The Politics of G.I. Joe


Following the overwrought, racist and sexist explosion that was Transformers II: Revenge of the Fallen, fans of 1980s kitschy Hasbro toy properties should breathe a sigh of relief at Stephen Sommers' early August flick G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Since The Rise of Cobra came out the better part of a month ago meaning straight-forward reviews of the film are readily available and that this is the official blog of the Young Democratic Socialists, this article will present a socialist political viewing of the film rather than a standard review of the film's artistic qualities. While the press around the film indicates that it was put together to appeal to audiences from traditionally conservative constituencies, the movie did not have the same degree muscular military nationalism as Revenge of the Fallen and also managed to imply at least one critique of the military-industrial complex that socialists ought to point out.

The film follows the story of two American NATO soldiers called Duke and Ripcord who are part of a unit tasked with guarding nanotechnology warheads designed by Scottish arms contractor James McCullen who produces something like 80% of the world's weapons and is secretly a supervillain. The action begins when McCullen sends his agents to stop the NATO convey and a secret team of specially trained operatives drops out of the sky to fight them. After all of the NATO troops except for the film's protagonists die and the villains peace out with the warheads, Duke and Ripcord are taken to an underground secret base in Egypt where they learn they have been saved by an American-led, international organization called (you guessed it) G.I. Joe. As the film progresses one learns that McCullen has built a secret underwater base in the Arctic Circle and is planning on using the NATO-funded warheads his firm designed to dominate the world.

This is a good jumping off point for our socialist political viewing of the movie. What we see is real multinational (if a bit too hegemon-driven) cooperation to take on the state-subsidized international forces of capital embodied in the military-industrial complex that are seeking to destroy any vestige of what limited representative democracy we do have. Furthermore, implicit in the plot, is the point that despite usefulness of all the cool toys that G.I. Joe in their fight against McCullen those same weapons would not have been useful if they had not made McCullen powerful by purchasing so many of them in the first. This provides a nice opening for socialists to talk about how we spend more than half our annual budget on war and preparation for war and most of that money goes to people like McCullen who in turn spend it making themselves more powerful by buying influence.

That being said, the movie's geopolitics are pure fantasy. Our covert international operations more-often-than not stifle democracy rather than threats to it. The movie is dangerous in that it valorizes C.I.A-style black ops which over the past seventy years have consistently been used overthrow democratically elected, left-leaning governments and replace them with right-wing military juntas headed up by the Pinochets of the world. In the real world, G.I. Joe would most likely be a despicable organization responsible for Guatemala and El Salvador-style human carnage. In talking about the political aspects of the movie, this is something a socialist cannot gloss over.

Although, responsible commentary is probably a little bit too much to expect from a movie based on a property from a toy company that contracts its toys out to sweatshops in China, the movie does present interesting openings for we socialists to talk about our politics. Like it or not, corporate-owned properties like G.I. Joe are an important part of the North American cultural tapestry that socialists should pay attention to, rather than ignore.

Will Emmons is a Democratic Political Consultant in Kentucky. He blogs regularly about comics and pop culture at Bread and Roses and can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @WillinSpace.

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