It’s been pretty quiet around JBL for the past 13 months.
No new reviews, no news postings, no snarky nostalgia-filled pieces about things that just happen to pique the admin’s interest.
Instead, it’s been quiet. Or, in the words of Elmer Fudd “vewy vewy qwiet…”
What’s the reason for that silence? Well, I can’t really say but there are several things that have contributed to it.
G.I. Joe is Dead (As a Toy Line)
I’m not speaking in shocking terms to generate buzz. Plain and simple– as far as Hasbro is concerned the G.I. Joe brand as a toy line is currently dead. It’s been several years since the Big H produced ANYTHING new for retail based on any incarnation of the brand. Sure, people will point to the forthcoming 2020 Snake Eyes solo film and the recently revealed “World’s Smallest” items and proclaim that this declaration is wildly untrue.
I’d counter with this: where’s the Hasbro-produced product? Where’s the SDCC exclusives? What about something on Hasbro Pulse? Searching both the online store and the company’s website for “G.I. Joe” produces the same result: “no products found.”
As far as the “World’s Smallest” items are concerned– those are merely a pittance to keep a trademark active. It’s a token gesture at best and a cultural relevance life support measure at worst. The company cares so much about the brand that saved it on multiple occasions that it licensed out the name and two character likenesses to a company that sells nostalgia key chains, etc at places like Cracker Barrel. Think about that for a moment.
Oh sure, we’ve got the Snake Eyes solo film to look forward to in 2020. (The film has been pushed back to October.) A lot of people are thinking that this will be the shot in the arm the brand needs again– just as Bumblebee was for the Transformers. Except that, while Bumblebee was tonally a major course correction, it didn’t exactly sell a myriad of toys. In fact, the film’s tie-in line had almost a minimal presence at retail as Hasbro was releasing a confusing myriad of Transformers sub-brands that attempted to simultaneously focus on collectors and kids. Remember the old adage about trying to be a jack of all trades and a master of none?
It’s Time to Move Forward
I was born in the early 1970’s and hit my formative years in the 1980’s. As such, the Reagan years Cold War era A Real American Hero brand is was incredibly relevant to me as a child. Nostalgia for this era was also strong when the 25th Anniversary line was launched. As an adult, I loved seeing the plastic heroes of my youth make a return once more and, even though I had issues with the durability of the product and its focus on adult collectors, I still purchased far more of it than I care to admit. (My bank accounts would be so much stronger if I hadn’t!)
Funny thing about nostalgia is that it really only works on those who formed an attachment to a brand/style/concept in the first place. Hasbro’s constant return to the 1980’s G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero mythos has definitely earned brand loyalty from an audience. Sadly, it’s the same audience that loved that ARAH era the first time around. What the brand has failed to do is make itself relevant to anyone after the glory days of ARAH. I’m not talking about collectors– I’m talking about children. Without the attention of children, the line will only appeal to a shrinking collector base that finds itself steadily growing older and facing new priorities in life. What’s more important– purchasing a figure of Snake Eyes version 2,356 or buying school supplies for your children? It is more important to snag a vintage Despoiler on eBay or make a car payment? Or, even more importantly– do you really need to to acquire another updated version of a character that you already own five times over?
Just as G.I. Joe moved from military realism in the 1960’s to adventure team exploits in the 1970’s before becoming a multi-cultural military unit in the 1980’s, it’s time for evolution to occur once more. For too long, the brand has been held hostage by stalwart refusal to move forward and become relevant to the kids of today. I’m sorry collectors (myself included) but we should no longer be Hasbro’s focus for the brand. Our numbers aren’t increasing– and the brand is falling further and further out of the public zeitgeist. Just as any child under the age of 10 if they know what “G.I. Joe” is. Unless they’re the child of a collector, the answer will most likely be “I don’t know” or “those guys from that movie with the Rock.” In the 1980’s, EVERYONE with a child was aware of the current incarnation of G.I. Joe. However, the brand really hasn’t been targeted to children since the demise of the Sigma 6 line.
The Future of JBL
So, what does all of this long-winded ranting have to do with the future of the site? That’s a good question. In the past year, I’ve felt my energy for Joe diminish greatly. Maybe it was too many over-priced repaints released by the Club, maybe it was a complete lack of presence at retail, or maybe it was the fact that even the comics barely move the overall narrative forward anymore. Whatever the reason, Joe felt stale and uninspired. I love the 1980’s brand as much as anyone– so much so that I’ve put my own money into maintaining this website since 2004. At the end of 2019 I renewed the site’s hosting for another 3 years as I’ve done time and time again– only this time it hit me: why? Why was I putting down a significant sum of money to something that was languishing due to inactivity for (at that time) 12 months?
Over the past few years , I’ve put significant effort into growing the site’s presence on social media– most notably on Facebook. For the most part, there’s been new content posted five days a week– focusing on everything from the incredible character profiles created by Todd Weinzierl for Magnum6Delta.com, vintage toy commercials, comic book previews, and even cartoon screen caps. It was fun to see the comments and engagement that came from revisiting Joe’s past and diving into the pool of nostalgia. However, after a while I began to realize that I was running the risk of repeating myself. How many times can we run a poll about “Commando or Ninja”? How often can we caption odd screen caps of Sunbow or DiC episodes? You can only plum the well so many times before the well of inspiration runs dry.
Astute observers might even notice that I finally took down the forums of JBL. Despite the gallant efforts of the dedicated admins, there was far more spammer activity than community interaction– and JBL was one of the last of the old 2000’s era forums still standing at that point. (I miss sites like JoeSightings, JoeReloaded, and others now lost to history aside from the Wayback Machine archives.) I noticed that many of the old faces had moved on– either due to shifting their activity over to more easily accessible social media platforms or as a result of changing life priorities. In many ways, much of the community that I knew had moved on.
So, what does this mean for the site? Well, for those of you who still drop by on a semi-frequent basis, let me say THANK YOU. I’ve never done anything on this site for personal gain but instead for you. Everything on JBL was created to provide information, utility, and entertainment to my fellow Joe fans . Without you, there would be no reason for this site to exist. Despite how I may come across at times, I’m not a vain person. I never once thought that my opinion of a figure was so important that I had to cram it down someone’s throat. Instead, I tried to offer my perspective and enough information to let fans decide from themselves if something was worth a purchase or not. The same goes for any news that was posted. It was never about site traffic or advertising– it was about sharing information that others might find useful.
JBL isn’t going away. I’ve renewed the site for another 3 years. However, I don’t see the site being a “breaking news” kind of destination anymore– if it ever was. Those days are past for the Joe community in an age of social media and mobile instant publishing capabilities. Instead, I view this site as an archive– of what the Joe community was at one time. Over the next few months I’ll be updating the site on the back end to be more mobile-friendly– something is long overdue when you consider some of the review pages are now easily 15 years old. I’ll likely be adjusting the overall layout as well to reflect its role as an archive. (The same holds true for the long-neglected Sigma6Central.com.) Over time, I’ll post the backlog of reviews from the final Collector’s Club FSS waves as well as older product that’s been collecting dust for too long.
What I won’t be doing however, as of this writing, is trying to keep up on the new movie tie-in products (whatever that may be). I’ve got a collection room that is approaching hoarder-level capacity and I’d much rather put my time and energy into things I actually enjoy owning than merely purchasing things to “support the brand.” When I look at a figure and realize that I feel nothing for it I have to ask “Why did I purchase this in the first place?”
Maybe I’m getting older. (I doubt that I’m getting wiser.) I’d much rather have fewer possessions and appreciate each and every one of them had have a room full of plastic that causes more anxiety than not when I try to organize it. G.I. Joe has been an important part of my life and so has JBL. Through this site I’ve made some fantastic friends (some of whom I still have a near daily text conversation with) and had some great experiences. I’ve watched members of the community go from semi-frequent forum posters to full-fledged subject matter experts and published authors. I’ve seen friendships grow, relationships blossom, and people come together over their love of a product that was solely intended to appeal to children. I regret none of that– from the countless hours spent photographing figures and updating databases to the frightening amount of money that has been spent on site hosting and product acquisition. It’s a part of my life that I’ve enjoyed sharing with so many fantastic people.
JBL isn’t going away. It’s time to admit that it’s not going to be what it once was. The days of Joe news sites are past just as the glory days of A Real American Hero are in the rear view mirror. Instead, JBL will remain as a resource for that era– reminder for those of us that grew up in the 1980’s and still feel a thrill of excitement at the cry of “Yo JOE!” I wish Hasbro the best of luck with finding a new path forward for the brand– even if I won’t be along for the ride actively covering every film casting development or licensed piece of merchandise. I leave that to the current crop of social media content creators. Instead, I’ll be the guy who walks into the toy room, picks up a figure from the stack of unopened items and says “Hey, it’s long past time I posted a review of that.”
So, until the next update… Yo JOE!
Owner, Admin, Guy Who Keeps the Lights On