I had a long think about this subject and what to write here about the new Jem movie. It’s one of those things which has caused ripples in the Jem community at large and has inspired a lot of mixed opinions. I wanted to try and approach this issue with some objectivity, but when I reflect upon the magnitude of decisions being made, I find it hard to do.
I am and have always been entirely against the idea of a live action Jem movie. More than that, I’m also very against the idea of modernising Jem and her companions into the twenty-first century world. There is a line of thought among some fans that, as Jem reflected the age she was created in then, a new Jem concept now should do the same with the age we are all living in. Whilst this is probably true, I would ask of those people, would Jem ever have existed if it had not been the Eighties when Hasbro created her? Although it’s true that she reflected her era, she was also inspired by it. The fashions, the music, and also what was considered acceptable to be broadcast in a kids’ show all revolve around the fact that Jem was produced between 1985 and 1988.
Probably the most famous quote line from the Jem series is Kimber’s “Outrageous!” exclamations, which pepper their way throughout the show. The original animated adventure was ultimately tagged “Truly Outrageous”, and one of Jem’s early songs also carries that title. Kimber’s vocabulary – and not just that of Kimber, but also that of other characters – reflects the slang and common culture of 1980s America. If you heard someone say the word “outrageous” today, then you would probably get an entirely different connitation than the one Kimber meant back then. Sure, it’s a word, but that word is part of the structure of Jem because of its frequency. Can we really imagine a modern Jem world in which characters lapse into 1980s slang at a moment’s notice?
Then there is the fashion. It is true that with anime and other concepts, colouring your hair in funny shades seems to be on the up. That said, though, live action with coloured hair is a disaster waiting to happen. The vibrancy of the colours Hasbro picked for their characters completely reflected the 1980s rock scene. True, people like Lady Gaga do use extreme fashion statements in their videos and their promotions, but the fact alone that we identify figures like that as standing out is evidence enough that the world has changed. In Jem’s word, such colours and clothing is every day. Although these are concepts created by a design team in the 1980s, they are also a core element of the show.
Then, there is the issue of social values. This is a movie, not a kids’ cartoon, but as Scott Mendelson of Forbes pointed out with Strawberry Shortcake, there is a general trend to neutralise the shows of the past when rerendering them into the current age. In the 1980s, Rio’s constant anger management issues, and the extremely complex state of his relationship(s) with Jem and Jerrica were just accepted parts of the plot. Riot’s chauvenistic attitude towards most females in the cast, and the flashback of his father beating him as a small boy were just parts of the story which, in a more up to date setting would probably excite objections. I imagine there will be few of the feminist persuasion who would approve of Jerrica meekly allowing her boyfriend to two-time her with her own secret identity. And then there’s the villainy of the show. The Misfits excited negativity even in the 1980s for some of their antics. Do we think that a bomb in the Starlight Mansion would be just ignored in this era of terrorist hysteria? Probably not, and as for the Stingers and their general attitude of fraud and deception, how long before someone suggests they’re a “bad influence” on the modern young?
The concept of the new movie revolves around social media, which is a major issue for me and I won’t lie. Whilst it is a huge part of the modern world, it requires a complete change in the Jem setup to incoroporate something of that nature. I haven’t yet addressed the issue of Synergy – possibly the most key character in the Jem series for a variety of reasons, not least that without her Jem cannot exist. In the 1980s, the idea of a computer being able to project such a perfect holographic disguise was outlandish and it worked for that reason. In the modern era, however, we have non-existent digital performers such as Hatsune Miku, who you might even call a modern day “Jem” miracle. Japan are also producing robotic stage dancers, and hologramatic technology is far beyond what it was in 1985. That being the case, how on earth is it going to be possible to weave something so unique as Synergy into a modern, digital age? Maybe the focus could be on Synergy’s AI and genuine human personality – but the fact that writers like Mendelson are linking this to an “action movie” puts that in serious doubt.
The Jem movie may be a great production, and it might be a great success. But as many fans do, I feel that the lack of involvement of key members of the original Jem team (Christy Marx, Anne Bryant, to name but two) and the obsession with fan-auditions over social media is weakening the credibility of the project as a whole. The movie markets itself as being about the fandom, but in reality, the fandom were among the last to know and the opinions of those of us who have spent money on Jem products and DVDs (and continue to do so) was never sought. Unlike many people, I am not overly concerned if this is produced by men or women, since, contrary to Mr Mendelson’s article belief, Jem’s fandom is a mixed gender community and always has been. What is more important is grounding the characters and their setting, and attempting the adventure of updating such a vintage figure requires the guiding hand of those who know her best. The real Jem fandom have been in communication with many members of the original production team over the years. When Roger Slifer had his accident, the Jem community donated and supported him through online communities as though he were their neighbour or their friend. Jem fans have dug up prototype information, unearthed master tape media and involved original performers in Jem conventions which have now been running stateside for almost 10 years. This is not a passive community, and they have some very strong feelings about how Jem should be handled.
For me, social media Jem is a way for Hasbro to reach out and grab the attention of the modern teen generation, at the expense of those loyal fans who have never forgotten Jem since she first disappeared from stores and screens. Whether they anticipate producing toys or not is unknown, which leaves the overall question of what the long term intent of this film is meant to be. Is it a celebration of the 30 years of Jem (2015) or is it the start of something new? The Equestria Doll line from My Little Pony seems to put paid to the latter, so one has to ask the obvious question. If this is to put Jem’s anniversary on the map, should it not be the Jem from 1985 that is remembered, rather than some modern day teenager who just happens to have her name?