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DOUG FORD: Clash of cultures

G.I. Joe, the world’s first action figure, turns 50 this year. 

The Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show 50 years ago, Feb. 9, 1964.

See the irony?

In retrospect those two events provided a backlog to a clash of cultures, as America continued its emergence from the sedate, sullen and conservative 1950s to the bright, energetic and rebellious 1960s.

The venerable toymaker, Hasbro, introduced G.I. Joe to the world at the annual toy fair in New York City in 1964, as a smart-looking solider in Army green complete with his own uniform, storage locker, rifle, helmet, ammunition belt and other “accessories.”

Hasbro also outfitted the toy in uniforms of the Navy, Marines and Air Force.

With memories of World War II barely 20 years in the rear view mirror, Joe was one of the “good guys,” fighting for mom, apple pie and Pax Americana.

Controversy over the Vietnam War and the embracing of “flower power” reached a peak in the late 1960s, causing many to shy away from military-themed toys such as G.I. Joe.

The counter culture influenced Hasbro to change with the times and dress down G.I. Joe with adventure themes, in essence making him more like Race Bannon from the Jonny Quest cartoon.

The Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, which can be interpreted as the official start of the British invasion of the mid-1960s, took place on the stage of Studio 50 in New York City, home of the Ed Sullivan Show.

Beatlemania was already the rage in England and throughout Europe, and American teenagers, even without the advantages of instant media, knew enough about the mop-topped foursome to persuade their parents to tune into the popular variety show.

Teenage boys liked the Beatles for their music and rebellious image, while teenage girls liked them for their music and rebellious image – and their mass appeal.

That affection didn’t necessarily extend to their parents, with fathers giving them the same “once over” on television they would give to just about any boy they meet at the door hoping to take out their daughters for the first time.

My father called their music “that old bumpity-bump,” a universal term he used for any music more progressive than Lawrence Welk.

The Beatles, like G.I. Joe, changed with the times, with the Beatles embracing transcendental meditation and growing long hair and beards, in addition to adopting a more psychedelic appearance.

Later versions of G.I. Joe downplayed the military connection, with the iconic doll itself coming with lifelike hair and an appearance closer to Indiana Jones than Sergeant Saunders of the old television series, Combat.

Isn’t nostalgia great?