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Macho in Miniature

For nearly 40 years, G.I. Joe has been on America's front lines in toy boxes from coast to coast

In today’s patriotic climate, G.I. Joe once again stands ready to take on anything from al-Qaida to the axis of evil. A 10th Mountain Division Joe, released recently, wears the same uniform, insignia and battle gear as American troops who served in Bosnia and Afghanistan, while another Joe does duty as an Army Ranger. "Currently on the shelves you’ll find representatives of four branches of the service," says Derryl DePriest, Hasbro’s marketing director. "We bring G.I. Joe into a very realistic format—the clothing, the stitching and the shape of the helmet all pay homage [to the actual troops in the field]."

Like many toys nowadays, America’s miniature fighting man is a product of the factories of the People’s Republic of China. But no matter his size, color or country of origin, Joe’s role as political weather vane will likely continue for many a campaign to come. "Joe challenged and confirmed traditional gender roles," curator Clark Smith observes. "He challenged the preconception that boys wouldn’t play with dolls, while he clearly reinforces the notion of the man as warrior." Smith believes he will remain America’s preeminent playtime paradox. "He reflects the changing and confused thinking of what we want boys to aspire to, what we want men to be—and whether we want to admit what battles we’re really in."

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