Eric Raymond, and his band of punk rock villains, the Misfits. All the while, her boyfriend, Rio tried to figure out who Jem really was.
Essentially, Jem had Batman’s origin, but made music rather than punching people in the face.
The show featured multiple original songs in each episode presented as music videos. These were generally from Jem, the Misfits, or the other villain band that was introduced later, the Stingers. The music wasn’t of the highest quality, but the fact that it was on the level it was while being produced for an animated series was kind of impressive. The music was always inserted at opportune times and revolved around a theme that was taking place in the story and some of the songs weren’t completely terrible, for manufactured pop.
Thematically, Jem focused on the young girl demographic, but the inclusion of action sequences enabled the series to fall into the familiar format alongside those animated series that focused on the male demographic (which were far more prevalent). However, the themes of inclusion, self-reliance, loyalty, and honesty were included throughout the show (with the obvious hypocrisy of Jerrica/Jem’s secret identity sort of being glossed over). Ultimately, the series had an unusual concept and presentation even when considered amongst a dozen series that were astoundingly original.
After three seasons, Jem was cancelled, but has maintained a strong following. Like many Hasbro properties, however, it has had no attempt at revival…
No longer is Jem using the concept of the superhero to present a very different kind of story but, rather, all those elements that made Jem unique have been stripped away and yet another tale of a girl seeking fame and finding it. Nothing about the above trailer is original and, worse, it strips away the fun and originality of the source material.
It’s really no different than a great many revivals which seem to gloss over those elements of the original that made it enjoyable while ‘modernizing’ it by adding elements that are common in similar media. Stripping away creativity to produce corporate-approved content isn’t a new concept, but we live in a wildly different era, here in the future.
Certainly, Jem was developed in the boardroom, but it was the execution that cemented it in the hearts of fans. It certainly wasn’t the toys that sold themselves (they were, essentially, Barbies) but those creative elements developed for the animated series; the attitude, the imagery, and, of course, the music. Ignoring these elements and forcing the property to conform to the look of every other similar project takes away the luster and dooms the revival to mediocrity.
Not every alteration to a property has prevented the revival from being successful, but the failures far outweigh the successes. One would think that the executives counting every penny of these corporate-produced IPs would take this into account and, potentially, change the initial approach, but the Jem film is a clear indication that this is probably some ways off.
As a culprit, Hasbro is, ultimately, one of the largest transgressors in allowing revived projects to deftly avoid any level of innovation like some intellectual property Neo being fired upon by beret-festooned Agents armed with artistic integrity, intellectualism, and original thought.
This means that fans will never again see projects they once loved translated into the modern time, but it opens up the realm of creating your own original work and putting it out there to be consumed. We live in a world where everyone has the equal ability to create and develop and build worlds and universes. Don’t like the new Jem film? Fine, make your own!
Let’s call it, um… ‘Jam’ and it’s this girl, um… Jericho Tenband whose mother dies and leaves her a bunch of stuff, like a magical computer… err… orb, which allows her to turn into this glamorous singer named Jam and her friends are the Hollowtones and, um…
Okay, maybe someone else better take on this one.
Perhaps our friends at Exxilista would have some ideas!