The Power Rangers Mailed Me A VHS Tape That Gaslit And Exploited Me. Hi, for your sake, I hope you’ve never heard of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Official Fan Club Video. It is a bad and cursed videotape! It was the single grossest experience of my Power Rangers fandom, if not my entire childhood. And I say that as the former owner of a Lord Zedd action figure.
When I was a mere Schmidty The Child, I had an abiding faith in the fundamental goodness of VHS. VHS tapes offered me bounteous Disney movies, and endless Thomas The Tank Engine stories, and a made-for-kids documentary about how large commuter hovercrafts work. That last tape is 100% real and may explain more of my adult life than I am comfortable with. Was I one exiting-the-opera mishap away from a career as a vigilante crime fighter, dressed as a hydrofoil? Who can say. Point is: I was primed to believe no VHS tape would ever try to break my brain.
I have not made an episode of ✨my new podcast (please subscribe!)✨ about VHS. But I could do that! My new podcast is called ‘Secretly Incredibly Fascinating’ (or ‘SIF’). The Video Home System (or ‘VHS’) fits that title. VHS played a key role in the modern history of movie piracy. VHS tapes combine unrecyclable plastics and toxic metals — thanks again, The 20th Century! Also 1990s VHS culture begat the hilarious Jerry Maguire Pyramid Project. There’s a lot there! But that’s not why I am here, today, on this hot dog industry trade journal website. I am here to illuminate the crimes of the worst VHS tape ever perpetrated upon me.
I do not remember much of 1994. So I do not remember badgering my parents into signing me up for the Power Rangers Fan Club. The Internet says this is the box of stuff you received, by mail, if your parents wrote a check to Saban Entertainment:
And you know what? That box is fine! That box is borderline professional! Knowing how Saban Entertainment made Power Rangers, I’m surprised that box isn’t a heap of old Japanese boxes spliced together. I’ll bet I loved that TOMMY sticker, before we threw it out. It’s also stuff my parents bought, up front, before I watched its VHS tape. So there was no reason for the tape to describe the box’s contents in scammy carnie framing.
Wow! I guess the number twenty can be snake oil. And watch out! Because that pitch from “Zack”, a.k.a. The Black Ranger (I know, I know) is the tip of the multilevel marketing iceberg.
It is time for me to admit you can click this link and watch the Fan Club Video for yourself. It’s online! What nightmare isn’t? HOWEVER: you should maintain a safe distance from its contents. Remain nestled in the safety of 1-900-HOT-DOG, where I can show you what’s 1-900-wrong-with-this. Because this Fan Club tape crushes the spirit of any viewer. And worst of all, it is most crushing if you are a Power Rangers fan. Because it promises to fulfill an MMPR fan’s greatest dream, before extremely doing the opposite.
I cannot overemphasize the exciting nature of this tape’s first moments. The opening montage offers glimpses of Hollywood stuff!
It shows crowds of fellow Power Rangers fans! Some of them your own age!
It even shows the Power Rangers, in uniform, in front of the public, with their helmets off! A thing that never happens in the TV show!
(Side note: the montage also includes kids in D.A.R.E. t-shirts. Not exciting. And not surprising! This was 1994. The Marvel Cinematic Universe wishes it held as much cultural sway as mid-1990s D.A.R.E. If you told a Clinton Era Parent there was a way to put D.A.R.E. in the water supply, they would’ve scaled their suburb’s reservoir with a hose between their teeth and a song in their heart.)
Remember: this is a Fan Club Video. That means the opening minute makes an incredible promise. You — a Power Rangers fan, and (probably) a child who never hears the truth about Adult Stuff — you are about to find out what’s going on behind the scenes of your favorite TV show slash folk religion. Unlike Santa Claus, and kissing, and the casual nationwide endorsement of homophobia, you will understand this component of your world.
And then…the rest of the video happens. Here are highlights from the expectation-crushing twenty-nine minutes that follow. (If I was a monster, I would call it the “over twenty-eight!!!!!!” minutes that follow.)
Each Power Ranger takes turns shilling about the box you already bought. Zack (The Black Ranger) gets stuck with that numberwang part I mentioned before. Billy (The Blue Ranger) explicitly promises “exciting looks behind the scenes” of the show.
Cut to the fakey lair of Zordon (a talking head in a tube) and Alpha (a less macho C3PO). They share a LONG discussion of the fictional origins of the fictional Power Rangers. Power Rangers fans know more about this story than The Nativity.
Alpha closes with an initially promising statement: “Now let’s meet the Rangers” (You: “HOLY SHIT FINALLY”) “…starting with Jason.” (You: “I HOPE THAT MEANS THE ACTOR IS ALSO NAMED JASON”)
Cut to the guy who plays “Jason the Red Ranger”. He answers unheard questions from an unseen interviewer. He does this while sitting in Zordon’s lair. No one establishes whether this is the actor borrowing that set, or the character borrowing Zordon’s office between kaiju. The first story from “Jason” is about learning martial arts. Could still be the actor or character. Our path has not yet forked.
Sudden cut to his next story: “When I was in the green dimension with Goldar…” Game over, kiddo. He immediately ramps up the tape’s central fraud: he tells you several more stories where the Power Rangers are real. The video mixes in B-roll which doesn’t help sell this conceit since in a lot of it you can see the Power Rangers actors holding scripts.
At one point Jason says he likes rock ‘n roll music, but he likes hip hop too, because “I get that from hanging around with Zack too much.” Jason then describes being embarrassed to be seen in public doing hip hop dance moves with Zack. “He’s turning me too black!”, he more or less says out loud. At least one million children watched this.
The Yellow Ranger (I know, we all know) says she is a Power Ranger in real life, and almost had to fight a mantis monster by herself one time. She is also too busy with high school to date right now.
Alpha pops back in to set up another montage of the cast receiving makeup, the crew operating cameras, and more definite Hollywood stuff. So they’re back to being actors on a TV show? Wait, no, The Black Ranger comes in to describe the physical feeling of morphing, a thing he claims to have done in real life.
He is not good at describing it.
The Black Ranger also describes the physical experience of punching a Putty in the face. “They feel kinda…I dunno it’s weird, it’s hard to describe actually–kinda like putty.” Next, he says he likes ice cream.
The Blue Ranger describes overcoming a fish phobia to fight a fish creature from outer space. He also claims to be a nerdy high school student, with a real interest in “science and the world and ecology and things like that.” I cannot decide which claim feels faker.
Next we cut to Alpha whining, “Ay yi yi, the computer indicates that thousands of fan letters have arrived.” Zordon gives the order, “Gather the Rangers together, Alpha, so that they can answer a few of them.” Zordon is not an ambitious being.
The Rangers then video conference in to answer some of the fans’ most desperate questions like how it feels for the Pink Ranger to be a superhero (it feels morphenominal), and how Zack came up with the idea for Hiphopkido (he combined his love of dance and martial arts). In a shocking twist, The Green Ranger and the Pink Ranger both confess the Green Ranger and Pink Ranger like each other. They behave as if they’re spilling the beans. The tape then cuts to a clip of Greenpinkbrangelina making an agreement to go on a date, and then kissing. The clip is from a Power Rangers TV episode you already saw.
The Green Ranger says his past fights with his fellow Rangers were caused by villains casting magic spells on him. Children need to learn conflict resolution skills and this was an opportunity for that. Next, Alpha (seductively?) introduces a Power Rangers music video “made just for you” It’s a song from the show, played over clips from the show.
It eats three minutes.
The Rangers finish by telling you to learn D.A.R.E. America’s 8 Ways To Say No To Drugs. Then they depart, and credits roll over an empty stairwell for a long time.
Once again, the Adult World has lied to you. And sure, they couldn’t tell kids the real dirt behind the scenes of MMPR. Kids didn’t need to know about Saban screwing the actors out of all royalties, or the homophobic bullying of The Blue Ranger, or the cast getting dragged back to work one day after the catastrophic Northridge Earthquake. All that stuff is for grownups! Such as attorneys!
But I was a kid who wanted to know how stuff worked. Most kids are like that! You don’t have to be a Hovercraft Weirdo to want to know how TV works. Within ten years of seeing this tape, I would thank Entourage (!) for teaching me (!!!) the most basic basics of Hollywood. But Power Rangers could’ve done that. Show me a soundstage. Or a craft services table. Or the story of Saban Entertainment founder Haim Saban, who played bass in Israeli rock bands before splitting the atom of “Japanese show plus woodchipper.” Heck, they could’ve shown me Ron Wasserman, a.k.a. “The Mighty R.A.W.”, the artísté behind MMPR’s soundtrack of “Mannheim Steamroller, but secular, and flavor-dusted.” If this picture from the Power Rangers wiki is any evidence, Ron liked to receive attention!
But no! They lied to me. They told me Zordon was a real being with a deep interest in the D.A.R.E. Program. And then… the real marketing began. Because that 30 minute “fan video” was a Trojan Horse. That useless fraudulent half hour of Power Rangers “information” was the brain-lube for an ad for a whole separate TV show. Zordon’s voice comes on to announce, “NOW, stay tuned for an EXCITING preview!”
That is the corporate-speak introduction to a five minute commercial for VR Troopers. I am pretty sure it went straight into the VHS tape from a Saban Entertainment investor meeting, with no further editing. For example, it mentions Saban Entertainment several times. I did not know what that was. I borderline did not know what companies were. What I did know, from the initial stages of school, is that the world revolves around spelling words right. So I noticed when this video presented us with the main character of VR Troopers…
… followed by this spinning newspaper of his father’s haunting disappearance:
That’s correct: the headline establishing the hero’s dead father (and central motivation!) misspells his dead father’s name. It’s like building a Superman story around his Kansas parents, Mr. and Mrs. Kente. Anyway, here is Grimlord, the villain of VR Troopers, whose jaw cannot open and close.
He is like if you gave a TV dog whatever the opposite of peanut butter is. And here is [TBD Albert Einstein Version Of Zordon] explaining why the show is called VR Troopers:
Nope! Not what that is! And I wish they told me the truth about how VR worked. Or about the three separate Japanese shows they cobbled together to make VR Troopers, because even as a tiny child I could kind of tell. But this advertisement skips that information, to focus on:
The show’s stereotypical Asian sensei, who is so stereotypical he does his personal accounting on an abacus…
The show’s dog, named Jeb. Good news: Jeb talks! However, Jeb talks like they gave Jeb whatever the cheaper version of peanut butter is…
Further pro-Saban statements shouted by a movie trailer voice over random explosions (because this was designed to be played in the back of the limo it was written in), followed by an all-time desperate closing line:
I’m surprised Jeb the talking dog doesn’t follow that with a Jeb Bush-esque “Please think virtual reality is cool.” Anyway, that is the final thing in the VR Troopers investor commercial. It is not the final thing on the VHS tape.
A man trying to squeeze eight minutes of copy into a twenty second spot advertises the Power Rangers song album, books, “adventure cassettes” with “bonus limited edition trading cards!” AND an “in your face 3D RANGERVISION” adventure in your “read-along storybook” and its gotta-have-em 3D glasses!”
Is nothing sacred? Can entertainment meet its audience’s needs under capitalism? Does money ruin every childhood sooner or later? In this article’s final section I will achieve humanity’s first-ever good answer to that question. By rooting our praxis in the Aristotelian traditioCONTENT WORLD WIDE WEB CONTENT LIMIT REACHED. TO READ MORE BUY POWER RANGERS ADVENTURE CASSETTES!