Gen-X kids (who, of course, grew into Gen-X adults) remember coming home from school and watching the latest adventures of Transformers, G.I. Joe, or Thundercats, series that are still remembered fondly and that still have fans to this day. But what was happening to the brains of Gen-X as they watched these shows? Kids were made to believe that they could replicate the adventures of their favorite heroes. All it involved was getting all the figures, vehicles, and playsets featured on these series. Such is the premise of Brian “Box” Brown’s The He-Man Effect: How American Toymakers Sold You Your Childhood.
According to Brown, toy companies made sure that the toys Gen-X kids enjoyed were ingrained in their imaginations as children and even steeped in nostalgia as adults. This is due to a lot of factors, including president Ronald Reagan’s deregulation of children’s television in the ‘80s to the study of how propaganda can influence human emotion. Many of the television shows that kids enjoyed in the ‘80s and ‘90s were actually half-hour long television commercials.
The premise of Brown’s book sounds like something meant to leech the joy out of many Gen-X childhoods but Brown does manage to find a balance between professing his own love for these series while offering an unbalanced assessment. He brings in a lot of facts about the television landscape in the ‘80s, including how it became more of an advertising free-for-all compared to the ‘70s, and even the early days of propaganda techniques that were used by governments during wartime. However, there’s also very detailed histories on the many different action figures and toys that dotted the television and toy landscapes.
The book’s artwork isn’t dazzling, but it doesn’t need to be. Simple black and white drawn panels move Brown’s narrative of ‘80s television/toy advertising but doesn’t distract from all the information he presents. Those familiar with those toys will recognize their favorites like He-Man and Transformers in these drawings, but Brown’s simple pictures make sure that his overall premise remains informative.
This would be a good pick for any library’s adult graphic novel collection, but it really fits into its media studies collection because it explains how Gen-X kids, myself included, had indeed had our childhoods sold to us. Brown has come to terms with it, even explaining how he still fondly remembers the days he played with these toys, meaning it would also be a good read for Gen-X kids who want to learn how their favorite toys came to be.
The He-Man Effect How American Toymakers Sold You Your Childhood Vol.
By Brian “Box” Brown
MacMillan First Second, 2023
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)