Robotech®, Patriarchy, and Kids' Culture:
A Conflict Theory Perspective
Like other "boy" cartoons of the 1980s, ROBOTECH had an action-figure line of toys. But unlike its contemporaries' lines (ex. He-Man & the Masters of the Universe and G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero), ROBOTECH's was unique in that it featured a notable number of female characters. Whereas He-man had She-Ra and G.I. Joe had Scarlett -- "token" female characters -- ROBOTECH had significant, "essential" female characters.
The ROBOTECH action figures released in 1985 by Matchbox were modeled after the hugely successful G.I. Joe figures of the time -- mostly 3 3/4 inches tall; packaged on "character cards" that included a character biography and a listing of other figures in the line; accessorized with a gun and helmet, and/or some other character-specific item(s); and engineered so as to be placed within higher-priced line-specific vehicles as "pilots." Although Matchbox's ROBOTECH vehicles were highly regarded for their quality and playability, the same cannot be said about their ROBOTECH action figures, which were low in quality and lacked playable poseability (i.e. they had limited toy-joint articulation). Due to this, as the decade progressed -- and even into the mid 1990s -- it was not uncommon to come across ROBOTECH action figures at dramatically reduced prices or in clearance dump-bins at toy stores.
It is also possible, though, that the very nature of the ROBOTECH action-figure line resulted in its lack of popularity and marketability. As Sherrie Inness brings out in "'It's a Girl Thing': Tough Female Action Figures in the Toy Store":
A two-tier system exists [... H]undreds of male [action figures] are available at [...] major toy [stores ...] A few females might appear, but [...] female action figures can be a hard sell to males. [...] For [an action figure] toy line [...], which is marketed primarily to males [...], including females risks that boys might not purchase the toys [...] (87)
As previously noted, the ROBOTECH action-figure line featured a sizable number of female characters in its ranks. Of the 22 available figures -- of both "hero" and "villain" characters -- six were female. This may not seem significant; but when just the "heroes" are considered, five out of 11 -- nearly half -- are female. Along with their male comrades, they, too, were accessorized with a gun and helmet (the only exception being pop-singer character, Lynn Minmei, who came with a microphone and helmet). Truly, the ROBOTECH action-figure line -- in the context of its lingua franca (Inness 81) -- was a paradox.
Despite ROBOTECH and its action figures' limited marketability, its brand and its toys did touch the lives of many young fans who discovered and latched onto this largely overlooked series. As Inness says:
When we think about the gender-segregated universe of children's toys [and cartoons], including action figures, it is easy to assume the worst. [...] There is no doubt that such stereotyped gender roles have a tremendous influence, but we also have to remember that children can be subversive [...] (90, 91)
And that surely was the case with ROBOTECH. Both fanboys and fangirls purchased and played with these action figures; boys played with girl characters/figures, and girls played with boy characters/figures. Female characters in leadership roles in the military inspired more than a few female fans to pursue a career in the military; scientist characters inspired male and female fans to pursue a career in the sciences; and a transgender character even inspired one male fan to embrace his bisexual identity. As demonstrated by its action-figure line, it can be said the ROBOTECH was both "a boy and girl thing," and challenged and shaped gender expectations for a small-but-devoted generation of 1980s cartoon/toy fans.
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Inness, Sherrie A. "Chapter 3: 'It's a Girl Thing': Tough Female Action Figures in the Toy Store." Unknown. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 75-94. Print.
"Robotech by Matchbox." Action Figure Archive. Action Figure Archive, 2011. Web. 2010. http://action-figures.ca/robotech.htm.
Robotech.com. Harmony Gold USA, Inc., 2007. Web. 2010. http://robotech.com/.
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ROBOTECH ® and all associated concepts, names, designs, and images are trademark and copyright Harmony Gold USA, Inc. 1985-2011. Application of such for the ROBOT MARX project by Evan Harrison Cass is based on the U.S. Copyright principle of Fair Use for not-for-profit "criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research." No infringement of Harmony Gold USA, Inc.'s or associated companies' and individuals' rights is intended.