Friday, May 29, 2009

Bubble Tape


I don't know about you, but I prefer for my bubble gum supply to measure in feet. Sticks are for lightweights. Everyone knows that the true test of childhood victory is the ability to fit the maximum allowable denomination of chewing gum into your mouth and to successfully masticate without asphyxiating. But packages of gum are so difficult to unwrap, not to mention all that unsightly tinfoil waste. Sure, it can be fun for awhile to peel off the foil and stick it on your school notebooks, but what are you left with after that? I demand more from my gum.

Luckily, my concern did not go unaddressed. The Wrigley corporation not only recognized this gum supply issue, but also chose to capitalize it with a hefty marketing campaign directed as gum-crazed children. They recognized that kids prefer novelty products to everyday fare and went about tailoring a product to meet this need. They sat around the boardroom wondering, "Now how can we make a completely useless product for which we can utilize cold, calculated marketing strategies to convince children that they thought of it in the first place?"

The major thrust of many advertising campaigns directed at children in the 90s focused on the illustrious nature of adult disapproval. In some crazy existential marketing bubble, it was completely justifiable for a group of grown-ups to labor over advertising that outright villianized adults. Somehow, they managed to convince us as children that this was all some crazy idea that we had come up with. Never mind that the concept, promotion, production, and distribution of the product was completely controlled by adults. This was of little matter to the Wrigley people. The real bottom line was that children believed that this product in some way represented their lifestyle and needs while being generally repugnant to authority figures.

Adults likely frowned on Bubble Tape with good reason. A few sticks of gum to satiate a sugar-demanding child is one thing, but a full six feet of bubble gum is probably overkill. "Oh, you wanted some gum? Well, how about twice your height's worth? Now stick it in your mouth all at once and try your best not to die. Doesn't that sound fun?"

Bubble Tape was aptly named for its scotch tape-like dispenser. Who says office supplies can't be inspiration for food products? Alright, I've been known to say that from time to time, but can you blame me? It's pretty outrageous. This packaging allowed for easy access to a maximal amount of chewing gum, even possessing the capability to discard the dispenser entirely in favor of sticking the whole roll directly in your mouth.


Sometimes as an adult, when I try to eat a particularly unwieldy large piece of sushi in a single bite, I am eerily transported back to the chew-or-die memory of attempting to ingest a full six feet of Bubble Tape. The trauma has faded, but the awareness lurks just beneath the surface. My mother had told me (incorrectly, I should note) that swallowed gum would stick to my appendix, and I thus worried for years needlessly about my inexorable pending appendectomy. I can only begin to imagine what the fictitious surgeons would say. Come along, if you will, on a journey into my Bubble Tape-induced nightmare:

Surgeon One: Holy cow, Bill get a load of this!
Surgeon Two: Geez, what is that? A pancreas? Actually, on second glance it looks a little spleenish. Shouldn't we leave this in?
Surgeon One: Well, actually, I think it's...gum. Chewing gum. Enormous six-foot squared chunks of it.
Suregon Two: Gosh, Tim, she probably should have listened to her mother when she made up that ludicrous lie, then she easily could have avoided this imaginary appendectomy.

But why the urge to stuff all this gum into our mouths and masticate our way into all sorts of improbably dangerous medical scenarios? In all likelihood the commercials egged us on just a bit:



Ah, yes. For you, not them. Touche, ad execs. Touche.

You have to appreciate their understanding of the literal-mindedness of children through the illustration of 6 feet as actual human feet. On the whole, this advertisement makes very little sense. I accept that children-directed marketing doesn't necessarily have to make sense, but this truly is on the side of the extreme. Essentially, here's a random cluster of facts about our unsightly underoo-ironing gym teacher and equally unattractive ice cream-scooping mashed potatoes cafeteria lady. Sure, we understand that these are unsavory characters with undesirable behavioral attributes., but is their lack of endorsement really enough to prompt children to flood grocery stores en mass in search of lengthy chewing gum?

Apparently it was. There was some underlying childlike joy to be taken from the whole "For you, not them" concept. An adult requested a piece and you could flippantly say, "But, mother, haven't you seen the commercials? This gum is not intended for grown-ups. This is a product entirely intended for me." Of course, I'm sure our parents just loved these tidbits of commercial-learned wisdom. In fact, I suspect it was exactly this type of behavior that prompted my mother to concoct the gum-to-appendix lie in the first place: to regain control of the bubble gum situation by unfair use of fearmongering.

The real trouble arises now, as the "you" in these commercials are now all grown up. Actually, it's possible some of you are out their ironing your underwear right now. Do we still reserve this ad-given right to deny others the sweet six feet of confectionery goodness? Obviously this "for you, not them" argument was built on faulty logic; like it not, now we're them.

Regardless of this hole in the Bubble Tape reasoning, I say embrace your inner child. Go out there and buy spools of gum by the foot and remember a time in your life when this 99 cent piece of plastic meant the world to you. Just don't say I didn't warn you about the risk of imaginary appendectomies.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Furby


Technology can be useful in mainly outlets. Growing technology has enabled us to add efficiency to production, precision to medical procedures, and expedite worldwide communications.

It can also make Furbies.

Popular science fiction books and movies would lead us to believe that robots are up to no good, and we've yet to see evidence to the contrary. I'm always nervously eying my Roomba vacuum, convinced it has a vendetta against me for accidentally feeding it so many carpet-based bobby pins. Sure, we've seen are a few kindly fictional robots in the mix (a la Rosie from the Jetsons), but generally we're taught that these robots want nothing more than to overtake us and render us terrified and useless.

Under close examination of a Furby, you'll likely find this scenario morphing into a frightening--though admittedly adorable--reality.

Declared the hottest toy of 1998 season, I was probably past the target age for these fluffballs but I was fascinated by their existence nonetheless. Here I was, thinking we were years off from the technology for a fully interactive robot buddy and suddenly, it shows up on toy store shelves speaking Furbish. Parents actually engaged in physical combat to secure Furbies for their loved ones, if that gives you any idea to just how desirable an in-house interactive robot was. It seemed that children everywhere wanted one, but no one had a clue what exactly these things did.

The lifeblood of a Furby is in a computer chip embedded in its fuzzy amorphous form, and it had several relatively clever functions. The thing itself was pretty unnerving. It was cheek-breakingly cheerful and alarmingly reactive to the world around it. Never before had a toy been equipped with the technology to hear, speak, move, and most notably learn. Meanwhile, I was out there accidentally starving Happy Meal Tamagotchis left and right, and felt generally ill-equipped to deal with such a needy toy.

In the Furby Care Guide, the Furbster himself is introduced as follows:

Hey! I’m FURBY! The more you play with me, the more I do!
I love to play and can tell you jokes, play a game, sing and even dance!
Bring me home today and I’ll be your best friend!

I don't know about you, but to me that sounds horribly, terribly, wince-inducingly frightening. That whole "Bring me home today and I'll be your best friend!" part is probably the creepiest thing I could imagine a toy saying to me. The whole thing reeked of Gremlins, and I knew I couldn't be trusted with one for fear of banishing it to a microwave-explosion fated doom.






Furby v. Gremlin






In general, the idea of having any sort of playmate with an on/off switch is a bit disconcerting. There was a sort of dichotomy behind those big, bulgy doe-eyes; in one sense, the things seemed cute and cuddly, but I had visions of it summoning legions of its Furby friends and storming my house, Bastille style.

They were, after all, oddly lifelike for something so foreign-looking. It had touch and auditory censors, enabling it to react to your tickling and verbal commands. The Care Guide claims that Furbies will pick up language in a manner similar to a human child, but in reality it was only capable of absorbing English. The Guide explains:

About My Personality
I speak Furbish®, a magical language common to all FURBY creatures. When we first meet, this is what I’ll be speaking. To help you understand what I’m saying, please use the Furbish® - English dictionary found in the back of this book. I can learn how to speak English by listening to you talk. The more you play with me, the more I will use your language.

I'm sorry, but if that's not one of the scariest things you've ever heard from a toy, then you obviously have suffered some serious childhood toy-related trauma. The instructions with this thing were so comprehensive, you sort of have to wonder how any children managed to play with them at all.

In case you were hoping to brush up on your Furbish, here's a handy little Furbish-to-English guide from the Furby Care manual:

If FURBY asks you a question, say either:
Yes [ee-tay]
Ok [oh-kay]
Yes, please [ee-tay-doo-moh]
No [boo]
No, thank you [boo-doo-moh]
No way [dah-boo]
I don’t understand*
* If you couldn’t understand what I said, I’ll repeat what I last said to you. I may say it a little bit differently, with more English, so that you can understand it better. If you tell me “I don’t understand” too many times, I’ll get sad and frustrated. Sometimes it’s best to be polite and pretend you understand – at least until I learn more of your language!

That last tip is probably the most frightening. What exactly happens when my pal Furb gets sad and frustrated? Again, visions of Gremlin-style debauchery are flooding my mindwaves. That's a pretty vague threat there, Furbs. What are you planning to do if I can't adhere to your standard of politeness? And, more aptly, do I really want my child's toy to become angry and disenchanted with my kid? That seems pretty cruel, considering it's supposed to be the other way around.

The thing also came with pages upon pages of clear, unwavable instructions on how to interact with your fluffy friend. For example:

How to ask "How are You?"
Say “Hey FURBY!” [Pause until you hear FURBY say “Doo?” “Yeah?” “Huh?” “What?” or “Hmm?”]
Then say, “How are you?”
I’ll tell you how I’m feeling.
Make sure you say “HEY FURBY! I love you!” frequently so that I feel happy and know I’m loved.

Geez, this thing is needy. Don't worry, though, there is refuge. Say you accidentally raise this thing to be super irritating, even more than usual. Well, have no fear, it's resettable:

If you would like to teach FURBY English all over again,
you can erase the current memory by doing a reset.
1. Hold FURBY upside down.
2. With the ON/OFF switch in the “OFF” position, depress
and hold the mouth sensor using your finger.
3. While holding the mouth sensor, switch the ON/OFF
switch to “ON.”
4. FURBY will say “Good Morning!” to confirm the memory
has been reset.

Now there's a good lesson for kids: if you don't like something, just hold it uside down and cover its air supply till it complies. Cute.

Of course, the marketers behind these knew how to make sure your kid wouldn't be satisfied with just one Furby. No, it was necessary to shell out the big bucks to buy it a friend. The manual explains:

FURBY Creatures Can Talk To Each Other! Here’s How!
If you want your FURBY to talk to another FURBY in Furbish®, just have them hug each other! Keep their tummies pressed together until their
eyes blink and they start speaking to each other. Once they begin speaking,you can separate them – but they should remain no further than 3 inches apart, facing each other. Keep your handy Furbish®-English dictionary close by to figure out what they’re saying!

It's uncanny the way this thing can seemingly read my nightmares. THIS. SOUNDS. TERRIFYING. Sure, your Furby can be social, just smush it into another Furby, watch its eyes blink in a vacanteerie manner, and they will soon begin plotting against you. What fun!


In 2000, Furby babies were released. Watch them interact and just tell me those things are not demonic.

If this isn't enough to freeze your blood in your veins, don't worry, there's more. I'm not just talking about the newer, more reactive incarnations, either. No, scientists have recently discovered real live Furbies nestled on an Indonesian island. All I can say to these scientists is, don't even think about pressing two of these babies together...one blink and we're all goners.


Check it out:
"Furby Fever" at The Onion
Full Furby Care Guide (source of above quotes)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Hey Dude


There was once a time when children's networks didn't feel they needed to dumb down their shows for a preteen audience. Unlike the Disney and Nickelodeon networks of today, classic Nickelodeon created teen-centric sitcoms that were funny and well-realized. Hey Dude was a classic example of this vein of solid comedic children's programming: it didn't rely on wacky gags or outlandish premises to drive its action. Rather, it took a simple believable premise and extrapolated from it a show worthy of our attention and admiration.

This admiration was fairly easily bought. After all, here was a group of teenagers doing what every kid dreamed of: spending a summer away from home, having a peer group of other attractive teens, and spending endless hours riding horses. It was sort of like an extended version of the Saved by the Bell summer beach specials, only it was set at a dude ranch. Essentially, the show took familiar character molds, placed them in an unfamiliar situation, and watched the humor unfold.

The show's underlying plot was fairly uncomplicated. Mr. Ernst, a nerdy but lovable New York ex-accountant and newly ex-husbanded, bought an Arizona dude ranch on a whim in the midst of a midlife crisis. Much to his son's chagrin, Mr. Ernst packed up and headed west with a humorously limited knowledge of dude ranching, whatever that is. His ranch, the Bar None, was staffed by a motley crew of teenagers assembled from across the country. Apparently, the ranch had once been owned by a reputable cowboy, and the staff was in for a hefty surprise upon the arrival of bumbling newcomer Mr. Ernst.

If that was not quite enough to draw you in, well, Nickelodeon had plans for all of you naysayers. This plan came in the form of one of the catchiest television theme songs to date. I dare you to listen to it and not spend the rest of the day replaying it in your head. Go ahead, give it a try:



What can I say, I warned you. If you're reading this incognito at work and would likely blow your cover with an impromptu outburst of loud western kid's TV show theme music, here are the convenient read-along lyrics for your perusing pleasure:

"It's a little wild and a little strange...
when you make your home out on the range.
So, start your horse and come alo
ng.
'Cause you can't get a ride if you can't hold on.
Singin' yippee kai aie ay. (Yippee kai aie
what?)
Like the cowboys say. (Sing it again now.)
Yippee kai aie ay.
'Till the break
of day.
(You'd better watch out for those man-eating jackrabbits... And that killer cacti!)
Hey Dude!
"

Under closer inspection, this song tells us absolutely nothing of value. Sure, it's vaguely Western-themed (largely evidenced by that "yippee kai aie ay") but the lyrics themselves tell us no story whatsoever. What man-eating jackrabbits? What killer cacti? Perhaps it would take a bit more investment in the show to rope you in (yes, that is a lasso joke, please take it as such).

Luckily, we had a wide range (I'm going to keep pointing out these puns, don't even try to stop me) of characters with whom to relate:


Ted: Our protagonist for no real reason other than his general egotistical frat-boy amiability coupled with a lack of other defining qualities. Well, outside of his rather remarkable good looks, that is. He was the real glue of the show, and his premature departure from the cast was an inevitable shark-jump. Luckily, he later returned to the ranch under shaky (read: ratings related) pretenses, but it was never quite the same.

In case that was somewhat lacking on the descriptive side, you can always refer to the following Ted testimonials:




Bradley: Hold on, back up here. Brad's a girl? But that's a boy's name! Just when you think you've heard it all. Don't worry, though, she's totally rich and we can therefore assume she can buy her way out of an ill-begotten fate of name mockery. See, you can tell she's rich because she wears designer clothes...at a ranch! Boy, this Brad sure is something. Luckily for Brad, she was a pretty stellar horse trainer, or else we would really have no clue what she was doing here. Additionally, her love-hate relationship with Ted just screamed playground flirtation:



Melody: Requisite goody-goody with all-American good looks (read: blonde). Sure, we may now know Christine Taylor as a relatively well-known actress and wife of Ben Stiller, but back then she was just our favorite 90s lifeguard this side of Baywatch. Melody also had a good deal of sexual tension with Ted, though none of us as children would have defined it as such.


Danny: Our small dose of diversity in this snowy white cast. I'm not sure if any of you have ever been to Tucson, but I can give you a hint that the show's ethnic balance is more than a little off. Danny is a Hopi Indian, which we know not only by his looks but also because his last name is Lightfoot. That's subtlety for you. Danny was always full of little tidbits of Hopi wisdom, because the 90s couldn't have a token non-white cast member without tying the major thrust of his character traits to his race.

In addition, there was Buddy (Mr. Ernst's young teenage son) who was mainly preoccupied with the undesirable skateboarding conditions of the desert. He was largely one-dimensional, but served as a sort of little brother character to the senior staff.

Later, a mysterious Jake, and later an even vaguer Kyle (quasi-related to ranch hand Lucy) were basically stand-ins for the Ted character after his exit from the show. They may very well have come from central casting for Teds, and served as the cousin Olivers in this unfortunate jumping of the shark. Ted's return was welcomed, but the show was already somewhat on the wane.

Regardless of any cracks in its sturdy foundation, Hey Dude ran a fairly solid few seasons from the late 80s to early 90s. Though it wasn't necessarily the sharpest or the most original, it was a little wild and a little strange, which in this case was enough to rope in a slew of little buckaroo viewers.


Check it out:
Hey Dude Episode Guide
Hey Dude Book on Amazon
Hey Dude on iTunes?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Ode to Discontinued 90s Food Products

Note: this image contains general snacks, not necessarily discontinued ones. It serves an illustrative purpose and therefore prompts no unnecessary mourning of delicious favorites like Combos and Hot Tamales

We all have a soft spot for the snacks we consumed during our formative years. In some cases, we may be left with actual bodily soft spots due to the sore lack of nutritional snack options. Regardless of their questionable merit, we craved these snacks with near-religious zeal. We can only now understand why our parents shook their heads in disbelief as we placed these items into our family's grocery cart; many of these foods, while admittedly delicious, were otherwise completely insane as concepts.

I suppose it's possible that major food production firms suffered from large-group drug use during product conception meetings, as that's probably the only passable explanation for any of these items making it past the, "Call me crazy, but I have an idea" stage. Under usual circumstances, the assembled group of professionals would agree that yes, that was indeed a crazy idea, and proceed with their days unaffected by the interaction.

Perhaps the 90s were especially generous to creativity. More likely, it was a time of shameless one-upmanship in marketing and reformulations of products. Regardless of the reasons, as children we were more than happy to reap the rewards of food companies' lapses in judgment. Though we may mourn their loss, their memories will forever represent to us a time when haute cuisine meant a good gimmick and a lively spokescartoon.

Orbitz


You know, I always dreamed of drinking a lava lamp. When told they were horribly toxic, I happily settled for the next best thing. The fact that this soft drink ever went into full-scale production is at minimum mind baffling. How exactly would one go about pitching an idea like this to the kind people at Clearly Canadian*?

"Feel free to stop me at any point if this sounds a little iffy, but what if we took our existing product, let it go flat and decarbonated, and then floated little mysterious balls of unidentifiable goo in them? I know what you're thinking, that sounds delicious, and I'm going to go out on a limb here and agree. These little gummy globulations are just the thing to put Clearly Canadian on the map. The beverage company, that is, I'm pretty sure the actual Canada is already on there in full clarity."

The gelatin balls were technically suspended by means of gellan gum, but no scientific explanation can play down the eeriness of these frightening floaters. I used to love these drinks, but in retrospect it seems more likely that I like the idea of them more than the actual taste. The drink itself was fairly benign, but it was pretty unpalatable to swallow little slimy orbs without fair warning of their entry into the mouth region.

Conveniently, Clearly Candian chose to blame you, the consumer, for the discontinuation of Orbitz. Apparently, we as beverage drinkers were unsure whether to eat, drink, or discard these balls. The company's investment in the beverage was luckily not for naught: they made a pretty penny selling their website domain name to the flight search engine of the same name.


Rice Krispie Treats Cereal





It's tough to determine whether or not these are indeed discontinued, but if still in production they are certainly in limited retail release. In the case of Rice Krispie Treats Cereal, at least the Kelloggs' people could justify this product with its sheer efficiency. Factories were already producing full size Rice Krispie Treats squares, so theoretically all that had to be done was breaking the treats into smaller bite-size pieces and adding an additional word to their cereal box packaging.

We all knew Rice Krispie Treats as a dessert, so imagine our surprise to find them amongst healthy fare in the cereal aisle. I took a shine to these immediately, though in reality it was probably the novelty of the product that appealed to me over its inherent value. Either way, I knew I loved Snap, Crackle, and Pop but hated plain old Rice Krispies, so I was glad to see my favorite characters branch out into more sugary territory.


Life Savers Holes



Again, this seems like a fairly accountable use of company resources. They're already making the candies, and we can only assume they're discarding millions of holes yearly to produce their trademark shape. Why not sell the contents of their factory trash? Unappealing as that may sound to us, they managed to market it in a way that convinced us that we were somehow getting something different while we were clearly just getting more of the same but in a new hard plastic container.

In the 90s, it was popular to reformulate popular foodstuffs into smaller, cuter, more animated versions of itself. Lifesavers Holes--and later M&Ms minis--featured ads depicting tiny candies frolicking carefreely, enjoying their tiny lifestyles. The Lifesaver Hole ads were actually a Pixar endeavor, which was pretty fancy shmancy for the time in terms of expensive advertising at the time.

Lifesavers Holes was able to capture an audience for a short period of the time as a result of flooding the candy marketplace with advertising, but kids caught on quickly that these were pretty much the exact same thing only less satisfying.


Surge



In the 90s, there was a huge movement toward marketing things as "X-treme!" Extreme sports were on the rise, and apparently required some sort of tie-in promotional beverage to endorse this madcap lifestyle. Major proponents of this extreme way of life spent much of their days skateboarding, wearing backwards baseball caps, mainlining adrenaline, and shotgunning cans of Surge.

Surge was marketed as X-treme! on the basis of its caffeine content, though under closer examination it was apparent that soft drinks like Mountain Dew actually contained higher levels of caffeine. In reality, the main thing that was extreme about the beverage was its repellent electric green color and coordinating logo. Unsurprisingly, parents often vetoed Surge as a source of unnecessary hyperactivity, making it all the more appealing to us. My friends and I used to have Surge-chugging contests at slumber parties, leading us to eventually have to downgrade these fiestas to simply "parties." After downing a 2 liter of Surge, sleep wasn't really an option.


Oreo-Os

Ah, dessert as breakfast. It was a beautiful concept, and kids were quick to hop on the cookies-in-the-breakfast-bowl bandwagon. The cereal's tagline, "The delicious taste of Oreo now in a fun-to-crunch cereal!" was unlikely to pull in any sort of parental approval ratings. The sugar content was outrageously, unjustifiably high, making them incomparably attractive to children while remaining the bane of every parent's trip to the grocery store. Sure, the things probably had a vitamin or two infused in for good measure, but in general this was really just a matter of cookies for breakfast.

Like its chocolate chip rival, Cookie Crisp, the cereal was a bit of a letdown on the cookie-likeness front. Cookie cereals always seemed to posess some form of unfortunate bitter aftertaste and abrasive texture. The Oreo people probably should have taken a page from the Rice Krispie Treats book and just crushed up some of their original product and called it a day. Unfortunately, this tampering with the sacred Oreo formula yielded less than oreo-tastic results. They did, however, later come out with the dubiously named "Extreme Creme" version which to its credit contained ample marshmallows. Unfortunately, conceptual cereal could only go so far without substantial taste credibility. Alas, it was adios to the O's.



Of course, some 90s snacks undoubtedly deserve further investigation and thus have been awarded full length posts for their sheer ridiculous existence. Luckily, many of them were featured here on Children of the 90s before I had any readers, so just think of it as new bonus reading material to munch on. Just remember to breathe a sigh of relief as a few of these are still around:


*Considered kind on the basis of Canadian citizenship alone.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Starter Jackets


Mainstream fashion in the 1990s was highly brand-oriented--much of the statement the wearer chose to project was based on prominent name or logo emblazoned across every emblazonable area of a garment. It was as if 90s fashion was an insecure pre-adolescent, constantly seeking to reaffirm its worth by donning extremely visible status symbols. Children of the 90s often wore their affiliations on their sleeves; in this case, literally.

Of course, it was not only brand name endorsements that drove clothing status and potentially determined your place in the cafeteria and/or grade school popularity pecking order. In some cases, people relied on bold declaration of support for a sport team as their affiliation of choice. And when I say bold, well, I mean bold.

Let's be honest with ourselves here: 90s fashion was never one for subtlety. As much as we try to defend our childhood fashion mishaps, in retrospect it is fairly apparent that many of these clothing choices were at best misguided. In numbers disproportionate with the style's actual appeal, these unfortunate clothing choices frequently feature the once-coveted Starter Jacket. They were not flattering or even particularly comfortable, but dammit they were socially significant. Who was I, a mere fifth grader, to question the wind-and-rain resistant hooded power of the almighty Starter Jacket?


For your reference (that is, in case a time machine ever mysteriously drops you back in the 90s and requires you make quick-witted fashion decisions), here are some of the major components that made Starter Jackets universally attractive to young people in the 1990s:

1. They were expensive
While this may seem like a deterrent, it usually gave brands the allure of exclusivity. In actuality, the real deterrent was to our parents, who justifiably questioned the need to shell out vast wads of cash for a glorified windbreaker. Anyone who has a child, has met a child, or was ever a child themselves can verify that a parent's disapproval is the number one contributing factor to making anything immensely attractive. In the case of Starter jackets, it just took one or two spoiled brats at our schools to start the wave of inevitable begging and temper tantrums on every subsequent trip to the mall or sporting goods store. Sure, it was mildly demeaning to throw yourself screaming and crying onto the floor at the Sports Chalet, but it wasn't about the process. It was about the purchase.


2. They were ostentatious
Now more aptly classified as obnoxious, this level of eye-stabbery was once considered a good thing. The team colors were never muted or subtle, rather they were vibrant to the point of necessitating protective eyewear. The point was to show your commitment to a team as publicly as possible. If someone could not identify which team you rooted for from a distance of at least 100 yards, you probably weren't all that dedicated of a fan.

Of course, some team's color schemes were more desirable than others. You weren't putting yourself out on much of a limb by selecting a blue, white, and silver Dallas Cowboys puffy confection-style coat (pictured above), but God forbid you were a serious Charlotte Hornets fan. Sentencing yourself a long winter spent in flamboyant Teal and Purple was a risky choice, though it certainly showed admirable team loyalty. Extra credit for wearing it with matching Zubaz.

Rapper Omarion obviously doesn't shy away from broadcasting his flamboyantly-colored Hornets allegiance, even more than a decade later


3. They easily associated you with popular sports teams while requiring no input of personal athleticism
In essence, you acquired immediate and undeserving street credibility merely by purchasing an overhyped jacket demonstrating your support for a specific team. If the popular kids on the playground were huge Chicago Bulls fans and you showed up one day sporting one of these red-and-black nylon monstrosities parading as outerwear, you were in. Of course, many would consider that route to be sort of a cop out, as it was generally safe to select a universally beloved team behind which to heave your support. The true rebels would pick a team relatively disparate to their geographic location. We could only assume these kids really knew a thing or two about football or basketball to have selected favorites outside of the easy "root-for-the-home-team" alliance paradigms most of us adhered to. More likely, they just had parents who grew up elsewhere.


4. They had enormous pockets

This might not seem like much now, but as a child this was a fairly important feature. Imagine the toys and distractions you could smuggle into math class with one of these babies. It certainly had more than ample room to accommodate a splat of Nickelodeon Floam, a Tamagotchi, a pack of Dunkaroos, a jawbreaker, and an egg of glow in the dark Silly Putty. What more could you really ask for?


5. They resisted everything
We're not just talking wind and rain here. These jackets were actually poufy enough to deflect rogue snowballs or frisbees. Starter jackets were not only made of water-resistant material, they were also voluminous to a point of making children appear distinctly Oompa Loompa-ish in silhouette. The only thing they couldn't fully protect you from was the shame of choosing the wrong team.

These days, when you're sporting your demure baseball caps and quiet jerseys, just remember the path of loud fandom from which you came. Try as you might to deny your flashy Starter roots, the popularity of the photo scanner will likely replant these junior high memories into wince-inducing flashback Facebook albums. So be proud, children of the 90s. Your childhood selves certainly were in their outlandish displays of loud jacket-based team support.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Then and Now: Spice Girls

Although these ladies certainly warrant their own at-length post, I couldn't resist these then and now photos. I understand that the Spice Girls were marketed as characters rather than people, but their brand of supposed girl empowerment certainly led to some unfortunate costuming.


Spice Girls, then:



Spice Girls, now(ish):

I'm glad to see they at least kept the big shoes.

Then and Now: Will Smith

Will Smith, then:



Will Smith, now:


Aside from the earrings, that first picture could have been taken yesterday for all I know.

What's that you say? It was taken 20 years ago? Well in that case, I'll have what he's having.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Would You Rather: 90s Edition

As children, we were constantly yearning for independence from our parents. Sure, they fed us, clothed us, and put a roof over our head, but what did they really ever do for us? Movies featuring kids on their own became a sort of illicit fantasy of autonomy, a state of unlikely non-supervision to which we could eventually aspire.

So, the question is,


Would you rather:


Experience the zany madcap robber-evading adventures of Kevin McCallister in Home Alone


or

Enjoy weeks of non-stop childlike debauchery in a remote setting while assembling an elaborate parent-fooling scheme a la Camp Nowhere?


Explain your reasoning.
Children of the Nineties is on vacation! For the time being, enjoy the notably briefer scheduled posts in lieu of the usual lengthy 90s diatribes.

In case you were wondering, CotN is currently at Sea World...

...doing extensive research to bring you the highest quality future post on Free Willy.

Happy long weekend, everyone!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

90s Catch Phrase Mash-Up

catch phrase Pictures, Images and Photos

In retrospect, all slang can seem archaic and dated. In modern context, it can make very little sense and contain idioms that are no longer a part of mainstream conversational currency. It can also be deeply, wholly embarrassing.

Don't even try to deny it. You used these phrases, or you witnessed them being used and didn't do anything to stop it, for which many experts consider you to be equally at fault. It was easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of hype and celebrity endorsement of certain words and expressions and abandon your principles of not sounding like an idiot. At the time, people would accept--nay, applaud--your adherence to pop culture norms. These catch phrases enjoyed a substantial heyday before being put to rest for being insanely irritating.

Let's explore some of the ridiculous catch phrases that defined a decade:

  • "Psyche!" (Variation: "Not!")
Ah, there's nothing quite like a good fake-out. That's the nature of a joke, really, to lead your audience into an assumption and then defy it with an unexpected result. When you put it like that, it sounds rather sophisticated. However, there was a simpler way of expressing this. Here's a little breakdown:

1) Make a statement.
2) Retract said statement by shouting "psyche!", thus humiliating the baited individual.

This was pretty easy to fall for, as you can imagine, and could cause extreme playground-based embarrassment.

Example: A person requests a high five, then quickly moves his hand before the slap makes contact, punctuated with a rather cruel, "Psyche!"
Example: "Hey Tiffany, I love that Lisa Frank lunchbox... Not!"

This enjoyed a slight resurgence of popularity following Sacha Baron Cohen's interpretation of it in the movie Borat.

Watch more SPIKE videos on AOL Video




  • "Talk to the hand!" (variation: "Because the face ain't listening)

Image via icanhascheeseburger.com

This was a pretty straightforward approach to avoidance. Seek to skirt confrontation? Well here's your solution! Simply align your hand vertically, palm forward toward the person's face. They will be forced to deliver their unwanted message directly to your palm, who is unlikely to absorb the full meaning or even reliably take a mesage. Even though technically faces don't listen per se (auditory functioning is probably better left to ears) it was pretty obvious that your message was going nowhere.

Example:
Maury Povich: You are the father!
Potential Baby Daddy 3: I swear, it's not mine.
Baby Mama: Talk to the hand, Cleatus, cause the face don't wanna listen!


  • "Da Bomb"

Let's clear something up: usually, a bomb is a bad thing. We're all fairly familiar with this interpretation of an unwanted explosive, and tend to use it accordingly in our conversations with others. However, that is the bomb. We're talking "da" bomb. Da bomb is different thing altogether. In fact, da bomb is the best. The greatest. Explosively wonderful. Though your instinct will deny it, 90s slang prescribed that we now craved acceptance by means of other's declaring our clogs or No Doubt CD to be "da bomb".

Example: Did you see the X-games on TV last night? Those skateboarders were da bomb!


  • "All that and a bag of chips"

In the 90s, it was never enough to simply be "all that" (that is, unless you were a kid-directed Nickelodeon sketch comedy show). No, there was so much more to describing your success. You would think if they were going to tack on some added value, these mysterious slang-starters would choose something of actual worth. Instead, they've chosen something you can purchase at a local 711 for $1.98 and that will inevitably leave grease stains on your Dockers khakis.

Example: Damn, that trapper-keeper is all that and a bag o f chips!


  • "Don't Go There!"

Don't go where, exactly? Even if someone is steering conversation to an unsavory topic, it's unlikely they're taking you to an entirely disparate destination. This was also a favorite catch phrase of trashy daytime talk show guests, usually when confronted with uninvited questions. This was the ultimate brush off, indicating the other person was in no way going to validate your prying with any sort of substantial response. This was pretty much a conversation ender.

Example:
Sally Jesse Raphael: So, Judy, do you think your difficult divorce led to your extreme weight gain of 250 pounds?
Judie (indignant): Don't go there, Sally!


  • "You Go, Girl!"


Again, with the going. The 90s certainly had an active set of catch phrases. This was the age of Spice Girls and Girl Power (excuse me, grrrrrrl power) and women were eager to encourage each other, or at least egg one another on. They also frequently took to calling one another girlfriend, as in "Hey there, girlfriend!"

"You Go, Girl" was another standard staple of trashy talk show fare, as women publicly declared their independence or confidence. In theory, it was a nice concept, but this pseudo-feminism was not quite up to par with the serious activism of past generations. Let's put it this way: "You go girl!" was to feminism as "Going Green!" is to environmentalism.

Example:
Woman: So, I decided I've had enough. I'm leaving James and wringing him out for all he's worth.
Loud obnoxious friend: You go, girl!

  • "Take a chill pill!"

Try as I might to locate a prescription for these mythical chill pills, it turned my mission was for naught. Apparently, this was some sort of metaphor. It was the kind of thing you frequently heard unruly teenagers snap at their parents.

All sorts of people were candidates for medical trials on the chill pill, but it mainly applied to teachers, parents, and other authoritative incarnations of "the man". It was, however, often used inappropriately in an authority figure/subordinate situation.

Example:
Boss: Sherman, your numbers were down this quarter.
Sherman: Take a chill pill, man! I'll reign it in.


  • "Then why don't you marry it?"

This one probably applies to children in general and is not necessarily relegated exclusively to 90s children, but it was certainly widespread in its use. It's a good question, really. Why don't you? I mean, if you're so attached to something, it seems pending nuptials should be in order. It's the next logical step in your commitment. Or are you not willing to go out on that far of a limb for your Ninja Turtle action figures?

Example: "Cindy's always playing with that worthless Wee Little Miss doll. Hey Cindy, if you love it so much, then why don't you marry it?"


Stay tuned for the next catch phrase installment featuring notable quotables from TV. I have no idea when this installment will be available for public perusal, but I promise to get to it soon...ish. Uh-oh, I may have just made a faulty promise. Did I do that? (adjusts Urkel glasses and straightens striped suspenders)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Vanilla Ice


I've always had a lurking urge to burst Kool-Aid man style through the door of a boardroom in the midst of heated negotiations and shout, "Stop! Collaborate and listen!" Unfortunately, some dreams will never be realized, and this action would likely brand me as clinically insane. For Robert Van Winkle, though, these words were his ticket to inexplicable 90s musical fame.

You may think that breakdancing with a side of big hair is not a major marketable skill, but perhaps its a matter of timing. That is, if someone happens to catch you breakdancing wearing your big hair at just the right moment, well who knows, maybe you can make a career of it. Throw in some alleged "rapping", and you've got yourself a brand.

Before Eminem, before 303, the original white rapper ("vanilla"-hued, if you will) was Vanilla Ice. In the late 80s and early 90s, hip hop was just emerging as a credible musical genre. It was still primarily a black phenomenon, as most cool things are before they are hijacked and subsequently beaten into boring submission by stuffy white people. Hip hop was new and edgy and indicative of all thing youth culture related, but it had yet to be fully packaged by music executives. At this point, notoriety and street cred were the major forces guiding the emerging hip hop culture. While Vanilla Ice was a serviceable* rapper, music moguls saw him as an outsider on the fringe of hip hop who could be sufficiently packaged for consumer enjoyment and their own rising stock.

Vanilla Ice was commodifiable, and music execs fully recognized the potential of breaking into the hip hop business. He even managed to unintentionally earn himself some notoriety by means of a scuffle with some of Suge Knight's associates, one of whom claimed to have written Ice, Ice, Baby. We all can see that the "Ice, Ice" in Ice, Ice baby refers to Mr. Vanilla himself, so it seems unlikely this would have been penned by anyone else. To be honest, take a good hard look at the lyrics and you'll see immediately that money could be the only possible explanation for the boldfaced lie; this wasn't exactly poetry we were dealing with here. Let's take a quick peek at what would become the first hip hop single to top the Billboard charts:



Yo, Vanilla, kick it one time Boy
Yo, VIP, Let's kick it!
Ice Ice Baby, Ice Ice Baby


Okay, off to a good start. Well, the use of that "yo" is questionable, but I'm going to let it slide.

All right stop, Collaborate and listen
Ice is back with my brand new invention

Who said rap isn't innovative? Before I heard this song, I had no clue whatsoever that the words "listen" and "invention" rhymed.

Something grabs a hold of me tightly
Flow like a harpoon daily and nightly


I'll concede this is a more respectable rhyme, but how many raps do you know of that reference harpoons? And/or their (that is, the harpoons') flowing tendencies? Is that some sort of misplaced weapon reference to build street credibility?

Will it ever stop? Yo! I don't know
Turn off the lights and I'll glow
To the extreme I rock a mic like a vandal
Light up a stage and watch me jump like a candle.

As the owner of many jumping candles, I particularly enjoyed this imagery. Later I was disappointed to learn that, like the Mexican jumping beans, this movement was a mere farce. At least I could always watch Vanilla Ice and his graffiti stylings on a nearby sound-enhancement device.

Dance, go rush the speaker that booms
I'm killing your brain like a poisonous mushroom
Deadly, when I play a dope melody
Anything less than the best is a felony

I didn't realize how much I yearned for someone's ABAB rhyme scheme to kill my brain until Vanilla kindly illuminated the point. I imagine that lame "felony" reference is an attempt to badassify his lyrics.

Love it or leave it, You better gain way
You better hit bull's eye, The kid don't play
If there was a problem, Yo, I'll solve it
Check out the hook while my DJ revolves it

This doesn't make that much sense, but at least in this case it does rhyme. Also, the hook he refers to was sampled from earlier favorites such a David Bowie and Queen. So yes, Vanilla, I will check it out. I appreciate the suggestion.

Vanilla Ice Ice Baby, Vanilla Ice Ice Baby
Vanilla Ice Ice Baby, Vanilla Ice Ice Baby

This was when the best breakdancing took place, just in case you're considering choreographing your own version.

Now that the party is jumping
With the bass kicked in and the Vegas are pumpin'

Quick to the point, to the point no faking
Cooking MCs like a pound of bacon


Nothing says "street" like referencing a good old fashioned home cooked breakfast.

Burnin' 'em if you aint quick and nimble
I go crazy when I hear a cymbal
And a hi hat with a souped up tempo

I'm on a roll, it's time to go solo
Rollin' in my 5.0
With my rag top down so my hair can blow
The girlies on standby, Waving just to say Hi
Did you stop? No -- I just drove by
Kept on pursuing to the next stop
I busted a left and I'm heading to the next block
That block was dead


Thank, Vanil, for the play by play. I, too, go crazy when I hear a cymbal. Traumatic wind-up monkey incident as a child. It's still tough to talk about.

Yo -- so I continued to A1A Beachfront Avenue
Girls were hot wearing less than bikinis


Less than bikinis...could we be a little more descriptive? That's like saying, they were wearing more than nothing. I'm a visual learner, dammit, give me some adequate cues here.

Rockman lovers driving Lamborghinis
Jealous 'cause I'm out getting mine
Shay with a gauge and Vanilla with a nine
Ready for the chumps on the wall
The chumps acting I'll because they're full of Eight Balls
Gunshots ranged out like a bell
I grabbed my nine -- All I heard were shells

Falling on the concrete real fast
Jumped in my car, slammed on the gas
Bumper to bumper the avenue's packed
I'm trying to get away before the jackers jack
Police on the scene, You know what I mean
They passed me up, for runnin' on the dope beans

If there was a problem, Yo, I'll solve it
Check out the hook while my DJ revolves it

Okay, so here's the drive-by part. What I'm wondering though is why police came to the scene? Didn't you hear? If there was a problem, Vanilla would solve it.

Vanilla Ice Ice Baby, Vanilla Ice Ice Baby
Vanilla Ice Ice Baby, Vanilla Ice Ice Baby

Take heed, 'cause I'm a lyrical poet
Miami's on the scene just in case you didn't know it
My town, that created all the bass sound
Enough to shake and kick holes in the ground
'Cause my style's like a chemical spill
Feasible rhymes that you can vision and feel

I often brag about my best traits by illustrating their close likeness to chemical spills. It's a major selling point. Try it at your next interview.

Conducted and formed, This is a hell of a concept
We make it hype and you want to step with this
Shay plays on the fade, slice like a ninja
Cut like a razor blade so fast, Other DJs say, "damn"
If my rhyme was a drug, I'd sell it by the gram
Keep my composure when it's time to get loose
Magnetized by the mic while I kick my juice
If there was a problem, Yo -- I'll solve it!

Check out the hook while DJ revolves it.

I'm a bit concerned about being magnetized by the mic. After all, I had this recorded off the radio on cassette tape, a magnetic force of that magnitude would straight up erase it.

Vanilla Ice Ice Baby, Vanilla Ice Ice Baby
Vanilla Ice Ice Baby, Vanilla Ice Ice Baby Vanilla Ice

Yo man -- Let's get out of here! Word to your mother!

AHA! So that's where we got that. Touché, Vanilla.

Ice Ice Baby Too cold, Ice Ice Baby Too cold Too cold
Ice Ice Baby Too cold Too cold, Ice Ice Baby Too cold Too cold


I do like the inclusion of the informative temperature gauge here. It really speaks to my inner meteorologist.

For your viewing pleasure, Ice, Ice, Baby:



He still had a few good years before fading into obscurity, putting out records no one's ever heard of and appearing in shame-inducing reality shows. There was also Cool as Ice, a movie that was sort of like Rebel without a Cause only distinctly more terrible. If its any indication of complete lack of quality, the movie's score on composite review site Rotten Tomatoes is a whopping 8%. It was posthumously (I use that word largely in reference to the death of Vanilla's career) disowned by the director, which isn't quite the positive retrospection one could hope for. If nothing else, the movie did leave us with an outstanding pickup line:

"Drop that zero, and get with a hero!"




Of course, this is a gross oversimplification. Vanilla Ice did a lot more than just sing "Ice, Ice, Baby" and appear in a god-awful film people will someday with disdain unfairly refer to as a "period piece". He's 41 years old, certainly he's put out something else we would have heard of.

Oh, yeah. This:





*For the time, people. Standards have changed.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Baywatch


Let's be honest here: lifeguards are heroes. They're out there every day, protecting vulnerable swimmers from all manners of ill-fated ocean encounters. Their watchful eye allows us to enjoy our carefree time at the beach, knowing we are safe under their care.

Also, they sometimes run in slow motion.

I don't know about you, but while that initial job description is nice, I doubt 1.1 billion people would tune in to watch it on television. The slow motion thing, though, well, there you've got yourself a series.


Baywatch taught us all sorts of valuable life lessons, namely that beautiful women are largely interchangeable when dressed in the same signature red swimsuit. Men, on the other hand, are our true mainstays. We learned that if you were a woman who appeared on a plotless show mainly as eye candy, you could later land some lucrative Playboy covers or release sex tapes. If you were a man, you could eventually serve as a judge on America's Got Talent and battle rampant public alcoholism. Of course, if you weren't lucky enough to meet any of these grand fates, you could feel free to fade into the general obscurity that comes with people's waning interest in slow-motion footage of you in swimwear.

Remarkably, Baywatch is the most-watched show of all time. I'm not quite sure that you caught that, but either way it bears repeating. The most-watched show of all time. Lifeguards. On a beach. Limited, repetitive plotlines. Knight Rider running down the beachfront at bottom speed (is that the opposite of top speed? One can only assume.) Really, truly, how much drama can these lifeguards face on a weekly basis? The show's producers (Hasselhoff included) would contend that the answer was indeed quite a lot.


The Hoff made it happen

How many times have you been at beach anywhere, ever, and seen someone in a truly risky near-drowning situation? For most, the answer is rarely or never, but for the ol' Baywatch gang it was just a constant drownfest of careless parents and vicious undertows. Sharks encircled swimmers close to shore, bomb threats loomed like a dark shadow over the beach, and murderers roamed the premises on a regular basis. I'm not saying TV has to be just like real life, but at least make some effort to calibrate the premise to the plot lines. If we were dealing with marine biologists, CIA officials, or police detectives, then sure, these story lines could seamlessly integrate into the character's everyday encounters. However, these people are lifeguards. Lifeguards. They hold a giant red piece of foam and sit in a crappy makeshift elevated chair.

To be honest, I never watched the show in much detail, but it didn't take a dedicated viewer to pinpoint the improbability of these plots. While certainly the interpersonal drama between the male and female characters was substantial and there is certainly action off the beachfront, a great deal of the show relied on increasingly repetitive and formulaic scenarios. Have you ever wondered how many possible ways people could encounter danger in the water? Unless you get really creative (read: insane) with it, there are not too many permutations. Thankfully, the Baywatch writers were imaginative, though not necessarily in a positive way.

The show's initial run lacked sufficient financial backing, and was canceled after a single season. Lucky for those among us who appreciate a good slow-motion beach run sequence, the show was down but not out. David Hasselhoff, the male lead, believed in the show enough to come on as a producer and keep it afloat (sorry, I didn't even see that pun coming.) I guess the 80s German pop music scene was pretty lucrative, putting him in a fair position to make waves with Baywatch (that one was unfortunately intentional).

Repackaged and rebranded with a catchier theme song, the show quickly established itself in the ratings.



Little things other shows valued such as character development, consistency, and story variation seemed obsolete as Baywatch snowballed to success. It was camp TV at its best. It was cheesy, montage-rich, and often segued aimlessly into tangential melancholy music video-esque segments a la Ace of Base's Don't Turn Around.

The show had no shame, but it also had no pretension. Audiences accepted the fact that a steady stream of beautiful women (including Pamela Anderson, Yasmine Bleeth, Carmen Electra, and Gena Lee Nolin) had nothing better to do than get crappy jobs with the Los Angeles County Lifeguards. No one would call the show deep or insightful by any stretch of the imagination, but it did present a pleasingly idyllic form of escapism. Sometimes, after a bad day, watching scantily-clad attractive people bounce around in slow motion is just what the doctor ordered*.

It was, in short, a guilty pleasure. Many people did not want to admit that they were captivated by this cheesefest, but the ratings didn't lie. Baywatch was at the time recorded as the most-watched TV show of all time. Unfortunately, it couldn't hold its audiences forever.

As with many long-running series, the show dragged on and lost many of its original characters. The shark-jumping in this case was not only literal, but became more frequent and shameless. The early-90s dramatics evolved into late-90s near-comedy. It was that sad sort of premise that wasn't supposed to be funny, but it was unintentionally gut-bustingly hilarious. Acting fell completely by the wayside, as the equivalent of cardboard cutouts of female models chattered their lines with all the expression of reading the dictionary. The show managed to stay on the air and slide by on its purported reputation, but the magic of those Hasselhoff music video moments had dissipated.

Despite its wane in quality and popularity, its notoriety remained intact. It may not have been the smartest show or contain the most substance, but it was pure fun. They must have been doing something right, as we can only hope 1.1 billion viewers can't be wrong. The show may have been an easy target, but it generally seemed to posses redeeming qualities as well.

At the very least, a whole generation of young boys aspired to be lifeguards.



*What, your doctor never prescribed this?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Tetris


As you came to on your living room couch, your panicked mind frantically tried to recollect the events of the past day. These blackouts were becoming increasingly frequent, and more and more time was passing unaccounted for. You were concerned over these lapses in memory, seemingly jolted back to reality in a cold sweat and wondering what exactly had happened over the last several hours. You held some vague recollections, but on the whole it seemed pretty fuzzy. Ashamed to admit your addiction to your friends and family, you began to try hide your usage and downplay its increasingly prominent role in your everyday life.

No, your problem wasn't drugs or alcohol. It was Tetris.

In a distant time before lifelike 3D video games and their complicated nuances, we could sit intently for hours on end, eyes glazed over at the innumerable self-directed rotations of the confounding tetrominoes that lay before us. Over and over, we orchestrated our little shapelets into interlocking patterns. Left, clockwise, down. Right, right, counterclockwise, down. Right, Right, down. Left, counterclockwise, down. The interlocking pieces fixed together in a satisfying manner, all while playing their trademark siren song:




Even just hearing the song catapults my mind back to its scheming, strategizing, anxious Tetris-engaged state.

Regardless of whether or not you personally lay claim to an original Game Boy, it's likely at some point you were exposed to the addictive contagion of Tetris. When you woke up in the morning, there was Tetris. When you daydreamed aimlessly during lectures about Tuck Everlasting or prime numbers, there was Tetris. When you lay down to sleep at night, there was Tetris. Try as you might to deter Tetris from infecting your brain, your mind began to morph into a singularly Tetris-strategizing way of thinking. Every problem or dilemma you encountered suddenly broke down in your head into "L-shape. Square. Squat "T". Line. Square-edged S. Square-edged Z." These were your tools now, and they overtook your mind like a robotic-music-soundtracked parasite. Though some may have tried to fight it, resistance was inevitably futile. Eventually, we would all come to worship at the great shrine of Tetris.

The original video game was released in 1985, but it really gathered steam with the release of the original Game Boy. First of all, let it be known that Game Boys may now seem fairly pedestrian and unimpressive, but upon their launch these things seemed relatively remarkable. I mean, imagine, parents now had a way to keep their children occupied and could now combat whininess with quiet personal gaming. While other handheld system had been available previously, none reached the cult of video game personality that surrounded Game Boy.


When one purchased the almighty Game Boy, it contained a cartridge of the game Tetris. "Tetris," you may have thought to yourself. "Why, I've never heard of it. Perhaps I should give it a go."

And suddenly, without warning, 12 hours had passed.

The game seemed simple enough, but it truly lured you unsuspecting into a series of mental aerobics. At first glance, Tetris was deceptively benign. Seven different shapes (tetraminoes, for anyone out there who would like to one day drop this word casually in conversation at a cocktail party and alienate friends with their undeniable geekiness) descended slowly down the screen. Your mission, should you have chosen to accept it, was to maneuver these shapes by rotating them in 90 degree increments to fit together and avoid gaps between shapes on the bottom of the screen. When you succeeded in creating a solid line without gaps, the line disappeared and the stacked tetraminoes shifted downward.

If you have never played Tetris, you may be thinking, "So? That doesn't sound so captivating. It actually sounds mind-numbingly boring."

Au contraire, my Tetris virgin friends. The true hook of the game was the progressive expedience of the falling shapes. They began slowly, lulling you into a sense of false security. "I'm mastering this!" You would marvel. You reckoned yourself a sort of Tetris savant, wondering what all the fuss was about. Why, this wasn't tricky at all!

But then.

Shapes began falling faster and faster, both efffectively obliterating your game and crushing your can-do spirit. "Well," you thought. "That wasn't much fun at all. Maybe if I just try it one more time..."

And so it went. You could never play "just one more time". For many, Tetris became a way of life, counting down the minutes until you could get your next fix. Games would replay continuously in your head, as you mentally shifted and manipulated the shapes into an interlocking configuration. You could so easily see where you'd been drawn astray; how could you have thought the L-shape should lay downwards and horizontal? That should have been vertical, dammit.



In my household, it was only my mother who owned a Gameboy. She would sit long nights on the den couch, with the glow of the sidetable lamp illuminating her glassed-over eyes and quick-moving fingers. She also liked to play the music (rather than selecting the more polite you're-in-a-shared-space-for-God's-sake mute option), and I believe she had a strong preference for Melody B. My mom was actually a pretty ace Tetris player*, but she was totally stingy about it. Ocassionally on road trips when she tired of it. we were allowed to have a go. Soon both my sister and I were hooked, and the nightly bickering over our one measly Game Boy led to the institution of a scheduled rotation. It was that important to us. Really, it was. I treasured my time with that game, down to the last second. We all boastfully recounted our high scores, and delighted in our autonomy at selecting our own music track. And if we made it into the hall of fame, well, that was just the cherry on top.

I never did get my own Game Boy, but I did get a graphing calculator. In middle school I was briefly able to resume my Tetris dependency during alleged learning time in class until I was outed by a fellow classmate when I failed to pay attention during a class discussion. I had been called on by the teacher, but I was justifiably immersed in my record high score, thank you very much. Thus ended my once-stellar Tetris career. Just think. I could have gone pro, if it weren't for teachers questioning my perfectly legitimate use of a calculator during an English lesson.

There is, however, good news for all of us. Tetris is back and in more forms than ever before. No longer must we wait our turn for the family Game Boy. Not only is it available in numerous forms for free play online, you can now discreetly play on your phone as well. You even have this to make sure a coworker doesn't tattle on you playing at the office.

Happy playing, children of the 90s. Just don't blame me when you find yourself emerging from a Tetris-induced blackout. You've been warned.


*In case you were curious, she now highly recommends Bejeweled and Bomp Bomp Ball


Check it out:
Play Tetris Free Online (note: while checking out this site, I got roped into playing for 27 minutes. Like I said, I warned you.)
Tetris for iPhone
Tetris T-Shirt, Anyone?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Then and Now: Jennifer Grey

Sometimes, a little plastic surgery isn't such a bad thing. In fact, many of our favorite celebrities have subtly enhanced their looks and their careers lived to tell about it.

Unfortunately, Jennifer Grey was not among them.

Known for her roles in Dirty Dancing and Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Jennifer Grey had a unique look and was applauded for not adhering to the cookie-cutter Hollywood ideal of beauty. She wasn't afraid to wear her decidedly Semitic looks on her sleeve, or in her case, on her face. Audiences related to her as someone who appeared normal and down-to-earth.

Then:



Now:



A lesson for all of you aspiring stars out there: if you ever became famous for a distinctive look, don't undergo multiple rhinoplasties to forever doom your chances of being recognized by your once-adoring fans. I can understand going incognito, but this is just a tad over the edge.

Backed into a corner of media scrutiny, Jennifer Grey suffered major career losses and faded into semi-obscurity.

That's right, I said it. Somebody put Baby in a corner.*


*I'm sorry. It was just too easy. I'll understand if you feel the need to cringe/groan inwardly re: taking cheap shots. Just be glad I didn't couple it with a "she had the time of her life" reference. Well, now I sort of did. Please accept my condolences.

Thanks to Sadako for the "Then and Now" topic suggestion!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Dinosaurs


The 90s saw an explosion in cheesy formulaic family sitcoms. Audiences couldn't seem to get enough of allegedly normal people interacting with their loved ones; it was certainly a lot easier than being forced to interact with our own. One after another, these shows appeared, featuring a basic nuclear family and following them through their (again, allegedly) humorous daily interactions. Step by Step, Full House, Family Matters; these shows all followed a pretty standard set of story lines. Even the purportedly edgy Married with Children relied to some extent on sturdy stereotypes of a blue collar family.

It took a magical mind like Jim Henson's (which I imagine to have been full of abandoned ET design prototypes and colorful Fraggle Rock wardrobe changes) to conceive of a more original model for such a tired premise.

Why not make them dinosaurs?

Wait, wait? As in carnivorous prehistoric creatures with a penchant for carnage and general non-camaraderie? What could they possibly have in common with the white bread families of typical 90s sitcom fame?

Nothing. This was the whole point. Why not create a show that follows the family sitcom formula to a T, but with characters who inherently have nothing in common with this type of familial situation? It was a fairly innovative approach, though it did borrow heavily from Flintstones and Simpsons conventions. The situation and the characters were inherently out of sync, infusing some freshness into the stale model of a home-based situation comedy. And though the idea came to fruition a year after Henson's death, the seed he had planted grew into the Dinosaurs in 1991:



The character molds were all recognizable, but with a delightful prehistoric twist. Let's meet the Dinosaurs:


Earl Sinclair: Our hero, the mighty megalosaurus. Who knew dinosaurs looked so great in flannel? Considering this was the 90s, I'm fairly certain I owned that shirt. He could be a tad on the Al Bundy oafish side, but was determined to keep his family happy and fed. In the first episode we find that he opted to take this purportedly new family route rather than killing and eating his mate and young, which apparently was a pretty novel idea. He worked at WESAYSO as a tree-pusher, which likely explained the lumberjack getup.



Fran Sinclair: Dinosaur housewife extraordinaire. Her skills included chasing furry future dinners around the kitchen, nagging, and wearing aprons. She inexplicably birthed offspring of varying dinosaur species. Fran initially roped Earl by means of her natural feminine scent, in her case, New Car Smell.



Charlene Sinclair: 13-year old daughter, fashion-driven and materialistic a la Quinn Mordgendorfer. We do, however, find that she exhibited some signs of intelligence by managing to prove the world is round and thus changing the course of historical geographic discovery. Other than that, she was pretty vapid.



Robbie Sinclair: 15-year old son, wise beyond his years. We knew he was semi-rebellious because his best friend sports a leather jacket. In 90s sitcom conventions, a leather jacket is the only known symbol anti-authority.




Baby Sinclair: You gotta love him. Or so he says. His catchphrase, "I'm the baby, gotta love me!" was everywhere during the show's tenure. And really, I mean everywhere. It was so famous, in fact, that DTV (the fictional dinosaur TV network) allowed him to star in the following 100% ridiculous music video (please be warned that if you watch this, there is no chance of extricating this song from your brain. Attempts at detaching it from your cerebral cortex are futile. I'm still humming it 15 years later):



Baby (yes, this was his real name) also had a penchant for hitting his father on the head with a frying pan and referring to him affectionately as "Not the mama!" Cute, right?



The show premiered in the ABC TGIF lineup, appropriately sandwiched between between fellow family sitcom hits Full House and Family Matters and was fairly popular throughout the course of its 3-year run.

Beneath the surface (this would be a good place to make some sort of fossil joke that I don't have) lurked countless vaguely recognizable voices. Allow me to share with you some of the prehistoric celebrities who lent their voices to this program of puppetry:


Jessica Walter as Fran--You know, Lucille Bluth? I suppose she's also in that new 90210, but really, she is just playing Lucille Bluth all over again. You almost expect to hear the ice cubes clinking in the glass any time you hear her voice.




Sally Struthers as Charlene--Sure, she was in All in the Family, but most of us 90s kids remember her as that blonde lady constantly imploring us to get our degrees through the magically convenient means of by-mail correspondence (I was particularly partial to the veterinary technician course, if forced to choose).




Sherman Helmsley as tyrannical (insert "-asaurus Rex joke here) WESAYSO exec BP Richfield--What is this, an All in the Family reunion? Of course, he was best known from his starring role on the Jeffersons, so you could probably say in this case he was movin' on down (and yes, I recognize that was an extremely cheap attempt at humor. Just roll with it. I think Sherman would have.). For those of you that were into that kind of thing, you may also recall him as Tia and Tamara's grandfather on Sister, Sister.



Christopher Meloni as the aforementioned badass teenage friend, Spike--Most of you probably know this guy from Law and Order:SVU, but the less fear-mongering among us may recollect his performances in Oz, Harold and Kumar, or my personal favorite, Wet Hot American Summer. Also, he once played a gym teacher on Pete & Pete. What more could you want from a man?




Kevin Clash as Baby Dinosaur--You might not recognize him by face, but Kevin here voiced some of your favorite childhood characters (allow me to assume these are your favorites. Thank you for your cooperation.) Most notably, Elmo, but also Clifford the big red dog, and everyone's favorite animated rat, Splinter from TMNT. Oh, and he also played that lovable sax-playing Sesame Street owl who sang "Put Down the Ducky". Great song.


Admittedly these are not the biggest names in the biz, but they reflect the nature of the show itself. It wasn't the flashiest or the most original, but deep down it was good fun. While the show addressed a surprising number of political issues for a puppet-centric program, it was generally lighthearted and didn't take itself too seriously. At the end of the day, isn't all you want just to watch a giant puppet dinosaur get smacked on the head with a frying pan by his less-giant puppet dinosaur son? I think so.

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