Fully articulated: The rise of the action figure and the changing face of 'children's' entertainment

Jason Bainbridge

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


The action figure is a relatively recent invention, a product of the 1960s, urbanization and a gendered re-inscription of girls' dolls, making them suitable for masculine consumption and play. Yet despite the importance of the action figure in popular culture, both as a million dollar entertainment industry in their own right and as the basis for media convergence and filmic adaptation (as most recently confirmed with the box-office success of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen [2009] and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra [2009]), the action figure has rarely been analysed as a media text. This paper will engage in such an analysis, exploring the history and importance of the action figure in the broader socio-cultural context through a series of case studies of the key properties: G.I. Joe, Masters of the Universe and Transformers. It will examine how narratives born of canny marketing decisions gave rise to some of the earliest examples of transmedia storytelling, how fandom supported such products well beyond their (quite literal) shelf-lives and how the cultural value of action figures has altered so that they are now desirable items for the adult collector as well as being playthings for children. In this way, I argue that the action figure is both symptomatic of modern commodity culture and indicative of the trends in media convergence. The story of toys is the story of everything ... if some bearded archeologist [sic] of the year 3000 wants to know what life was all about in the 20th century, all he has to do is dig up a toy box. James May, qtd in May (2009, 6) Someday, I'm gonna be 'xactly like you, 'til then I know just what I'll do: Barbie, beautiful Barbie, I'll make believe that I'm you. Television jingle, from debut Barbie advertisement, 1959, qtd in D'Amato (2009, 120) GI Joe, GI Joe, fighting man from head to toe! On the land, on the sea, in the air! Television jingle, from G.I. Joe advertisement, 1964, qtd in Walsh (2005, 199).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)829-842
Number of pages14
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'Fully articulated: The rise of the action figure and the changing face of 'children's' entertainment'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this