Monday, March 5, 2012

When did the Power Rangers become a cultural icon?

I have three children, aged fourteen, eleven, and four. The middle one is a boy, the other two are girls. And I remember when the oldest one became momentarily fixated on the Power Rangers, at the age of about four. Well no, exactly at the age of four. It was Power Rangers Wild Force that she watched; browsing through the various seasons on Wikipedia, I remembered the costumes immediately. And as I recall, her love affair with the show lasted for pretty much that one season, alone.

My son got the Ranger bug a bit earlier, latching on to the show in 2004, just before he turned four. That was the Power Rangers Dino Thunder year, a helluva combo--dinosaurs and superheroes--for a little boy. And once again, he was a fan for exactly one season (though to be fair, the oldest had a bit of a "relapse" and watched the show with him on occasion).

My youngest turned four last August and I hadn't even thought about Power Rangers at all, to be honest. Her tastes--after Sesame Street and Barney--have run more to Disney movies and whatever the older two happen to be watching. Until two days ago. Somehow--through a process that is beyond my ken--she specifically asked to watch Power Rangers. I didn't even know the show was still on the air and I know that I had never put it on for her, before. But there it was, the request. And imagine my surprise when--checking the TV guide--I found it for her, the latest incarnation Power Rangers Samurai. She asked for it again today, with a shout of "Power Rangers!"

What is it about this show that is so appealing to young children (apparently, especially to four year olds)? I thought perhaps that it was real people--who are young adults--in bright colors fighting with cool wepaons and moves, but with violence that's really less violent than in many cartoons. That and the shows are just so bland in dialogue, as to make them easily accessible to young children, even as they seem--to the same--like they are for older kids. And that's a big deal, being "older," in spirit if not reality. Plus, there's the running serial nature of the seasons, always a positive draw. But ultimately, it's a simpler thing: good guys stoppin' the bad guys.

So, when did this happen? Did the Power Rangers series establish a new rite of passage, of sorts? At first, I kind of thought this might be the case. But then I thought a little more on my childhood and remembered a couple of shows that were, if not the same, at least similar in feel.

There were a couple of live-action serial segments on the Hanna-Barbera variety show, The Banana Splits. This show ra from 1968 to 1970. Not coincidentally, I turned four in 1969. The live-action segments? Danger Island (staring a young Jan-Michael Vincent and directed by Richard Donner) and The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (initially a stand-alone show, but later incorporated into The Banana Splits.

True, these shows did not feature superheroes like the Power Rangers, but the feel was the same, especially for Danger Island: lots of action, goofy dialogue, and good guys fighting bad guys. But there are other shows that hit the superhero button from back then, as well. Not unsurprisingly, some are Japanese in origin, like Johnny Sokko And His Flying Robot (originally airing from 1967-1968) and Ultraman (airing from 1966-1967). Really, the last strikes me as so similar to Power Rangers that it was likely an inspiration for the series. If you've never seen it, give it a go.

All of these shows persisted on TV in rerun form for many years, well into the seventies. From there, I have to admit to unfamiliarity with children's television, so I leave it to others for finding shows like these. Overall, I think still that it's the good guys/bad guys motif with real people that appeals to the kids. That motif is--in my opinion--ever-present in civilization. Children learned to act it out with cops and robbers, or cowboys and Indians, or even Yangs and Coms. Perhaps--once upon a time--it was Roman legions and Germanic hordes, or Spartans and Persians. Barring that, they read it in books and comic books. And from there, they look for it on TV and in the movies.

S for now, it's Power Rangers and monsters that rule the day in four year old land. Hey, it's got to be less worrisome than dating or driving...

Cheers, all.

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