Showing posts with label Gimmicks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gimmicks. Show all posts

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Sticker Collections

Note: Sorry for the sporadic posts as of late, I've been in the process of moving and have had limited time for reminiscing. Fresh material is on the way, it might just pop up a little more slowly. Check back often for new posts!

In the 80s and 90s, no single possession could rocket a child to the top of the elementary school social stratosphere quite like a thoughtful, well-balanced sticker collection. Whether kept on their original backings or stuck carefully within the pages of an attractive sticker book, these collections were some of the most coveted items one could own during our grade school years. A new sticker afforded its owner not only the thrill of a new belonging but also recess bragging rights to the latest in sticker trends and technology. An image of two kittens playfully wrapped up in a high top sneaker or a three dimensional googly eyed dinosaur was usually more than enough to earn you a spot at the cool table in the cafeteria.

If ever there was anything to which to trace the overabundance of perfectionism and type A behavior amongst children of the 90s, sticker collections have got to be one of the major culprits. Like other forms of collecting, forming sticker collections required patience, self-restraint, and the ability to enjoy something that both serves no use.

In order to maintain the pristine condition of our most prized stickers, it was critical to not touch or handle your collection too roughly; in short, it was necessary to treat them llike a signed first edition being brought to appraisal on Antiques Roadshow. Doing anything to compromise the alleged inherent value of the following items was the equivalent of social sticker suicide.

Lisa Frank

Lisa Frank were among the most coveted designs in school supplies during the 80s and 90s, so it’s no surprise her stickers were considered fairly high-end in the classroom trading market. The bright colors, whimsical designs, and schmaltzy characters turned Lisa Frank stickers into virtual currency for elementary school girls. Innumerable hours were lost to swooning over the cuteness of a panda wielding a paint-laden brush or unicorn leaping majestically across a rainbow. For the record, the current Lisa Frank designs are generally considered to be subpar and inferior to our colorful cuddly originals.

Scratch n' Sniff

I’ve been told technology yields progress, and I can imagine no greater example than the leap from ordinary, smell-free stickers to the odoriferous sensory explosion of a scented sticker. The patented technology gave us a simple two-step process to nasal bliss, executed as follows:
1. Scratch
2. Sniff
It was that simple. You saw a strawberry, you scratched a strawberry, you smelled a strawberry. Sticker technology at its most useful.


Textured stickers were also a popular addition to any collection, though their fuzziness often made it difficult to keep them in their original condition. Repeated rubbing wore down the fuzz, leaving us with bald puppies and hairless kittens. Tough break.

Puffy/Googly Eyes

Also a major contender in the textured category were the puffy and/or googly eyed stickers, giving us a decidedly creepy three dimensional experience that would not stop staring. I don’t care how functional it may seem to infuse a triceratops image with its very own googling eyeballs--no one wants that much shaky eye contact with a prehistoric sticker.

It’s a scientifically proven fact that children love shiny things and the existence of multiple dimensions, so it’s a no-brainer that we all went crazy over a shimmery combination of the two. These mysteriously three-dimensional holographic stickers sold in science museum stores and other such vaguely educational shops, ensuring that each trip there with our parents would inevitably end with an ear-plugging, breath holding, foot-stomping tantrum over these stickers.

Mrs. Grossman's

Andrea Grossman’s infinite wisdom and business savvy saw fit to sell her rolls of stickers by the yard, hence exponentially expanding their welcome additions to any child’s sticker collection in a single shopping trip. Featuring designs like cleverly posed animals and background scenery elements, Mrs. Grossman’s stickers could be arranged into scenes complete with storylines and characters. Posable stickers made for exciting Storybook Weaver-esque sticker book pages, shaping turtles, picnic baskets, and other assorted items into a coherent scene.


Fuzzy koala bears and sparkly rainbow fish? Where do I sign up? Glitter or texture made Sandylion an attractive addition to any well-rounded collection. With the right combination of shimmery dolphins and fuzzy ghosts, you could easily corner the market of your local underground sticker trade.

Sticker Books/Boxes

Of course, the most important element in any worthwhile sticker collection was a specially created (re: unnecessarily expensive) book or receptacle by which to transport it. After all, what good is a sticker collection if you can’t carry it around and show it off? You could choose to stick yours in a book with special non-stick pages or cut each sticker individually with its backing to ensure easy trading.

That said, actual sticking of the stickers onto surfaces such as notebooks and Trapper Keepers was generally frowned upon. Such behavior was the equivalent of supergluing a dollar bill to the front of your Yikes pencil case. Stickers were veritable elementary school currency, so improper usage was akin to destruction of of US-minted money--it may not have been illegal, but it certainly wasn’t acceptable usage.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Britney Spears

Oh, what a different a decade can make. Reference Britney Spears ten or so years ago, and you conjured up an image of a teen cultural phenomenon, a gorgeous fresh-faced midriff-baring schoolgirl with a cascade of beautiful golden hair. Reference Britney Spears now, and you're taken to a different place entirely. Images come to mind of an out-of-control out-of-shape washed-up train wreck chowing down on Taco Bell barefoot in a gas station in a bathroom somewhere with an unfortunately bald head. Sure, she's managed to turn herself back around and re-reinvent herself thanks to the help of an incredibly adept mangement team and conservatorship, but the original image has been tarnished as we watched our favorite pop princess spiral into the void.

Funnily enough, whenever Britney Spears tickets go on sale nowadays, I hear squealing teenagers everywhere on the radio begging for tickets. It's as if a new generation has rediscovered our old Britney, and that period of lapsed judgment simply never happened. The Britney these kids know, however, is a very different Britney than the ones we knew. Once upon a time, girls everywhere yearned to be Britney. While you'd be hard-pressed to find a teenybopper today willing to trade places with Brit, in our day it was essentially the dream of every mainstream girl who'd ever stood in front of the mirror lip-synching in her tied-up Catholic school uniform.

Hearken back, if you will, to a time when Britney was just a fresh-faced chipper little brunette thing, bouncing around with Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake on The Mickey Mouse Club. It didn't get any squeakier clean than this. The show had been popular in the 50s and 70s, but a revitalized 1990s version brought new life to the concept. Though she auditioned at 8, Britney landed a role on the show at age 12.

Yes, Britney and Justin, the way we'd like to remember them...together.

Of course, I'm getting ahead of myself. For all the anonymous gossip blog hater commenters claiming Britney to be a talentless shill, we've got to remember that though she may have been famous for her dancing she was first noticed for her singing talent on Star Search at the age of 10.

The stage seemed set for Britney to take off in a major way. In '97 she briefly joined the dead-end girl group Innosense. Get it? no. sense? These 90s music managers sure were clever. Here's Brit and the girls from Innosense, in case you can't remember. This probably was after their stint as musical conspirators, but it's still adorably vintage Brit Brit.

Just a few months after joining Innosense, Britney was signed to Jive Records, the company responsible for misguidedly catapulting manufactured and highly managed groups like *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys to atmospheric fame. Britney was cute, innocent (after all, this was pre "not that innocent" era), and had that all-American personality that endeared people everywhere to her sparkly smile and Southern accent. She was more than poised for fame, though no one could have anticipated what happened next. I do imagine her managers were pretty pleased with it, however.

In 1998, she released "Baby One More Time", becoming the first ever single released by an unknown new artist to hit number one. The video was late-90s pop at its finest, cementing a Britney Spears brand based on tongue-in-cheek naivete and latent sexuality. In it, Brittany donned pigtails, a tied-up oxford shirt, and a borderline indecent plaid schoolgirl skirt, giving dirty-minded old men everywhere a troublesome jailbait Lolita fetish and forcing Catholic schools everywhere to invest in additional security. I'm also not too proud to admit I coveted those feather pigtail ornaments with a near-religious fervor, buying what essentially amounted to a Britney Spears starter kit at Target and dutifully lacing them through my pigtails at all available opportunities. And that scene where she's got the pink sports bra, the white pants, and the half-pigtails? I yearned to replicate this look more than anything, much to the chagrin of my midriff-abhorring parents.

Britney became something of an overnight sensation, with her fluffy bubble-gum pop hits blaring from middle schooler's discmans (discmen?) across the world. Coupled with a racy Rolling Stone cover shoot, Britney Spears had solidified her semi-contradictory role as virginal teen queen and forbiddenly sexual temptress.

This image was further compounded by the fact that Britney jumped aboard the current pop sensation trend train in declaring herself a virgin, a puzzling statement in the wake of her suspiciously physical and potentially cohabitational relationship with childhood pal Justin Timberlake. Now the idea of their public declaration seems utterly laughable, but at the time it probably seemed like a fairly smart publicity move for their ever-more famous starlet. I suppose it is possible they weren't having sex. They did, after all, show up to an event wearing this grotesque denim-on-denim-on-denim set of matching ensembles. I imagine it was some form of fashion-driven sexual behavior deterrent. It's really the only explanation.

In 1999, Brit's follow up single "(You) Drive Me Crazy" was another successful record, though not on the scales of her debut "Baby One More Time." The song was featured on the Melissa Joan Hart/Adrian Grenier teen movie vehicle Drive Me Crazy.

Britney even did a crossover promotional appearance on Hart's sitcom, Sabrina the Teenage Witch. It was, well, magical.

She was nothing short of a rapid-fire hit-making machine, a year later releasing "Oops I Did It Again", a red-jumpsuited, hair-extensioned cheesefest complete with a spoken interlude chock-full of Titanic references. You just can't make this stuff up. No matter the low level of substance, it didn't deter girls everywhere from yearning to learn these dance moves.

Back in the day, Brit wasn't above poking fun at herself. Observe in this 2000 intro to her hosting gig on Saturday Night Live as she makes fun of rumors surrounding speculations over a purported boob job.

Of course, she couldn't keep up her good-girl image forever. Itching to break out of her schoolgirl shell, Britney pushed the limits with a slightly edgier image in her next album. She cemented this move with a sexy MTV Music Video Awards performance featuring dancing nearly-naked with a boa constructor. Nothing says "I'm not a girl, not yet a woman" like dancing with reptilian life.

Itching to get into film, Brit gave us a cameo in Austin Powers in Goldmember:

Followed by a slightly tragic foray into acting with her supposed movie star-making vehicle, Crossroads. Really, I don't care how big a Brit Brit fan you are. It's totally painful.

Holy crap! That is totally Justin Long, about to have sex with Brit's character Lucy n the trailer. I will hold back the mocking, though, I met him once at a craps table in Vegas and he was totally nice even though we were totally drunk. From what I remember, that is. Hence, I'm going to let it go, Justin. Just this once.

Britney stayed famous as ever, but things took a turn as she ached to break the shackles from her tightly managed life. She rebelled, dating and then marrying and then divorcing Kevin Federline, though not before popping out a few wee ones. We all know what happened next, though I'd prefer to gloss over that part. That's neither the Brit I thought I knew nor loved, and I'd prefer to just watch it on E!'s "Britney: Fall From Grace" than recount it myself.

Luckily, she's made a major comeback, though she remains a bit tarnished in reputation from her various past exploits. An MTV documentary can only reinstate you so far. Regardless, her new album is possibly her most successful since her debut, and it's likely she's more famous than ever. Love her or hate her, you've got at least admire her team's well orchestrated comeback:

Is it embarrassing to admit that as I type this, I have that bottle on my desk next to me of that Curious perfume with the atomizer she uses at the beginning of the video? C'mon don't judge. Just think of it as a crossover tie-in promotional item.

Monday, July 27, 2009

90 TV Musical Episodes

Who doesn't love a good ratings ploy from time to time? Perhaps that's just my 90s-style cynicism talking; I'm sure these producers were only out to express themselves creatively through the art of song. Oh, and to totally sweep in the ratings. Mostly the ratings thing.

Daria: Daria!

Any moderately faithful reader of Children of the 90s knows I'm a huge proponent of the 90s animated sarcast-erpiece Daria. In fact, I've spent much of my time as a broken ankled bed-bound invalid watching seasons 1-3 of Daria. Season 3's "Daria!" was admittedly uncharacteristically gimmicky in its musical format. It's tone certainly clashes with Daria's self-described bitter 90s cynicism, but its quirky musical numbers and naturally disastrous hurricane theme manage to tether it down to appropriate Daria sarcasm levels.

The songs are uncannily catchy. The episode particularly reminds me of how much I love Daria's dear old Dad Jake. His performance in "God God Dammit" and "Manly" truly captured his good-natured anger and mild insanity. When he sings, "I'm proud to be the home/of a Y chromosome", he does so with such fervor and intent that I'm nearly spurned to jealousy at my unfortunate double-X situation. "Obsessed", the duet between sister Quinn and mother Helen illuminates the perfectionistic similarities of their personalities that were obviously too nuanced for those of us assuming both were merely well-intentioned but grating.

Of course, I'm somewhat partial to "They Must be Worried", mainly because I love Brittany's squeak. It's just so eardrum-shatteringly endearing. Help yourself to the full episode below:

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: "Once More with Feeling"

Okay, so technically this episode wasn't broadcast until 2001, but the producers had been tossing around the idea for years. Unluckily for them, the timing of the Xena: Warrior Princess musical (see below) put a halt to their plans. After all, they didn't want to appear to be piggybacking on the success of their fellow hit fantasy program.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a show with a serious cult following, so the show's producers had a good deal of leeway from their trusting fans. Not every live action show can swing a musical, but Buffy viewers had some pretty serious faith in the object of their television affection. Of course, musicals work better in fantasy shows as there can be some sort of vague and mysterious supernatural force that brings about this wave of singing and dancing. Such was the case in "Once More with Feeling", where everyone has suddenly been compelled to air their innermost feelings via song-and-dance. Unluckily for some, this could backfire and short-circuit, causing spontaneous combustion.

The songs are well-arranged and the cast is surprisingly musically inclined. All of the cast members sing their own parts, though some of the less musically robust stars have fewer singing parts than others. The episode was extremely well-received by Buffy's loyal fan base and critics alike, with TV Guide ranking the episode at a noteworthy 14th place on its countdown of TV's 100 best episodes.

Rocko's Modern Life: Zanzibar

You know a musical episode has some powerfully catchy songs when you still clearly remember the lyrics unprovoked 13 years later. This Earth Day themed musical featured the good-hearted earth-minded citizens of O-Town seeking to clean up their town and fight against the tyrannical pollution from supercorporatio Conglom-O (slogan: "We Own You"). Rocko's Modern Life is one of those great cartoons aimed at children that manages to be legitimately funny on a level more mature audiences can enjoy.

"Zanzibar" doesn't disappoint on the well-timed deadpan humor. When everyone spontaneously bursts into song about Spring Cleaning, Rocko looks around bemused and bewildered. "How is it you all know the words? Did you rehearse?" He asks somewhat accusatorily in that adorable Aussie accent of it. "Yeah, every Thursday," his pal Heffer replies without skipping a beat, brandishing a paper filled with rehearsal details. "Didn't you see the flyers?" Thus goes the tongue-in-cheek but admittedly socially-conscious musical episode: it doesn't water down the message, but it certainly entertains between preaching.

Luckily a giant compost heap with some helpful visual aids commands them to "R-E-C-Y-C-L-E recycle! C-O-N-S-E-R-V-E conserve! Don't you P-O-L-L-U-T-E pollute the river sky or sea or else you're gonna geeeeeet...what you deseeeeerve!" Moved by the rotting vegetable heap's words, the crowd takes to city hall in the form of a big unruly mob. Despite some setbacks, Rocko succeeds at fighting City Hall. Ed Bighead gets sentenced to some dirty work cleanup but remains unmoved by the cause.

Luckily, the compost heap returns at the close to offer us these heady words of wisdom, "See kids? If we're not nice to Mother Nature, she'll kick our butts." Wise words indeed, especially as they come from a rotting pile of discarded vegetation.

Rocko's Modern Life - Zanzibar

Xena: The Bitter Suite

The 90s were big on historical fantasy, specifically those types of shows geared toward historical fantasy nerd fetishists. Xena: Warrior Princess featured hulkingly beautiful Amazonian Lucy Lawless as a muscularly endowed ancient Grecian seeking to repent for past sins by helping others. A spinoff of Hercules: The Legendary Journey, the show could be summarized in the following SAT-style analogy: Xena is to Hercules as pseudo-historical porn for female-seeking fantasy nerds is to pseudo-historical porn for male-seeking fantasy nerds.

The show didn't need much of a push to be classified as over-the-top, but its musicals certainly made a valiant effort. The show produced a musical episode entitled "The Bitter Suite", featuring original songs. I was never much of a Xena person, but admittedly the promo below makes it look like a veritable guilty pleasure. The Bitter Suite pitted Xena and her sidekick Gabrielle against one another in the mysterious Land of Illusia after Gabs's semi-demonic daughter kills Xena's son. Scandalous, no? From my limited knowledge of Xena music (based on the non-lyrical Xena episodic soundtrack I used for a synchronized swimming trio routine), I'll put myself out on a limb and vouch that it's pretty badass. In a pseudo-historical fantasy television sort of way, that is.

Garfield and Friends: Picnic Panic

I can't lie to you, readers. I mainly just like this episode because of the singing ants. They're so cute. And I don't even like ants. They move in on the picnic and steal their delicious basketful of food, singing the whole way through in their adorable tinny ant voices.

A close second for Garfield doing an impression of BLT on rye. Really, he's quite convincing.

Though musical episodes are risky, they're also a lot of fun if the show manages to pull them off. I'd venture to say most of these episodes succeeded, as I am still humming, "R-E-C-Y-C-L-E recycle" to myself at inopportune times. If you watched that video, I'm willing to bet that you are, too.

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