What ever happened to quality children’s television programming? Maybe we were lucky or just plain spoiled, but the ’80s was a great time to be a kid. Sure there were bad times throughout the decade, think the whole Iran-contra fiasco and the introduction of Dan Quayle to the world, but – more importantly – there was also a buttload of great cartoons.

Paul Wong
Jeff Dickerson

Oh, how I’ve always dreamed of going back to those simple times of Frankenberry cereal and Reaganomics. Well, it looks like my dream may have finally come true.

Over the extended weekend (some people have dubbed the brief sabbatical as “fall break”) I had a lot of free time on my hands. In between games of NCAA Football 2003 (Go Hoosiers) and reruns of “Full House,” I stumbled on to an episode of “Masters of the Universe” on The Cartoon Network, but this was not the He-Man I remembered.

Gone were the pansy Hannah-Barbara animations and the slightly homoerotic storylines between Prince Adam and Man-At-Arms. This edition of “Masters of the Universe” was sleek, sexy and more adult-oriented than its predecessor. There were no signs of Orco or Dolph Lundgren, and He-Man himself looked as if he had spent most of his time at Gold’s Gym popping Ritalin. Was this a dream? I checked the other channels to make sure my biological clock was firmly set on 2002, and by the time I saw “The Real World: Las Vegas” on MTV I knew I had in fact not gone back in time.

Excited by my unearthing, I did some Angela Lansbury-style detective work to investigate what historians may look back and call “The Nostalgia Effect.” Turns out He-Man and Battle Cat aren’t the only ’80s characters to make a grandiose re-appearance into our culture as of late.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome back Snake Eyes, Raphael and Optimus Prime. It’s 1987 all over again.

“G.I. Joe” was one staple of my life growing up in the Reagan era. The cartoon was always entertaining (and who could forget the classic Nintendo game?), but the toys are what made the Joes and Cobras so damn cool. As if the countless points of articulation on a figure weren’t enough, they also came with an assortment of plastic weapons and most importantly, a file card. These tiny cardboard dossiers, complete with bio and birthplace, enabled for infinite storylines in play battles. And knowing is half the battle.

The vehicles were a whole other ball game. Remember back when you actually had to put together your vehicles? Kids today have it easy – real easy. Just open the vibrantly colored box and you’re ready to go. What happened to the creative assembly process? Whether it was the Tomahawk (Mom, I can’t believe you didn’t buy that for me on my 6th birthday) or the Cobra Hydrofoil, constructing your soon-to-be-toy was a mission in itself. The hardest part for me was never getting the pieces to fit together, but getting those pesky stickers in the right places. Most people don’t understand, but sticker placement is an art, an art I genuinely sucked at. This is where my dad came in handy, although one misplaced sticker or tear would disrupt the whole father-son bond for weeks.

Last year “G.I. Joe” returned with a new comic book series from Image. It quickly became one of the most popular comics, and before you could say “Yo Joe!” there were dozens of new toys on store shelves across the country. Let’s hope they make another version of the U.S.S. Flagg, which still has to be the single largest toy vehicle ever made in Thailand.

“G.I. Joe” was a landmark TV series, but my personal favorites were those heroes in a half shell, the world’s most fearsome fighting team, the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” In what has to be the most absurd concept in mass media of the past century, scratch that – ever, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird created a cultural phenomenon in 1984 with their bizarre Ninja-trained-Renaissance-named-reptilian comic characters. Once the comic became a television cartoon, America was never the same.

These turtles were suddenly everywhere; from lunch boxes to underoos (my pair is a bit snug now). A live action film was made and quickly became the highest grossing picture in the history of New Line Cinema. I’ve never waited so many hours in line (at least five) to get into a movie theater, but it was well worth it. I still watch the film religiously; I just wish they would come out with a special edition DVD complete with the deleted scene shown in the trailer (you know the one, where their shells rise out of the water) and a commentary track with Corey Feldman. I may not get my dream DVD, but at least I can enjoy the new animated “Turtles” movie helmed by action-maestro John Woo that is in the works.

At the discovery of the triumphant return of my childhood heroes, my body was going through a sensory overload I hadn’t experienced since “Super Mario Bros. 3” made its debut at the end of Fred Savage epic “The Wizard.” Although thrilled by seeing my old friends again, I began to think about what possibly prompted this massive redux of nostalgia. Was the entertainment industry just getting lazy? Or is our generation just a sucker for nostalgia. Whatever the answer is, I’m just going to sit and enjoy 1987 while its here again.

– Jeff Dickerson can be reached at jsdicker@umich.edu.

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