I grew up in Communism in the 1980s. As kids, we didn’t get to watch cartoons like Transformers, M.A.S.K. or – censors forbid! – G.I. Joe. Instead, we mostly watched stuff like Looney Tunes, Tom & Jerry or The Flintstones and – occasionally – bootlegged VHS copies of Walt Disney cartoons. We were all totally unprepared for the glory of He-Man and Masters of the Universe.
Sometime in the late 1980s, a kid from my neighborhood got a set of He-Man action figures from his relatives in the West. We had no idea what these toys were but we knew they were awesome. Soon, all the kids wanted their own He-Man toys, and the same thing happened all over the country.
Over the next year or so, original He-Man toys and their cheap Taiwanese copies invaded our lands. With them came the He-Man notebooks, sticker albums and all sorts of stuff. Even then, most of us had only a vague idea of what the story behind all those heroes, villains and oddly colored tigers was.
Shortly after, public TV started a weekly broadcast of the show. For most of us, this was a cartoon unlike any we had seen before. Here are five things I learned from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe:
1. Heroes and Villains
Blond, tanned Aryan = good. A guy with a skeletal face and bruise-colored clothes = bad. I was happy to see that we got this part right even without any prior knowledge of the He-Man universe.
What surprised me was that the cartoon version of Skeletor was much creepier then his action figure version. Earlier, I thought he just wore a skull mask. Now I realized he actually had a freaking skull instead of a face! And that horrible voice! It took me years to get over my Skeletor-induced traumas, mostly with a help of videos such as this:
2. Eternia was a scary place
Even without all the villains, Eternia looked like Alien’s homeworld. It was a savage post-apocalyptic looking planet with huge flesh-eating plants and monstrous animals.
image via He-Man wikia
Prince Adam’s royal palace wasn’t so much an impregnable bastion of civilization as it was a lone, half-ruined relic from a previous era. Looking back, it’s all really cool but decades ago it just looked strange to me.
3. Why are they teaching me stuff?
For some reason, He-Man, Teela and Orko were really concerned about my well-being. After each adventure, they would explain to me how I must respect my parents, do my homework and eat more vegetables. That was a bit weird.Until then, cartoons mostly taught me that mice are smarter than cats, and that if you’re fast enough you can run over an abyss without falling.
he cocked his head because he cared
4. Men and women look different
I believe that He-Man may have been my generation’s first glimpse into the scary, messy, wonderful world of human sexuality. There was nothing explicit in the series, but compared to other cartoons, He-Man characters looked, well, anatomically correct.
image via Busta Toons
Furthermore, all the characters were either body builders or super models. If you were a kid on the brink of puberty you’d suddenly find characters like Teela or Evil-Lyn more… interesting than others, even if you didn’t really understand why.
5. Why so serious?
From a grownup perspective, He-Man is just another campy 1980s cartoon. But to the 8-year old me, He-Man was unusually serious in its style and themes. It had an epic story about a fight between Good and Evil and its characters looked way more realistic then anything we had seen before.
Of course we started making fun of other cartoons because they weren’t as awesome and action-packed as He-Man. But very soon, we left He-Man behind and started watching pirated copies of movies like RoboCop and Total Recall. Then Communism collapsed, puberty hit us and the entire world was turned upside down.
We laugh at He-Man’s cheesiness today, but we’re nostalgic about it, too. I guess we all miss the good old days when life was simple, days were longer and there was nothing more important than plastic figures and cartoons.
Danijel Štriga (@Glupinickname) is a sleeper agent from behind the Iron Curtain. When he’s not watching TV or playing computer games, he enjoys discussing movies and playing P&P RPGs.