Monday, August 31, 2009

Fanny Packs

Fanny pack. Bum bag. Hip pack. No matter what you called it, if you grew up in the 90s it's likely that you or one of your camera-toting tourist family members was guilty of owning one. No matter which attraction-filled city you happened to occupy, if there were sights to be seen then a full family sporting a rainbow of fanny pack styles and colors couldn't be far behind.

To be fair, fanny packs were indeed functional clothing. They gave a whole new and deeper meaning to the phrase "Look Ma, no hands!" That's right, it was the original hands-free style. A decade before all of those bluetooth-wearing tools were out tooling it up in their tool sheds, they roamed the streets with an earlier prototype. It was the ultimate choice of function over form. There will always be a sizable contingency out there who swears that aesthetics are irrelevant in making wardrobe selections. I respect if you are one of those people. Well, so long as you recognize that you are totally, completely, consummately wrong. A small concession, really, in allowing you to still wear a pack on your fanny. Because honestly. That's ridiculous.

People seemed generally unperturbed by the notion of adding an oddly-shaped zippered lump to their, ahem, private region. You know, what Jack Donaghy would call it your "swimsuit area". It's certainly worthy of further examination as suspicious behavior. Who knows what you're hiding behind there? Never mind, I don't want to know. Just promise me you'll never unzip it in my presence.

Whether it was a class trip or family vacation, fanny packs became inexplicable storage staples of our 90s wardrobes. I suppose the concept makes some sense, as carrying a backpack or a back-pocket waller inevitably leads to Oliver Twist style pick-pocketry. After all, it's an important lesson to teach kids. Trust no one. Everyone is out to get you at all times and are probably after your soggy peanut butter and jelly sandwich and your souvenir I Heart NY keychain. Thieves go crazy for that stuff. Really. It drives them wild.

As someone whose parents made her buy one of those under-the-shirt necklace-style passport holders for her first trip abroad, I can certainly appreciate your desire to protect your personal belongings. Or, at the very least, your parents' desire for you to do so. It was more the placement of the accessory that I took issue with. It is universally unflattering, and thus should be shunned by all.

Don't get me wrong. I owned a fanny pack. Oh yeah. A bright, multi-color masterpiece with numerous compartments and zip closures. It clicked together with that satisfying snap! every time I fastened it to my waist and it was pure perfection. My lower waist area had never looked so ornamental. I loved that thing. Really, I did. I'm not embarrassed to admit it. Okay, well I'm not that embarrassed. Well I admitted it, didn't I? That should at least count for something.

At the very least, these things were versatile in their styling. We all knew the different fanny pack methodology to maximize our 90s look. Your fanny packing style* said quite a bit about your personal character. Wear it to the front and we knew you were a straightforward kind of guy, a no-frills, no-muss no-fuss person simply looking for a bodily-latched vessel to transport their keys.

Please do not purchase this. Seriously. I'm looking at you. Don't encourage others.

Wear it to the side, however, and we knew you were sort of, well, a gangster. In the way only fanny pack wearers can be. That is to say, you were most likely white, middle class, and reared in suburbia but dammit you loved rap videos and there was nothing anyone could do to stop you. It usually meant your parents weren't willing to risk their block party reputation by buying you some crazy colored hat you could leave the tags dangling on, but they were willing to spring for an educational trip to Washington DC. Hey, it's some consolation, isn't it?

The most perplexing wearers, however, were those that wore it slung to the back. Yes, I can understand if you're riding a bike** it may be a sort of useful positioning, but it's generally inexcusable as street wear. That is to say, the main argument for wearing a fanny pack tends to fall in the keep-people-from-stealing-your-stuff category. Your rebel without a cause devil-may-care fanny pack attitude is not ironic, it just shows that you're an irresponsible fanny pack wearer certain to fall victim to identity theft. Either that, or you're really, really embarrassed and are trying to convince everyone who meets you from the front that it's just a belt. Those of us who can see you from the back though, we know the truth. You can rotate but you can't hide.

Unfortunately, this was not the last we saw of fanny packs. Certain designers (I'm looking at you, Gucci) felt it necessary to revive the so-called fashion statement in the last few years, releasing an alleged "belt bag" that was nothing more than a glorified logo-emblazoned fanny pack. We're onto your tricks, high-end designers, and we're not going to fall for them. Either make a belt or make a bag, for for all our retina's sake, don't try for both.

Don't even think about it.

*I beg you to just let the double entendre go. Really. I recognize it too, and it is mildly hilarious. But let's all be adults here. Right?

**I mean you, not me. I will never ride a bike again. I loathe bikes for their cruel bone-breaking antics, and I believe fanny packs as cycling gear to be the just and rightful punishment for their menacing society. Not just for breaking my ankle, but also for acting like you're a car when I'm trying to drive in my actual car. I don't care if you're wearing neon spandex, you don't belong in my turn lane. Did I mention I'm not a big bike fan? I appreciate you reading this tiny, italicized rant. Now go strap on your fanny pack, bike boy.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Troll Dolls

Whose idea was it to have their eyes match their hair on these Treasure Trolls? Really, show yourself. That's probably one of the more frightening things I've ever seen.

When you think troll, what comes to mind? Is it a cute, cuddly, neon-haired pot-bellied figure, or a mythical violent under-bridge dwelling creature a la Three Billy Goats Gruff? If you can't answer it correctly, I'm pretty sure he'll make good on that threat to gobble you up. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Many of us did indeed grow up believing that the word troll was exclusively reserved for these hard plastic Einstein-haired elfin dolls. I didn't know that a troll was supposed to be scary, or mean, or snarly, or a generally unsavory character. I was too busy praying that mine came with a rhinestone belly button.

Troll dolls were originally conceived in the 1960s in Denmark and the first specimens were made of wood, leading us to deduce that the original troll-players were besieged by splinters. This semi-impoverished whittling man unknowingly started a Danish toy craze that quickly spread across the world. Though the general concept and design was based on the Danish woodcarver's prototype, he probably never in his wildest troll-infested dreams foresaw the insane breeds of trolls yet to come.

For instance, I'm willing to bet a fair sum of money that he never, ever had anything in mind even remotely like this when he carved that original little wooden figurine for his daughter:

I'm not embarrassed to admit as a child I longed to be in this commercial. I mean, what's better than singing and dancing in a toy store with a group of my troll-hugging peers? It's 90s cheesiness at its very best. That synthesizer in the background in pretty critical too. This has got to be one of the laziest ad campaigns I've ever seen. I understand the notion of a no-frills, gimmick-free commercial, but repeating "Can't stop hugging the troll kids" over and over is verging on neglectful.

But I digress. Trolls went underground for awhile between the 60s and 90s. Not literally, of course. Well, not the toys. The real things, I've heard they tend to do that kind of thing. Where was I? Oh yes, the Troll doll renaissance. The dolls were resurrected in the 90s with a big marketing push. The original trolls, however, just weren't kicking for these 90s children. The dolls were now battling the forces of video games, computers, and other mind-numbing recreational stimuli.

The 90s toy market was highly segmented, with toy manufacturers eager to market simultaneously to kid demographics across the board. Rather than offering one solid product, most toy producers opted to offer innumerable watered-down variations of the original. Hence was the case with trolls, leaving many consumers scratching their heads at some of these Troll releases. Here's a prime example of the ridiculous manifestations of the original:

Yes, you heard correctly. Troll Barbie. They don't explain why or how she's associated with Trolls or why she insists of wearing tufts of their multi-colored hair on her head. She wears pants with cartoon Trolls on them and has a Troll necklace. If you're thinking this makes no sense at all, congratulations. You've outwitted the 90s Mattel advisory board.

Clearly Trolls were a tad on the girly side, leaving toy companies scratching their heads as to how to effectively market these cuddly critters to boys. After all, that's a pretty significant segment of the market going un-Trolled. This is what they came up with:

I've officially changed my mind. This is the quintessential 90s commercial. I'm not exactly sure why they had to go ahead and kill a rustling meadowful of adorable, girl-friendly Trolls in order to prove their point at the beginning. Clearly subtlety was not on their marketing agenda. Not only do they claim these dolls to be "OUT OF CONTROL!", they also end the commercial with a threat: "Collect them before they collect you!" I'm sorry, what? What? That makes. Absolutely. No. Sense. Not even a sliver. I guess they got so caught up in the frenzied fast-paced excitement of the commercial, they forgot to proofread the script.

There was also this lighter male-directed line called Stone Protectors, who were supposedly equally bad-ass but who appeared as cartoons in the ads. They also conveniently come with an arsenal of accessories sure to lift the bills directly from your pockets.

If that wasn't enough to do it for you as a kid, how about some misleading and unverified claims? Treasure Trolls were a serious craze, differentiated from the original on belly button rhinestone detail alone. The commercial, however, leads us to believe that these trolls have magical powers to make all of our wildest dreams come true.

They really wanted to drive the point home, so they also came out with this winner of an ad, showing just how exciting your life could be if only you incorporated Treasure Trolls into your daily existence. This one definitely plays down the questionable Treasure Trolls Answer Your Prayers part, too.

In the spirit of cross-marketing, they also released Troll video games, computer games, and even straight-to-video VHS releases like this one:

Really, just don't ask questions. You'll only strain your brain. If nothing else, retrospection on Trolls shows us just how much toy manufacturers were able to get away with in the 90s. Their many Troll releases were pretty shameless. It's almost as if they simply sat around the board room table, everyone coughed up one marginally absurd idea, and they called it a day. When a brand is elevated to craze status, you can pretty much release whatever you want. Looking back, they may have been a bit silly, but at the time I'd give anything to add to my troll collection. I won't lie to you, I'm still sort of coveting that Troll Barbie. What? The commercial was pretty persuasive.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Who doesn't love talking farm animals? Okay, so maybe I know a few select people who will inevitably tell me these things terrified them to no end, but on the whole they have a lot going for them in the cuteness department. Funny little voices, cute scurrying movements, hilarious misunderstandings of real-life situations through their animal-brain lens. What's not to like?

Babe was one of those movies that could have been a triumph or a disaster, and it managed to come out as the former. Believe it or not, movie technology in 1995 was not quite everything it was today. Technological prowess aside, talking animals have a tendency to go one of two ways: overly cartoony and amusing to only those in the under-ten set, or heartwarmingly adorable in a way that makes you want to "awww" through the whole movie. Babe managed to pull it off, earning not only some well-deserved "awwws" but also some seriously positive critical acclaim.

The movie is an Australian film about a little pig who wants to be a sheepdog. Like most good family films, the premise is simple and uncluttered. Sure, there are some cute B-stories, but it's not an especially complicated plot. The straightforwardness of it appealed to parents and children, and the movie showcased classic themes and values with one corkscrew-tailed twist: a pig protagonist. I'm willing to bet a lot of kids forwent the BLTs at their post-film dinner trips. He was just so darn cute, it was hard not to see him there, waving feebly between the leafy greens and ripe tomatoes.

Ohhh my gosh, when that little Babe cries, "I want my m-o-o-o-om", I die a little inside from the incessant adorability. Could they have chosen a cuter protagonist? The correct answer is no, no they could not have. Babe is the best. He's not just cute and cuddly, he's also naive, strong-willed, stubborn, and determined. In short, he's a perfect entertainment for children because he's exactly like them. Parents were pretty keen on him too, most likely won over by this amazingly endearing version of Jingle Bells:

Babe was not, of course, the only featured farm animal in this film. The movie had a slew of barnyard pals to entertain and enthrall us. The movie begins with our cuddly future pork product is separated from his siblings by chance and selected to be in a booth at a county fair. Farmer Hoggett, the adorable Australian farmer who looks like a moderately more huggable version of pitchfork man in American Gothic, feels an immediate bond with Babe and correctly guesses his weight for the win. He brings home his new prize runt and allows him to nest with the sheepdogs, a cocky breed who clearly know themselves to be the farm favorites.

He is befriended by Maa, a maternal sheep, and Ferdinand, a misguided scheming duck. Ferdinand had been playing resident rooster, and was very upset at the introduction of the mechanical rooster--that is, alarm clock. He ventures with Babe on a covert mission to stop the dreaded mechanical rooster, resulting in mild antic-rousing and some downright messes. Meanwhile, the sheepdog matriarch Fly mourns the loss of her sold-off puppies, and Babe requests to call her Mom. Oh my gosh. The cuteness. The cuteness. I'll give you a minute.

Despite many pork-crazed visiting relatives, Mr. Hoggett inexplicably befriends Babe and protects him from uncertain dinner fate. Unfortunately, they go with duck a l'orange, incidentally the tender meat of Ferdinand's gal pal. Ferdinand peaces out at this point, determined not to become the next duck a l'orange. Babe encounters some men trying to steal some of the Hoggetts' sheep, and in watching the family sheepdogs gather up the herd is enthralled by the possibility of sheepdoghood.

Mr Hoggett takes notice of Babe's special interest, giving him the opportunity to give a go at herding. The sheepdogs warn him that sheep should be treated roughly, but after biting Maa his adorable guilt is just too much to bear. No, our pal Babe opts for asking them politely to please fall in line, to which they graciously comply. The other dogs are pretty pissed and a fight breaks out, leading to some seriuos barnyard drams.

Farmer Hoggett thinks about entering Babe in sheepdog trials, and everything seems to be going very well. Then of course, there is a series of events that are heartbreakingly sad and which I will intentionally omit not just for brevity's sake or spoiler consciousness, but because they make me a cry like an overgrown infant. I'll let you rent the movie or Netflix it or whatever newfangled thing you kids are doing these days to get ahold of classic films, but I'll spare you some of the sadder details. You're welcome.

Babe gets signed up for the sheepdog trials under the auspicious stage name "pig". Before his grand performance, he finds out that (gasp!) people just like his beloved Mr. Hoggett actually eat pigs. I know, I know. I'll give you some time to digest that. Not literally, though, I hope. Hoggett sings the 70s hit "If I had Words" to try to make it up to him. A small consolation, no doubt, but he goes for it. After some tense moments, Babe performs beautifully in the sheepdog trials, earning the praise and admiration of the crowd. And of course, he gets the ultimate show of affection from Mr. Hoggett himself, who tells him, "That'll do, pig. That'll do."

I leave you with the mice rendition of If I had Words, certain to make you smile or make your eardrums burst depending on your tolerance for helium-infused voice work.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Fruit Stripe Gum

Kids aren't usually the greatest long-term planners. Instant gratification is most likely the only type of satisfaction they know, regardless of the longstanding consequences of their actions. If you ever doubted that kids favor the immediate over the enduring, look no further for evidence than a fluorescent hued-stick of Fruit Stripe Gum. Case in point, the gum offers a mere three minutes of desirable flavor time followed by a persistent output of bland non-flavor for the duration of the chew. But hey, it comes with tattoos. That's got to be some sort of consolation, right?

Fruit Stripe Gum was nothing less than a candy craze, launched in the 1960s but enjoying a serious rejuvenation of popularity throughout the 1990s. The brand and its zebra mascot Yipes are decidedly kid-friendly, luring in children with promises of an enchantingly colorful sugar high. The alluring five juicy flavors drew us in time after time. We never learned, particularly if we'd purchased a rather large pack of the gum. Even though we'd experienced multiple times for ourselves the flightiness of the flavor, we continued to chew our beloved Fruit Stripe on the premise of its novelty alone.

Is it not the most fantastically beautiful gum you've ever seen? Huh? Is it?

Though the gum claimed to come in a wide variety of fruity flavors, in reality it tended to come in a variety of fruity colors. You'd have to be a taste connoisseur to distinguish between these subtle differences, so we relied on the vibrantly colored sticks of gum to show us the way. We could only assume that the red was in some way vaguely symbolic of wild cherry and a yellow/green combination of hues represented the lemon lime delegation. The system wasn't perfect, but it was sweet, which is usually more than enough to satiate even the most precocious of children.

It was wonderfully convenient that the gum tended to come in a large pack as it provided a handy solution for its minuscule flavor life. It didn't take a genius IQ to figure out that adding another stick would freshen the ever-growing was of gum slowly taking over our cavernous mouthal cavity. Run out of flavor? No problem. Simply add another stick. Then another. And one more. Alright, so this clearly was not the perfect solution and our teeth weren't bowing down in enamel-depleted gratitude, but our parents probably were big fans of this trick. After all, a kid can't speak with a mouth chock full of Fruit Stripe gum. Sure, there was a minor choking hazard, but that's a small price to pay for ten minutes of silence in the car.

The Fruit Stripe people knew it would take more than a lamely-flavored albeit colorful gum to pique the fancy of children. They weren't taking their novelty product halfway, they were going for gold here. Hence the inclusion of the tattoo. Oh, the coveted tattoo! It was inexplicably desirable, despite the fact it was both worthless and blurry. Each stick came with its very own temporary tattoo, because what kid doesn't want a semi-permanent splotch of color smack dab in the middle of their cheek? I know I was keen.

The magic of the Fruit Stripe gum tattoo was in its pure, unadulterated simplicity. There were no bells and whistles on this thing. The instructions were brief: simply wet the tattoo (nearly all of us subbed the verb lick at this point), and apply with pressure to the desired skin surface for about 30 seconds. What could possibly go wrong?

Apparently, lots of things. The temporary tattooing process was not quite as straightforward as they'd led us to believe. We usually ended up with more of a smudge than a zebra. It was time for us to take drastic measures. Namely, to put the tattoos on our tongues. Yes, that's right. This non-toxic ink blob clinging to our taste buds was usually our greatest and wisest alternative. Sure, it wasn't necessarily the most attractive, or tastiest, or functional, or sensible, or...wait, where was I going with this?

Regardless of our questionable Fruit Stripe tattoo practices, the gum remained amongst our favorites for years. It was certainly a cheap thrill, and a short-lived one at that. It was one of those food fads for which we liked it because we liked it, and don't bother asking us any probing questions as to why. We'd suffer through endless wads of gooey, chewy, tastelessly bitter gum so long as it was colorful and came with a cheerful zebra on the package.

Like so many of our favorite snacks and candy in the 90s, we were foolishly lured in by a fast-talking anthropomorphic cartoon animal and vibrant neon colors. If they made it look fun in the commercial, you could bet we'd make it fun in real life. That's simple deductive logic. It didn't matter if a cereal tasted like cardboard or a gum tasted like unscented Silly Putty, it was ours. We as kids took ownership and laid full claim to novelty foods and there was nothing adults could do to stop us. We'd sooner loyally defend our beloved novelty sweets than cave to adult logic. Unless, of course, we had the entire pack of Fruit Stripe in our mouths.*

*This was a likely situation given the instantaneous flavor loss. Sure, you couldn't talk back to your parents, but you could blow a head-engulfing bubble. All in all, sort of a toss up.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Edward Scissorhands

Many things scared me as a child, but rarely did anything frighten me on the nightmare-inducing level of a Tim Burton film. Yes, yes, now I realize he's probably brilliant and his muse Johnny Depp is a dreamboat and Burton can juggle all sorts of complex symbolism and irony, but at the time it was much more like, "Wait, a guy has scissors...for hands? A little kid pulls a shrunken head out of his Christmas present? And God help me if I ever accidentally utter 'Beetlejuice' thrice." Hell, he even scared me a little bit with Pee Wee's Big Adventure.

Maybe I was a bit deficient in the imagination department, but these movies scared me to no end. In some ways, I suppose that speaks to their power; Burton's movies are certainly affective. That lingering feeling of creepiness and uneasiness speaks largely to his dark prowess as a filmmaker. Many of these movies that terrified me in my younger years I now recognize as deep and interesting and original. Okay, and a little scary. I'm sorry. Scissors for hands? That's frightening stuff. No two snips about it.

Overall, the film is poignant and touching, which is probably what scared me so much about it in the first place. As a kid, we don't want movies to make us feel. We want them to make us smile as little woodland creatures sing us songs before diving into a wooded thicket. Nuance and subtlety are not exactly the way to a child's heart. I don't know about you, but I was big into happily ever afters, which doesn't tend to happen a lot if a film is trying to make a statement in the way that Edward Scissorhands was.

With this film began the torrid love affair between Depp and Burton that continues to frighten and intrigue us in the present day. Prior to his role in Scissorhands, Depp was something of a teen idol, the likes of whose pinups may have been torn from J17 or Bop! Magazine and plastered the walls of smitten late-80s teenage girls. Depp's roles in TV's 21 Jump Street and the 50's-themed musical Cry-Baby had elevated him to teen hearthrob status, a title that left Depp less than satisfied with his career choices. Determined not to be packaged and sold as a teen stud, his fledgling professional relationship with Burton allowed him to break out of this boxed-in career path. Oh, and frighten some young fans with the cunning use of stage makeup and scissor hands.

How's that trailer for dramatic? I'm a big fan of Danny Elfman themes, but this is really just the heartstring pulliest. You can just tell it's going to be so sad. And a little disconcerting.

Before delving into the movie, here's a handy Arsenio Hall interview with Johnny Depp and Tim Burton regarding Edward Scissorhands. Yes, yes, it's informative, but mainly I've included it because it would undoubtedly win any contest for three best 90s hairstyles ever. Just watch the way Johnny's hair moves. It's very antennae-esque. Sort of frightening, sort of intriguing, oddly attractive. Like Johnny, in the film. You can begin to see why the role was so well-tailored to his personal character.

Edward Scissorhands is ultimately a tragic comedy, as its both heart-wrenching and sort of giggle-inducing. Edward is not actually a man, but an unfinished project of an enterprising inventor, as we learn from our grandmotherly narrator. Following his inventor's death, Edward continues to live in his sprawling mansion unnoticed until the unexpected intrusion of Peg the Avon lady. Peg insists on taking him home with her. And who wouldn't? He's a deathly pale, scar-faced, scissor-handed freak. He definitely sounds like someone I would want around my loved ones in their natural habitat. Well played, Peg. Well played indeed.

Edward had a natural penchant for all sorts of fun clippery, particularly in the areas of foliage manipulation and perm reduction. He is clearly ill at ease while integrated in society, and is largely perplexed by the norms and mores that rule society. He dodges the seduction attempts of a lonely housewife, only to be smacked with rape charges. He helps Peg's daughter's boyfriend in his criminal misdoings and is picked up by the police. The officers, however, declare Edward to be void of a moral compass but believe him to be ultimately good. Those rape accusations weren't winning him any friends, though, and his neighborhood star falls nearly as quickly as it had risen.

After Edward accidentally injures Peg's daughter Kim, her no-good boyfriend Jim is out for revenge. The scene escalates and there are all sorts of misunderstandings that reiterate the townspeople's growing distaste for Edward. In what is turning out to be a fight to the death, Edward kills Jim. Kim and some of his other defenders manage to imply that the two killed each other, but Edward was still alive and doing his snow-making thing. And for your spoiler alert (p.s., you've been alerted), we find out the old woman from the beginning is Kim and she's loved Edward all along, though their ultimately doomed relationship was not conducive to them maintaining their romance. I know, I know. It's sad. I'll give you some time.
We all have those movies that we saw as children that we thought we understood until we saw them as adults and realize we hadn't a clue what was going on. Edward Scissorhands is one of those movies. For anyone who saw the movie at a young age, it was confusing and mildly terrifying. I was vaguely aware that it was supposed to be sad, but I was too worried about the inevitable insomnia-provoking nightmares that were sure to result from hearing that incessant snip-snip-snip sound.

Ultimately, Edward Scissorhands is touching, resonant, and gutsy with its out-on-a-limb themes and metaphors. Okay, so none of us were quick to plaster our walls with Edward Scissorhands pinups*, but it certainly paved the way for both Johnny Depp's and Tim Burton's resultant cinematic successes. Maybe it didn't have the happy ending some of us selfishly demand of movies, but it did have heart. Oh, and scissors. Big, giant scissors.

*Most of us waited until he became a pirate to reinstate his hearthrob status

Monday, August 24, 2009

Weird Al Yankovic

It's pretty remarkable to think that Weird Al is still out there day after day, album after album, doing his thing and entertaining people through the mere skill of wittily* reworking the lyrics of popular songs into mildly humorous reformulations. That's a career path. Astounding, isn't it? Not just a feasible, existing career path, but a relatively lucrative and fame-garnering one. Sign me up. I'm punny. I'll do it. Really, I would. Shame hath no boundaries like a parody songwriter.

Though Weird Al continues to churn out moderately amusing song take-offs, he was was arguably most enormously successful throughout the 80s and 90s. Kids everywhere went crazy for his albums, for no reason other than that it was kind-of sort-of funny to hear our favorite songs dessicated and reserved to us on a platter of unpretentious geekdom.

I'm not too proud to admit I was a huge Weird Al fan in my playground years. His songs spoke to kids in a way that traditionally popular songs usually did not. Kids can relate far better to a silly re-write of a song than to any actual song detailing adult behavior and practices. I don't know about you guys, but my school found Amish Paradise a hell of a lot funnier than Gangsta's Paradise. Probably mainly because we didn't know any gangsters, but also because the Amish were easier targets** who were thus less likely to shoot us for enjoying songs about their lifestyle***.

Weird Al typically had a few different types of songs that fell into his general genre of musical parody. Some songs, and arguably some of the most popular on recognizability alone, were pretty much reconstructed chord-for-chord from the original song. Others were more "in the style of" and made fun of multiple songs and artists in a single swoop. Sure, it shows cleverness to be able to incorporate all sorts of musical targets in your satirical albums, but people usually prefer a slightly modified version of what they already know.

I mean, it's a lot easier to learn the words if you already know the tune. People are pretty lazy by nature, though the true nerds among us would no doubt comb the more nuanced song for every potential musical reference.

Eat It/Fat

Alright, so maybe these songs were released four years apart, but they certainly lend themselves to being grouped together. They're direct Michael Jackson spinoff songs that parody his video schematics and have to do with ingesting food. How's that for thematic? I suppose once you find your niche, you might as well stick to it.

You've really got to give this guy some credit. He does not do things halfway. While most of us will feel justifiably silly singing our hearts out to songs that reference Cap'n Crunch, Weird Al really goes for it. He's got a flair for both the dramatic and the reassemblage of popular music video scenery.

In Fat, Weird Al spares no feelings with his depiction of the overweight. In the glorious days before the all-consuming backlash of alleged political correctness, we could all just think it's fun to see a guy dancing around in a fat suit singing, "I'm fat! I'm fat! Shamu!" or "Don't you call me pudgy, portly, or stout, just tell me once again, who's fat!" Now that's good songwriting.

Like a Surgeon

Talk about a song idea writing itself. Madonna actually asked how long it was going to be until Weird Al parodied her song "Like a Virgin" as "Like a Surgeon". You just don't get more straightforward than that. He didn't even have to come up with an original concept for his unoriginal song. And who says Madonna isn't thoughtful?

Smells Like Nirvana

Smells Like Teen Spirit lent itself well to a parody version not only in content and style but also because it seemed people had no idea what Kurt Cobain was saying in the original song, anyway. Hey, if you like the music, why not just sit back and enjoy the more easily decipherable Weird Al version? The video even includes many of the same actors and set pieces.

Weird Al even starts the song, "What is this song/all about/can't figure any/lyrics out". That's right, the entire premise of the parody is that we have no idea what the actual song is about or what any of the lyrics may be. He does manage to capture the grunge essence, at the very least, and you must admit it's a little funny to see him sing with that disaffected expression with these words.

Amish Paradise

Amish Paradise was a single from the album Bad Hair Day, the cover of which features Weird Al with a decidedly Coolio-esque 'do. Amish Paradise is all about contrast; the original Gansta's Paradise talks about the hardships of urban life, whereas the parody single talks about, well, I'll let you look for yourself:

As I walk through the valley where I harvest my grain
I take a look at my wife and realize shes very plain
But that's just perfect for an Amish like me
You know I shun fancy things like electricity
At 4:30 in the morning Im milkin' cows
Jebediah feeds the chickens and Jacob plows... fool
And Ive been milkin' and plowin' so long that
Even Ezekiel thinks that my mind is gone
Im a man of the land, I'm into discipline
Got a Bible in my hand and a beard on my chin
But if I finish all of my chores and you finish thine
Then tonight were gonna party like its 1699

Get it? 1699? Instead of 1999? Oh Weird Al. You are just too clever. Harvesting his grain? His wife is plain? Where do you come up with this stuff?

"Weird Al" Yankovic - Amish Paradise

Pretty Fly for a Rabbi

The Offspring were at the height of their popularity in the late 90s, particularly with their hit "Pretty Fly for a White Guy". As you can clearly see, Weird Al is all about easily mockable targets--he doesn't make you think too hard. He takes groups or people who are inherently humorous on stereotype alone and lets us all laugh at them. I mean, how can you not crack just a little smile at his turning "Give it to me baby! Uh huh! Uh huh!" into "How you doing Bernie? Oy Vey! Oy Vey!" ? It's funny.

I suppose it's entirely possible that many of you out there do not have as many Jewish relatives as I do, but let me tell you, this is funny stuff. The Yiddish! Oy, the Yiddish. The cheap jokes. The bagel references. He even does off-color stuff:

When hes doing a bar mitzvah, now that you shouldn't miss
Hell always schlep on down for a wedding or a bris
They say hes got a lot of chutzpah, hes really quite hip
The parents pay the moyel and he gets to keep the tip.

If the sprinkling of Yiddish is too subtle for you, he's talking about a circumcision here. The tip. Oh, Weird Al? Is there no limit to your groan-inducing punnery?

Okay, so maybe writing parody songs is not quite on par with rocket science, but you may just have to admit that his lyrics have a nice ring to them. Especially in his song Phony Calls. Get it? Ring...calls? I'm halfway to parody songwriter myself.

*I know, this depends on your definition of wittily. **Especially on the internet! Sorry, Amish, but you'll never find it here. ***I'm not saying all gangsters would kill me for singing Gangstas' Paradise, but hey, I saw Dangerous Minds. I doubt those kids would even appreciate me dropping the e-r in gangster. Just sayin'.

Friday, August 21, 2009

I swear this is not a lazy cop-out Friday post. Depending on your definiton of lazy. Or cop out. Or really, even Friday.

Before you start singing that catchy "One of These Things is not like the Other" song from Sesame street, allow me to offer some completely valid explanations (read: excuses). I was all pumped up to do a regular daily post for all of my loyal readers, but a few life-like obstacles inconveniently dropped in my way.

First, as some of you long-time readers may now, I broke my ankle a month ago. Let's all say that together. A month. A long time, yes? Now let's say, just theoretically, that you had been on crutches for a month and were continuing to enjoy your daily life where your apartment in which you live alone is convenient located up a treacherous set of skull-crushingly solid cement steps. Just theoretically, that is.

Now, if this completely theoretical person had not only stupidly missed her doctor's appointment and x-ray the week before but after some desperate, tear-stained rescheduling was told she may be on crutches for an additional six to eight weeks, she might not be in prime posting mood. Again, this is all just hypothetical, but I'm sure you would agree.

Concurrent to this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad news re:walking and living, let's imagine for a minute that the desktop computer that she so loved and defended against her pretentious laptop-toting peers came down with a terrible virus. The likes of which may allow a newer computer to recover, but for an old, desolate soul like her desktop will inevitably result in a slow, painful, RAM-eating death. After which the computer will inexplicably keep restarting in a way that can only lead her to believe that it is indeed possessed, forcing her to unplug it to void out the possibility of it growling to her in the night in the voice of Satan.

I don't know about you, but that sounds pretty awful. Sure, she's got a brand-spanking new laptop now that she can't afford, but thanks to the incredible generosity of her very kind, wonderful, endlessly deserving of superlative adjective qualifiers boyfriend, was able to not afford it slightly less. Don't fight it, those double negatives all made perfect sense.

So there you have it. After sobbing gently through this very sad hypothetical story, I'm sure you can understand why there is not a gem of 90s wisdom waiting for you today. Okay, so maybe a percentage of the above tale is true. What? 100 is a percentage. Either way, I could never let you down and thus will share with you some chain-email style observational humor that had me nodding and laughing along all the way.

This has obviously been floating around the internet, as I keep seeing tidbits pop up as people's facebook statuses, but this seems an incredibly appropriate and moderately captive audience for this kind of thing. I did not write this (I take credit for nothing!) but it did arrive in my inbox with the elusive title "Random Thoughts from People Our Age". I am sure some of you have seen it before, but it really is deserving of our attention.

Again, not written by me. Taking no credit for this. Just shamelessly re-posting something I found both humorous and poignant, for which I give you full permission to disseminate via email. As, like I said, I didn't write it. So who am I really to give you permission? But that's neither here not there*.

Random thoughts from people our age...

-I wish Google Maps had an "Avoid Ghetto" routing option.

-More often than not, when someone is telling me a story all I can think about is that I can't wait for them to finish so that I can tell my own story that's not only better, but also more directly involves me.

-Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you realize you're wrong.

-I don't understand the purpose of the line, "I don't need to drink to have fun." Great, no one does. But why start a fire with flint and sticks when they've invented the lighter?

-Have you ever been walking down the street and realized that you're going in the complete opposite direction of where you are supposed to be going? But instead of just turning a 180 and walking back in the direction from which you came, you have to first do something like check your watch or phone or make a grand arm gesture and mutter to yourself to ensure that no one in the surrounding area thinks you're crazy by randomly switching directions on the sidewalk.

-That's enough, Nickelback.

-I totally take back all those times I didn't want to nap when I was younger.

-Is it just me, or are 80% of the people in the "people you may know" feature on Facebook people that I do know, but I deliberately choose not to be friends with?

-Do you remember when you were a kid, playing Nintendo and it wouldn't work? You take the cartridge out, blow in it and that would magically fix the problem. Every kid in America did that, but how did we all know how to fix the problem? There was no internet or message boards or FAQ's. We just figured it out. Today's kids are soft.

-There is a great need for sarcasm font.

-Sometimes, I'll watch a movie that I watched when I was younger and suddenly realize I had no idea what the f was going on when I first saw it.

-I think everyone has a movie that they love so much, it actually becomes stressful to watch it with other people. I'll end up wasting 90 minutes shiftily glancing around to confirm that everyone's laughing at the right parts, then making sure I laugh just a little bit harder (and a millisecond earlier) to prove that I'm still the only one who really, really gets it.

-How the hell are you supposed to fold a fitted sheet?

-I would rather try to carry 10 plastic grocery bags in each hand than take 2 trips to bring my groceries in.

- I think part of a best friend's job should be to immediately clear your computer history if you die.

-The only time I look forward to a red light is when I’m trying to finish a text.

- A recent study has shown that playing beer pong contributes to the spread of mono and the flu. Yeah, if you suck at it.

- Was learning cursive really necessary?

- Lol has gone from meaning, "laugh out loud" to "I have nothing else to say".

- I have a hard time deciphering the fine line between boredom and hunger.

- Answering the same letter three times or more in a row on a Scantron test is absolutely petrifying.

- My brother's Municipal League baseball team is named the Stepdads. Seeing as none of the guys on the team are actual stepdads, I inquired about the name. He explained, "Cuz we beat you, and you hate us." Classy, bro.

- Whenever someone says "I'm not book smart, but I'm street smart", all I hear is "I'm not real smart, but I'm imaginary smart".

- How many times is it appropriate to say "What?" before you just nod and smile because you still didn't hear what they said?

- I love the sense of camaraderie when an entire line of cars teams up to prevent a dick from cutting in at the front. Stay strong, brothers!

- Every time I have to spell a word over the phone using 'as in' examples, I will undoubtedly draw a blank and sound like a complete idiot. Today I had to spell my boss's last name to an attorney and said "Yes that's G as in...(10 second lapse)..ummm...Goonies"

-What would happen if I hired two private investigators to follow each other?

- While driving yesterday I saw a banana peel in the road and instinctively swerved to avoid it...thanks Mario Kart.

- MapQuest really needs to start their directions on #5. Pretty sure I know how to get out of my neighborhood.

- Obituaries would be a lot more interesting if they told you how the person died.

- I find it hard to believe there are actually people who get in the shower first and THEN turn on the water.

-Shirts get dirty. Underwear gets dirty. Pants? Pants never get dirty, and you can wear them forever.

- I would like to officially coin the phrase 'catching the swine flu' to be used as a way to make fun of a friend for hooking up with an overweight woman. Example: "Dave caught the swine flu last night."

-I can't remember the last time I wasn't at least kind of tired.

- Bad decisions make good stories

-Whenever I'm Facebook stalking someone and I find out that their profile is public I feel like a kid on Christmas morning who just got the Red Ryder BB gun that I always wanted. 546 pictures? Don't mind if I do!

- Is it just me or do high school girls get sluttier & sluttier every year?

-If Carmen San Diego and Waldo ever got together, their offspring would probably just be completely invisible.

-Why is it that during an ice-breaker, when the whole room has to go around and say their name and where they are from, I get so incredibly nervous? Like I know my name, I know where I'm from, this shouldn't be a problem....

-You never know when it will strike, but there comes a moment at work when you've made up your mind that you just aren't doing anything productive for the rest of the day.

-Can we all just agree to ignore whatever comes after DVDs? I don't want to have to restart my collection.

-There's no worse feeling than that millisecond you're sure you are going to die after leaning your chair back a little too far.

-I'm always slightly terrified when I exit out of Word and it asks me if I want to save any changes to my ten page research paper that I swear I did not make any changes to.

- "Do not machine wash or tumble dry" means I will never wash this ever.

-I hate being the one with the remote in a room full of people watching TV. There's so much pressure. 'I love this show, but will they judge me if I keep it on? I bet everyone is wishing we weren't watching this. It's only a matter of time before they all get up and leave the room. Will we still be friends after this?'

-I hate when I just miss a call by the last ring (Hello? Hello? Dammit!), but when I immediately call back, it rings nine times and goes to voicemail. What'd you do after I didn't answer? Drop the phone and run away?

- I hate leaving my house confident and looking good and then not seeing anyone of importance the entire day. What a waste.

-When I meet a new girl, I'm terrified of mentioning something she hasn't already told me but that I have learned from some light internet stalking.

-I like all of the music in my iTunes, except when it's on shuffle, then I like about one in every fifteen songs in my iTunes.

-Why is a school zone 20 mph? That seems like the optimal cruising speed for pedophiles...

- As a driver I hate pedestrians, and as a pedestrian I hate drivers, but no matter what the mode of transportation, I always hate cyclists.

-Sometimes I'll look down at my watch 3 consecutive times and still not know what time it is.

-It should probably be called Unplanned Parenthood.

-I keep some people's phone numbers in my phone just so I know not to answer when they call.

-Even if I knew your social security number, I wouldn't know what do to with it.

-Even under ideal conditions people have trouble locating their car keys in a pocket, hitting the G-spot, and Pinning the Tail on the Donkey - but I’d bet my ass everyone can find and push the Snooze button from 3 feet away, in about 1.7 seconds, eyes closed, first time every time...

-My 4-year old son asked me in the car the other day "Dad what would happen if you ran over a ninja?" How the hell do I respond to that?

-It really pisses me off when I want to read a story on and the link takes me to a video instead of text.

-I wonder if cops ever get pissed off at the fact that everyone they drive behind obeys the speed limit.

-I think the freezer deserves a light as well.

-I disagree with Kay Jewelers. I would bet on any given Friday or Saturday night more kisses begin with Miller Lites than Kay.

-The other night I ordered takeout, and when I looked in the bag, saw they had included four sets of plastic silverware. In other words, someone at the restaurant packed my order, took a second to think about it, and then estimated that there must be at least four people eating to require such a large amount of food. Too bad I was eating by myself. There's nothing like being made to feel like a fat bastard before dinner.

I hope that was enough to get you your Gen Y weekend fix. Have a wonderful weekend, children of the 90s, and hopefully I'll be back to you on Monday with all sorts of exciting new tricks garnered from this shiny new laptop.

*Okay, Okay. It's there.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Lovable 90s TV Nerds

TV in the 90s was the Golden Age of stereotyped characters. Very few of our favorite shows contained particularly multi-dimensional characters. Instead, most of our televised friends could be neatly labeled and classified. Especially in high school sitcoms, our usual spectrum of characters was always there: the nerds, the jocks, the brains, and all of our other easily identifiable groupings. Sure, it was sort of a cop-out, but it was a lot easier than thinking up complex, multifaceted characters that resemble actual people in real life. I mean, really. Who wants that kind of responsibility on their shoulders?

One of the most popular TV tropes of the 90s was the nerd. Magically, these nerds usually seemed to be best friends with our too-cool everyman hero-type characters. You know, the way it never is in real life. Generally, these characters were ripe for mocking and served as a comic foil to their slicker co-stars. Regardless of their butt-of-the-joke lot in TV, they did get their fair share of funny storylines and dialogue. Sure, we were mocking them, but in an endearing way rather than with disdain. Well, usually.

Carlton Banks of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

If you're wondering who would win in a contest for the whitest black guy in the universe, look no further than preppy Republican Trekkie Carlton Banks. He made for a wonderful comic foil to cousin Will, whose cool character and smooth moves were in high contrast to Carlton's social awkwardness. He's an incredibly easy target: short, studious, old-fashioned fuddy-duddy music taste, and a penchant for tying golf sweaters around his shoulders.

Sure he's a little formal and straightlaced, but he does manage to surprise us once in awhile. Particularly with the Carlton dance. Any of you regular readers probably notice that I reference the Carlton dance frequently, but it's just so incredibly deserving of our attention. He's particularly partial to Tom Jones. If you're not yet convinced of Carlton's nerdiness, look no further than his incredibly well-timed dancing dorkiness. It's spectacular.

Samuel "Screech" Powers of Saved by the Bell

Once in our good graces as the adorably elfish nerdy kid Screech, Dustin Diamond has recently fallen from Saved by the Bell grace. After a string of embarrassing high-profile incidents (foreclosure, release of a sex tape, being a dick on Celebrity Fit club, penning a tell-all SBtB memoir), he was even left out of the People magazine coverage of the upcoming reunion. Ouch. I suppose being a desperately pathetic pseudo-celebrity clinging to your last parcels of fame is not quite enough to win over the skeptical public.

Back in the day, however, Screech was still a lovable geek who we knew from way back in his early Good Morning Miss Bliss years. He is forever getting sucked into Zack's crazy schemes and suffered all sorts of nerdy public humiliation. He plays chess, has a robot pal, and keeps science equipment in his bedroom. He has a huge thing for Lisa Turtle, but settles for dating Tori Spelling disguised with glasses and braids. Because you know, nerds wear glasess. That's how we know who they are.

I know, I know. In this video, they're all pretty enormous nerds, so it may be hard to pick him out.

Steve Urkel of Family Matters

You know a character's got staying power when they're supposed to play a one-time drop in guest and end up hogging all the remaining screen time for the duration of the series. The Winslow family's neighbor, Urkel is gratingly dorky in both voice and mannerisms. He wears oversized glasses, high water pants with suspenders, and walks in a trademark nerdy fashion. He's that annoying kid you just can't seem to shake, but he's well-meaning enough for us to feel a bit of sympathetic endearment toward him.

If you thought Carlton was the only one with trademark geeky dance moves, think again. Urkel's up for the challenge:

Comic Book Guy of The Simpsons

Comic Book Guy is one of the rare adult nerds we found on 90s TV, because presumably there are a plethora of nerds in mainstream society in our younger years who all gradually disappear as we near adulthood. Who knows, maybe they all become well-adjusted and popular somewhere along the way. Comic Book Guy is an exceptional case in that he retains his nerdiness in his tragically comic (yes, comic) adulthood.

He is the prototypical grown-up nerd, owner of Springfield's Android's Dungeon & Baseball Card Shop. He's overweight, overly saracastic, and overconfident for his lot in life. While like most nerds he's certainly intelligent, most of his brainpower goes to feeling smug and superior to his well-liked peers by being ridiculously knowledgable in all things Lord of the Rings and Klingon. Worst. Adulthood. Ever.

Millhouse Van Houten of The Simpsons

If Comic Book Guy is the prototypical adult nerd, Millhouse is his nebbish young counterpart. He has asthma, wets the bed, sleeps with a teddy bear...all of the stuff that's guaranteed to get you beat up by cartoon bullies. He plays a very Screech-like role as Bart's sidekick, getting caught up in his crazy scheming often against his will. His unrequited love for Lisa is another running joke, as while Lisa is a brainy nerd she's not quite down to Millhouse's level of social ineptitude.

Paul Pfieffer of The Wonder Years

Paul also plays the nerdy best friend to Wonder Years hero Kevin. Sure, Kevin's not exactly Mr. Popular Suavacito himself, but he's a far cry from tragic thick-framed glasses Pauldom. He's certainly got some Millhouse in him, as he's allergic to nearly everything in a sad, sort of pity-inducing way. He's also smart and bespectacled and Jewish, which by TV standards is a near-perfect recipe for eternal geekdom. He did become a successful Harvard-educated lawyer in the epilogue, however, so I guess all's well that ends well. All smart, nerdy, bespectacled Jewish kids everywhere (and believe me, there are many) finally had a role model younger than Woody Allen.

In the late 90s, a rumor bgan circulating that Josh Saviano, the actor who played Paul, had grown up to be Marilyn Manson. This makes no sense whatsoever, but the urban legend spread like wildfire. If anything, Josh should feel touched that people believed for even a moment that he had this sort of bad-ass potential. In real life, he went to Yale and became a lawyer. I suppose The Wonder Years' producers had a lot more insight into his future than a bunch of us gullible spectators.

Kimmy Gibbler

This list is seriously lacking in the estrogen department, but female nerds weren't quite as popular TV stereotypes as male. Luckily, Full House was progressive enough to provide us with a quirky enough character to be considered moderately geeky. She wasn't your typical nerd, as she had no glasses or school smarts. She's more of an idiosyncratic airhead who's not quite cute enough to qualify as a bimbo.

Kimmy is irritating, obnoxious, loud, and exhausting, but she's nearly all we've got in the female nerd department, so I'm throwing my support behind her by defining her as such. Thank you, Kimmy, for proving that girls have just as much of a knack for being annoying neighbors. We couldn't have done this without you. Keep fighting the good fight.

Honorable mentions go to Sponge from Salute Your Shorts, Willow of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Minkus of Boy Meets World, and Mark Foster of Step by Step

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Will Smith's Big Willie Style

Fear not, loyal readers. I have not forsaken you and skipped over the Fresh Prince. I know how important it is to you, and how much you'd like to watch a video of the Carlton dance on repeat. I promise it will be in a separate post, as Will Smith was sort of a 90s renaissance man. Well, a renaissance man with neon sideways hats who was partial to using words like "jiggy". Nonetheless.

Will Smith is a jack of all trades, starting his career as the Fresh Prince with DJ Jazzy Jeff in producing upbeat, clean, radio-friendly raps that included such classic titles as "Parents Just Don't Understand." This was mainstream rap at its finest, appealing to young people across the board. In the mid-90s, following his eponymous role as The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Smith released the album Big Willie Style. This was mid-to-late-90s pop rap at its finest, featuring up-tempo beats and squeaky-clean lyrics. This kind of thing would never have taken off today. I'm pretty sure today's rappers have some sort of bitch-and-hoe per verse quota.

Allow me to take you on a gloriously 90s trip back in rap time, back to an age of semi-innocence, where rapping about fighting aliens or hanging out with your kid was good enough to take the airways by storm. Yes, really. I know, I know, it sounds made up, but this was the real deal back in the day. You know. Big Willie style's all in it. Or so he claimed.

Men in Black

I will openly admit that this was the first movie (okay, fine, Gremlins too) that gave me a barrage of nightmares about frightening little burrowing creatures. Did I mention these films were comedies? I must have led a sheltered cinematic life. Men in Black featured a song by the same name performed by none other than its slick co-star Will Smith. Smith and Tommy Lee Jones were ultra-cool non-governmental agents charged with covering up and/or policing from earthbound alien action. You may think it's tough to bust out some bad-ass rhymes based on a movie based on a comic book, and you may be right. The song was definitely catchy, though, featuring incredibly literal lyrical descriptions like these:

The good guys dress in black remember that
Just in case we ever face to face and make contact
The title held by me MIB
Means what you think you saw you did not see
So don't blink be what was there is now gone
The black suits with the black ray bans on

Walk in shadow move in silence
Guard against extra terrestrial violence
But yo we ain't on no government list
We straight don't exist no names and no fingerprints
Saw somethin' strange watch your back
Cause you never quite now where the MIBs is at

Yes, that is pretty much the whole plot of the movie. Sweet synopsis, Will. For the full effect, here's the music video. You can't say you don't find those aliens a tiny bit frightening. Really? Not at all? Just me? Okay then.

Gettin' Jiggy Wit' It

Don't be fooled by all of those well-placed prematurely word-ending apostrophes--they are a well-calculated ploy to seem cool and hip while maintaining a spotlessly innocent rapping character. Well, depending on your definition of "jiggy", that is. Luckily there was no officially agreed-upon meaning to this mysterious slang term, meaning we could not ascertain the exact connotations of Smith's songs. According to*, there are a few definitions of "jiggy" out there:

Here's the original:
jig⋅gy–adjective, ‑gi⋅er, ‑gi⋅est. Slang.
1. nervous; active; excitedly energetic.
2. wonderful and exciting, esp. because stylish.

And here are what I can only assume to be the ensuing speculations:

Main Entry:
Part of Speech:
Definition: excited or involved; also, to get involved with sexuall
Example: Jennifer Lopez has gotten jiggy with a few men

Main Entry: jiggy
Part of Speech:
Definition: cool, totally cool

Example: I am jiggy with that idea

Please also direct your attention to Daria's episode "The Lost Girls", which features more than a fair smattering of use of this elusive term.

Featuring lyrics like this, I'm inclined to guess the connotations aren't so much sexual as jig-dancing. Main clues: his admission to not actually smoking cigars and the gratuitous use of pig-latin.

Everybody lookin at me
Glancin the kid

Wishin they was dancin a jig
Here with this handsome kid
Ciga-cigar right from cuba-cuba
I just bite it
Its for the look I dont light it
Illway the an-may on the ance-day oor-flay
Givin up jiggy make it feel like foreplay


This song is brilliant in its simplicity, as its only real purpose to to extol the virtues of Miami in rap-form. He does make it sound pretty good, what, with all of the bouncing in the club where the heat is on and those Dominican women with cinnamon tan. Clever rhyme, right? I thought so.

One thing I'll say for Smith: he does not disrespect women in his song. While other rappers make the women in their lyrics say all sorts of demeaning things, in "Miami" their lines are pretty straightforward, if a bit Will Smith ego-inflating. They're always being like, "Hi Will!" or telling him how much they loved his last hit, and occasionally if they've had a few maybe they'll moan "Aii Poppy." They're even a bit educational, teaching us some Spanish along the way. That's right. I can now say Buenvenidos a Miami. Thanks, Smith backup singers!

Just the Two of Us

You've got to hand it to Will--he really knows how to make the ladies say "awww". While the original Bill Withers version of "Just the Two of Us" was about romantic love, Smith went ahead and made it about his love for his son. Geez, what are you going for, an honorary uterus or something? That's just so...sensitive.

I mean, really, Will. These lyrics. Mushy. The mushiest. What happened to good old fashioned rap? If you had any doubt that the genre'd gone soft on you, here's your proof:

From the first time the doctor placed you in my arms
I knew Id meet death before Id let you meet harm
Although questions arose in my mind would I be man enough
Against wrong choose right and be standin up
From the hospital that first night
Took a hour just ta get the carseat in right
People drivin all fast got me kinda upset
Got you home safe placed you in your bassinet
That night I don't think one wink I slept
As I slipped out my bed to your crib I crept
Touched your head gently felt my heart melt
Cause I know I loved you more than life itself
Then to my knees and I begged the lord please
Let me be a good daddy all he needs
Love knowledge discipline too
I pledge my life to you

I guess it just goes to show: you don't need to be shocking to be successful. You just need to be devastatingly handsome, have your own sitcom, star in an endless string of box-office blockbusters, and become an international celebrity. Don't tell anyone I told you this, though. Who knows what could happen if this type of information gets into the wrong hands.

*The official dictionary of the lazy and internet-addicted. Also, those sample sentences? Wow.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


The 90s were the age of the animated Disney renaissance. The preceding decade or so had brought us mildly disappointing and unmemorable cartoon offerings like The Black Cauldron and The Great Mouse Detective, none of which held any sort of long-standing appeal. Following the release of 1989's The Little Mermaid, however, Disney animation began changing its tune. Literally, in fact. With catchy, catchy songs.

While it had seemed the Disney glow was fading under the growth of rival animation studios, by the late 80s they opted for a different route to success. While their animated films were still primarily marketed at children, they soon began weaving in more adult themes and nuances, seeking to appeal to a wider range of movie-goers. Sure, it doesn't quite seem so envelope-pushing when cartoon woodland creatures today are making all sorts of innuendo-laced jokes, but at the time films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit were pretty innovative in their quest to lure in adult viewers.

Riding high on the coattails of 1991's spectacularly well-received Beauty and the Beast, Disney Animation Studios released Aladdin in 1992. Based on a story from the 18th century Arabian nights, Aladdin was strong in the Disney tradition of completing reformulating the story that served as the basis of their plot. For a film to be properly Disney-ified, you see, it's necessary to strip down the original plot to a few major points and then whitewash over the rest of the film with well-placed jokes and musical numbers.

Some of these changes were definitely a positive step, especially for poor attention-spanned American audiences. If they'd stuck to the original story they'd be saddled with a Disney princess named Badroulbadour. I much prefer Jasmine, don't you? Even if she was a little slutty-looking in her harem pants and midriff-baring off-the shoulder bra thing she was prone to wear. I guess it's a step down in exposure from a sea-shell bra at the very least.

Aladdin featured a teenage main character, a sort of animated teen hearthrob for the under-12 set. Aladdin was probably not a role model by any definition of terms, as a street kid swiping loaves of bread at the market, though admittedly while acting cavalier and scantily clad. Although he's an orphan, Aladdin still seems to have the heart of gold credential necessary to get his resume for hero past the big guys at Disney. He's also a hell of a spontaneous singer while dodging the heavy hand of the law.

Meanwhile, the tyrannical Jafar and his squawky Gilbert Godfrey-voiced parrot companion Iago are seeking the "Diamond in the Rough" to unlock the treasure of the Cave of Wonders. Just as our pal Aladdin is getting cozy with princess-in-disguise Jasmine around the marketplace, he's captured by Jafar. Jasmine is strong-willed and pseudo-feminist in the way that's only possible while advocating for her rights while donning a skimpy outfit, and she demands for Aladdin's release. Jafar wants him for his own means to a genie-filled lamp end, tells her he's dead, and continues with his evil plan in typical Disney villain fashion.

Jafar (also in disguise) convinces Aladdin to go into the Cave of Wonders, but warns him that he must not touch anything else. This is a classic case of kid-in-a-candy-store as Aladdin and monkey sidekick Abu enter the jewel-encrusted, gold dripping, treasure chest overflowing cavern. With the help of a renegade magic carpet, Aladdin and Abu are saved and even manage to escape with the coveted lamp. From the lamp, of course, is our Genie, played by Robin Williams. Observe, some of his admittedly humorous but somewhat worrying insanity:

The genie wants nothing more than to be free, but for the moment he's at Aladdin beck and call. Aladdin wishes to be a prince and the genie turns him into Prince Ali fabulous he Ali Ababwa. Catchy, right? Abu gets the star treatment as well as his royal elephant, and off they go to the palace to get in line as a potential suitor for the illustrious Jasmine.

Jasmine's father, the Sultan, had been more or less under Jafar's spell and was this close to betrothing his one and only daughter to the tyrant when the Prince Ali parade came to town:

Jasmine, of course, refuses to be bought and sold. Like all girls do when they're in a huff, she retreats to go chill out with her tiger by the fountain. Though this is clearly the point where he should just tell her the truth and vie for her hand as a peasant, that would make an awfully short Disney movie. Plus, we've got more stuff to sing. Aladdin comes to Jasmine's window offering a magic carpet ride. Wink wink, nudge nudge. There was actually mild controversy surrounding this scene, as some people heard Aladdin whisper something about taking off her clothes. To say nothing of the "magic carpet" double entendre. Touche, conservative America.

They kiss, and just as things are working out and the lovebirds seem to be in the home stretch, Jafar smacks them with a pretty serious roadblock. Jasmine and the Sultan are hypnotized, Aladdin is thrown in the ocean, yada yada yada, Genie saves the day and we're back in the game.

Of course, it's not the home stretch yet. Aladdin had promised to use his final wish to set the genie free, but he starts getting greedy toward the end. Jafar's crazy bird sidekick kidnaps the lamp and once in Jafar's posession, the genie is forced to serve this crackpot tyrant. All sorts of crazy stuff goes down. Abu is a toy. Jasmine gets submerged in slowly ticking hourglass sand. The carpet is reduced to a ball of yarn.

Luckily Jafar isn't all that bright, and Genie tricks him into wishing himself in Genie servitude with a handy lamp encasement. Aladdin comes clean, wishes the genie to be set free, and Jasmine is allowed to marry Aladdin. We all live happily ever after. All together now: aww.

Recounting that just now, I realize it's a pretty complex plotline. The movie was more than just kid's entertainment, it was an actual movie that happened to be animated. It had action, adventure, danger, and plenty of singing and dancing. What more can you ask for?*

*Except for Steve from Full House to be the voice of Aladdin. Oh yeah, because you got that too! Schwing!

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