IN the 1950s Japanese parents fretted as their children fell in love with American westerns and idolized John Wayne. They worried about the impact of rugged individualism on their group-centered society. Now the cycle is complete as ``The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,'' an Americanized version of Japan's television program ``Zyu-Renjas,'' kick and punch their way into America's living rooms.
American parents shouldn't be so worried about the remarkably exaggerated violence of the Power Rangers. Most of the noise and action consists of menacing shouts and martial arts posing.
The Power Rangers never fight a human foe. Their usual enemies are the Putties (clay golems designed solely to attack the Rangers) or machines and animals rendered into monsters by the spells of Lord Zedd. No one is ever killed. The Putties disintegrate, to be re-formed in the next episode, while the monsters simply revert to their original forms. Compared with the car chases and shoot-outs that dominate American TV, this is very mild stuff, which may account for the show's popularity with children.
If American parents want something to worry about in the Power Rangers, they might do better to consider the impact of group-centered values on our individualistic society.
In case anyone doesn't know yet, the Power Rangers are six teens, four men and two women of varied ethnic backgrounds, who inhabit a generic American high school. Although the characters are stereotypical, you can tell one from the other - until they morph. To morph, they call upon the powers of prehistoric animals: triceratops, saber-toothed tiger, tyrannosaurus rex, mastodon, pterodactyl, and white tiger. In a flash, they become six masked, Spandex-clad figures, distinguishable only by color coding, but with the martial arts skills to defeat the Putties.
Defeating the monster requires further morphing. At first the Rangers morph their individual weapons into a single superweapon, but Lord Zedd generally ups the ante by increasing the size of his monster. To counter this oversized threat to humanity, the Rangers must call on the robotic incarnations of their prehistoric symbols. As the robots lumber to the rescue, they also morph to become parts of a huge, samurai-shaped robot called the Thunder Megazord.
The Rangers operate the Thunder Megazord from a computer console within its chest. Their movements are synchronized, all individuality now sacrificed to the greater whole, which defeats the monster and saves the universe yet again. The Rangers return to high school as six fun-loving teens.
The message is clear. Individuality is pleasant but it is also weakness. Strength lies in the subjugation of oneself to the group.
Should American parents be concerned about this? Will their little darlings' adoration of the Power Rangers cause them to become automatons? Worse, will they become sixteen-hour-a-day, six-day-a-week, blue-suited workaholics? Will they become Japanese?
Not likely. The Japanese baby boomers, who cut their teeth on black-and-white westerns in spite of their parents' fears, didn't become Americans. Their childhood brush with foreign values brought today's Japanese adults a mild independent streak and an insight into how Americans think - an insight that has served them well over the years.
We could use a similar insight into Japanese values, and a little more team spirit wouldn't hurt either. It may just be that the program's cheesy plots and even worse special effects are teaching American children the most important lesson of their lives.
Seen in this light, the fact that the Power Rangers were present at the opening of the 104th session of Congress offers some hope for the future. Perhaps they will inspire the bickering Republicans and Democrats to morph away their differences and re-form into a Thunder Megacongress with the power to balance the budget without cutting human services. We can only hope. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles we accept will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.