On December 16, 1985, Time published an article titled "Battle of the Fun Factories." In it, past Time and Fortune Executive Editor Stephen Koepp offered a blow-by-blow account of the real-world rock 'em, sock 'em battle that Christmas between two legendary toy titans, Hasbro and Mattel, who in the 1980s figured out the neat trick of selling dolls to boys by turning them into a series of improbably butch action figures marketed by way of syndicated cartoon shows.
One of the then-latest toys the article mentions by name is Stinkor, "a skunky-striped meanie who actually smells bad" that was part of Mattel’s He-Man and the Masters of the Universe line that year. That such an action figure exists seems to strain Koepp’s credulity. The article ends with this bemused line: "The tough question is whether Stinkor will still be around years from now."
Allow me to assure Koepp. Oh yes, Stinkor’s still around. And 28 years later, an original Stinkor action figure smells every bit as bad as he did in 1985. This, along with his counterpart Moss Man, makes him unique amongst toys: He still reeks after almost 30 years.
An anthropomorphic skunk with the body of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Stinkor was released as part of the fourth generation of Masters of the Universe action figures back in 1985. He’s decidedly a D-list villain: in fact, he’s essentially just a repainted version of an original He-Man baddie named Mer-Man, wearing armor recycled from another action figure called Mekaneck, "the Heroic Human Periscope."
Stinkor’s ignoble pedigree didn’t end at being a Frankenstein of existing He-Man parts. The writers on the Masters of the Universe cartoon show wanted nothing to do with him, refusing to write an episode about a character who was "a walking fart joke." Considering the show’s writers had to produce 65 episodes a year and were perpetually on the lookout for new ideas, this was quite a diss. In fact, Stinkor’s only canonical appearance in the original Masters of the Universe is a mini-comic packed in with the figure called "Stench of Evil."
Perhaps, then, it was only appropriate that Stinkor’s saving grace was that he stunk as bad literally as he did figuratively. From the moment you took him from his box, the so-called "Evil Master of Odors" smelled pungent.
Stinkor’s odiferousness was accomplished by Mattel actually mixing patchoulli oil into the mold. Mattel did the same thing with Stinkor’s nemesis, Mossman, a repurposed Beast Man with scratchy green astroturf glued on who smelled like pine because it had similarly been baked in.
The result was that no amount of washing Stinkor or playing with him could make the smell go away, prompting untold numbers of moms to "accidentally" throw Stinkor in the trash or bury him in the back garden. Stinkor exuded stench from his every pore.
But what made Stinkor and Mossman unique amongst 1980s toys is not that they had a smell to them. Scented toys were a popular gimmick at the time, although they were usually marketed to girls; Strawberry Shortcake and My Little Pony figures were usually scented like fruit, a feat largely accomplished by perfuming their hair. But if you pick up a vintage Strawberry Shortcake today, she’ll just smell like a doll. Stinkor? Kids today are still marveling at his stench. He’ll smell for decades yet.
Every kid who grew up in the 1980s remembers that new toy smell. It was intoxicating. Peeling the blister-pack sarcophagus of some action figure open, you’d get your first whiff. A sweet chemical potpourri of plastics, paints, and resin: This was the perfume worn by the bizarre, brightly colored muscleman of your latest He-Man or Thundercats action figure.
But that new toy smell never lasted long. It wore off quickly. We always needed the next fix. And for many of us, it was our first lesson about the ephemeral nature of scent; the way a smell can uniquely touch an emotion within us and evoke it just as poignantly as it did the first time. With a toy, the smell might evoke hyperactive excitement and the satiation of our covetousness; but the profound power of smell to evoke the emotions of the past is the same whether it is the scent of an action figure or a dried-out vial of a past lover’s perfume.
Smell fades so quickly. But 30 later, Stinkor still smells terrible. Maybe that’s what made him such a reject of an action figure back then. But unique to almost any other toy, smelling a Stinkor today will be the same as it was back in 1985. Sure, Stinkor’s a lame misfit of cast-off parts that smell like hippies. That’s what makes him timeless.
[Image: He-Man and Stinkor, Matt K via Flickr