The 1980s were an interesting time. Rampant capitalism was king, and children’s cartoons became half-hour long advertisements for toys. Shows like Rainbow Brite, He-Man, and She-Ra were all designed to boost sales of their product…and since the live-action movie is due to hit theaters on October 23, now is as good a time as any to talk about Jem and the Holograms.
The brand was originally started by Hasbro as a doll line. In order to boost sales, they created a TV show to capture the hearts of little girls everywhere (after all, this was the 80s and not nearly as queer-enlightened). Jem was the stage name of Jerrica Benton, who was “transformed” by Synergy, a self-described (yes, this is the machine describing itself) audio-visual synthesizer.
What does that technobabble mean?
Who knows? All that we do know is that this “synthesizer” can create flawless holograms of anything, from flaming cars to flashy make-up, hair, and clothes. This is where the band gets their name: Jem and the Holograms. Throughout the series, they “duke it out” with the Misfits, a rival band with a more punk rock attitude.
Add to it what can only be described as a bizarre love triangle where Jerrica competes for her boyfriend Rio… with her own alter-ego, Jem. That’s right, she’s in a love triangle with herself. How often do we see that happen?
Like many shows that were designed to sell toys to kids, the show itself doesn’t hold up so well over time. The dialog and stories are…well, predictable. And speaking specifically of the dialog itself, it was awful. Probably some of the worst I’ve ever heard, and I’ve actually watched both Glen or Glenda and Plan 9 from Outer Space.
But the animation itself is actually pretty good, and the show did have some neat quirks; they had 1-2 minute long music videos interspersed throughout each episode, and they all were very representative of other music videos of the era. The music itself isn’t bad, either—given that this is a series that’s supposed to be advertising toys, it’s actually pretty amazing. The fashion was also very much on point, and entirely representative for the time.
So, how is Jem relevant here, as it’s a heteronormative love story with a cast of gender normative people?
Because Jem is making a modern comeback—in addition to the horrible movie remake. Not as a Saturday morning cartoon (since Saturday morning line-ups are no longer a thing), but as a comic book series that’s currently running through IDW Publishing.
The comic book is important in two ways. Artist Sophie Campbell is an out transgender woman, who began work in the comic industry before her transition. In-universe, IDW also made one of the main characters a lesbian: Jem’s sister Kimber, who’s in a relationship with Stormer, a member of the Misfits.
In an interview with the Advocate, Campbell spoke of transitioning professionally and even within the comic book series. She said, “it’s kind of surreal. Jem number 2 is the first printed comic with Sophie on it, but the bigger moment for me was seeing my name changed on existing works that IDW went in and updated, particularly the updated cover of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Volume 8: Northampton. Seeing that was just awesome. I can’t wait for it to be reprinted.
“I feel like with Jem, even though the first issue says ‘Ross’ on it, that I was already Sophie when I started working on issue 1, so it feels less like a big change, if that makes sense.”
She also mentioned that some of the men in the series might also wind up being gay. This is very progressive given the show’s beginnings.
As for the movie…its only resemblance to the original content is the name. Thirty years ago, getting on the radio or MTV (because there was a time where they actually showed mostly music videos) was the big thing, but that time has passed—record labels aren’t the only way to go anymore and making Jem an internet star would definitely be more contemporary.
As someone who was a fan of the original series when I was younger, this remake is a slap in the face. It would make more sense to update the story, since the ways they were working to become famous just aren’t the same today. And the story itself seems awful.
Jem and the Holograms was a truly iconic series for its time. Like many shows of the 80s, it showcased the opulence that everyone wished to achieve: what kid wouldn’t want to become a popular musician, jetsetting around the world? Who didn’t want to fall in love with an incredibly hot partner? Who wouldn’t enjoy having the looks of a supermodel?
Jem gave that fantasy to many children of the day. While the cartoon itself is kitschy by today’s standards, it certainly stands as a relic of the 80s. From the big hair, to the clothes, to the music, it really is a flashback to the 80s.
Here’s to hoping that the movie winds up being better than what’s been shown so far.
For nostalgia’s sake, here’s the opening from the show: