Jan 24

Friday Crap Roundup XXXIII: Crap I Like

When I started SB nearly a year ago the intent was to supplement what I wrote at Cracked. Unfortunately, as of today said contributions at Cracked comprise entirely of a single Photoplasty entry. I haven’t even sent them a proposal in months. It’s very much a lack of desire on my part, and also because I think they’ve slipped a bit recently. Don’t get me wrong, they still produce great stuff from time to time. I’m just not “feeling” them as much anymore.

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Too many movie and video game articles I frankly don’t give a rat’s ass about.
Image credit: Valve Corporation

That said, there’s plenty of other good stuff out there. That’s a good thing, given what kind of a slacker I am.

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Aug 22

Cars I Miss

Like many of you I’ve had quite a few cars since I got my driver’s license way back in 1988. Some are remembered more fondly than others. I’d have to say my current ride, a 2004 Ford Focus, is somewhere around the middle of that list. What do I like most about it? It’s paid off.

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And it hasn’t had full coverage since.

However, there are a couple vehicles from my past I’d love to have back.

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Aug 05

Gedde Watanabe Strikes Again

Bloody hell, I have nothing today. Absolutely nothing. Half an hour to midnight, and … nothing.

Yup.

Once again, that’s what I get for staying in bed all day.

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Aug 04

Gaines No Longer

For the better part of my childhood I liberally used Yiddish insults and similar phrases in everyday speech. You know, terms such as “schmuck,” “putz,” “schmendrick” and “chutzpah.”

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To this day I use the initials “FEH” when I log a video game high score.
Image credit: Ian Westcott

I grew up in the 2T and knew a grand total of zero Jews during my childhood. How the the hell did I pick this habit up?

Why, Mad magazine of course.

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Aug 03

Scraping the Bottom of the Archives

It’s been a while since I wrote a post on old media clips from my childhood. I should come back to this well more often.

Painful as it might be.

Ah, the things I subject myself to for my art.

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Jun 26

History Wednesday: Skipping Technlology

When I’m not blogging or herding cats, one of my favored pastimes is borrowing CDs at the library down the street. The scheme is simple. First, I log on to my account, find CDs and put them on hold. When they make their way to my library branch, I check them out. Then I take them home, rip them, and bring them back in short order. Rinse and repeat. It works out well.

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Thus far I haven’t had many problems with scratched CDs.
Image credit: wikiHow

It works until CDs become completely obsolete, anyway. While we wait for that, let’s take a look back at where CDs came from, shall we?

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May 28

Gaming for Luddites

I was born in the United States in 1973. If you were too, you either (1) heard of the Atari 2600 or, (2) grew up under a rock. Note I said “heard of” instead of “owned.”

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While most definitely familiar with the Atari, I owned one of these bad boys.
Image credit: Evan-Amos

I often get nostalgic for the 8-bit halcyon days of the 80s. Be it the romance of the video arcade before it descended into Chuck E. Cheese corporate banality, or the simple Zen of playing BurgerTime on Intellivision, if there’s one thing I miss about childhood, that’s it. The adept video game historians among you know Intellivision was technically superior to the Atari 2600, so you might assume I’ve ridden the crest of technology ever since.

Well, you’d be mistaken.

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May 05

Relics of a Geek

Earlier today I stumbled across a Facebook conversation regarding those wedding dress shopping shows on TLC and what not. Like my friend, I fail to see the allure of something like Say Yes to the Dress. Beachy, however, is steadily moving away from Disney Channel and towards TLC. That show is one of her favorites.

“I’m pretty sure second-graders are in TLC’s target demographic now,” I commented to uproarious approval.

Then the conversation turned to what sort of things we watched or played with at that age. Some like to play “marriage.” Others liked to play “doctor.” I suppose I had more in common with the latter.

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Although I’ve never been terribly fond of roleplaying.
Image source: crackedmoon

They were my sister’s Barbies. Weirdos.

Anyway, Beachy’s sometimes odd behavior has plenty of precedent. In 1981 my class made Easter Bunny figures out of eggshells. Naturally most of my colleagues went with springy, pastel and/or religious themes. Finding that shit boring as hell, I dressed mine as figures from the then-recent assassination attempt on President Reagan.

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“Chasing Jodie Foster’s tail, up and down the bunny trail ….”

Then as now, not all of my interests revolved around the prurient and/or borderline psychotic. Not even close. My most cherished childhood possession? That’s a no-brainer. It’s my copy of the 1976 World Book Encyclopedia, which I still possess. Every time I sit down to write SB they’re on a shelf less than five feet away, acting as something of a talisman of a simpler time. Or one when Jerry Ford was still president, anyway.

Although I don’t refer to them anymore in this era of Wikipedia, they still rest in a place of honor here in the Command Center, all 22 splendorous volumes. I also have the complete 1945 Book of Knowledge, an encyclopedia set originally owned by my grandmother.

So while other kids were reading stuff like Charlotte’s Web and various Judy Blume titles, this was what I was reading. A lot.

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A LOT.

I wasn’t entirely a mutant, though. As a matter of fact, I have an original Optimus Prime from around 1985 in the staff car trunk right now. It’s not in Antiques Roadshow quality to say the least, but I still can’t bear to part with it.

I also can’t figure out where else to put it. It’s been in my trunk for over four years now.

Apr 30

Repulsed by Radio

A couple days ago I regaled you with my thoughts on 1980s TV. I suppose it’s only fitting I make a few comments about 1980s pop music as well.

My fascination with music can be traced directly back to 15 July 1984, my 11th birthday. As a gift I received a small “boom box.” This in turn led me to an obsession with the weekly Top 40 show as hosted by Casey Kasem and later Rick Dees. It aired on at 4 pm on Sundays on the local Top 40 FM station, and I often taped the whole frickin’ thing.

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There’s no cheese like the Dees.
Image credit: lax.hyundai

I freely admit I liked a lot of the stuff they played on Top 40 radio back then. Still do. However, as time wore on I increasingly came across songs I didn’t like. That’s to be expected, of course. Even so, there were some tracks I found so loathsome that just a few notes would compel me to turn the radio OFF until the offending audio went away.

The following are some of the worst offenders.

Anything by Prince

At roughly the same time I embraced the Top 40, a Minneapolis-based singer/songwriter named Prince Rogers Nelson released a film called Purple Rain, along with a soundtrack album of the same name. For approximately the next three years, Western civilization wouldn’t shut up about the guy. At certain times Prince seemed to be more overexposed than the King of 80s Cheese himself, Michael Jackson.

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I’d post a YouTube clip, but he’d probably have it taken down before I hit the “Publish” button.
Image credit: Yves Lorson

Why I hated it then: When I was 11 years old there were two things in this world I absolutely despised: Cabbage Patch Kids and Prince. There was no single reason for my loathing of the diminutive Minnesotan, but it probably had to do with his eyeliner, his ruffled shirts, a bouffant which put Kim Jong-il’s to shame, his repeated dissings of Weird Al Yankovic, and the fact he seemed to be everywhere for a very long time. Whatever it was, I couldn’t stand the guy.

One Christmas during this period there was a present for me under the tree which was clearly in a cassette tape box. For several days I feared some well-meaning but profoundly uninformed grownup bought me Purple Rain. As it turns out, it was The Best of Spike Jones. My sense of relief was enormous.

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Possibly the only time in recorded history anyone was so relieved to receive a Spike Jones album.

What I think of it now: My view of Prince has moderated considerably over the years. He’s an undisputed musical genius, and I have to to admit even today “When Doves Cry” is a hell of a dance track. Nevertheless, I still haven’t seen Purple Rain (or any of his other movies, for that matter).

“Always” by Atlantic Starr

If there ever was a song written specifically to be played at wedding receptions, this 1987 track is it. Apologies in advance if this is “your” song.

Perhaps the best-known single by this upstate New York R&B group, “Always” is four solid minutes of the most concentrated shlocky sweet cheese produced to date. Repeated exposure to this track is bound to cause hyperglycemia in just about anyone. Consider yourselves warned.

Atlantic Starr was responsible for many, many awkward high school slow dances.

Why I hated it then: This sort of thing is exactly what a sexually confused 13-year-old boy DOESN’T want to hear, especially in heavy rotation. Sweet YHWH this was a painful experience.

What I think of it now: OK, OK, they were a talented group and it’s crystal clear why newlyweds gravitated to them. Still, if I ever get married again I’d much rather hear Public Enemy’s “Bring the Noise” at my reception.

“Kyrie” by Mr. Mister

In 1986, someone at the Top 40 station in the 2T must have really, REALLY liked Mr. Mister, as they tortured the whole of south-central Idaho for months with these guys. Overplayed doesn’t begin to cover it.

Remember styling mousse? They do.

Why I hated it then: If it weren’t for the excessive overplay, Mr. Mister would have likely merited little more than a footnote in my memory. But once the damage was done, there was no holding my rage back.

What I think of it now: I still don’t miss it.

“Hippychick” by Soho

If you’ve never heard of this one-hit wonder or their reputed “hit,” you’re forgiven. “Hippychick” was released in 1990, did its requisite tour of the Top 40, and then was quickly forgotten. Or at least I wish it was.

In 1996, some years after I swore off the Top 40 (more on that in a moment), I was a regular listener of an “alternative” radio station out of the Sun Valley area called KSKI. At the time KSKI was an independent, free-wheeling station which wasn’t afraid to play good music, even after an infamous incident involving “special brownies” among the morning drive crew.

Good music, with the glaring exception of “Hippychick.”

Gah!

Why I hated it then: This song is essentially a clumsy sample of Johnny Marr’s iconic guitar riff from “How Soon is Now?” followed by a crappy dance tune. That alone is bad enough. What really set me off is that it was broadcast on KSKI, a station one could reasonably expect to actually play The Smiths. But instead of Morrissey’s plaintive wailing, you were presented with this. Gotcha! I wouldn’t be surprised if this turned out to be KSKI’s idea of a practical joke. If so, I sure as hell didn’t find it funny.

What I think of it now: No wonder why Queen fans hate Vanilla Ice.

“Do the Bartman” by The Simpsons

When The Simpsons premiered in December 1989 it was a big deal. I liked it. Possibly you liked it. In any event, it’s a TV show that’s still in first-run prime time nearly a quarter century later. It’s clearly a groundbreaking series.

Which is why we can almost forgive them for dropping the festering turd known as The Simpsons Sing the Blues on us a year later. “Do the Bartman” was the lead single.

I don’t care if he’s dead. I still want to bitchslap Michael Jackson for writing this.

Why I hated it then: Although by the time “Do the Bartman” came out I had given up on pop music (again, more on that in a moment), my hatred for it was nearly automatic. Unlike Mr. Mister, it didn’t need to be overplayed. Being the most ham-handed attempt to cash in on a fad since the advent of The Archies a generation earlier, there were plenty of other good reasons to despise it.

What I think of it now: Yeah, it still makes me want to go out and break stuff.

“Just a Friend” by Biz Markie

Oh my, this is the granddaddy of them all. Not only did this track elicit an immediate, visceral response, it also triggered a significant watershed moment in my life. For a variety of reasons, including some of the aforementioned songs, by the time the Biz hit the radio in late 1989 I was already quite disgruntled with the whole pop music thing. Then one fine day I was presented with this:

Absolutely stupefying.

Why I hated it then: As I recall my initial reaction was something to the effect of, “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME!?!?!?” Don’t get me wrong, I like old-school rap. At this point I was the proud owner of Run-DMC and Public Enemy albums. But this … this made Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” sound like Sgt. Pepper.

It was at that moment I shut off the radio and resolved never to willingly listen to a Top 40 station ever again. Over 20 years later I continue to make good on that promise. Not long after I started discovering the good stuff, including Living Colour, R.E.M., The Police, Jane’s Addiction, The Dead Milkmen, Erasure, the Pixies and – of course – Rush.

What I think of it now: In all seriousness, I think today is the very first time I managed to listen to “Just a Friend” the whole way through. In an odd way, I’m almost thankful to Biz Markie for delivering the coup de grâce to my Top 40 habit.

Damn, I feel dirty now. I think I need to take a shower and listen to Permanent Waves for awhile.

Apr 28

A Vast Wasteland

I find few things more irritating than the arguments of traditionalist scolds, especially the tired old tropes of “what about the children?” and “the good old days.” Generally speaking, with a bit of guidance children are quite capable of making their own decisions. Also, “the good old days” is often code for “nostalgia for an imagined past.”

I’ve been told Beachy sometimes watches television too mature for her. While I agree at her age she certainly shouldn’t be exposed to such things as graphic sex and violence, I assure you what she watches is much, much better than what I grew up with.

Seriously, would any children’s channel today air programming depicting this? (Click the image caps for video)

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This isn’t Porky Pig! Shocking!

Or this?

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No Curly? Outrageous!

Or this?

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No Sgt. Slaughter? Disgu … nah, this is still pretty hot.

Guess what? I watched all of the above and more during my formative years. Repeatedly. I didn’t even have to sneak in any Cinemax to do it.

Growing up in the 2T in the early 80s, where locally-produced kids’ programming was little more than a foreign legend, on a typical weekday morning you essentially had two options: soap operas or game shows. Guess which one I took? Yeah, there’s nothing like beginning an unexpected day off than with an hour with Bob Barker.

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“Cutting school again, eh Lane? Well, don’t forget to have your pets spayed or neutered.”

And that’s the high water mark. I was born in 1973, so for the sake of argument let’s say my prime years for children’s programming were between 1980 and 1985. Fine. Here’s what the world was like back then:

Children’s programming was limited to certain hours (usually school hours) on weekdays. You had Saturday morning cartoons which ended by 1 pm, and on Sunday you were flat out SOL. The golden age of animation was dead and buried by the mid-70s. There was no Cartoon Network or DreamWorks Studios. In short, no one was catering to kids very well. Even the pre-Pixar Disney spent about a decade dropping turds on theaters every couple years before they finally realized they should stick with fairy tales.

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And Martha Raye’s Polident ads were more entertaining than the early Disney Channel.

With few exceptions, children’s programming of the day fell into one of three categories:

-Prime time reruns and old short films not necessarily intended for children in the first place, including I Love Lucy, The Addams Family, The Munsters, The Flintstones, The Little Rascals (or Our Gang, whatever), The Three Stooges and Looney Tunes. Throw in Leave it to Beaver and The Beverly Hillbillies too. What the hell.

-Reboots of old cartoons and TV shows, including The All-New Popeye Hour, The Flintstone Comedy Show, The Tom and Jerry Comedy Show, Laverne & Shirley in the Army, The Real Ghostbusters, the (apparently fake) Ghostbusters and various incarnations of the Scooby-Doo franchise.

-Shows which amounted to little more than hard-sell commercials, including G.I. Joe, The Smurfs, Saturday Supercade, M.A.S.K., Challenge of the GoBots, and anything involving Care Bears, Shirt Tales, Teddy Ruxpin, Cabbage Patch Kids, Popples, He-Man, She-Ra, the ThunderCats or Lazer Tag. It’s a wonder some nitwit TV executive didn’t greenlight a show about a fad puzzle game.

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Oh wait, they totally did.

So in addition to the torture, alcohol abuse and risque content noted above, what else did these shows depict to kids of the day? How about misogyny, gender and racial stereotypes, juvenile delinquency, frequent armed conflict, gratuitous violence, dangerous stunts, glorification of war, animal cruelty, terrorism, elder abuse, unrealistic life expectations, attempted genocide, reward for misbehavior and/or incompetence, borderline plagiarism, and commercialism so crass and over the top it would make even Vince Offer wince?

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Yeah, plagiarism. The Flintstones blatantly ripped off The Honeymooners.

I and millions of others suffered through long years of this drivel. Watching this stuff again just makes it worse, as one notices the shoddy production values one disregarded as a kid. Bright spots were few and far between. Off the top of my head I can only think of one animated series from the era that was contemporary, genuinely funny and not a 30-minute commercial for a piece of plastic.

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Even if he did drive on the wrong side of the road.

So there you have it. Programming on today’s children’s cable networks isn’t anywhere near as bad as it was 30 years ago. What’s more, I turned out just fine, and today’s world isn’t an amoral, dystopian void after all.

Indeed, I’m glad I wasn’t sheltered and allowed to watch only “wholesome” crap like Superbook and The Flying House. I probably would have shot up a Taco Bell by now.

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“More like, ‘Live No Más’ bitches! HA HA HA!”
Image credit: Coolcaesar