Showing posts with label Crazes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Crazes. Show all posts

Monday, September 12, 2011

Guest Post: 90s Hearthrobs

When Ginger of Taste of Ginger came to me with this idea for a blog, I jumped at opportunity. Why? Because I’m pretty sure every one of these BOP magazine spreads graced my walls at some point during my preteen years. The memories...Oh, the memories!

Be sure to check out Ginger’s blog and follow her there as well for more great posts.

About Ginger Pennington: I’m a broke-ass dilettante artist living in L.A. I act, I write at least something every day, I sing, play instruments, and paint. Sometimes some of that is good. If any of this interests you, check out my blog, Taste of Ginger.

Heartthrobs of the 90s: Who's Still Pin-up Worthy?

If you were a straight, white, American teen or preteen gal (the word "tween" didn't exist) in the 90s, your bedroom walls were likely covered with a pin-up selection from Bop, BB (formerly known as Big Bopper), Tiger Beat, J14, or some equally trashy rag that pedaled one commodity only: teenage white boy actors with thick hair dangling in their squinty eyes.

In the mid-nineties, the shaggy hair was the only prerequisite for my own easily-won lust, but as I got older and grew a brain, my requirements got more rigid for male objects of desire. However, as you shall see, the life trajectories of these teen heartthrobs have taken many turns on their way to manhood. Here is my top ten list of middle school crushes, now re-ordered based on how crush-worthy they are as of 2011, according to my adult opinion. (I wish I could have compiled an even more comprehensive list of my nineties crushes, but that would take months! You may be wondering why certain gentlemen are notably absent from this list --Mark-Paul Gossaler, Ethan Embrey, Jared Leto-- and that's because they're still on your radar. I hope to bring back some less obvious old memories. Enjoy!)

1. Jonathan Taylor Thomas

Though he loathed the nickname, he was known as J.T.T. back in the day when he showed up on Home Improvement for mere minutes per episode as Randy Taylor, the middle son. He also appeared, to my delight, in movies such as Tom and Huck and Man of the House, and his blue eyes and raspy voice (the voice of Simba from The Lion King, even!) made him the number one object of my affection. He is still number one today, mainly because he is the one guy on the list who has checked out of Hollywood in favor of being happy and enjoying life in (rumor has it) Vancouver, Canada. Aside from an interview with The Advocate in 2000 deflecting some gay rumors and a short film in 2005, he has been M.I.A. He reportedly attended Columbia University and now goes by his birth name, Jonathan Taylor Weiss. Sounds like success to me.

2. Joey Lawrence
I had this exact photo, from his cassette tape, taped to the head of my bed in fifth grade. Of course you all remember him from Blossom ("Whoa!"), but if you weren't lucky enough to be a fan of his short-lived music career, you were missing out. Please fill yourself in by watching this video of "Nothin' My Love Can't Fix" -- and stick around for the rap at the end; you'll be glad you did.

As you may have noticed, he is no longer big on the music scene. But as acting goes, Mr. Lawrence can't complain these days: he is rockin' the bald-by-choice look (how I miss that hair!) and starring on a sit-com, Melissa & Joey, which will return in 2012. He's also filming some movies as we speak. Not bad, Joseph. (Oh yeah, he now goes by Joseph.)

3. Rider Strong
Corey's hot friend Shawn from Boy Meets World was such a cliche crush for the girls who watched the TGIF lineup on ABC Friday nights. He was sensitive, yet from the wrong side of the tracks, and if there's one thing that 90s girls liked more than hair in the eyes, it was a tortured soul.

Rider, like Shawn, is a poet (apparently published, too), and these days, he's still acting and even directing a new short film about Dungeons and Dragons. He was recently interviewed by Vanity Fair for their "25 Questions" section, and not only does he seem like a normal, talented guy, he's also still quite fine.

4. Will Friedle
He couldn't have been more adorable as the dopey Eric Matthews in Boy Meets World.

These days, his looks may have waned a little, but he is likely rollin' in the dough and probably the personality, too. He is a successful voiceover artist for many cartoons, as you can see on his IMDB page.

5. Andrew Keegan
He was never quite my type when he appeared in the teeny-bopper magazines and popped up on TV shows and Ten Things I Hate About You, but, wow, look at him now!

Though he apparently had a recent run-in with the cops over a very loud party, he is still working here and there in acting, and I can tell you firsthand that he is keeping in shape: I've seen him with my own two eyes, jogging on the bike path in Marina del Rey. Yum.

6. Devon Sawa
There was a period of time where every other sentence in my diary sung the praises of this snaggletoothed stud. The last ten minutes of Casper, when the ghost becomes a real boy, were worth the wait for me. I would listen to the song "Remember Me This Way" by Jordan Hill (how do I still remember the name of that?) and fantasize about Devon dancing with me in an old haunted house. Little Giants was obviously a treat, but the best clip to my perverted young mind was in Now and Then, when the Wormer brothers are skinny-dipping in the lake and the girls steal their clothes. I wore out the rewind button on that one.

I'm sad not to be able to put Devon more toward the top of the list. I've actually run into him at least three times in Santa Monica -- we're neighbors! -- and he is still fly and still working on movies and TV, but after hearing about his criminal record, I couldn't rightly call him a catch anymore.

7. Jonathan Jackson
I loved that movie Camp Nowhere. This kid was a cool little renegade. And he grew up to be one of the best-looking dudes out of the bunch.

I never watched General Hospital, but apparently he is still playing the role of Lucky after all these years. He's hot and doing well! Too bad he's a republican.

8. Brad Renfro
Not only was he sexy, he was infinitely cool. I remember him from The Cure and Tom and Huck, but he had many more high-profile roles over the years.
He died of a heroin overdose at 25, but recently, his name has been resurrected by James Franco, who costarred with him in Deuces Wild. As an art piece, Franco installed a billboard on Sunset Boulevard that says "Brad Renfro Forever." I guess I'll have to transfer my affections to James Franco; they do kind of look alike.

9. Eddie Furlong
This kid had the best rock-n-roll hair ever in Terminator 2 and has done quite a bit of impressive acting work. The reason he's at the end of the list now is this:

Although he recently had a role in The Green Hornet, he also recently has been all sorts of falling apart.

10. Jonathan Brandis
If you haven't seen Sidekicks with J.B. and Chuck Norris, my friend, you are leading an empty life.
I absolutely loved Jonathan Brandis -- I even plodded through SeaQuest DSV in the nineties, just to see him in his wetsuit -- and was shocked to hear he hanged himself in 2003. Not so pin-up worthy these days, I guess.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Grunge Style and Fashion

Note: This post mainly details the look of grunge, not the music. Stay tuned for more in-depth grunge music posts at some later date.

In every decade, for all squeaky clean bubble gum pop actions there develops an opposite and angstier reaction. It's a law of subculture physics. Mainstream culture is simply too narrow and too goody-goody to encompass the whole of the youth population. The 70s gave us hippies, the 80s punk rock mavens, and the 90s bore us the Generation X-level gloom of grunge. Youth culture can not subsist on good clean fun alone; it needs an introspective core to lend some much-needed depth and idealistic values to the mix.

Does that mean we'll look back on emo kids in twenty years and appreciate their wealth of feelings and eye-obscuring well-sculpted haircuts? Maybe. Only time can tell the youth subculture story for the ages. When we're in the midst of a movement, it's tough to imagine the cultural impact it will have on our retrospective summary of a decade. In the early 90s, grunge was just a burdgeoning lifestyle movement that endorsed limited showering. We could not have known at the time that it would have the iconic impact it did on the face of an era.

The Pacific Northwest was a fitting setting for the rising music subcultural movement; rainy Seattle weather provided an appropriately gloomy backdrop for the angst-ridden alternative lifestyle. Bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, Alice in Chains, and Soundgarden released records with a unique and distinctly resonant sound. The grunge movement was borne of a blended puree of idealism and cynicism, encompassing the themes of Generation X disillusionment with societal norms. The Seattle Music scene provided a showcase for the encapsulation of youth subculture burnout, giving voice to artists outside of the mainstream.

Like all pure, genuine social movements, it wasn't long before The Man found a cunning way to capitalize on the rise of Grunge culture. It's the ultimate irony of alternative youth culture: it rises through sincere and meaningful expression, only to be diluted into a marketable, packageable blurb for distribution. Grunge was a lucrative business; much to the chagrin of Grunge scene musicians, their music skyrocketed to popularity in conventional circles. While these artists rose to fame for their elucidation of their innermost alienation and disillusionment, suddenly their music was playing on a top 40 station and their faces were adorning concert t-shirts.

Since I am by no means a music expert and was a mere nine years old at the height of the grunge scene's popularity, I won't pretend to have a comprehensive knowledge of the nuances and subtleties of Seattle Sound. I'm far more qualified to outline the Grunge fashion that filtered down into mainstream society. We may not have been great thinkers and expressionists, but we could rock a mean flannel. Inasmuch, retailers could charge a hefty price in their principle-free exploitation of interest in Grunge culture with their shameless marketing of items like these:

Plaid Flannel

Possibly one of the most recognizable and iconic of grunge influences, plaid flannel became a staple in both male and female early 90s' wardrobes. Optional but suggested: flannel worn open over grungy tee shirt. I would also accept "worn around the waist."

Thermal Tops

Seattle weather can get pretty chilly, so for practicality's sake a thermal shirt provided Grungy youth with some much needed warmth. This was far less practical in cities like LA and Miami, of course, where the wearer usually sacrificed a great deal of literal sweat in the name of alternative fashion.

Combat Boots

It's hard to clomp around angstily without the proper footwear. Clunky, heavy boots fit the bill, hindering the element of surprise in any attempt to sneak up on people.


For warm days when clunking around just wouldn't do, there were Birkenstocks. After all, who espouses free expression and independent thought better than the Germans? No one, that's who.

Wool Caps

Hot or cold, wool caps were more of a statement piece than a practicality. Even respected designers began sending their models down the runway with unkempt hair tucked under ski caps, though their motivation may have been tied to the savings in hairstylist costs.

Torn Jeans
Ripped Jeans Pictures, Images and Photos
How is anyone going to know that you don't care what you're wearing and that you're above superficial wardrobe selection unless you carefully choose a garment to express that sentiment? Torn jeans frequently topped off grungy ensembles, indicating the general apathy associated with the movement. Take that, society! Our jeans are well-ventilated and anti-mainstream culture.

Similarly, non-clothing fashion assimilated accordingly to sufficiently match our dirt-spackled wardrobe. Your grunge look just wouldn't be complete without:

Greasy, stringy hair

No grunge look worth its weight in hair oil would hold its own without an unkempt mass of dirty, stringy hair. Men and women alike hopped on the greasy hair bandwagon, abandoning showering in favor of a more in-your-face, anti-hygiene look. The fad grew out of Grunge musician's genuine angst and apathy, but it gave the rest of us an excuse to be lax in our showering schedules.

Questionable Facial Hair

A scraggly beard could serve as a major credibility booster for your supposed anti-society attitude. It wasn't a necessary element, but the presence of some ratty facial hair could probably help your cause in establishing yourself as legitimately grungy.

Grunge as a youth subculture ran far deeper than the fashion it inspired, but this highly visible representation played a major role in propagating the trends worldwide. For those of us not lucky or adolescent enough to rebel against anything, Grunge style allowed us to express ourselves in an allegedly unconventional way. Everyone else may have been doing it, but magazines and TV were telling us it was the way to be alternative, hip, and anti-mainstream. They would know, right?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Only a few days left! Don't forget to entire the Children of the 90s Ultimate Nostalgia-Fest 2010 Giveaway! It's open until Wednesday, February 17. Click here to see rules and enter for your chance to win some fun Goosebumps, BSC, Magic Eye, Lisa Frank, Pete and Pete, and more!

Even before they were harping about online predators, Dateline NBC had me terrified to leave the comfort of my own home. With their multi-part series on the dangers of 90s raves, I was almost certain that someone was going to randomly usher me into an abandoned warehouse against my will, stick an ecstasy-laced candy pacifier in my mouth, and subject me to endless hours of pulsating techno music and seizure-inducing light shows. You know you're growing up in pretty cushy conditions when your most major fears revolve around involuntary attendance at a wild underground party.

Other generations have all the luck. Their subcultural miscreants were usually tied to some sort of ideological principles. You know, peace, free love, that sort of thing. It's almost as if the preceding counter-cultural movements took all the good visionary underpinnings and we were stuck sorting through the remnants bin. Our take on rebellious youth culture amounted to Seattle Grunge culture and Euro-techno ravers. We may not have been as idealistic as the hippies who came before us, but it could have been worse. After all, we could have been pseudo-intellectual fake glasses-sporting ironic t-shirt clad hipsters.

There were some vague alliances between rave culture and principles, but the connection was fuzzy at best. At its heart, rave culture represented the happy-go-lucky invincibility that characterized the 90s. You know you're getting older when you start drawing broad metaphors between youth culture and the state of the economy, but it's an aging leap I'm willing to make. Raving was youth culture in its purest, least dilute form: wild, irresponsible, and generally under contempt of adults everywhere.

Many of us may have been too young at the time to be a driving force in the rave scene, but that wasn't about to stop us from defiantly sucking our pacifiers in homeroom. Rave trends quickly disseminated from underground phenomenon into mainstream fashion statements. While the raw ingredients undoubtedly varied from rave to rave, here's a rough recipe for a legitimate 90s raver.

Abandoned Warehouse

What's a party without a proper venue? By proper venue, of course, I mean a sketchy abandoned space that may or may not have once been some sort of industrial storage facility. As many of the early raves were a sort of impromptu underground effort, any old enclosed area would have to do. Raves were by no means limited to these settings, but there was a certain charm to illegal party squatting. Or at least that's what I gathered from my avid viewing of numerous multi-part Dateline NBC undercover exposes. They made it seem like every abandoned warehouse in the country was packed fire-code defiantly full of sweaty, effervescent teenagers.

Light Show

If you're going to party straight through to the wee hours of the morning, you've got to have some sort of visual stimulation. Laser light shows were a signature rave feature, with brightly colored strobe-like flashing creating a uniquely headache-inducing effect. I had to settle for my cheaply imitative Nickelodeon brand laser light how generator. I had the power to turn my basement into a wild party light-flashing party scene, but unfortunately I was only 10 at the time. The closest I was coming to raving was chugging a bottle of Surge and nursing a ring pop.


This was one of those inexplicable trends that caught on in a big way despite a total lack of purpose and functionality. Our parents spent months coaxing us off these damned things only to have us pick up the habit again 15 years down the road. I'm still not completely clear on if the pacifier had any sort of representational meaning or if someone just thought it might be fun to start selling them as necklaces to teenagers. Either way, these things were everywhere.

Candy Rings/Necklaces

The more I look at it, the more it seems like ravers all had some sort of serious oral fixation. The ecstasy could only make everything all the more delicious, so it was probably a good idea to keep some highly portable snacks on your person at all times.


They're sort of like your own personal laser light show. If you get bored with whatever lights the party coordinators are flashing, you can always wave your glowstick super quickly in front of your face. I'm going to go out on a limb and say the drugs probably enhanced this experience somewhat as well.

Ecstasy and/or Cocaine

Speaking of mood-altering substances, 90s partiers weren't really the depressant type. Leave the mellowed-out drugs to the peace and free love hippies. Ravers needed uppers to maintain a decent level of prolonged hyperactivity. If you've got to flail wildly in a warehouse with only the aid of glowsticks and laser light shows to keep you awake, you probably needed a little something to keep the edge on.

UV Facepaint

Again with the glowing. It's a pretty safe bet to say if it glowed, ravers wanted to slather their bodies in it. I suppose it's a bit hard to see in a darkened warehouse, so any light source is much appreciated.

It's odd to think of raves as retro, but countercultural phenomenons tend to age quickly. While in the 90s raving seemed edgy and dangerous and unspeakably modern, in retrospect it loses a bit of its luster. Not literally, of course. I imagine that UV facepaint bonds to pores for life.It was a pretty wild ride while it lasted, but for now we'll just have to relive the experience (or vicarious experience) through the magic of memory. So grab your glowsticks, pop in a pacifier, and beware the judgmental Dateline undercover reporters; it's rave reminiscing time.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Yak Bak and Talkboy

It's amazing to think we could have once derived hours of entertainment from a simple recording device. Nowadays I'm lucky if the television and computer can briefly captivate me with their collective charms. One means of technology is no longer enough. We've become so accustomed to complete technological inundation that it's tough to recall a time when we could still get worked up about a basic electronic function. Back in our as-of-yet-un-embittered days of innocent youth, though, a tape recorder was more than enough to pique our collective interest.

I'm equally amazed that the toy marketplace made room for not one but two major brands of basic tape portable kid's tape recorders. We were apparently once so desperate to record and play back soundbites from our everyday lives that we required an array of different features and options. Their functions remained pretty simple, though, particularly in contrast to today's crazily complex contraptions for kids. We didn't know about iPhones. We just wanted our Yak Baks.

The two toys served generally similar functions, but they did each have their unique appeal. Let's delve into the exciting world of 1990s voice recorder technology, shall we?

The Talkboy

The Talkboy actually originated as a fictional toy, costarring with Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. As the film title implies, Kevin is indeed lost in New York. He uses his then-prop Talkboy toy to record his voice and slow its speed to a crawl to change the pitch. Apparently it makes him sound adult enough to check into a hotel or something.

Either way, fans went nuts for the Talkboy. The fact that it didn't exist wasn't enough of a deterrent to curb the incessant demand for Talkboy ownership. Fans wrote letters begging for a full-scale release of the toy. Tiger Electronics was up for the challenge and churned out a real working handheld version of the once-fake toy.

Demand for these was massive. Stores couldn't keep them stocked. The film tie-in must have accounted for most of the hype, considering the Talkboy's functions were pretty limited. It was a standard handheld tape recording device with a little moveable microphone. Like the Home Alone version, it featured a speed change scale, allowing one to either sound like Alvin, Simon, or Theodore or what I imagine to be the voice of a dying robot. Behold, the glorious and much overplayed TV ad:

Oh, how I yearned for one of these bad boys. The sheer potential for mischief was a major selling point. The second that kid in that commercial changed his voice to a slow low-pitch and played his "Hi kids, we're home early!" recording, I was sold. I mean, how hilarious is that? His sister was going to make out with that guy, and then Talkboy intervenes and messes up her otherwise well-orchestrated date night. What a toy.

The Talkboy went through a series of incarnations, including a pastel-hued Talkgirl model and the Talkboy FX Plus. The FX Plus upped the havoc-wreaking quotient by several degrees of adult-irritating potential. It housed our illicit recording device in an unassuming writing utensil, allowing us to engage in all sorts of practical jokery in the classroom. As you can imagine, our teachers were absolutely thrilled.

The Yak Bak

The Yak Bak was generally cheaper than the Talkboy, giving it parental appeal but earning it some playground trash talking. The original couldn't quite live up to the big screen fame of its direct rival, the Talkboy, but it was not without its voice recording charms. The Yak Bak 1.0 was more compact than a Talkboy, but lacked some of the important mischief-inducing speed change technology. It had only two buttons, "say" and "play". Pretty straightforward, really, but entertaining nonetheless.

Check out the Yak Bak ad at 0:30

Later models gave us better and more competitive features. The second version included the speed warp function, putting it in direct competition with the Talkboy. After this major improvement, though, the changes got a little ridiculous. They give you a feeling that the Yak Bak development team was sitting around their work room table, throwing out whatever ideas came to mind, and instantly shoving them into production. We had Yak Bak watches, Yak Bak Yalp (reversal), Yak Bak room intruder alarm, Yak Bak football. You name it, they Yakked it Bak. They even made a recording pen to try to show up the Talkboy version, which was difficult considering they were almost exactly the same toy.

The Yak Bak may not have been quite as iconic as the Talkboy, but it served its purpose. After a few upgrades it could perform mostly functions equally entertaining to that of the Talkboy. Unfortunately for the Yes! Gear toy manufacturers, their product had never starred in a major motion picture and was thus judged inferior. Either way, you held in your hands the portable capability to mock your friends and family through the cunning use of playback.

In an age when we are constantly plugged into the newest and most provocative technology, it can be tough to remember when a simple recording of a friend's voice was enough to have us rolling on the floor with uncontrollable laughter. Don't worry though, you can have more than your memories. You can actually download a Yak Bak-esque app for your iPhone. Finally, your chance to enjoy the one device the Yak Bak people never thought up: a combination Yak Bak and phone.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


There can be a some major issues in creating a fictionalized movie based on a historical event, but none more, well, titanic, than that facing James Cameron's 1997 blockbuster Titanic. No matter what sort of curve-balls and snaking twists he threw into the plot, you knew there was no chance this boat wasn't going under. There's zero likelihood of a surprise ending with this one, particularly if you saw the movie after you listened to the spoken verse in Britney Spears' "Oops I Did It Again."All the character development in the world couldn't quell that sinking (pun intended) sense of dread that our heroes were just hours from facing imminent catastrophe. Considering hordes of young girls a la Twilight saw the movie three or four times in theaters, it clearly had an X factor that transcended predictability.

In the wake of endless Avatar buzz, some of us forget that this isn't Jame's Cameron's first go at billions-earning film endeavors. Incredibly, Avatar and Titanic are currently ranked as the top two highest-grossing films, suggesting that Cameron's Titanic-inspired "I'm the king of the world!" chalks up to far more than presumptuous chutzpah*. This guy has obviously earned his cinematic clout, particularly in piquing the interest of not just critics but the general public. It's one thing to wow critics, but another realm altogether to convince the millions of the huddled masses to drop ten bucks for a screening.

While Titanic garnered innumerable accolades for its visual splendor, it's possibly more impressive that such a major contingency of people were willing to sit through the full 192 minutes. We're talking three point two hours here, especially long for those of us who hate to leave a movie even for a much-needed bathroom break. Consider the following equation: a large movie theater soda plus 192 minutes plus continuous rushing water onscreen. This did not bode well for the weak-bladdered among us.

Titanic even performed best on Valentine's Day of 1998, taking in over $13 million. Kudos to Cameron for convincing us not only to sign on for three plus hours of screen time but that this disastrous tale of a doomed trans-Atlantic voyage was the most romantic date movie choice. Well played, James Cameron. Well played indeed.

To the movie's romantic credit, it has a certain Romeo and Juliet-type appeal. Our romantic leads are not just star-crossed but downright predestined for separation. The subject matter was also arguably compelling enough to warrant such popularity; shipwrecks also have an elusive allure, captivating us with their unforeseen tragedy and trauma. Let me tell you, though, that it lacks that charm when your cruise line chooses to play it on continuous loop on the in-ship movie channel. Your fears of seasickness will pale in comparison.

The movie opens on then-present day excursions of undersea treasure hunters. Bill Paxton and friends set out to find the famed "Heart of Ocean" blue diamond, rumored to have been on board at the time of the ship's sinking. The underwater excavation doesn't yield any jewels, but it does unearth a drawing of a nude woman wearing the much sought-after necklace. Rose Dawson Calvert, a 100-year old survivor of the wreck, comes forward as the subject of the drawing in question and travels to meet with the excavation team. In typical old person fashion, she gets way off track, launching into a 3-hour detailed chronicle of her experiences onboard. They're just after the diamond, lady, really.

Rose reflects on the outset of her voyage, recalling her 17-year old self boarding the ship for its maiden voyage in 1912. Her family brokered her engagement to the son of a wealthy steel capitalist as a last-ditch hope to save their dwindling hold on the upper class. Rose sees no way out of her impending nuptials and heads to the ship's stern, from where she plans on jumping into the ocean. A scraggy but undeniably handsome steerage passenger, Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio), spots Rose just as she is about to jump to her death and interferes. Her fiancee hears Rose's screams and suspects Jack tried to take advantage of her, but Rose stands up for Jack and the two forge a friendship.

Jack takes Rose to the third-class quarters where she partakes in some raucous partying featuring folksy instruments, fur hats, and a fair amount of do-si-do-ing. You can't deny this looks far more enjoyable than the stuffy upper decks' humorless dinners.

Rose's fiancee finds out about her minor act of rebellion and forbids her to see Jack. Rose defies his wishes and continues to spend time with Jack, culminating in his suave artistic maneuvering that results in some good old fashioned nude sketching. Things get completely R-rated here, from Kate Winslet's bare breasts to their steamy tryst in a Renault, but somehow Titanic wrangled a PG-13 rating.

Long, long, long story short(ened), Rose's betrothed Cal is pissed, he frames Jack and has him arrested, rendering Jack handcuffed to some pipes. The ship makes troublesome contact with an iceberg, Rose manages to free Jack, and we begin our long drawn-out saga of limited lifeboats and probable hypothermia. The ship splits in two, our heroes end up chattering away in the chilly ocean, there are some heartfelt teary-eyed promises to "never let go", and Jack freezes to death. Rose is saved, and the movie brings us back to the present day for the close of Rose's story. Rose secretly tosses the Heart of the Ocean into the water and the whole thing ends rather ambiguously but sweetly with our witnessing the reunion of teenaged Jack and Rose.

Oh, and how could I forget that this onscreen saga featured a bestselling soundtrack chock full of instrumental James Horner and this epic ballad by the ever-overblown Celine Dion?You just couldn't escape this song in the late 90s; it was everywhere.

If after all that you still need a Titanic refresher course, the internet is teeming with conveniently condensed versions of our favorite movies. Observe, exhibit A:

Titanic went on to sweep the awards shows. I have a distinct memory of keeping a steadfast tally of its wins on Oscar night (for the record, an impressive 11 wins for 14 nominations). My friends and I rushed out to purchase the two-VHS edition of the film for our own viewing enjoyment, though few of us kept up with our initial mania to the point of sitting through the full thing at home. To be fair, though, many of us had seen it multiple times in theaters and had earned our titles as tween fanatics.

The movie may have been fictionalized, but it did have an uncanny manner of drawing us into an interest in historical events. Any film that has the power to interest angst-ridden teenagers in nautical history is right up there with winning 11 Academy Awards: a feat achievable by few. Whether or not you liked the movie, you've got to admit it takes a special type of movie to impel young people to take an interest in any event featured in their history textbooks. I'll concede that the salacious love story and some light nudity may have helped, though. I doubt a documentary would have piqued our interests so readily.

*There's not really any other kind of chutzpah, but for those of you without a strong background in Yiddish, I thought I'd throw you a bone on that one.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Babysitters' Club

In light of the late-breaking 90s news that the Babysitters Club* is being revamped for a new generation of kids, it seems only appropriate to give the BSC some well-deserved Children of the 90s fanfare. I occasionally pick up some flack for my coverage of girly topics, but this time around you're just going to have to deal with it. Things are going to get downright feminine here, so don't say I didn't warn you. We're going to talk about slumber parties and crushes on boys and young female entrepreneurship and you're going to like it, dammit.

The Babysitters Club was a formidable 90s franchise, spawning a series of books, a TV show, a feature film, and countless items of allowance-worthy tie-in merchandise. The series focuses on a group of business-minded middle-school aged girls who form a well-organized club to process and dispatch sitters for local childcare requests. As a child, I revered their detail-orientation and maturity, but as an adult, I find it harder to believe that people would trust these 12- and 13-year olds with their easily breakable infants. Youth notwithstanding, it's probably more impressive that the girls managed to get the whole neighborhood to cave to their demands for hourly rates. These girls were good.

Author Ann M. Martin pumped these books out at regular intervals from 1986 to 2000, producing 213 books selling over 176 million copies. This woman is a veritable BSC-producing machine. She had a unique sense of appeal to tweenage girls, piquing their interest with wholesome stories of everyday obstacles.

That front cover offer to join the Fan Club? Totally did that

Martin gave us all of our favorite stock characters, forever categorizing each of us as "a Mary Anne" or "a Kristy". I always wanted to be a Claudia or a Stacey because of their keen fashion sense and model beauty, but I had a nagging suspicion growing up that I was more of a Mallory. If you've ever read the series, you know this to be a huge bummer. You'll be glad to know I managed to escape the Mallory route by never growing curly red hair, getting glasses, or being born into a family of 10, but it was a close one there for awhile.

It's possible I'm getting a bit ahead of myself, as I have yet to properly introduce you to our cast of characters:

Kristy Thomas: Our fearless leader and self-proclaimed tomboy. In 90s young adult books you could always tell if a girl wasn't particularly into her looks if she wore her hair in a ponytail, and Kristy was no exception. I call it the curse of the Elizabeth Wakefield; God forbid a girl has a bad hair day, these YA authors will forever relegate her to being the serious one. Everyone knows all the real fun-loving girls of YA lit wear their hair flowing and loose. It's pretty much the only symbol we have for the personality of a middle-school aged girl.

But enough of Kristy's lamentable ponytail. Kristy is bossy, outspoken, and sporty. She's generally a fair and benevolent ruler, though occasionally she lets the glamor of her presidency of a suburban middle-school babysitting club cloud her better judgment.

Mary Anne Spier: The requisite quiet and shy girl, Mary Anne is Kristy's best friend. The two are initially neighbors until Mary Anne's dad marries Dawn's mom. At the beginning of the series, her single father is very protective and strict, but all that fizzles out once they integrate with the hippie Schafers. Mary Anne is the first of the girls to have a boyfriend, and let me just say that based on the actor in my Scholastic Book Order's VHS copy of Mary Anne and the Brunettes, Logan Bruno is definitely a catch.

Stacey McGill: Our fun, stylish, blonde model friend. I dotted my i's with hearts for probably six months after I read that was Stacey's signature style. I was hoping I would morph into a Stacey on the merit of my bubbly handwriting alone, but the undertaking was generally fruitless. I guess I just wasn't permed enough.

Stacey is a the club's resident exotic sophisticate, with her New York City nativity, modeling career, and diabetes. I was actually jealous of Stacey's diabetes as a kid. She's special in every way, plus she gets a lot of bonus outpourings of attentions due to her periodic hospitalizations. That's the way my 7-year old mind interpreted it, at least. Some people have all the luck.

Claudia Kishi: The artist of the group. Claudia is funky, candy-addicted, and terrible at all things academic. She's also Asian, giving the group a much-needed breath of diversity, at least until Jessi comes along. If you've ever seen the movie, you know that her poor grades warrant summer school and a hearty performance of the chant, "The brain, the brain, the center of the chain!" Her family is pretty by-the-books, so they're naturally bothered by her outlandish appearance. Treble clef earrings and fringed vests? For shame.

Dawn Schafer: The hippie do-gooder of the group. Dawn is a blonde vegetarian Californian, descriptors that the books treat as generally interchangeable. She and Mary Anne are step-sisters, which causes some rifts from time to time but is generally pretty cool. She eventually moves to California and gets her own spin-off book series, but not before the TV show's Dawn got to hang out with Zack Braff. No, really. He was there when Dawn saved the trees. I've even got the video evidence to prove it:

Mallory Pike and Jessi Ramsey: Our junior members, meaning they are a grade younger than the other girls and thus vastly inferior according to the club's rigid membership standards. Mallory comes from a huge family of freakish gingers and Jessi is black and a ballerina. I'm sure they have other traits, but these are the main ones the books tend to dwell on.

When the TV show premiered, I was decidedly heartbroken that my house's sub par cable didn't include HBO or the Disney Channel. Luckily, through the aforementioned magic of Scholastic Book Orders, I got the full set on VHS. I'm still bitter at whoever taped Oprah over the second half of Stacey's Big Break. You know who you are. Anyway, whether or not you were a fan of the show, hopefully you knew the incredibly catchy theme song:

I'm not embarrassed to admit this song graced a few of our pre-gaming playlists in college. Okay, it's totally embarrassing, but I sacrifice myself at the altar of your collective bemusement at my expense. You're welcome.

There was also an eponymous full-length film starring Rachael Leigh Cook, Larissa Oleynik, and some less famous people. The movie wasn't exactly a box-office blockbuster, but was generally pretty satisfying to fans. I know I'm still heartbroken that I no longer have any technological apparatus on which to play my VHS copy. I did, however, recover this song from the soundtrack for your listening enjoyment. Again, I take full responsibility for my terrible, terrible taste in music as a child.

These girls may not have been extraordinary in any way, but children in the 90s took to them for that reason: they were decidedly ordinary. I imagine if the revamped books catch on, an entirely new generation of girls will fall in love with them all over again. Only this time around, they'll all have iPods and cell phones instead of Walkmans and their own phone lines. A small price to pay for some good old-fashioned wholesome fun, don't you think?

*And yes, I heard about Diablo Cody's Sweet Valley High movie project, but that will just have to wait its turn. Honest to blog. See, I can say that here, cause it makes sense.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Beanie Babies

If you are ever in doubt of just how pliable and easily manipulated the general public can be, simply consider the unwarranted astronomical rise of the Beanie Baby. Throughout the Beanie-crazed 90s, our frenzied consumerism teetered at the brink of insanity as we abandoned all sense of decency and proportion. We gave up our notion of actual value of goods and commodities in favor of being swept up in the fervor of amassing inordinate quantities of pellet-stuffed plush toys. The highest offenders among us willingly and knowingly shelled out thousands of valuable units of currency to obtain these cuddly little critters all in the name of riding the Beanie Baby bandwagon to brewing bankruptcy. Just to recap our scoreboard here, that's Mob Mentality 1, General Sensibility 0.

It's difficult to ascertain the exact moment that a phenomenon morphs into a craze. There's no real predictive mechanism for explaining why some toys become icons of a generation and others simply fade into obscurity, though smart marketing can certainly play a role. Such was the case of TY Beanie Babies, a well thought-out product launch in which the producing company intentionally created a sense of limited stock and imminent discontinuation of coveted items.

TY, Inc chose not to unleash their bean-filled babies to large retail distributors. Instead, they selected more upscale, lesser known toy stores to carry their allegedly elusive product. This air of exclusivity bred stirrings of increased perceived value and specialness, despite the fact that these babies were available to the general spending population at just $4.99 a pop. Feeling used and abused yet by the field of consumer psychology? If you're not quite there, don't worry, there's still some time to catch up.

In an age where we pretty much did whatever the Word from our Sponsors dictated, it seems like a step backward to implement a word-of-mouth campaign, especially for something with no other real use or value outside of its cuteness. TY strayed away from traditional commercial advertising strategies, hoping to add to its elusive air of mystery and secrecy. In ninety nine cases out of a hundred this plan would almost certainly backfire as none of us would have an inkling the product even existed, let alone the capacity of envy to care that we might be missing out on this alleged collecting opportunity.

From this point on, TY pretty much had us in the bag. It was like a primitive form of viral marketing dependent solely on our lust to like things that others don't know about. I dare any of you to deny that there has been a time in your life where a friend said, "Hey, check out this new band, isn't it awesome?" and you turned your nose up in much-anticipated aloof glee and told them, "Oh, I've known about them for years. I've been listening them since way before they were famous." It's in our basic human nature, and TY caught us in the act. They somehow managed to convince us that owning one of these $5 pellet-stuffed plushies gave us some sort of coolness capital.

In case you were wondering, this entire collection is currently for sale for a mere $200 by an Oklahoma seller. I'd stay strike while the iron is hot on these ones. She claims some are "very valuable". That's why they're only $200 total. What a steal!

Vast segments of society bought into this marketing strategy wholeheartedly. TY threw in some other nice touches to further tug at our ever-gullible heartstrings, including a signature tag on each beanie indicating this particular model's unique name, birthday, and accompanying aww-inducing poem. Despite the fact that our Squealer the Pig was just one among dozens in the beanie bin we plucked him from, TY had us convinced that he was somehow ours in a unique one-of-a-kind way not possible in this age of mass-produced toys. Well played, TY.

To further add fuel to the frenzied fire, TY opted to premiere and retire new favorites at a whim, prompting us all the more quickly to consume these toys on the assumption that their availability was extremely limited. This was mostly untrue, of course, though it certainly eased the transition from poseable prop to coveted collector's item. While the product's major consuming demographic had originated as allowance-toting youngsters, middle-aged hobbyists soon saw some appeal in the collection of these limited-availability stuffed animals. Adults took to the internet in droves, operating frantic chat rooms and forums on the possibility of this or that Beanie Baby facing retirement or possessing some rare attribute. Over a very short period of time, the amassing of Beanie Babies segued from toy ownership to investment opportunity.

Because there was no means of knowing whether a certain Beanie would be retired, reinstated, or available in only limited quantities, collectors quickly began cataloging the trajectories of their favorites and charting out their chances for financial success. I personally made a brief foray into Beanie collectorship upon the realization that I had indeed purchased a limited edition original wingless Quackers the duck on a field trip in fourth grade. Almost immediately after coming to this exciting and undoubtedly profitable conclusion, I dug up my old pal Quackers from a pile of forgotten stuffies only to find the unthinkable: it was leaking beans. Well, leaking plastic pellets, at least. I could have been an elementary school thousandaire, but TY's original shoddy workmanship (or perhaps my inability to play gentle) had thwarted this lucrative opportunity. In case you were wondering, I'm still fairly bitter over the whole incident.

Thanks for nothing, Quackers

While the narrow of window of opportunity was still open on the craze, companies and individuals fought for their own corner of this fad market. McDonald's introduced a "Teenie Beanie" Happy Meal toy tie-in, releasing miniature versions of the popular collectibles. On the far more extreme side, some individuals got involved in black market knockoff Beanie Baby rings, including a couple from my hometown who were fined a whopping $150,000 for their Beanie impropriety and a hefty $11,000+ to each of their victims. Now, of course, I'm just kicking myself for not have seeking out my neighbors as Beanie Baby suppliers. Screw the profits I could have gained from Quackers; that settlement would have been far sweeter.

My own childhood greediness aside, it also seems TY was not above capitalizing on tragedy and circumstance to turn a tidy profit. The company released a limited edition Princess Diana bear almost immediately following her tragic death in 1997, offering an extremely limited quantity to ensure they turned the highest profit from her untimely demise. TY also had a tie-dyed Garcia bear in circulation, undoubtedly styled after the late Grateful Dead guitarist. Garcia's family sued and TY acquiesced, but you've got to admire their gumption. We're talking about the same company that tried to pawn off some allegedly non-Obama daughter related "Sweet Sasha" and "Marvelous Malia" dolls this past year. These stuffed animal people can be ruthless.

Like all good fads, Beanie Babies could only hold our attention so long before a new trend came along and erased all memories of our bepelleted pals. Many of us who had treated the rise of Beanie Baby collectibles as a legitimate investment opportunity were distressed to find that nearly overnight, the astronomically inflated value of our little bears had plummeted. The trend began to fade almost as quickly as it had peaked. Scores of us were left with tens or even hundreds of these value-deficient toys, now likely relegated to basement storage room garbage bags or garage sale dime bins.

We all want to declare ourselves impervious to trends, but sometimes our bandwagon-hopping mentality gets the better of us. For those among us who got out in time and unloaded their Beanies to naive collectors willing to pay top dollar for their collections, congratulations. You've outsmarted the system and most likely, the rest of society. Hopefully we can take it as a learning experience and not be so impulsive the next time. If you'll excuse me now, I need to go check on those limited edition Pokemon cards I've been watching on eBay. I'm pretty sure their ship is on its way in.

Digg This!