I thought I’d left Jem and the Holograms back in the 80’s with my earliest memories: Synergy drawn on a child sized blackboard, un-erased for months as I commanded my own “showtime”; an image of Jem drawn on the bottom of my first skateboard, instilling me with a chic confidence; my favourite barbies, Holograms and Misfits alike (I had each and every one); ingesting spoonfuls of Kraft Dinner, unblinking, as the battle of the bands commences at noon. Jem was a staple of my youth. Now it has become a staple of my adulthood, too.
IDW Publishing has brought back Jem and the Holograms and transformed a much beloved childhood pastime into something truly, truly, truly outrageous: an ongoing comic series.
Truthfully, I was sceptical about the re-emergence of Jem. I really was (have you seen the film trailer? Gah!). I mean, for everything that was awesome about the cartoon, there was so much inherently wrong with it. Watching now as an adult (Yes, I still watch Jem as a thirty something woman!), I can assess the ways in which it negatively influenced and impacted the way I would grow to interpret the world around me. Throngs of young women were growing up learning that professional women were a force to be reckoned with, thanks to the way Jerrica took on Starlight music, but we were confused about honesty and integrity.
Although women were central to the show and “girl power” was apparent, love was often the central theme; but in love, women were still expected to be subversive. Romantic love became convoluted as Rio and his expectations of honesty from Jerrica were in direct conflict with his own actions as simultaneous lover to both Jerrica and Jem. Likewise, Kimber was always juggling boyfriends with disregard for their feelings. This did not escape the considerations of a young child familiar with divorce and the fall-out of love affairs.
Perhaps most jarring, was the notion of hiding who you are. Successful, stunning, award winning, extroverted Jem is not a real person, rather an incarnation of quiet, contemplative, and conservative Jerrica who shone brighter and more confidently when she was the antithesis of herself. A rub of a pair of ruby red earrings and the mantra, “Showtime, Synergy” downplays the tumult of a hardworking and earnest woman in a male dominated society. That said there are days when I would love to have my own life altering jewellery and catch phrase, too.
Most disappointing, I think, when I look back on my favourite childhood show, was the inadequacy of ethnic representation and cultural diversity. For a show about the fortitude and power of women, there was little variety. All the girls were tall, lean, buxom, and stunning. When I swapped outfit and a wig on my dolls, any one of them could have been any other one. Sure, the show dabbled in ethnicity, but an honest consideration of the characters concludes a Eurocentric homogenized cast. There wasn’t enough for those of us watching at home, living outside of the mould, to hold on to.
Thank goodness for the creative team at IDW.
For the first time, I feel like everything in the Jem universe makes sense. (Caveat: I also think it works really, really well as a comic.)
From month to month, the printed single issues present a plot that is sound, vibrant art, quick dialogue, and a story arc that is exciting and engaging. And yes, I know, the original Jem had these features, too; but what the comic accomplishes that the show did not is an ability to appeal to the masses- thirty year old die-hards like myself, and new and transitory young audiences.
I love that in this new Jem, each character is distinctive. There is no physical mould to fit into. Some, like Kimber and Jerrica are slender, others, like Aja and Shana are curvaceous. Some are tall, others are short. Not one girl looks like another. None could be swapped out or confused for anyone else. And I can see myself in these characters. From lovelorn Kimber, to anxious Jerrica, to shapely Shana, to inquisitive Rio (who, I might add, is so far committed to Jerrica and somewhat distrustful of Jem. How great for a guy to choose a girl for her personality, not her looks! Already, this Rio has put past Rio to shame!).
I am also a fan of the way IDW are shinning a light on Jerrica’s debilitating anxiety. Anxiety is far more than public speaking (or in this case, singing), but is often over looked, ignored. By giving the central character a crippling mental struggle (whether or not this is something they attest to), I think many more fans will embrace the story and see themselves reflected in it.
Perhaps the best part of the whole relaunch, however, is the inclusion and representation of diversity. Ethnicity, so far, is given credence by visual honesty as characters are drawn as their reader counterparts might see themselves in their mirrors at home. We are not, any of us, exactly alike. Why should each pop cultural icon (cartoon or not)be expected to be interpreted the same way?
Like ethnic diversity, the new Jem and the Holograms comic also promotes sexual diversity, sexual orientation and healthy sexuality. Kimber and Stormer, oft freinds and foes of the past, are now more than music partners. They are partners in love! It is so wonderful to see positive and excited depictions of members of the LGBT community in mainstream media. Bravo, IDW team! We need more of this positive messaging in our contemporary media!
Already, only five issues in, the new Jem series from IDW has brought anxiety, body consciousness, honesty, healthy relationships, and LGBT themes to the table. In five issues they have introduced more contentious ideals (as subtle and natural facets of life) than the television show was able to do in three seasons. Finally, this is a Jem we can reflect on confidently. One this older generation fan can proudly share with her daughter. It is a wonderful notion that a powerful influence on my childhood is newly informing my adulthood, and is there for my daughter’s youthful judgement as soon as she is ready.
Jem and the Holograms is 80’s pop culture cannon. I will always love it, but I do not love everything about it. For all its appeal, it has its faults, and IDW is showing us all that Jem is much more than “glamour and glitter, fashion and fame”.
I don’t worry that this new Jem and the Holograms won’t be as good as the old. I already know it’s better.
By Leigha Chiasson-Locke