The Campy Fun of Jem

Curator's Note

Of all the 80s shows resurrected to capitalize on nostalgia, Jem is certainly a viable candidate. The show was a joint collaboration by Hasbro, Marvel Productions and Sunbow Productions, the same team responsible for G. I. Joe and Transformers, both of which have already been adapted to film franchises. Like Jem, these shows were primarily made to market toys first and develop plot and characters second.

The show itself is ridiculous. The show centers around Jerrica Benton, daughter of a record executive that fights for control of his company Starlight Music after he dies. Greedy music executive Eric Raymond tries to oust Jerrica by pushing his new band The Misfits, leading Jerrica to create here own band Jem and the Holograms to fight back.

Jem, the alter ego of Jerrica, is just the beginning of the show’s campy fun. Jerrica creates her secret pop identity through holographic projection technologies inherited from her father, a program named Synergy, ironic considering the show’s purpose for production. Each episode has two to three music videos with original songs. These inventive segments, along with the show as a whole, forcefully screams “80s” with its fashion and its music.

The show’s camp value also derives from its over the top drama. In contrast to Eric’s greed, Jerrica also runs a home for foster children. Rival band The Misfits always work to undermine everything Jem does, whether it be rudely interrupting an interview, or endangering peoples lives through hooliganism on a yacht. This near ship accident, along with an assassination attempt and a catastrophic fire, all occur within the show’s first three episodes, which always end in a cliffhanger.

The only way to successfully translate this show that is so rooted in the past is to mine the show for its camp value. But based on the trailers for the upcoming film, it seems the film merely retools the brand and inserts the standard trials and tribulations of a rising pop act instead. It’s a shame, because in this current cultural landscape where both nostalgic and ironic consumption occur, a more “faithful” adaptation of Jem’s lunacy would have been welcome, revelling in its distinctively 80s production rather than neutralizing its potential camp value.

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