Action figures belonged to boys. Not girls. Girls had “dolls.” Boys didn’t own dolls. That’s crazy talk. Don’t @ me.
I remember owning Star Wars action figures, a Luke Skywalker with extendable light saber, a Land Speeder, the R2D2 with clicking rotating head and a C3P0 that seemed to tarnish soon after I started playing with it (how does plastic tarnish?). I even had The Six Million Dollar Man rocket ship set for Steve Austin with a bionic eye and ratcheting bionic arm, (I don’t remember an episode with a rocket ship).
And then there was G.I. Joe.
In the mid-60s, Hasbro successfully launched and marketed the original 12″ action figure, G.I. Joe. Boys rejoiced worldwide. In the 70s, after the Vietnam War, Hasbro decided to give Joe hands that were molded in a softer plastic, giving him the ability to grip and hold things in a more lifelike fashion. What did the the company’s Cultural Appropriation Department decide to name this new feature? The “Kung Fu Grip.”
Kung Fu Grip? To this day, I have no idea the meaning of it. Google doesn’t really help. When I think of Kung Fu, I think of martial arts, Bruce Lee, breaking boards, lots of yelling. I don’t think of a grip. A gorilla has a strong grip. John Daly’s grip before launching one of his legendary 300+ yard drives down the fairway is worthy of mention. But a G.I. Joe action figure? Because its little fingers could hold stuff? Come on… that doesn’t even make sense. What the hell is a Kung Fu grip?!?
The only reason I can imagine Hasbro would have come up with this name is two-fold. First, they likely wanted to capitalize on the martial arts sensation sweeping the world at the time. Their commercial clearly gave deference to the art, as you can see below, although the action figure was not sold with a robe and belt:
Second, and this is pure speculation on my part, they may have been trying to heal relations with the Asian community after our participation in the Vietnam War. The G.I. Joe was released in both Caucasian and African American versions, but there was no Asian version. Did Hasbro really decide to name the gripping hand a “Kung Fu Grip” as a way to placate Asians worldwide?
Whether capitalizing on the Asian culture for exploitation and profit, or out of genuine concern for apology and unity, the G.I. Joe with Kung Fu Grip was one of the most successful in action figure history, both financially and in fame, and the G.I. Joe action figure spawned a franchise of cartoons and movies that are being made to this day. I watched the cartoons as a kid but don’t remember a nod to the grip. I’ve yet to see any of the movies. You can bet that when I do, I’ll watch specifically for references to the hijacking of culture known as the G.I. Joe Kung Fu Grip.
I’ll be petitioning Hasbro to change the name to the Harambe Grip, in memoriam.