Thursday, August 26, 2010

Guess Who?

If you were ever seeking the culprit for racial profiling, you might want to take a look back into one of our favorite childhood board games. When skin color is one of the major defining characteristics standing between guessing the winning character and admitting Guess Who? defeat, it was a key tactic in the art of deductive reasoning. That said, if you happened to have one of the racial minority characters as your card, you were often out of luck--your partner asks, “Is your person white?” You say no, and they’re down to a quarter of the options. Right or wrong, this type of profiling clearly offered its own rewards.

For those of us who were highly experienced Guess Whoers, we knew all the basic profiling strategies. Gender was another popular choice, as the game contains a highly skewed ratio of men to women. As if women didn’t have enough to worry about, they now faced undue discimination and minority status on the Guess Who? board. And if it was a woman unlucky enough to be wearing a hat, forget it--you’d be figured out in 10 seconds flat. Game over.

Residual wide-ranging social implications aside, Guess Who? was beloved by children of the 90s for its simplicity. In contrast to its hard-to-assemble board game counterparts like Mousetrap and 13 Dead End Drive, Guess Who? was an easy way to engage kids with relatively no set-up. After the initial drudgery of clicking all of the flippable cards into place, you simply turned them up, grabbed a card, and began the game.

On the negative side, however, those 90s ads could be a bit misleading. So misleading, in fact, that manufacturer Milton Bradley was forced to include a disclaimer to alert gullible children that “Game cards do not actually talk.” Apparently children were so delighted by the sight of cards conversing with one another that the inanimate cards seemed pretty boring in comparison. What good is a game card if it won’t make witty asides to its row-mates?

For those of us who owned the game or had frequent access to it, the images of characters like David and Bernard are forever ingrained in our brains. So much so, in fact, that I’ve occasionally met people to whom my initial reaction is, “Wow, you look a lot like (insert cartoon Guess Who? character here).” This exchange is not only awkward but sometimes also leads to the person leaping to the immediate defense of their prized moustache, goatee, or bowler hat. Whatever the resemblance, it usually isn’t especially flattering: Guess Who? characters are not especially known for their good looks.

As far as the actual game, Guess Who? is arguably somewhat educational in value. It teaches logic, deductive reasoning skills, visual clues, grouping, and how not to ask stupid questions. That last skill certainly comes in handy, though Guess Who? only managed to develop it with yes-and-no response questions. For those of us prone to open-ended inquiries, we’re on our own. Unless we need to know whether someone is bald or wears glasses, it’s going to be tough.

Guess Who? was a fleeting diversion in that kids could only play it for so long. Children tend to be pretty sore losers, so among younger players temper tantrums were inevitably thrown over losses. Outcry over alleged unfairness usually broke out after a good-sported round or two, but it was usually pretty fun while it lasted.

It may have taught us to oversimplify and break people down into groups using visual cues, but we never thought of it that way. We were all just hoping our opponent ended up with one of the few minority women cards to ease some of our questioning pressure. In fact, Most of us still don’t know how to describe someone accurately unless they are wearing a hat or have some defining facial hair-type feature. Thanks a lot, Guess Who. If anyone we know ever shaves or removes their headwear, we're back at square one on recognition.

Monday, August 23, 2010

80s and 90s Sugar High

Sometimes we all look back and cringe just a bit at the sugary garbage we ate as children. Though it may still hold some nostalgic appeal, it’s tough to defend some of the candy we so adored as kids. You would think we were all spent a significant portion of our youth drifting into diabetic shock--how else to explain the pure sugar our parents pushed down our throats? I can only assume they had no orange juice on hand and had to save our lives with the cunning use of Pixie Sticks. There’s just no other explanation for willingly serving your child the equivalent of the contents of your sugar bowl.

For those of us who now work with or have children of our own, we know the lure of bribery is one we cannot always ignore. Do your homework? Have some Nerds! Clean your room? Help yourself to the Fun Dip. Sure, it’s morally ambiguous, but it works. Sometimes, you’ve just got to give in and let the kids be kids. In this case, that means our parents allowed us to hype ourselves up on a diet of pure sugar only to crash later with unforeseen consequences of immeasurable crankiness. We loved them for that moment in which they relinquished the candy, though, and that’s what really counts.

We ate all sorts of processed sugar masquerading as innocent snacks, but here are a few of the sweetest culprits:

Pixy Stix
Possibly the worst offender, Pixy Stix were composed of little more than colored sugar. Apparently an acceptable snack consists of taking pure sugar and a dab of food coloring and calling it a kid-friendly nosh. The worst of the worst prize went to the giant-size straw version, which we can only imagine contained a full two-pound bag of refined sugar.

Fun Dip

What better to dip candy in than candy? It’s a perfect solution to all your dipping needs. Simply take sugar molded into a solid mass and dip it into its granulated counterpart. Delicious.


Nerds may have been glorified color-coated rock candy, but we can award some credit where due for delicious flavor combinations. Nerds conveniently packaged two complementary flavors in a single box, allowing us to ingest our flavor sugar with a well-balanced palette.

If you thought it was kind of gross simply to consume sugar-laden hard candy, imagine adding an element of extreme germ exposure to the mix. The problem with Jawbreakers lay in the fact that they were simply too large to be consumed in a single sitting. The result? Days of your giant candy hanging out in a bowl or similar open-air receptacle, collecting delicious dust mite seasoning mix.

Pop Rocks

Pop Rocks have been available since the 70s, but their popularity saw a resurgence in the 80s following their restock on candy store shelves. The candy suffered briefly from the implications of an urban legend that claimed the candy could make your stomach explode when mixed with soda. It can’t, for the record, but it still does work to scare children as effectively as it did back then.

Warheads/Cry Babies

Children have a naturally competitive nature, so it’s little surprise that they became the target market for discomfort-themed food. It may not sound especially pleasant to endure a painfully sour candy throughout the dissolution of its coating, which is because it’s not. At all. Not even a little bit. With children, though, the natural playground spirit of competition made candies like Warheads a huge hit--not to mention a major indicator of elementary school street credibility.

Sour Patch Kids

Sour Patch Kids represent sour flavor in its slightly less repugnant form--as a sugar coating over a chewy fruit snack-type candy. It admittedly burns off a taste bud or two, but it’s a small price to pay for coolness in front of your pro-sour friends.

Push Pops/Ring Pops

Of course, no discussion of sugary 90s candies would be complete without mention of two of the most traded and widely respected hard candies on the playground market: push pops and ring pops. Both caused unnecessarily sticky messes and had limited functionality outside of their general novelty appeal, but who cares? They were delicious in their own sugary way. Though, to be fair, they did give a generation of young girls very unrealistic expectations about the size of a rock they could be expecting on their engagement ring.

It should go without saying that I just can’t discuss 90s-themed sugar highs without playing the eponymous song from Empire Records. All of the sugary sweetness, none of the calories. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

80s and 90s Back to School Checklist: School Supply Trends

It’s that time of year again. You know the one: the time for back-to-school shopping and all the fresh-smelling new school supplies your child-sized heart can fathom. It’s tough as adults to deny the covetousness we feel when passing the mid-to-late August back-to-school displays at Target or OfficeMax. Even former low-performing students with an aversion to all things academic feel the allure of freshly sharpened pencils and shiny new folders; they symbolize an anticipation for a year that’s tough to match as a grown-up as the seasons blend together in ubiquitous office life.

Though we can’t go back to those simpler times in which colorful erasers could denote immeasurable promise and potential, we can at least reminisce about the items that gave us that rush of August or September excitement. I even give you full license to stop at that school supply display next time you’re out shopping and buy a 45 cent puppy folder or two--it’s a small price to pay to recapture the delight of back-to-school items like these.

Trapper Keepers

No back-to-school supply list would be complete without a big binder to hold it all together, and no binder proved more popular in the 80s and 90s than the Trapper Keeper. With its flashy licensed designs and velcro closure, it served as the perfect all-purpose paper holder for school-age children.

Lisa Frank Folders

We’ve talked about Lisa Frank merchandise a lot here at Children of the 90s, and with good reason: it was everywhere. You couldn’t open a girl’s backpack in the mid-90s without finding a store inventory-level variety of Lisa Frank paraphernalia. Most little girls have a natural inclination toward loving colorful kittens playfully canoodling with high top sneakers or bunny rabbits laced tightly into ballet slippers. Lisa Frank simply played into this scientifically proven fact with major financial results.

Sanrio Erasers
All kids need to clean up after their mistakes, so what better way to do so than with an eraser printed with the whimsical Japanese Sanrio characters? Whether you were a Kerroppi fan or a Batz Maru fiend, these collectable erasers usually found their way into your pencil box.

Yikes! Pencils

Yikes! Pencils were all the rage in the early-to-mid 90s. As the above commercial suggests, Yikes are the only pencils as unique as you. Even though everyone else had them. Aside from that minor detail, the commercial tagline says it all: “They write like other pencils, but they make you go, ‘Yikes!’”

Pencil Cases

Of course, you had to store all of these supplies somewhere: your cubby wasn’t going to organize itself. Selection of the perfect pencil case was always a good way to kick off a new year. It was important to set the tone with a colorful translucent plastic case textured with bumps or perhaps the more sensible opaque case bearing a picture of--you guessed it--pencils. There’s something to be said for taking things literally.

Gel Pens
Following the release of gel pens, it seemed all art supply and office stores immediately had the best colors placed on backorder. The reason? Young children purchased these writing utensils nearly as quickly as they were shelved. With fun metallic or signature “milky” colors, gel pens were a fairly certain way to render your eventual yearbook inscriptions both sparkly and indecipherable.


Lunchables aren’t exactly a school supply per se, but they were a staple for earning some serious cafeteria clout. Parents concerned with nutrition and possessing general anti-junk food attitudes weren’t likely to be found of these lab-generated Oscar Meyer concoctions, but parents short on time seeking convenience surely appreciated their simplicity. They may not have borne especial resemblance to real food, but they were fun to assemble and devour. Plus, the fancier versions came complete with fun size candy bar and Capri Sun juice box. What more could you have asked for?

Pencil Toppers
For those of us who couldn’t decide between toys and school supplies, pencil toppers provided us an excellent middle ground. Teachers undoubtedly despised these unnecessary distractions for their complete lack of functionality, but kids adored the notion of their pencils wearing a little Troll doll hat. Adorable.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Fly Away Home

If ever there was a movie to make a generation of children wish they could act as mother and migration guide to a flock of adorable Canadian geese, Fly Away Home is it. To be fair, it sort of has the market covered; the premise of the movie is so specific and original that we can safely say there is no other family film quite like it. While it may have given us all some unrealistic expectations about the boundless potential of our parents to swoop in (literally) and save the day, Fly Away Home is ultimately a feel-good story about the power of family and the triumph of doing the right thing. Plus, it showcases the surprising cuteness of Canadian geese. Those little guys are adorable.

Like all good 90s family films with a focus on animals, the story hinges on some anonymously evil bad guys who are inexplicably hell bent on destroying the benign, unoffensive project. In real life we rarely find such strong-willed opposition to these types of sweet, well-intentioned endeavors. For the sake of plot development, Fly Away Home follows the underdeveloped universal bad guy formula with little deviation. It does so skillfully enough, though, that we are convinced a local game warden can be a calculating, ne’er do well evil plotter while area ornithologists have the potential to save the day.

The story is actually very loosely based on a true story, but truthfully the movie explores the general plot in a way much more heartwarming and family-friendly than the inspiration. Fly Away Home gives us a little of everything from the family film value variety pack: relationship development between father and daughter, strong bonds formed with loyal animals, and an exciting and potentially dangerous journey. Before the release of this movie, it’s a safe bet to assume none of us had a deep desire to fly a glider painted to resemble a goose, but the movie’s power of suggestion was strong enough to implant the idea deep within all of us. I’m still waiting for my chance, but the best I’ve been able to scrounge up is a flight in a glider painted like a rogue cockatoo. I’ve got to say, it just wasn’t the same.

Fly Away Home (1996) - Movie Trailer
Uploaded by Silverhawk82. -

Fly Away Home opens on a tragedy in traditional fairy tale fashion with the untimely death of main character Amy’s (Anna Paquin) young mother. If we have learned anything from Disney films, it is that if you seek to become a hero, it’s pretty imperative that your mother is killed off in the first fifteen minutes of the film. Amy is no exception, and the tragic car crash leaves her poised to emerge as a strong sympathetic hero a la Bambi, Jasmine, Cinderella, Snow White Sleeping Beauty, or any of those other half-orphaned Disney protagonists.

Amy’s father (Jeff Daniels) arrives from Canada to transport her from her home in New Zealand to his in Ontario. Their relationship is understandably strained considering he’s never taken any prior interest in her existence. Nonetheless, they forge ahead under tense circumstances, with Amy resenting her father and his live-in girlfriend (Desperate Housewives’ Dana Delany) the whole way through.

Following a construction incident near a local Canadian geese nesting area, Amy discovers a batch of abandoned unhatched eggs. As the goslings hatch, their natural imprinting instinct leads them to believe Amy is their mother, cementing their status as completely inseparable. By this point, of course, we’ve gone too far blissfully uninterrupted by highly motivated obscure animal-hungry villains. In this case, the local game warden is adamant about clipping the geese’s wings--an action that leads Amy to throw a popcorn bowl in the general vicinity of his head. Ouch.

Cuteness--and some weirdness--ensues, with several sequences involving the geese following Amy around a field and joining her in the shower. Amy’s father Thomas is excessively determined to see these geese through to migration, so much so that he researches some land in the US that he could purchase as their nesting area. I’ve heard of trying to buy your kid’s love, but buying a plot of land for a group of geese that think your daughter is their mother? Seems a little excessive.

Thomas hatches (hatches!) a scheme to teach the birds to migrate south using a small aircraft. After many sporting tries and dramatic near-miss incidents, Thomas and Amy assemble the ultimate migratory vehicle complete with Canadian goose exterior paint job. They practice their vee formations and set out for North Carolina without so much as a map.

Like all good family adventures, they endure some troubling trials and tribulations but ultimately emerge victorious in their mission. The duo attracts a great deal of media attention and fanfare, though they nearly lose their intended land to developers. Thomas’s plane breaks down, Amy goes it alone, and--spoiler alert--she makes it. I know, it’s shocking to see a happy ending like this for a children’s movie. Truthfully, though, Amy has us rooting for her the whole way.

Fly Away Home is ultimately heartwarming and sweet without being overly corny. Unless you are made of stone, you probably shed a tear or two at the film’s conclusion when we saw photos of the geese returning to Amy’s farm in Ontario the following spring. Assuming I don’t have a large contingency of granite readers out there, it’s safe to say you all sniffled a bit at those credits. It’s okay, let it all out--after all, if you can’t cry at the triumphant return of a gaggle of Canadian geese that beat the migration odds, what can you cry at?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Stars of Saved by the Bell: Where are they Now?

With murmurs of a reunion circulating for nearly a year now, many children of the 90s have been eagerly awaiting the return of their favorite cheesy Bayside-set sitcom. Although various permutations of the series ran a welcome-outwearing seven seasons, nostalgic 90s’ kids are still for the most part willing to embrace yet another reunion special. For everyone except Screech, that is. He turned out to be a real jerk. Maybe they’ll bring his robot Rosie back instead. I always liked her better, anyway.

A reunion part may be a much-welcome role for many of these grown-up actors; while many of their careers were once stalled by enduring Saved by the Bell typecasting, they must be getting sick of playing serious brooding villains by this point. It’s about time to come full circle and embrace the corny after school special quality that earned them fame the first time around.

Most of the show’s stars have aimed their career goals at the furthest possible point from their teen idol days, though they have achieved adult stardom with varying levels of success. Some managed to break out of the Saved by the Bell box while others continued milking it for all its worth over a decade later. Here’s a glimpse into the stars’ acting resumes since Zack and Kelly’s wedding special:

Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar)

Gosselaar taught us all an important lesson in reinventing yourself after a successful run as a blond teenager: go brunet. Following the show’s cancellation, Gosselaar dyed his hair a dark brown, ensuring that even his most devoted fans could see him on the big screen and think, “Who is that?”

Like all teen stars in the 90s trying to break out of their goody goody image, Gosselaar first took on made-for-TV movie She Cried No in which he date-rapes Candace Cameron (aka DJ Tanner) at a college party. I guess she hadn’t learned her lesson from being abused by Fred Savage in No One Would Tell.

Gosselaar went on to take on a number of serious roles including NYPD Blue and his current stint as a lawyer on TNT’s Raising the Bar. He still looks pretty good with the brown hair, but it’s just not the same as our favorite blond beach bum. Girls in their 20s and 30s everywhere swooned when he donned the blond wig for his Jimmy Fallon appearance.

Kelly Kapowski (Tiffani Amber Theissen)

Kelly was America’s sweetheart, so it’s no surprise Theissen sought an immediate post-Saved by the Bell role that took her far into the opposite direction. Theissen landed a major role as bad girl Valerie on the long-running Beverly Hills 90210 in 1994. From that point on, she became a major force in abhorrently cheesy made-for-TV movies, took an ill-advised role in Pauly Shore vehicle Son-in-Law, and landed some guest spots and bit parts in a number of TV series.

Samuel “Screech” Powers (Dustin Diamond)

When you’re a one-note actor like Diamond, continual fame has to be wrenched through shocking public behavior and bad-mouthing of former castmates. Diamond was the only original cast member who played the same role from Good Morning, Miss Bliss to Saved by the Bell: The New Class. After over 10 years as Screech, it was understandably tough for him to transition to other, less irritating roles.

Diamond descended into despair in the mid-2000s when he publicly attempted to raise money to save his home from going into foreclosure. He also released a raunchy and disturbing sex tape, appeared on numerous reality shows including Celebrity Fit Club, and writing a tell-all book implicating his SbtB costars in some not-so-wholesome behavior. Clearly someone didn’t get the meaning behind Zack Attack’s “Friends Forever.”

Lisa Turtle (Lark Voorhies)

Voorhies actually did fairly well for awhile with major running roles on soap operas, though her religious beliefs as a Jehovah’s Witness precluded her from acting in the sex scenes required of her roles. Relinquishing her soap parts, apparently Voorhies’ moral ground still allowed her to take a major role in the stoner film How High.

To be fair, she did do some other miscellaneous legitimate sitcom stints on shows like Family Matters and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. For your 90s trivia facts, she also starred in Boyz II Men’s “On Bended Knee” music video. Add a role in Star Trek: Deep Space 9 and you’ve got yourself a well-rounded resume of obscurity.

Albert Clifford “AC” Slater (Mario Lopez)

It almost pains me to say that Lopez seems the clear front-runner for the title of most successful Saved by the Bell alum. It’s not so much that he exhibits superior acting talent, but perhaps that his less than discriminate agent has signed him onto the task of hosting or participating in every gossip show, dance competition, or beauty pageant that came his way. There’s no denying that Lopez is something of a better looking, more muscular, more vaguely Latino Ryan Seacrest. We’ll just call him the second hardest-working man in Hollywood.

Jessie Spano (Elizabeth Berkley)

If you’re ever looking for a lesson in killing your career through drastic anti-typecasting measures, you may want to look to Elizabeth Berkley for some tips. Sick of her good girl image, Berkley sought to break out of the wholesome box with an ill-fated career nosedive into the film Showgirls. The movie was a tacky, X-rated excuse for nudity and laughably bad acting, leaving Berkley far worse off than if she’d simply stuck to Jessie Spano territory. She’s some some bit parts since then, but her career never quite recovered from Showgirls syndrome.

Tori Scott (Leanna Creel)

Last but not least, let us not forget Tori of the ever-confusing late-season character switcharoo. Kelly and Jessie exit stage left, Tori enters stage right, one season elapses and they all switch back as if nothing had happened. The actress that played Tori is actually an identical triplet, giving her license to star with her sisters in the third and fourth installments of the Parent Trap series. She know wisely works as a producer and filmmaker, putting her days typecast as the tough-talking leather jacket-clad girl who is everyone’s best friend for just a single season.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Did you know? 80s and 90s Pop Culture Connections

What exactly did we do before we had the Internet Movie Database to fact check our niggling sleep loss-inducing curiosity of in which movie or show we'd previously seen an actor or actress? It's tough to remember a time when we had to simply live with the mystery. Luckily these days a world is information is available at the click of a search button, so we never have live in doubt again that the guy from that show was in that one kids' movie. You know, that guy.

Even with these remarkable advances in media-connecting information technology, it's tough to remember to backtrack and revisit all of the questions we'd previously had before the inception of IMDB. Our brains can only store so much information, so after awhile we lose sight of the immense importance of placing each actor or actress that previously thwarted us with their multiple roles. As always, Children of the 90s is here to help: to dig up those lost and forgotten celebrity frustrations and enlighten you on some of the stranger star connections about which you may not have known. While these are a few of my personal favorites, feel free to use the comments section to rave about your own enlightening pre-IMDB celebrity realizations.

Voice of Older Kevin on Wonder Years=Robber from Home Alone

So many children of the 80s and 90s grew up with both The Wonder Years and Home Alone without ever making the connection that Joe Pesci's robber sidekick's voice sounded suspiciously similar to a voiceover recording deliberating over a first kiss with Winnie.

Michael Carrington from Grease 2=Rex Manning from Empire Records

If you've ever seen the horrifically corny Grease 2, it's pretty clear it can't live up to the original. You also know, however, that star Maxwell Caulfield is dreamy by all objective standards. Whether as a nerdy Brit who's vaguely related to Frenchie or as a Cool Rider, he's got it all. Even ten odd years later, he's still fairly dreamy as washed-up Brit pop star Rex Manning in quintessential 90s movie Empire Records. He even looks good as a cardboard cutout.

Charlene Sinclair and Fran Sinclair of Dinosaurs=Sally Struthers of "Get Your Degree at Home" fame and Lucille Bluth of Arrested Development

I admit I'm probably not being completely fair to Sally Struthers with this one. She's had a career that fan outspans her college-at-home hawking gig, but as children of the 90s that's the Struthers we're most likely to remember. I also saw her in a Broadway version of Grease, and truthfully I would have been far more pumped about her performance if I'd known I was watching Charlene from Dinosaurs.

Perhaps more interesting is that Dinosaurs matriarch Fran Sinclair is voiced by the matriarch of the Arrested Development Bluth clan. That's some serious range, to be able to flit seamlessly from a young prehistoric mother to a spoiled raging alcoholic plotting against Liza Minnelli.

Darryl from Adventures in Babysitting=Mark from Rent

If you were never into pinnacle 90s' musical RENT, this information may not be particularly intriguing, but if you saw the original Broadway show lightbulbs should be appearing at all angles above your head right now. Anthony Rapp who played Brad's friend Darryl in Babysitting went on to achieve astounding musical fame as Mark Cohen in RENT. What's stranger still is that Chris Columbus directed Rapp in both Adventures in Babysitting and RENT. Columbus is clearly not much of a niche artist, or at least not based on this strange work sample.

Janie from Girls Just Want to Have Fun=Carrie from Sex and the City

I know, I know, I also could have cited Parker for her early roles in Square Pegs and Footloose, but this film was such a major part of my childhood I couldn't resist making it my example. As a kid I was absolutely certain Girls Just Want to Have Fun was the most realistic and credible depiction of high school, so imagine my surprise upon watching it a few weeks ago to find that it is possibly the cheesiest movie ever made. Regardless, it does offer some nice foreshadowing when the DTV director commends Janie for her Catholic School uniform "fashion risk"--clearly an omen of Carrie craziness to come.

That Girl from RAD=Aunt Becky from Full House

This one might be a long shot because its interestingness hinges on the notion that you've seen RAD, which in itself is incredibly unlikely. In case you have not, I highly recommend you check it out. Not because it's good by any stretch of the imagination, but because it's so horrible it warrants a good mocking with friends. Plus, Aunt Becky is in it! What's not to like? Besides the movie, of course.

King Koopa from Super Mario Bros=Villain from Speed

Yes, Dennis Hopper was in Super Mario Bros. Who knew? He definitely rocked the villainous roles, but he probably was not especially proud of this entry on his long resume.

The Manager of The Golden Palace=The Manager of Hotel Rwanda

Talk about a promotion. In just a few years, you too can go from managing the underrated but unnecessary Golden Girls spinoff hotel establishment to managing a heart wrenchingly heroic hotel for genocide refugees.

The Kids from Freaks and Geeks=The Stars of Judd Apatow Films

This one is sort of a no-brainer considering Apatow was the driving force behind Freaks and Geeks, but it seems worth mentioning on the basis that the show suffered from incredibly low ratings. Considering Apatow's recent box office success, it's odd to consider he once was hawking one of the greatest unwatched shows of the late 90s. At this point, though, I'm sure Freaks and Geeks' more recent cult status and undoubtedly astronomical DVD sales haven't hurt his already bulging bank account. It sounds like a win-win. Well, if you're Apatow. Us original Freaks fans can't cash in on our early adopter comedy status in anything other than smug self-satisfaction.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The OJ Simpson Trial

Few court cases are public enough or on a large enough scale to be readily remembered over a decade and a half later. To achieve a title like “Trial of the Century” requires a variety of salacious elements including but not limited to a handsome star athlete, a tragically murdered beautiful ex-wife, and a charismatic lawyer with a penchant for coining easily quotable rhyming phrases. If you throw in enough memorable rhyming one-liners like, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit,” a trial becomes an event even the least litigiously-minded child can get into.

The OJ Simpson trial had a little something for everyone: sports, beauty, crimes of passion, Bronco chases, and bloody gloves. TV networks quickly realized they could capitalize on the trial for cheap footage that required no writing or casting, sustainable with just an obvious interjection or two from a blandly attractive pundit. In an age before reality TV, the OJ Simpson trial satisfied our basest instinct to watch others’ horrifying real lives unfold before us as we quietly chomped popcorn on the sofa.

With the publicity surrounding the trial, suddenly the most mundane individuals had the potential to become stars. Lawyers, judges, and even Nicole Brown’s murder-alerting pet Akita quickly morphed into overnight celebrities. While ordinarily we may not view lawyers as the most exciting of paparazzi targets, during the OJ Simpson trial they achieved a level of fame that eventually afforded their widowed wives and children to become an E! network television spectacle. I’m looking at you, Kardashians.

It’s astounding that many of us can not remember what we ate for breakfast, but we can readily retrieve years-old information about Robert Shapiro, Judge Ito, and Johnnie Cochran. With the duration of the trial stretching out over nine long months, these everyday professionals were cast as heroes and villains in a live courtroom drama. With the combination of the most heavily publicized and longest running trial-by-jury in the state of California, all its players ascended to astronomical fame throughout its run.

In June of 1994, a series of events occurred that we soon grew to know with familiarity akin to events that befell our own friends and families. Nicole Brown Simpson and friend Ron Goldman were stabbed outside Brown’s apartment in Los Angeles. With Brown’s ex-husband OJ Simpson emerging as the lead suspect, the LAPD called for his arrest. In one of the most bizarre car chases ever televised, the police tailed Simpson’s white Ford Bronco driven by his friend Al Cowlings at a whopping 35 miles per hour. 35 miles per hour. What kind of driving training are our police officers getting? Even at nine years old, I found it a bit troubling that Simpson could have been leading the cops around the interstate on a tractor and still maintain a sizable lead.

This single event led to months of legal proceedings, with witnesses emerging from the woodwork to sell their stories for impressive sums to disreputable tabloid publications or cheesy television talk shows. Throughout the course of the trial, it seemed the public had an insatiable appetite for information and live coverage of the case. Following Simpson’s plea of not guilty, the trial quickly erupted into a nine month long media circus complete with televised coverage of courtroom testimony.

In the end, the jury found Simpson not guilty. Children and adults alike interrupted their daily school or work schedules to hear the eventual verdict on the radio. Late night talk show hosts ran low on jokes, Court TV ran low on material, and those of us rapt with attention at the details of the case returned to our normal, OJ-free lives.

Simpson’s acquittal was not the end of the story, of course. In 2006, Simpson released a completely absurd book clearly free of damage control publicist intervention entitled If I Did It. Everyone knows that if you didn’t commit a crime, the greatest way to uphold your legally cleared name is to publish a detailed account of how you might have gotten the job done.

In a maelstrom of public criticism and controversy, publication of If I Did It was called off. In typical post-90s technology age fashion, the content found its way onto the internet, resulting in a siege of outrage against Simpson’s tactless and thoughtless attempt to stir up self destructive publicity. If you’re interested, simply do an online search for the book and decide for yourself. The glove that did not fit may have prompted the jury to acquit, but Simpson’s self-induced media frenzy more likely led to a public indictment.

Digg This!