The inevitable has happened. I know I should have expected it and seen it coming, but what with Hollywood desperate to cash in on the nostalgia factor of past cartoons and films, it was only a matter of time. They made a Jem and the Holograms movie. Sigh. I watched the trailer and felt my face try to contort itself into something resembling Robert Musch’s figure in ‘The Scream’. I felt a multitude of emotions wash over me, all of the on the negative scale. But the longer I consider this, the more I realize this isn’t just some knee-jerk reaction to what I saw in the trailer. It’s something I felt symptomatic of a larger problem at play.
Jem: Rock star, entrepreneur, philanthropist, mermaid.
Let me back up a bit first to explain my feelings on this. I’m an 80′s kid. It wasn’t unusual for a popular video game, toy or film to spawn a animated series if it saw some success. We knew the drill. Jem and the Holograms were a collection of dolls and the cartoon was made with the idea to hawk those dolls. But the dolls were different; more realistic proportions than their Barbie counterparts. They sported wild hair and make up. They had flashy fashions that the more mundane Barbie wouldn’t be caught dead in. They had earrings that flashed, and they sparked imagination. But I could take or leave the dolls. The cartoon was what caught my heart and made me think big.
Yes. All of the yes. All conflicts shall be solved by Battle Of The Bands.
In the cartoon, Jerrica Benton, aka Jem, inherited half of her father’s company, Starlight Records. The other owner was Eric, a greedy producer bent on making a buck at the expense of ethics, taste, and artistic integrity. Pivotal to this was his female band, The Misfits who made it clear that they wanted to be famous at any cost. They valued fame, wealth and host of superficial shit that was detestable and ironically is what feels like is the blood of the celebrity culture. They would toss one another under the bus with such regularity that you could set your watch to it, and often times all turned on Eric when one of their catty stunts didn’t bear fruit. I still remember my mother keeping me in line by saying, ‘You don’t want to be a Pizzazz, (the front woman for the Misfits) do you?” Trust, you did NOT want to be Pizzazz.
Nobody wants to be a Pizzazz. EVER.
Jerrica, in addition to trying to keep Eric and the Misfits from fiscally running the record company into the ground, also ran Starlight House, a place for disadvantaged girls that tried to give them a better life and teach them value from self worth and empowerment. She relied heavily on Synergy, a hologram-producing computer that would alter her and her bandmates to shift into Jem and the Holograms. Each band member was a different ethnicity, had her own hobbies and personality, and character arc growth. When there was friction between the girls, they sought conflict resolution. I know the aim was to sell dolls, but it sold me on another idea.
Yes. You CAN have it all, as a matter of fucking fact…
The fashion and flash were great and helped to enforce these ideas to the younger me and seeing the shared joy that the band enjoyed by helping each other was something I’ve longer for. I’ve found it with my burlesque glitter tribe, my horror family, the circus folk, and my kink community. This idea that we should lift each other up is fundamental to my beliefs in feminism and supporting other artists, and I remember clear as day those lessons on Jem. Hawking dolls, but with a sneaky side order of empowerment. I can get behind that idea.
So part of my disappointment with this new movie is there is none of this. I’m going to surpass the whole, ‘I’m suddenly famous and I am coping with all this attention while learning the value of friendship’ honk. We already went down this road with Josie And The Pussycats. Nope, no sir – the dog I’ve got in this fight stems more from the fact that all the things of interest, worth, and value from the series has gotten shelved for little more than Hannah Montana with pink extensions. The loss of the key points of the series is what has my Swarovki crystal-covered panties in a twist.
In the film Jerrica is no longer a woman, but a teen. She is a shy violet who becomes an overnight YouTube sensation rather than trying to run both a music label to save it from financial ruin as well as a foster home for young women. She climbs to fame and forgets her friends rather than raising them up with her and celebrating their talents. That fame is a right, and easy one, and a career in the arts ensured fortune. And one of my favourite elements that constantly sparked my childhood imagination, the hologram mainframe Synergy, is no where in the film. I’d like to say that I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed, but that would be a lie.
Above: yes, below: not so much.
The best thing about this Pitch Perfect produced pile of nostalgia poop is that it did make me mad. So I had to think about why I should be angry if someone made a shitty movie about a cartoon I liked. But that cartoon made me want to dress up in crazy clothes, perform with my friends, and maybe run a record company while cutting an album, having adventures, and nurturing other female artists. It felt very ‘Who Runs The World’ before Beyonce was Queen B. And thinking about those values it gave me, it made me remember that maybe I should demonstrate those ideas rather than let them speak from a cartoon. The usual: treat each other decently, help when you can, encourage. Who knows? Maybe this film will spark others imaginations the way the O.G. Series once did for my generation.
Little Miss Risk