Candee Avenue Goes to War

Entertech water hawk

The Entertech water hawk, which is the pistol that my friends and I called “The Scorpion UZI.” Whether or not that was an accurate description is debatable. Photo by Marquis de Zod. Used under cc license.

It’s the summer of 1987.  Times are hard.  In the hot weather, the kids of Suburbia are desperate for cold snacks and air conditioning, both of which are kept in short supply by parents who are insistent that they go outside.  But outside has become a land of boredom–there are only so many places to ride, the playground is overrun by little kids, and the huge tree in the backyard at the latest wiffle ball.  The situation seems desperate and there is nothing left to do but fight.

All right, so the summer boredom sometimes suffered by suburban children is not a good premise for a 1980s action movie, but there was a time about 30 years ago where my friends and I took our interest in GI Joe and extended it to our yards and the streets surrounding them.  Granted, we had been playing pretend for years, reenacting superheroes, Voltron, and Star Wars on playgrounds, but that was fantasy, before we had seen Red Dawn and realized that we had to be ready to fight real-life villains like Mummar Gaddafi.  And so, for our birthdays, we got Entertech water guns.

Now, we’d had water pistols before, usually the plastic-colored kind that came in multi-packs or that you fished out of a bin at Ben Franklin for $1.00.  But Entertech was a whole new dimension of water warfare.  These were battery-operated automatic guns which meant that all you had to do was fill the clip with water, slap it into the gun, and press the trigger.  Once you did, you heard the noise of a small motor and saw the water come out in steady bursts until you ran out and either threw in another clip (you could buy extra clips) or went and got a refill.  It was leaps and bounds beyond anything else we had seen until then and more importantly, they looked cooler than anything else we had seen.

Entertech guns looked like real guns.  LJN, who manufactured the guns, from 1985 until 1990, gave them fully automatic rounds of 60 RPMs and a range of 30 feet and “realistic” looks.  To an extent, anyway.  I mean, nobody was going to mistake a kid with an Entertech RPG for a terrorist.  But the realistic look and the fact that we were seeing moveist hat had guns just like it, such as Rambo (which Entertech would license at one point), made them incredibly appealing.  My friends and I had the Water Hawk, which I believe was a reproduction of a TEC-22 semiautomatic Intratec or “Scorpion,” which is why my friends and I referred to them as “Scorpion UZIs.”  And the advertising wasn’t false–they shot far and fired fast.

Unfortunately, without carrying around several clips of water, playing with all the functionality of the gun proved tedious, so what we often did was kept firing and pretending we were shooting bad guys or one another.  The motor still worked as long as the batteries weren’t dead, so we could get sound effects going.  And long after the batteries had died, rusted, and corroded because I’d stored the gun in the garage, it was still a prop for whatever adventures we devised.

My friend Tom’s backyard, which was huge, was usually the setting for those adventures.  We would put on the military camo pants that we’d gotten from Thunder Ride–our local army surplus store–and would run around dodging enemy fire, or army crawling through the grass to find and ambush someone, or climb into the huge tree in his backyard to get into sniper positions or to jump out of the tree like we were Rangers, the best of the best.  When we weren’t playing, we were at the local library looking up the various ranks and insignia in the World Book Encyclopedia or were photocopying pages out of books like Weapons of World War II by C.B. Colby.  Like I said, we weren’t just pretending; we were training.

Unfortunately, this commitment to realism resulted in its fair share of controversy in 1987 and 1988.  There is a line in Die Hard where Reginald Vel Johnson’s character talks a bout how he’s riding a desk because he shot a kid who was carrying a toy pistol.  While this served to give some background to his character, it was also a rather timely reference.  While this didn’t become a widespread phenomenon in the mid-1980s, toy guns being the cause of shootings or being used in crimes came to national attention.

In 1987, it literally spilled onto the airwaves when Gary Stollman managed to make his way into the studio of KNBC in Los Angeles and put a toy gun to the back of consumer reporter David Horowitz while forcing him to read what the Los Angeles Times called ” a rambling statement on the air about the CIA and space aliens.”  Stollman was the son of a former KNBC pharmaceutical reporter and had managed to find a legitimate way into the building–according to 4:00 p.m. newscast co-anchor Kristie Wilde, he had obtained a security badge and had made himself inconspicuous on the set prior to walking up to Horowitz.  The news director, Tom Capra, cut the feed, but not before viewers saw Stollman, Horowitz, and the gun:

The incident, which you can read about in the archives of the Los Angeles Times (“Intruder With Toy Gun Puts KNBC Off Air” and “Risk at NBC: Integrity of Newscast vs. a Man’s Life”), was probably the most high-profile incident and by 1988, legislation was being introduced in various states as well as at the federal level to better regulate the manufacture and sale of toy guns.  According to a June 16, 1988 article in the New York Times (“After 3 Deaths, Realistic Toy Guns are Under Fire”), after a few deaths and crimes, several major cities–San Francisco, Memphis, Chicago, and Detroit–as well as states such as Connecticut, Michigan, California, Florida, and Massachusetts had begun banning the sale and manufacture of realistic toy guns (they also point out that black, blue, and silver guns had been banned in New York City since 1955).  At the time the article was published, the Senate had passed a bill that was sponsored by Bob Dole that required toy guns to have bright orange markings and barrel plugs.

While the article quotes Gerald Upholt, who was the director of Gun Owners of California, as saying,  ”Anti-gun types are trying to play on the emotional appeal of a few incidents. The real problem is that police officers may need a little more training,” the incidents and legislation were enough to spell the end of realistic toy guns on the shelves. Toys R Us said they wouldn’t be selling the guns and companies, including Entertech, changed their designs to be more colorful and fake-looking.

So the Entertech era didn’t last very long, and in the 1990s, Acclaim bought LJN and discontinued all of its toys, choosing to focus on the video game side of the company (probably because Nintendo would only license so many games per company per year and having two separate companies under one umbrella meant more games/more revenue).  Autofire guns weren’t as in vogue by that time anyway because in 1990, Larami released a game-changing water gun, the Super Soaker (which is now manufactured by Nerf), a gun that had a huge water tank and used pressure to shoot incredibly far and with a more powerful stream than other water pistols.

My friends and I had stopped fighting the war by then, anyway.  Our interest in G.I. Joe had faded, and while we were still watching our fair share of action movies, we were more in tune to what was happening in the world of the WWF.  Today, kids still can buy Super Soakers but can also arm themselves to the teeth with Nerf darts, which are really good for shooting cups off of a picnic table but maybe not so much for a real-life Red Dawn.

 

My “Hot!” Music Video Origin Story

Hot LogoA pop star in a red jacket slowly morphs into a werewolf.  A young woman writhes on the floor against an all-white background.  A striking-looking woman with orange hair sings about how “Sweet dreams are made of these.”  Or was it “this”?  These are indelible images from the 1980s that I am sure most people can identify for me, they comprise my music video origin story.

My history with cable television is spotty (and my relationship with Comcast’s customer service is contentious), and I’ve beaten the “I didn’t have cable as a kid” horse enough but here it actually applies because during the late 1980s and early to mid 1990s, I didn’t have cable.  So when my friends were getting their musical education through 120 Minutes and Headbangers Ball, I was finding other sources, mostly radio stations, which explains my musical tastes were way more mainstream than a number of my friends and tended to skew towards older music at times (I mean, was anyone else listening to The Stranger and Born to Run as much as I was in 1994?).  But that is not to say that I was completely in the dark and didn’t  see a music video until 1996 when my parents finally got cable.  I had friends, they had cable, and when we had nothing better to do, we would watch MTV for hours.  But prior to even that, I saw some of the vanguard of early 1980s videos because of syndication.

Hot Madonna

Madonna was one of the few artists I remember from the time I watched Hot!.  “Lucky Star” was played quite a bit (even though I don’t think this still is from that video).

MTV launched on August 1, 1981 but was not available nationwide; in fact, it was not carried in New York City where segments were taped, so the veejays had to watch their debut in a bar in New Jersey that had the channel.  And up until about 1983-1984, the channel would remain relatively obscure, slowly building an audience before rocketing to the forefront of popular culture because of the stars it was making (or that made it) and its famous “I want my MTV!” marketing blitz.  By the time my friend Tom got cable in 1986-1987, MTV was pretty much the only source for videos (with VH-1 running adult contemporary videos right next to it) at any time of the day.

But in 1984, when the New York Times published the article “Music Video is Here With a Vengeance,” that wasn’t the case.  MTV wasn’t as ubiquitous but some TV stations were picking up on the fact that the music video was becoming important for teenaged consumers of pop music.  The article is clearly written for an older audience but makes an apt comparison to The Ed Sullivan Show, saying that this is this generation’s version of that.  It mentions MTV but also mentions a slew of locally syndicated or network-produced video shows:  Hot! on WNEW 5 at 4:30 p.m.; Great Record Album Collections on WOR 9 at 5:30 p.m.; Solid Gold Hits on WPIX at 6:00 p.m.; Friday Night Videos on NBC; and ABC Rocks, which also aired on Friday night.

Friday Night Videos is probably the most famous of these and wast he longest lasting, as it technically ran until 2002, even though its format had completely changed by the mid 1990s to a more traditional variety show.  I never actually watched it because it was on way past my bedtime–although I know people who were either allowed to watch it or had older siblings who did (and in hindsight, I probably could have taped the show).  In the very early 1990s, NBC would air a spinoff show called Saturday Morning Videos that was on right after Saved By the Bell and lasted until 1992 when the network decided to focus on mining the teen audience and began airing shows like California Dreams, which had its own “music videos” within the shwo.  I did watch this when I got the chance and specifically remember it’s where I first saw the video to George Michael’s “Freedom ’90,” which remains one of my all-time favorites to this day.

But in 1984, I was seven years old and would rush home to watch He-Man and the Masters of the Universe on WNEW Channel 5 (which would later become WNYW Fox 5) and at some point, the video show Hot! began airing at 4:30 and for whatever reason, I didn’t change the channel. Hot! (which sounds like a title thought up by someone who was marketing neon-colored trinkets to teenage girls) was a bare bones production counting down the … well, the hottest videos of the week.

While this clip only shows bits and pieces of videos, there is enough from the introductions from Claude Mann to let you know what the show was like.  And he was enough of a “generic 1980s white guy” to be the type of host of this show–all he had to do was give a little bit of information and then play the videos because that’s what the kids watching after school were there to see.  There were a few segments with interviews from artists, such as the one with Ray Parker Jr. about the “Ghostbusters” video (a song that even I was hip to in 1984) in this clip:

One other aspect of the show was its viewer contributions.  People could write in with their favorite videos and send a picture of themselves and the producers might put that picture on the air–I can imagine that seeing your picture and name was kind of like waiting around for the end of Romper Room when the host would hold up the magic mirror and you were dying to hear your first name (I rarely did).  That took some effort, too, when you think about it, because people like Scott Womack of Burbank, California, had to take the time to figure out what Van Halen video he thought should be at number one, then write a letter, get his picture taken, take it to Fotomat, wait a few days, get the pictures from Fotomat, put everything in an envelope, take it to the post office, and hope that by the time Hot! got his letter, that Van Halen song was still cool.  Oh, who am I kidding? Scott knew that Van Halen song was still cool.

Hot Scott Womack

If you are attending an ’80s party anytime soon, Scott Womack of Burbank, California, has given you exactly what you need for your costume.

Anyway, MTV would perfect this viewer voting technique in 1986 with Dial MTV, their own daily countdown show, which had viewers call 1-800-DIAL-MTV to vote on their favorite videos.  That number, of course, would be used to much bigger success in the late 1990s when Total Request Live took over the channel, and that particular show had its own huge impact on popular culture, which included the use of online voting in a huge way.

But in 1984, there was Hot! and whatever else kids could get their hands on, and with the exception of the “Thriller” video, which my parents taped off of Showtime before they cut the cord on that, this was the only place I saw music videos, at least for a few months.  Hot! didn’t last very long on WNEW–another cartoon, probably Voltron or She-Ra, replaced the show and Channel 5 would air Diff’rent Strokes and The Facts of Life at 5:00 and 5:30 for most of the rest of the decade.  So while I went back to my cartoons, toys, and other things that dominated the life of a second/third grader, the small amount of time I spent watching Hot! was enough of a glimpse into the culture of older kids, something I clearly wasn’t ready for at seven, but would be sooner than I realized.

 

 

Origin Story Episode 28

Origin Story Episode 28 Website CoverI dip my toes into the independent comics waters with Robotech: The Macross Saga #21. Join me as I spend time with Rick Hunter and Lisa Hayes as they get stuck in the depths of the SDF-1 for a few hours (bottle epsidoe, anyone?). Then, I talk about teaching podcasting and past summer enrichment program experiences.

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Robotech Macross 21

Origin Story Episode 27

Origin Story Episode 27 Website CoverKraven meets his end in the penultimate chapter of Kraven’s Last Hunt as I take a look at “Thunder” from The Amazing Spider-Man #294. Plus, I spend 15 minutes talking about ice cream.

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Amazing_Spider-Man_Vol_1_294

Oh, and as a bonus, here’s the Carvel commercial from the second half of the episode:

Pop Culture Affidavit Episode 76: The Robotech Episode

Episode 76 Website CoverIn the mid-1980s, one of the seminal anime series to ever cross over to American television was watched by children across the country. Combining mecha with a love story and an intergalactic war, Robotech was a sweeping saga that makes it one of the most memorable series of the decade. For this episode, I sit down with Donovan Morgan Grant (The Batman Universe, The Next Dimension, Questions No Answers) to talk about The Macross Saga, and then I come back and take a brief look at the Masters and New Generation sagas.

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Here’s some bonus stuff for you to check out.

First, my 2010 blog post about the Jack McKinney novels, “Mecha, Minmei, and a Decade-Long Fight for the Future.”

The original (1980s) intro to the cartoon, featuring images from all three series:

The Toonami intro (h/t to Donovan for sending me the link):

The current intro to The Macross Saga (as seen on Netflix):

The current intro to the New Generation (as seen on Netflix):

Martha (or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice)

batman_v_superman_posterI was listening to some recent episodes of Trentus Magnus Jabs Reality where he, Jon Wilson, and Rebecca Johnson took an incredibly thorough look at Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.  What is important about this three-part episode (available here, but I will say that it’s a total of six hours, so make sure you have the time) is that all three of the hosts genuinely enjoy this movie and spend their time breaking it down to not only praise it, but also give it the nerdy hyper-analysis that I have come to expect and appreciate from pop culture podcasts.

What’s also important to note is that about an hour into the first episode, I turned it off, went to Target, bought the Ultimate Edition blu-ray (as well as my son’s school supplies), and came back home and watched it.  Furthermore, I watched it and I enjoyed it.

Prior to this, I had only seen BvS once, when it was originally released in the theater in March 2016, and my experience had been less than positive.  I had gone to a matinee showing on a Monday and was only one of a handful of people in the theater.  I walked out feeling very frustrated, a much different feeling than the happy, soaring feeling I had after watching Man of Steel in 2013.  While there were moments int he film I thought were genuinely awesome–every single moment involving Wonder Woman, for instance–something felt wrong.  And that’s because the movie had been ruined for me before I even bought my ticket that day.  I’m not talking about spoilers, mind you–I’m talking about how I had gone into the theater convinced that I was supposed to hate the movie.

When Man of Steel came out in 2013, I loved it but was then dismayed to find out that my opinion was relatively unpopular, especially among critics and a number of hardcore Superman fans.  A couple of months later, at San Diego Comic-Con, the sequel was announced at a DC panel and that sequel was revealed to be a Batman/Superman movie.  This was a full two-and-a-half years before the film would actually be released, and I’m pretty sure that DC, Warner Brothers, and Zack Snyder wanted to build on momentum they had from Man of Steel–and possibly take a shot at Marvel, who seemed to be announcing an entire universe’s worth of pictures every hour on the hour.  What the announcement did, however, was create a wind tunnel of complaining on the Internet.  Every bit of news about the movie–from Ben Affleck’s being cast as Batman to the first look at Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman costume to the reveal of the full title of the movie–was met with ridicule and derision.  Every picture became an obnoxious meme.  Every trailer was picked apart as an opportunity for “everyone” to declare it a terrible movie.  As a result, by the time it came out, a million fanboys had made up their minds and went to the theater just to feel smug that they were right about spending the prior two-and-a-half-years declaring it a failure.

Okay, I’m speculating and generalizing for the sake of making my point, so I may not be 100% accurate here, but what I can say accurately is that I went into the theater with all of that pissing and moaning running through my head.  I was, in a word, prejudiced against the film, so I was never going to actually be able to enjoy it.

Now, that makes me sound easily influenced or perhaps even weak, and I’ll cop to that.  But please also consider how powerful (and powerfully toxic) Internet Groupthink can be.  I should have been pumped to see two of my all-time favorite superheroes on a movie screen for the first time.  I should have been pumped to see the DC Universe, which I had more or less been reading about for 25 years, become more fleshed out than it had been in Man of Steel.  I should have been pumped to see Wonder Woman–a character that was long overdue for a movie–on screen.  And with the exception of that last one (I got very excited when Diana joined the Doomsday fight), I wasn’t.  Instead, I started picking the movie apart from the first frame:  why are the titles simple text instead of logo-tastic?  Why do we have to see the murder of the Waynes again didn’t we already see this in 10 other movies? Why is this movie so dark doesn’t Snyder know where the contrast button is?  Why is Lex Luthor acting like a loon instead of someone a little more collected?  Why is Ben Affleck mumbling every line?

After doing that for two-and-a-half hours and only getting excited for the appearance of Wonder Woman (and to a lesser extent everything that teased the Justice League movie), it’s no wonder I left the theater both frustrated and exhausted.

I had avoided buying the movie since it came out on home video.  It was a combination of factors, really–I had other things to spend my money on, I was buying all of the Marvel movies I still didn’t own, and I only buy movies I liked and I am not supposed to like the movie.  Then, to bring this back around to the beginning, I listened to Magnus and his panel, and in the middle of part one said to myself, “I  really should rewatch this.”  $14.99 at Target wasn’t too bad of a price and I put it in while I hung out on a day off.  Then, I finished listening to Magnus.

Listening to them, even if it was only for an hour before I watched the movie again, was a palate cleanser of sorts.  I was able to put it in and take a moment to consider what I hadn’t seen as well as re-evaluate what I had.  Plus, the Ultimate Edition’s additional 30 minutes flesh out the story in ways that serve the film way more than many “uncut” or “extended” versions of movies that are released on home video.  And while I suppose this comes off as my letting someone’s opinion influence me … again …, I feel like what happened was more like I was finally able to watch the movie on my own terms without 30 months of Internet screaming ringing in my head.

I don’t completely agree with every bit of praise they heap upon the movie and I still think that as a film, it is flawed.  For instance, I don’t see all of the subtlety and nuance that they point out in the episode; I think that Affleck’s “public Bruce Wayne” portrayal could have been a little more O’Bannion; I think that there are times where it’s too slavish to Frank Miller; I still think Snyder could use a lesson in how to use the brightness and contrast tools on his screen; and there were a number of musical cues that were TOO! ON! THE! MONEY! FOR! ME!  But I saw, in clearer view, the themes that Snyder was building both overtly and subtly (despite my previous sentence, there is subtlety in the film).  I thought Lex’s character arc was much better than I remember (even if Eisenberg did still annoy me at times).  I saw how Affleck portrayed Bruce/Batman as someone who was becoming so obsessed with holding onto what control he can that he actually was completely losing it.  I saw how on-the-nose Snyder was in criticizing our culture’s way of building up and tearing down its heroes.  I saw Wonder Woman as still being so freaking awesome.

And much more.  But really, in the very least, I can say that I spent three hours generally enjoying Batman v Superman and am now even more curious and perhaps even a little excited about what’s going to happen in Justice League.

 

Origin Story Episode 26

Origin Story Episode 26 Website CoverKraven’s Last Hunt enters its second half as Spidey crawls out of the grave (quite literally) in Web of Spider-Man #32. Plus, I talk about why G.I. Joe Yearbook #3 is so important to me as a comics reader.

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