Life lessons from He-Man

The popular TV cartoon series, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe ran from 1983 until 1985. Essentially designed to promote the Mattel toy range of He-Man action figures, the series was based around Adam, a prince on the planet Eternia and his ongoing struggle for control of Castle Greyskull with his rival, the malevolent Skeletor. By declaring “By the power of Greyskull!” Adam could transform into the all-powerful He-Man. There were a whole host of other characters, plus a spin-off entitled She-Ra in 1985, aimed at girls.

Despite being set on a mythical world, He-Man would often end with a straight to the camera moral message to the audience from some of the characters. These were sometimes edited out of the British transmissions.

Here are just some of them:

There are no magic drugs (He-Man)

“In today’s story Ilena tried taking a magic potion which she thought would help her. Well, she found out there aren’t any magic potions. And you know what? There aren’t any magic drugs either. Anytime you take one from anybody but your parents or your doctor, you’re taking a very big chance. Your gambling with your health, maybe even your life. Drugs don’t make your problems go away, they just create more.”

Very true. Skeletor would be especially well advised to stay off cocaine as he doesn’t have a nose.

Be careful when doing practical jokes (Man-At-Arms)

“You’ve all seen how Orko’s magical tricks don’t always go the way he planned. Sometimes they backfire on him. The same thing is true of practical jokes. Sometimes they don’t go the way you planned, and you or someone else can get hurt. So be sure and think twice before playing a joke or a trick on anybody. It might not go the way you planned and someone could wind up losing a finger or an arm, or maybe even an eye. And no joke is worth that is it? See you again soon.”

Bloody hell! An arm or an eye? What sort of practical jokes were they thinking of? One involving a chainsaw???

Respect Magna Carta (He-Man and Teela)

Teela: “A very long time ago a wonderful document came into being. It was called the Magna Carta.”

He-Man: “It was the first big step in recognizing that all people were created equal. But even though more laws have been passed to guarantee that, there are still those who try to keep others from being free.”

Teela: “Fortunately Queen Sumana realized in time that only by working together could her city be saved. And that’s the way it should be. Together. Right?”

He-Man: “Right.”

Er…so they had Magna Carta on Eternia too then? I didn’t know they even had it in the USA.

Don’t ram things too much (Ram Man)

“In today’s story I sure was busy. Boy, did that hurt. Ramming things may look like fun, but it really isn’t. Trying to use your head the way I do is not only dangerous, it’s dumb. I mean you could get hurt badly. So listen to Rammy, play safely and when you use your head, use it the way it was meant to be used, to think. Until later, so long!”

Got that? If you’re ramming while reading this, please stop immediately. Ram Man (not to be confused with ‘Rainman’) was a minor character. He’s wrong about this though. Ramming is definitely fun. Ram Man, thank you man.

Sleep properly (Orko and Cringer)

Orko: “Hi, today we met some people who had slept for over two hundred years. Well, we don’t need that much sleep, but it is important to get enough sleep. So here’s some things to remember. Don’t eat a lot before going to bed, a glass of milk or a piece of fruit makes a good bedtime snack. Try to go to bed at the same time every night, and avoid any exercise or excitement before going to bed. Well, goodnight. Oh, goodnight Cringer!”

Cringer: (snoring).

Does eating fruit before bedtime really help you sleep? I’m not convinced.

We all have a special magic (Sorceress)
“Today we saw people fighting over the Starchild, but in the end her power brought these people together. It might surprise you to know that all of us have a power like the Starchild’s. You can’t see it or touch it, but you can feel it. It’s called love. When you care deeply about others and are kind and gentle, then you’re using that power. And that’s very special magic indeed. Until later, good-bye for now.”

Sorceress was clearly to busy building a nest to read the first moral, Sorceress. Stay off the magic drugs!

Your brain is stronger than any muscle (Man-At-Arms)

“Being the most powerful man in the universe isn’t all that makes He-Man such a great hero. Being strong is fine, but there’s something even better. In today’s story He-Man used something even more powerful than his muscles to beat Skeletor. Do you know what it was? If you said, ‘his brain,’ you were right. And just like a muscle, your brain is something you can develop to give yourself great power.”

I’m not sure Man-At-Arms was the best choice to put forward this argument, to be honest. He has “university of life” written all over him.

Play it safe (He-Man and Battle Cat)

He-Man: “I’d like to talk to you for just a moment about safety. When we go to the beach there are lifeguards there to watch out for our safety. Crossing guards are in the street for the same reason, to help protect us. Now things like that are fine, but we can’t count on someone always being around to protect us. We should practice thinking of safety all the time. So don’t take a chance. And that’s true whether you’re crossing a street, or driving a car. Think safety.”
Battle Cat: (Roaring)

The beach? ‘Crossing guards’? Has He-Man been to Earth at some point? And what does “practice thinking of safety” mean? Nice of Battle Cat to contribute here too. Much appreciated, thanks.

Learn from experience (He-Man and Battle Cat)

He-Man: “As we’ve just seen Skeletor went back into the past to make evil things happen. In reality no one can go back into the past, that’s only make-believe. But we can try to learn from the past, from things that have happened to us, and try to apply them toward being better people today. Remember, it’s today that counts. So make it the best day possible. Until next time this is He-Man wishing you good health and good luck.”

Battle Cat: (Roaring)

Learn from he mistakes of history. But also live for today: that’s all that matters. Make your mind up, please!

No job is unimportant (He-Man)

“Have you ever had a job to do you thought was boring and unimportant. We all have. Opi did. But no job is unimportant. Opi learned that if he’d done the little jobs his father gave him, things would not have gone wrong. So remember, any job worth doing is worth doing well. No matter how dull it may seem at the time. Bye for now.”

Sadly, this one isn’t true. Some jobs are both boring and unimportant. Writing the moral messages at the end of children’s TV cartoons, for example.

Fighting is bad (Teela)

“Some people think the only way to solve a difference is to fight. Skeletor for example, his answer to every problem is fight. He doesn’t care who’s right or wrong. He thinks that might makes right. Well, it doesn’t. He-Man knows that, even with all his power, he always tries to avoid fighting. Fighting doesn’t solve problems. Fighting only makes more problems. See you soon.”

Bloody hell! This is a bit rich. He-Man spends half of every episode fighting.

Read a book (He-Man)

“I hope you enjoyed today’s adventure. You know television is not the only way to be entertained by an exciting story. There is another way; it’s called reading. And one of the wonderful things about books is that they allow you to choose whatever kind of adventure you like; a trip with an astronaut, an adventure with the great detective Sherlock Holmes, a comedy, anything. You can find it in a book at your school or neighbourhood library. Why I’ll bet there are even some good books right in your own home just waiting to be read.”

In other words, in the immortal words of the 1980s UK kids’ show, ‘Why Don’t You?’ “switch off your TV set and go out and do something less boring instead.” Especially now this episode of He-Man has finished.

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The 80s: The ultimate exam

So you think you know the 1980s. But could you pass a full blown exam on the subject? Take a look at the questions below and if more than half of them even make the slightest bit of sense to you, you may consider yourself a true aficionado of the decade that brought us break dancing, Bermuda shorts and Bergerac. Ready? You may turn over your papers now…(And no, it’s not a proper quiz. Sorry).

1. You are sitting at home in front of the TV. Why don’t you…

a) Just switch off the TV set

b) Go out

c) And do something less boring instead?

2. Complete the phrase: “You can’t get quicker than…”

a) Maximum velocity.

b) The speed of light.

c) A Kwik-Fit fitter.

3. Philosophy. Consider the following…

a) How soon is now?

b) What is love anyway? Does anybody love anybody anyway?

c) Do you really want to hurt me? Do you really want to make me cry?

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4. You are driving home from work, listening to the radio when you hear the following announcement:

“Humidity’s rising. The barometer is getting low. According to our sources, the street is the place to go. Because tonight for the first time at just about half past ten. For the first time in history, it’s going to start raining men.”

With alarm, you see that it is nearly half ten now and you are still a good twenty minutes from home. What do you do?

a) Desperately hope that the multi-storey car park is still open so you can take shelter from the imminent aerial male adult human precipitation assault there.

b) Park in a lay-by and frantically attempt to hide underneath your own car

c) Realise that you are, of course, listening to the popular 1982 hit, “It’s Raining Men” by The Weather Girls.

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5. You purchase a bizarre but cute furry creature from a Chinese antique shop, an unusual but ideal Christmas present for anyone. What must you remember not to do?

a) Don’t feed it after midnight.

b) Don’t let it get wet.

c) Don’t leave it home alone in the apartment over Christmas while you go on holiday, forcing it to defend itself from two clumsy burglars by devising an elaborate system of dangerous but amusing booby traps (I may be thinking of another film here).

6. It is a Saturday evening on a Bank Holiday in 1980 and you and your friend end up having a fierce disagreement in the pub over the name of an actor who was in a TV show you both watched as a child. What do you do?

a) Wait until the library opens on Tuesday and look it up in the appropriate reference book, if such a book even exists.

b) Find a new friend. You never liked him/her that much anyway.

c) Go home. Wait twenty years.  Look it up on your phone.

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7. If your mansion house needs haunting call…

a) Some sort of medium.

b) An expert on the paranormal.

c) Rentaghost.

8. Alternatively, if there’s something strange in your neighbourhood, who you gonna call?

a) The police.

b) The local branch of the Neighbourhood Watch.

c) Ghostbusters.

9. Steven Seagal is…

a) An actor.

b) A leading Buddhist.

c) Hard To Kill.

10. Who recorded the song “True Blue?”

a) Madonna.

b) Diego Maradona.

c) The Fallen Madonna With The Big Boobies by Van Klump.

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11. Michael Jackson’s Thriller may be described as…

a) A thriller.

b) A horror.

c) A song and music video.

12. You hear a car horn. Do you…

a) Get off the road.

b) Jump.

c) Go “Yeeee-haaaa!” in true Dukes of Hazzard fashion.

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13. Finally, write a short essay on ONE of the following…

a) War is stupid. And people are stupid (Culture Club).

b) The history book on the shelf. It’s always repeating itself (ABBA – not actually from the 1980s).

c) Bum bum bum. Bum bum bum. Bum. Bum bum bum bum (The Frog Chorus).

Six reasons why the Eighties were crap

 features The Krankies 2008

The past may well be a different country. But is it one which you would necessarily want to visit? In the case of the Eighties, here are six reasons why the decade as a whole is best avoided…

 Movies were bad

Okay, clearly not ALL Eighties movies were bad but there was a hell of a lot of crap around ranging from Flashdance, Red Dawn, Mannequin to the Police Academy films. The British film industry was in an especially dire state with virtually one Cannon and Ball film or Merchant Ivory period piece being released a year. Animated films such as The Fox and the Hound and Basil The Great Mouse Detective were a million miles away from the sophisticated standard set by the likes of Frozen and the Toy Story films today. Even at the higher end, supposedly great Oscar winning fare like Driving Miss Daisy, Ordinary People and Terms of Endearment are watched by virtually NO ONE today.

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Computers were rubbish

Got  a spare two hours? Then try loading even the most basic blocky bitty computer game in 1984. Even then, it probably won’t work and will come back with a message saying “Boot error”.

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Mobile phones were huge

Some people, of course, had mobile phones in the Eighties but they were huge brick-like things which required you to shout down them so loudly you may as well just have shouted anyway. There was also no internet so you needed to visit the library to find out even the slightest bit of trivia about anything. Also, are you late for a meeting with someone? Tough! You can’t text “15 MINS L8 SORRY”. You’ll just have to miss them! You could try calling them from a phone box (although many were vandalised even then) but unless they’re at home or in the office, that won’t work as chances are they don’t have a mobile either!

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Everything closed on Sunday

And TV stopped at about one o clock in the morning (after a quick play of the National Anthem). What a bore!

TV was often rubbish

Not only did you have to get both the Radio Times AND the TV Times to see what was on all four channels, we had to put up with the likes of Duty Free, No Place Like Home and sitcoms starring Jim Davidson. The most watched comedy show of the entire decade? An episode of Carla Lane’s Bread. Rubbish.

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The country was in a bad way

Britain boomed in the Eighties? Well, yes, for about five minutes towards the end before overheating and descending into recession again. For most of the decade, unemployment was well over three million (much higher than during the recent recession) while the country quaked amidst rioting, IRA bomb explosions while teetering on the brink of extinction from the threat of nuclear war. Nostalgia? Some things are best left in the past.

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Terrors of a 1980s childhood!

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Let me be clear: I did not have a traumatic childhood. I was born into a stable and happy family environment in East Anglia in the late Seventies. Yes, I once fell down the steps of a mock saloon in the Wild West zone of the Isle of Wight’s Blackgang Chine in 1983. A dog also once chased me in the nearby park causing me to fall off my BMX. But aside from these incidents, almost nothing bad ever happened to me at all.

I was, however, undoubtedly a nervous child, thanks in no small measure to the following phantoms, mostly conjured up by the mass media:

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Crows.

This is an odd one, I admit. My mother insists that I was unable to watch the children’s programme ‘You And Me’, not because there was a puppet of a squirrel hosting it. No. It was because the other puppet was a crow.

And she is right. I remember being afraid of actual crows too, not liking the noise they made and vaguely associating them with my other great fear: witches. Despite this, I don’t remember having the same fear of cats (and I am allergic to them) even though witches are pretty keen on them too. In practice, I got over my crowphobia and have never had any practical issues with the crow community, not even the racist ones in the film Dumbo. In 2008, a squirrel did fall out of a tree and came within inches of landing on my head on a street in Cheltenham, however, so perhaps my fear was a bit misdirected.

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Witches.

I had a very real and recurring fear of witches, particularly the green skinned, hook nosed and black hatted variety. I’m not really clear where this fear came from but I had recurrent nightmares featuring a regular cast of seemingly made-up witch characters throughout my early childhood (the head witch had white skin and hair, for example). I never had a problem with Meg and Mog though or the Worst Witch (who is more like an early Harry Potter than a witch anyway). I also later enjoyed Roald Dahl’s ‘The Witches’ although like most people found the transformation scene in the Nic Roeg film a bit scary. I still do.

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Sharks.

This stems directly from my older brother showing me the scary cover of the Peter Benchley novel ‘Jaws’ when I was very little. I later got over this completely, however and watched the excellent film, had the poster on my wall for a while at Uni and even eventually read the fairly dismal novel. And to be fair to my brother:  witches don’t exist at all. Crows do exist, but unless you are in an unusually vulnerable position, e.g. hanging off a crucifix, they are little threat. Sharks, meanwhile, are real and can be dangerous. So he was sort of doing me a favour. Arguably.

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Overhead power lines.

Public Information warnings were the bane of my childhood. It was impossible to watch a commercial break without seeing some child being electrocuted by an overhead power line after a) messing around near one b) attempting to retrieve a football near one c) flying a kite into one or d) pushing a boat along the road and a flagpole on the top hitting a power line. Was this really such a big problem in the Seventies and Eighties? If so, why isn’t it still an issue today? And, if not: why all the stupid warnings about it?

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Cars.

Lots of people do die in cars, of course. Some warnings about this are nice: the Green Cross Code Man was nice. The more recent family of hedgehogs crossing the road were nice. The other Grandmaster Flash type one: “Don’t step out when you’re close to the edge or you may find that you lose your head” one from about 1990 wasn’t scary either. Others were. Ice Cream vans were so often linked with death in these public infoemation films that their music still sounds faintly sinister to me, to this day. I particularly remember a horrendous cartoon in which a child persuaded his mother to cross the road unnecessarily to get him a toy plane (or something) in a toy shop window. Guess what? The mum got ran over and killed, leaving the boy weeping alone (I’m not sure if he got the plane or not. If he had, at least his journey wouldn’t have been entirely wasted anyway).

The moral? Do not covet unnecessary toys? Do not waste your mother’s time in case you accidentally kill her? No! It wasn’t even ‘cross the road carefully’. The ad wasn’t even targeting pedestrians: the warning message at the end was about the dangers of speeding! Why, then, might you ask, did they bother with the silly mum/toy plane story? Why was it produced in cartoon form, a medium designed to appeal to children? Why do I remember it now, a full thirty years later? I’ve never learned to drive anyway. Perhaps this is why.

The only danger of me running over anyone is if I’m being chased by a witch holding a squirrel.

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Freddy Krueger.

Kate Winslet apparently loved going to video shops as a child, according to a recent advertising campaign for something that wasn’t a video shop anyway. I was less keen as I was always wary of the ‘Horror’ section which usually featured a terrifying picture of the ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ villain on one of the covers. Perhaps as a result, I have never seen any of the films, not even when I needed to prepare for a phone interview I did with the actor Robert Englund who played Krueger, a few years ago.

An American Werewolf in London.

A horror/comedy which I saw on TV when I was eleven and in which I never found the humour. The werewolf bits weren’t so bad but ugh! The attack on the moors at the start? His friend Jack’s slow decomposition? The horrific alien machine gun attack during the Muppets nightmare sequence? I couldn’t even watch it now.

The Woman In Black.

Whose stupid idea was it to put terrifying ghost stories on just before Christmas? Scrooge is fine but the 1988 TV version of Susan Hill’s story is scarier than the book, play or film. Particularly the bit where she appears at the end of the hero’s bed. Terrifying.

Nuclear war.

Actually, not such a silly thing to be afraid of and fuelled by excellent but horrendous books like Robert Swindells’ ‘Brother in the Land’ and Raymond ‘Snowman’ Briggs’ ‘When The Wind Blows’. Happily, the most acute phase of the Cold War (1979-1984) passed by while I was still blissfully unaware of most world events. By the time I became aware of the superpower arms race (the late Eighties), it was ending. Thank you, Mr Gorbachev!

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Book review: Bang! A History of Britain in the 1980s by Graham Stewart

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Make no mistake: 1979 was a very long time ago. Let’s not have any of this “it seems like yesterday” bollocks. If it really does seem like yesterday, there is something seriously wrong with you.

Despite its name, this book actually begins in 1979. It is now 2013. The same amount of time has passed since 1979 as had passed between it and the end of the Second World War in 1945. When the same amount of time has passed again, it will be 2047. So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised to find things have changed a fair bit. In 1979, you wouldn’t be reading a blog on your phone, a laptop or anywhere else,

Consider:  in 1979, the Labour Prime Minister (a man born before the First World War) was still at ease sitting round the Downing Street table with leading trade union figures. This was a time when some such union leaders spoke openly of Marxist revolution in Britain and believed this was apparently a realistic prospect. Leading Labour figures like Tony Benn spoke of nationalising almost all of British industry to enthusiastic mostly male smoke filled Labour conferences.

Flash forward to 1990 when this book ends and things start to see a lot more familiar. Not the same but a lot more like now. Seventies fashions had lost their grip.  Nobody had IPods yet but they had Walkmans at least and CDs were already replacing vinyl.  Mobile phones were still rare and huge but they did at least exist. Channel 4 was now on air and a small minority could now watch BSkyB (although a common joke of the time was that the average person was more likely to get BSE – the human form of mad cow disease- than BSkyB).  EastEnders was on.

Meanwhile, strikes were a rarity. The SDP had been and gone. The Labour Party, although still firmly out of power were also a lot more recognisable. Behind the scenes, Peter Mandelson was hard at work. The smoke filled conference halls were gone. Neil Kinnock, although never a popular figure with the public, was smartly dressed and in command, a far cry from the decent but scruffy Michael Foot. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, then in their late thirties were advancing fast up the Labour ranks. New Labour was on its way.

In my view, the 1980s transformed Britain more than any other peacetime decade in the last 150 years, except perhaps for the Sixties.

Much of this is doubtless due in no small measure to the personality and politics of Margaret Thatcher, who Stewart seems rather a fan of. I am rather less keen. The Lady was undeniably a fine war leader and by the Eighties, union power clearly needed curtailing.

But this was a bad decade for the British economy. Before the Winter of Discontent wrecked Labour for more than a decade, the Callaghan Government had been doing a fine job of pulling the UK back from the oil shock, the Barber Boom and the errors of Wilson’s final two years. But Callaghan’s gains and those made by the discovery of North Sea oil were squandered by Thatcher’s Monetarist experiment. Soon more than a fifth of the nation’s industrial base had been wiped out forever and high unemployment hung over the rest of the decade like a curse.

This was also the decade where the unrestrained power of the markets took hold and Rupert Murdoch was permitted unprecedented media power by the Thatcher Government. Both of these problems should have been addressed later by Major, Blair or Brown. But the Lady (as the late Alan Clark would lovingly refer to her) is the original source of responsibility here. Crime soared, the health service suffered and homeless levels rose unforgivably under Thatcher. A simple comparison of how the UK fared under her watch and that during Tony Blair’s decade (1997-2007) is damning.

By 1990, she had grown tremendously in confidence to the point of mental instability. Having seen off the Argies, the miners and Labour (three times: under Callaghan, Foot and Kinnock), she seemed convinced of her own infallibility. She even began speaking about herself using the royal “we” (famously: “we are a grandmother”).

But when she linked her destiny to that of the hated and ultimately unfair Community Charge (or “Poll Tax”) even the Tories recognised she had to go. John Major secured one more win for the Tories in 1992. But twenty three years on, the Tories have not recovered from her fall. No Tory leader since Major has won a General Election.

This is a slightly badly structured book with hard going chapters about monetarism rubbing shoulders with those about pop music and the singles of Madness. But it’s a story worth retelling especially if you want to terrify your left leaning children before they go to sleep.

Just remember: don’t have nightmares.