About two years ago I made the joke that Lotsa Heart Elephant said Trans Rights.
It’s not a smart or deep joke. See this here is Lotsa Heart Elephant. They’re a pink elephant with a love heart decal, from the 1980s American Greetings Card owned and produced TV series The Care Bears. Now you might notice, Lotsa Heart isn’t a bear! That’s because in expanding the line of merchandisable properties, American Greetings introduced the Care Bear Cousins, who were the same basic thing, but different types of animal.
I feel like explaining the Care Bears lore, which I would normally do at this point, would be a little bit of a waste of your time and mine because while it is bonkers in only the special way that extremely incompetent multimedia empires of the 1980s could be. Like, at one point it veers into harmonising the Care Bears with actual literal Protestant Christianity.
But Lotsa Heart is a character who, amongst these greeting-card level characters, has tried on the genders.
As a character, Lotsa Heart is very strong, clumsy, enthusiastic and, as with all the Care Bears in general, nice and kind. Not a particularly deep character, but there are a few stories, and a storybook, where Lotsa Heart’s attempts to help create problems, because Lotsa Heart is so strong compared to other people that sometimes things get broken or relocated or missing. You know, very enthusiasically helpful but not in a way that’s always helpful.
And across every version of this character, you can’t rely on the gender of the character as presented. Across movies, comics, TV Series, and storybooks, Lotsa Heart was gendered as male or female or sometimes not at all, as in one storybook which just… doesn’t have pronouns in it. This wasn’t even a line-by-line item; they got he/him in one comic, and a different issue used she/her. Then you get into international translations where Lotsa would be voiced as a different archetype depending on what country got them.
Some of this is due to archetype — in some countries, the clumsy friend who crashes into you but means well may read as more masculine and in some more feminine. I mean, that’s weird and dumb but this is American Greeting Cards here, they’re not a cultural bedrock of deep characterisation. When your entire creative landscape is about eight to twenty words long and has to culminate in a !, you maybe don’t want your characters to require a backstory explainer. But it still means that this character who was merchandised heavily was gendered in multiple different ways in multiple different places.
The current Lotsa Heart Elephant, and I say ‘current’ because there was a 2008 Care Bears series that featured four of the Care Bear Cousins, brought back Lotsa Heart and used ‘her’ unambiguously for the character. Which I mean, that’s not uncommon for people to settle on one set of pronouns after trying out a bunch of different ones.
What surprises me is how unexhaustive the internet presence of the Care Bears is. There’s a lot of ironic reaction to it — people watching the very tedious, continuity-light stories of the Care Bears movies, of which there are… a few… and maybe sometimes people remembering the value books based on them, but you’d imagine for something that achieved the level of cultural saturation it did, there’d be competing wikis explaining all the minute details, or collecting a host of the character artwork across all the sources. I mean if there’s two different Street Fighter 4 wikis, surely there’d be at least one well-constructed Care Bears wiki.
Not so — there is one, and well, you know, go you, Care Bears Fandom Wiki maintainers, you’re no doubt doing something you like, but also you’re not doing a lot with it and you don’t have a lot to work with. It’s not like the official Care Bears website is archiving this stuff, and even the most Angelfire Obsessive kind of fan websites only have small, late-90s images, Web Safe Colour Palette with dithering to keep compression down images, and those are the good resources. If I were to reproduce the entirety of my research just copy-pasted onto this page, it probably wouldn’t be that much longer than what you’re reading now.
But like, what’s the point, right?
This was obviously not because American Greeting Cards were subversively giving kids The Trans Agenders back in the 1980s, even though people like my church absolutely thought they did. Like, I’m very confident if I go looking through my history I’ll find people who accused the Care Bears of making boys gay.
This is a minor detail change in a kid’s cartoon and comics for product cranked out for pennies by people who didn’t care that much about anything involved. There’s nothing remarkable about them not getting the gender of a character right when that gender doesn’t matter, and there’s equally nothing remarkable about characters being changed in gender from language to language, region to region because you might notice that there’s nothing about the character that stops them from being an equally coherent character of any given gender.
It’s like the gender doesn’t matter at all.