Utilizing 1:6 Scale G.I. Joes As Props in Sexually Explicit Pics—Is It Going Too Far—Or Is It Simply An Adult “Artistic Interpretation” of Hasbro’s Iconic Action Figure?
“Never complain. Never explain. Welcome to the world of Tony Kelly Photography.” —Tony Kelly
What do you get when a fashion photographer combines an obvious passion for the female form with—1:6 scale GIjOE action figures? Well, if you’re Dublin-born Tony Kelly, the results are compiled into his newly self-published book entitled, “Tony’s Toys,” and feature page upon page of glossy, full-color photos depicting nude and semi-nude female pulchritude, all carefully posed with numerous 12-inch GIjOEs (and other figures) in a variety of humorously compromising positions. Attention Parents: It’s important to note, that despite this book’s use of children’s toys as subject matter, it is an adult-oriented photo album that is definitely not intended or appropriate for viewing by children. On the other hand, some (over 18) adult collectors of GIjOE-related paraphernalia may actually enjoy Kelly’s new tome and (may) even consider plunking down the approximately $75 he’s requesting in order to add it to their personal “Joe-Libraries.” Of course, that depends entirely on a given fan’s personal collecting preferences and his or her tolerance threshold for this sort of adult-oriented “reading material” (i.e., This book’s not for everybody).
As it has always been throughout human history, the ever shifting sands of morality and tolerance of nude imagery has ultimately rested within “the eyes of the beholder.” Ever since the earliest creations of African and Asian erotic “fertility art,” ancient Greco-Roman sculpture and Renaissance era through modern-day paintings (and most recently, photographs), all works featuring nudes as their subject matter have routinely been regarded BOTH as art, and/or derided as “filth” (or even worse). Today, more than ever, with the inexorable infiltration of nude imagery into modern-day advertising, television and everyday pop culture items such as comic books and video games, works such as Kelly’s new photo book will continue to probe the level of current public acceptance for materials that “blur the lines” between what is considered adult-oriented art, or—to put it simply—prurient pornography.
Are GIjOEs Too “Grown Up” Now?
As collectors of 1:6 scale action figures know all too well, the once simple world of “America’s Movable Fighting Man” has increasingly become “infiltrated” by a growing number of adult-themed, “sexy” female action figures, many now with hidden joints, “life-like” rubber skin, interchangeable breasts (DD anyone?) and even anatomically-correct female features once considered off-limits, such as nipples and…well, you know the rest. Collectors of this adult-niche of the 1:6 hobby can also purchase a wide variety of sexy, adult lingerie (for the figures, HA), items previously seen only in Victoria’s Secret stores or in old Frederick’s of Hollywood catalogs. Of course, today’s Barbie fans can also purchase similar 1:6 scale “intimates,” and the preference for such risqué outfits again, rests entirely within an individual’s collecting prerogative and personal preferences. Despite the limitations of such 1:6 products (i.e. they’re not intended for use by children), this emerging adult-market segment appears to growing steadily and surely.
Kelly’s experience photographing nude and semi-nude women for high-fashion magazines and adults-only fare such as Playboy, has prepared him well for this first book project, but as might be expected, any book full of naked women posing with GIjOEs and other children’s toys is bound to strike a sensitive nerve with some. Indeed, there are always going to be fans who feel such imagery is demeaning or insulting to women. Others will take a more blasé view and point out that such “shocking” images are merely an attempt by the artist or photographer to stir up public reaction and (hopefully) boost sales of their products. Finally, there will also be fans who find this whole subject much ado about nothing, laughing at all the fuss and folderol.
Not surprisingly then, once news of Kelly’s book was released on the internet, it didn’t take long for Facebook’s GIjOE fan boards to “light up” over this topic. After the usual back-n-forth sexual banter and “nudge-nudge” innuendoes had been made, some male GIjOE collectors wanted to know how their female counterparts felt about all this, and we too, were curious how GIjOE collectors of ALL stripes and types regarded this relatively unusual use of their favorite childhood toy. Predictably, opinions varied widely, but one female fan, Xio Vasquez, was quick to voice her concerns about the sensitive material and the fact that some (male fans) in the the male-dominated Sandbox Facebook group appeared to be discussing the topic too casually, stating:
“Honestly? As a female collector? I’d like to say I’m feeling pretty alienated and weirded out by all of it. It’s… Honestly, it’s pretty much the pickle on the crap sandwich that collecting has become for me. I’d like to think that I don’t personally ask for much, and hardly anything in a public space, but figures in general that look practical or cool. What I get instead, turns out to be a myriad of military figures, which I have no problem with at all, and then an over-sexualization of female figures, both mass produced and custom. And I can deal with this. Grit my teeth and bear it. Make my own custom ladies who are badasses and cool-looking myself. Yes, I have to sluck through a marshland of PVC and latex-clad ladies with no aesthetic or practical value in order to find some gems, but hey! At least there ARE gems. But now there’s this (Kelly’s book). It’s a strange, niche fetish being advertised in a group that I thought was supposed to be wholesome and, well, anything but… THIS. I’m really not sure how to describe it. But I honestly expected a lot better than this kind of display from a bunch of adults. And yes, we may all play with toys, but we really are all adults here. It isn’t the fact that it (an ad for Kelly’s book) was posted at all. It’s the fact that it’s being advertised and encouraged, really. Discussing prices of how much a real woman costs, like she’s an actual toy to be bought, used, and discarded or traded once boredom sets in. I’m not really sure this is a group that I’m gonna fit in with if this is the kind of talk that’s had. Sorry if this seems harsh or humorless, but it’s the truth, and someone’s gotta say it, I think.”
Xio’s views were typical of many women, but we also expected to hear from female fans who weren’t bothered by advertisements for Kelly’s book or its risqué content. And we were right. First, we heard from our own intrepid “Field Reporter,” Carin Reddig (a well-known collector and customizer of GIjOEs) regarding her thoughts on Kelly’s book. She replied:
“Although I haven’t had an opportunity to see the entire contents of Tony Kelly’s book, I have been amused and intrigued by the images seen on-line. Groups of GIjOEs and other action figures checking out nude pinup girls in a variety of poses—even getting ‘up close and personal’ in a few shots. I am actually more interested hearing what other people think of them—probably due to my background and having studied anthropology and having majored in it in college. Sitting back and watching others weigh in and seeing what makes them tick is fascinating.
Am I offended? Especially, since I am female? No. It takes a lot to offend me. I grew up in Hollywood, CA, in the 1970s and saw many interesting things. I worked in the entertainment industry and also was around a lot of different art. I also am an artist myself, so to me, this is just another form of art. The human body is a work of art. Action figures and doll bodies are works of art. Meshing them together to create new and interesting images and stories—this too is a work of art. My only wish was that Bettie Page could have been around for one of Tony Kelly’s GIjOE photo shoots. That would have been really cool to have had 2 very classic American icons together for something fun!” —Laura Ann Ostermeyer
Bottom Line: For most GIjOE fans, deciding whether to purchase Kelly’s book or any of the new high-end, ultra-realistic, anatomically-correct, female action figures (such as the one from Phicen, shown at right) are easy take-it-or-leave-it decisions. These products are clearly not for everyone and their high costs helps make the decision easier for many. Regardless of your opinions and personal purchasing preferences, please feel free to leave a comment to this article. We’d love to hear from you! Finally, here are a few more opinions to get you thinking:
“I gotta side with Xio on this one. Sexualized figures, as ‘absurd’ as they may be, are frankly just juvenile, in my opinion. I know some collectors enjoy such things, but I find them quite awkward. I don’t care if other people collect them, I don’t care if they showcase them here (on the Facebook Sandbox) or elsewhere–I just turn away from the stuff (and I’m renowned for having my own ribald sense of humor, too).” —Ken Davis
“The sheer absurdity of the project (Kelly’s book) amused me, but I can see how it could offend women. My wife just rolled her eyes at it, but she knows me and understands that I’m not sexist, just absurdist.” —Rudy Panucci
“I like military figures and have no interest in scantily-clad 1:6 scale females (only 1:1 females). I will say the book has pictures offensive to some, but at least they are doing more with 1:6 Joes than Hasbro is currently doing.” —Greg Page