Apparently G.I. Joe has a posse. Teeming multitudes of fans and collectors go for all things Joe around the world, and at the beginning of this month thousands of them arrived at home base alpha, descending upon Rhode Island for the 17th annual G.I. Joe Collectors Convention. The fact that there already have been 16 of these conventions around the world is surprising enough. Even odder: It’s the first time Joe groupies have gathered in the birthplace of the world’s most famous fighting figure.
In the interests of accuracy – and despite most wire service reports to the contrary – it should be noted that Providence isn’t actually home to the headquarters of Hasbro, the toy company that created G.I. Joe. That’s Pawtucket. But Providence is the nation’s only true city-state, so the error is a common one. It’s the same impulse that often locates T.F. Green Airport in Providence, even though it’s really in Warwick.
Anyway, they came from as far away as Belgium, Japan and Singapore to buy, trade, talk some Joe and meet “Joelebrities” – such as the original patent holder, a box artist and a marketing manager. Some of the Joe-heads dressed as characters from the ever-expanding Joeniverse, like the Baroness, Roadblock and Tunnel Rat.
“Joe Con,” as it’s known to collectors, was a plastic love-fest for “America’s moveable fighting man,” born in Pawtucket in 1964 as a 12-inch action figure, the anti-doll to Ken and Barbie. While the ravages of age have taken a physical toll (Joe has suffered from chronic shrinkage, and now measures around 3 inches), the years have been kind in a commercial sense. Star of big and small screen, with a mushrooming line of toy products and tie-ins, Joe is the little plastic piece of Americana that just won’t go away. So long as there are accessories and sealed boxes to make childhood memories tangible, there will be Joe.
All of this G.I. Joe talk reminds me that it has been a while since I’ve seen one of those tourism campaign Mr. Potato Heads anywhere in Rhode Island. A decade ago, Hasbro’s other star was the subject of a Cows on Parade-style tourism initiative in which artists made 6-foot Potato Heads and plopped them in communities around the state, much to the delight of local vandals. Rhode Island tourism officials apparently never considered that Mr. Potato Head is a toy that actually encourages vandalism. Anyway, these things eventually wore out their welcome. Pawtucket was smart enough to re-gift its spud statue to its sister-town of Belper, England a few years ago. The good folks of Belper hated it and tried to send it back. I never heard what eventually happened, but I can only assume that Pawtucket instituted the time-honored “no take-backs” rule among siblings.
This week’s question: Where have all the giant Mr. Potato Heads gone?
Slick for size
Friend, fellow Rhody-phile and reader Tom Viall passed along a recent size-of-Rhode-Islandism back when the Louisiana oil spill was roughly a spewing Rhode Island. Although weather will play a role in determining how big the slick actually gets, they’re no longer measuring it in Ocean States. Sadly, we may be talking about a goopy Montana before all is said and done.