Reagan, G.I. Joe and Me

The Reagan administration was known for its deregulation initiatives. I never thought about one of those initiatives that probably actually had the most impact on my life as a child during the Reagan years, though.

For decades, the FCC had rules that limited “excessive advertising.” This affected the amount of commercialism that could creep into children’s shows. Groups like Action for Children’s Television (ACT) ensured compliance with the rules.

Consequence of Sound has a piece that speaks to how things were different under Reagan and how that enabled film-length product placement opportunities like Mac and Me.

Then along came the Gipper, and everything changed. Ronald Reagan, infamous nemesis of corporate regulations, began gutting the FCC from the inside, starting with his appointment of Mark Fowler as FCC commissioner in 1981. Fowler was a fellow acolyte of Big Business, a firm believer of the dominance of market forces as a yardstick for quality in broadcasting. Fowler summarily began cutting regulation after regulation for advertisement on children’s programming. In his mind, the free market would decide what programming was entertainment and what was just another ad.

Partly as a consequence of the loosening of programming rules, though also partly as a result of the success of Star Wars and its accompanying merchandise, most kids cartoons I watched during my elementary school years were essentially toy advertisements. G.I. Joe, Transformers, GoBots, M.A.S.K, Masters of the Universe, Thundercats, Silverhawks and probably a few others that I have forgotten were all shows that had their own lines of action toys. I was all-too-susceptible to what those shows were selling. I’m not sure it was really even necessary to have traditional adverts breaking up those shows as the shows themselves probably moved mountains of licensed products.

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