The recent dust up over the new Jem & The Holograms movie hit a nerve with me. I didn’t even know that nerve existed in my body, but there it was, throbbing. If you are in your thirties, can still recite the theme song to Jem & The Holograms (come on, it isn’t even that long), maybe you know what I’m talking about. Or, maybe you haven’t been heartbroken yet. Here you go.
What is the big deal, you ask? Art moves. Art is fluid, right? Art changes with the times. So what if there is no Synergy? So what if there are no Misfits? So what if Jerrica is a total whine-baby dud teenager instead of an up-and-coming young business woman at the helm of a music label?
Screw you, that isn’t art. That is Starbucks slopping some caramel sauce in a latte and telling the world its a caramel machiato. Which, fine, maybe that caramel latte is delicious, I don’t know (I do know, dammit, it is pretty good) but that doesn’t make it a machiato.
I’m getting off track. I have nerve pain here.
The whole reason for resurrecting popular 80’s cartoons into live action movies today is to capitalize on parents’ emotional ties to their childhood. This is why there are nine hundred Transformers and G.I. Joe movies (also because boys are more interesting to money makers than girls but that is another rant for another day). Because parents buy movie tickets and merchandise for their kids if they have an emotional tie to the product. Ingenious! I don’t even mind the manipulation.
I want to buy my kid a Strawberry Shortcake not because she is the coolest doll on the market but because I can give my kid a little strawberry scented piece of my own childhood. And, OK, if you want to slut up Strawberry Shortcake a little to compete with Bratz dolls, whatever.
But, you don’t rewrite Jem & The Holograms. You don’t water that down.
What they’ve done is taken a plucky, capable young woman executive of a small music label – which is a pretty cool premise – and made her a passive, easily manipulated teenage girl. Maybe the thinking here is that girls need to relate to a character to get them to see movies.
All teenage girls are blond, passive, clumsy and easily manipulated, right?
But, why not show a complex character with a duality to her personality? Give us a complicated group of punk rock girls as the antagonists and make us root for them equally. Show us how a bunch of women can be creative and strong. And, give us a little high tech wonder to make it interesting because girls like technology, too. Do they honestly think teenage girls wouldn’t relate to that?
When I was in second grade, I could not fathom anything cooler than Jem & The Holograms. I hadn’t really been introduced to Debbie Gibson yet – that juggernaut was coming. I knew if I just showed the world how talented I was, I could probably end up with an A.I. magic machine that threw holograms over my body and made me something special. I don’t think I expected too much. Hell, I’m still working that goal.
So, I wrote a one woman play that featured Jem, The Holograms, one of The Misfits – Stormer, natch, and Cookie Monster (my teacher loved chocolate chip cookies and I knew my audience, I’m no dummy). A tambourine was definitely involved. It was critically acclaimed – my best friend at the time said it was great.
I asked my teacher, Mrs. Fisher, if I could perform it on stage in the gymnasium of my elementary school. She was a very kind, indulgent woman but she told me no, maybe I could just perform it in front of the class. I was crestfallen. Would the record executives at Starlight even see me in the classroom?
At the end of the day, Mrs. Fisher made time for my show and introduced me to the class. I may be no dummy but I’m also no performer. I froze, it’s true. But, Jerrica had Synergy to help her along. All I had was a tambourine. I stood in front of the class and they waited. And, waited. Finally, some bitch named Jamie popped up, grabbed my tambourine and sang a song about Mrs. Fisher eating the Cookie Monster and it was awful. She was horrible. When she was finished, that bitch handed the tambourine BACK TO ME and we both sat down.
Later, I told my cousins that I couldn’t perform the play the way I’d intended because I’d written it for the stage, not the front of a classroom.
Jem was important to me from about 1985 – 1988 when it was on television. It was important to me afterward in ways I couldn’t calculate because it urged me to be creative and it showed me role models that were funny and goofy and problematic – and they were creative women. To this day, Stormer is still one of my favorites because she was bad but she was good, too. The Misfits were a really talented band – just as talented as The Holograms. For a seven year old to understand and root for that dichotomy is really interesting.
In second grade, I wrote a script that was somehow more authentic to the original vision of Jem & The Holograms than Hollywood has been able to put together. And, mine had Cookie Monster in it. So, Hollywood, when the time comes to shop around She-Ra scripts, you know where you can find me.
That would be truly outrageous.