Author: Tom Panarese

When Clothes Shopping Became Cool

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The Kids R Us in the Nassau Mall in Levittown, NY.  Image from siteride on Flickr.

Based on the commercials from the decade, I wonder if today’s youth is under the impression that the 1980s were just one protracted neon-lit dance number.  There are several commercials from the era that were obviously a product of an advertising executive’s viewing a six hour block of Staying Alive, Xanadu, and Girls Just Want to Have Fun while hoovering cocaine because it’s the only way that anyone would think that kids singing and dancing their way through thirty seconds of television like they were auditioning for Starlight Express was cool.  And ridiculous as that protracted sentence sounds, so many of us fell for it, even to the point where we would willingly go shopping for clothes.

 

Now, hitting the mall for clothes at some trendy store may have been a rite of passage for teenagers in the 1980s, but when you’re a kid, clothes shopping can be agony.  I am not going to go through all of the details of what I was put through as a child except to say that I still only trust one person enough to accompany me when it comes to buying clothes, and that is my wife.  Otherwise, I go clothes shopping completely by myself or not at all.  But for a brief period in the 1980s, this wasn’t the case and that’s because Kids R Us opened up across from the Toys R Us in Bay Shore.

Existing from 1983 until it eventually went defunct in 2004, Kids R Us was the Toys R Us corporation’s foray into children’s clothing retail.  This, according to a New York Times article I found from 1983, was already a very competitive market and Toys R Us was taking a big risk, especially since they were going up against huge department stores like Macy’s.  From what I could tell, it worked at first because they were able to undercut their competition by offering some popular brand names at lower prices, and they made the stores themselves attractive to kids.  The NYT describes one of the original Kids R Us stores in Paramus, New Jersey, as “a place that seemed to blend the essential elements of an upscale children’s clothing outlet and a suburban theme park.”

And that much was true–the color scheme of the store was bright with kid-friendly “cool” colors, there were at least a couple of distraction stations where you could play games or look in funhouse mirrors so that you forgot for a moment that you were there to try on clothes and had gotten sucked into those awesome dance numbers on the commercials:

When you watch this, you can see that it’s vibrant.  Moreover, if you listen to it, it sounds like so many of the other commercials of the 1980s–in fact, I’m pretty sure that the “Kids R Us” song from this commercial is the same tune as the “Coke Is It!” ads from around the same time.  This one even has a similar start to the one that I looked at a number of years ago in that it begins with set design.  But then … then … THEN … it gets SO FREAKIN’ COOL.

These images are everything that was awesome about the 1980s:  killer sax solos, wearing leotards 24-7 and Sha-Na-Na cosplay.  People, these clothes weren’t your siblings’ or older neighbor’s hand-me-downs.  Oh no.  These were the clothes that you knew were going to make you be seen on the first day of school–that is, until you actually wore them to school and realized that you looked like a total moron.

Popped Collar Kid

Unless, of course, you are this kid.  I mean, he pops his collar and doesn’t even need to ski the K-12.  He just is.  And I really don’t need to say much more than that.  This, guys, is the impossible benchmark of cool that you will never achieve.  Not back in 1985; not in 2018.

Weep for your lack.

Group Shot

Anyway, the commercial goes on to show more kids dancing and showing off the clothes–there’s even a couple of dressed-up nerdy-looking kids in there because there was always one parent who was always on the lookout for a new place to buy slacks–and we get to the big finale.  Said big finale?  A freeze-frame jumping group shot, the type that leads us kids to believe that shopping at Kids R Us will be this fun, this exciting, and that we will want our parents to bring us there right away.  The reality, of course, was that we would walk into the store while catching a glance of Toys R Us and would spend the next hour wondering why we weren’t getting any toys.  It was all a cruel joke perpetrated by the lies of Corporate America and our parents, who for at least a few years found clothes shopping to be a little easier.

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Pop Culture Affidavit Episode 92: VHiStory

Episode 92 Website CoverBlank VHS tapes. So many of us had them. So many of us still have them. But what happens when you unearth a pile of vaguely labeled blank tapes in your parents’ basement and you pop them into your VCR? Well, that’s exactly what I did. In this episode, I talk about my personal history with VCRs and VHS tapes as well as what I found in a pretty large pile of tapes that I grabbed on a trip to Long Island back in April. It’s an hour of me rambling about Seinfeld, Baywatch, holiday cartoon specials, and anything else I taped in the 1980s and 1990s.

You can listen here:

iTunes:  Pop Culture Affidavit

Direct Download 

Pop Culture Affidavit podcast page

After the cut, a few links and extras from this episode …

(more…)

In Country: Marvel Comics’ “The ‘Nam” — Episode 86

IC 86 Website CoverI’m back to the classic format of the show and back to some classic characters as I take a look at issue #76 of The ‘Nam, a story titled “Brothers” that stars Rob Little.  It’s June 1972 and while standing at the grave of his brother Eugene, Rob flashes back to a story from 1967 where he and Ed Marks help a paymaster complete his job of getting back pay to GIs in the field.

Plus, I take a look at the history of the war in June 1972.

You can download the episode via iTunes or listen directly at the Two True Freaks website

In Country iTunes feed

In Country Episode 86 direct link

Some extras:

During this episode, I talk about Nick Ut’s famous photograph of  Phan Thi Kim Phuc running naked down a street burned from a napalm attack.  Here are some resources if you would like to learn more:

“The Long Road to Forgiveness”, which is her contribution to NPR’s long-running “This I Believe” series.

The Kim Foundation, her foundation dedicated to helping children who have been injured as a result of war.

Wikipedia’s page on Phan Thi Kim Phuc, which is extensive and was an excellent resource.

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Pop Culture Affidavit Episode 91: Titans Together?

Episode 91 Website CoverWith the new Titans show availble through DC’s streaming service, it’s time to take a look at some of my all-time favorite issues of The New Teen Titans!  Join me as I cash in on this brand new show and look at issues #28, 29, 30, and 31 of the original Wolfman-Perez series. You’ll hear me talk about my Titans fandom, my opinions on the relationship of Donna Troy and Terry Long, and how this all ties into “The Judas Conntract.”  Plus, I have listener feedback and the most ’80s-tastic soundtrack that anyone could ask for!

You can listen here:

iTunes:  Pop Culture Affidavit

Direct Download 

Pop Culture Affidavit podcast page

And here’s a link to Professor Alan’s Dr. Doom Sketchbook:  Relatively Geeky Network

Pop Culture Affidavit Episode 90: Geekfest! The 2018 Baltimore Comic-Con

Episode 90 Website CoverIt’s that time of year again! I go back to Baltimore for the 2018 Baltimore Comic-Con. And this time, I’m not alone! Join me and Brett as we meet Tom Grummett, Karl Kesel, Mike Zeck, and Terry Moore. Plus, we get to talk with author Andrea Rose Washington, author and artist Javier Cruz Winnik, artist Luke Daab, and spend the day with fellow comics podcasters Gene Hendricks, Stella, and the Irredeemable Shagg! It’s one of the most jam-packed convention episodes yet and it’s here just for you!

You can listen here:

iTunes:  Pop Culture Affidavit

Direct Download 

Pop Culture Affidavit podcast page

Here’s some links for the people I talked to at the show …

eacd16_ef2867debee740e298c7771813b9299dmv2Andrea Rose Washington, sci-fi/fantasy author:

company-logoLuke Daab, artist:

loveandcapes_stripThom Zahler, writer and artist:

7a58278b0805d1e2569c6eed9d89e177_originalJavier Cruz Winnik, writer and artist:

 

Take me to “The Church”

The Church DVDI have little to no experience with Italian horror films.  I mean, if I am being completely honest, I don’t have a ton of horror movie experience overall.  I was easily scared as a kid and kept my distance from horror flicks while at the same time always found myself lingering over the boxes of horror movies at the video store.  I’ve written about this before, but those boxes were almost pornographically alluring–this was the stuff only my dad was allowed to rent, and maybe I would catch a glimpse of it if I walked into the room while he was watching it.

Such was the case with The Church, a late 1980s film produced by Dario Argento and directed by Michele Soavi, which my dad rented at random sometime in 1990 or so and which my friends and I happened to catch the last half of one afternoon when he was home watching it (probably because he’d fallen asleep watching it the night before and needed to return the rental).  Back then, my experience with horror was limited to The Lost Boys, Fright Night, Carrie, and bits and pieces of horror movies that would air on TV, such as Dracula: Prince of Darkness.

I don’t think I understood what was going on when I watched The Church nearly 30 years ago and the movie didn’t scare me, but two images stuck with me:  a woman painted with weird symbols being put on an altar so that she could have ritualistic sex with a demon, and a naked woman making out with a demon who is grabbing her naked behind.  A couple of years later, I saw the latter image–which was Boris Vallejo’s “Vampire’s Kiss”–on some guy’s T-shirt when I was at Mission Beach in San Diego.

But I never saw The Church again, even in my browsing through the more random depths of the video stores of my youth and even when I had gotten over my trepidation about horror and rented some of the classics.  In fact, I had forgotten it had existed until I began compiling my list of topics for this blog and had thrown it into my Netflix queue where it lay buried until it showed up on the mail a few weeks ago.

Which segues into my very brief summary of the movie’s plot:  The Tetonic Knights slaughter a village of Satan worshippers, although one of them (played by a tween-aged Asia Argento) escapes.  They bury the bodies and over the years, a gothic cathedral is built on top of it.  Flash forward to modern day where a small group of main characters both accidentally and deliberately brings about the chain of events that will unleash the evil contained underneath.  All that stands between that evil and our world is Father Gus (Hugh Quarshie–Castigir from Highlander), who seems to be the only person in the entire film not possessed, driven insane, or otherwise affected by the coming evil.

This is not a movie that you watch for its story or for its character beats.  This is a movie you watch because when things get going, a lot of really weird shit happens.  People get possessed and rip out their own organs, they get impaled, they have sex with demons, they use other people’s severed heads to ring church bells–it’s almost like the writers sat around a room and brainstormed the hell out of what you could do to a group of people trapped in a demonically possessed gothic cathedral.

It’s not an all-time great movie, but I did find that The Church still stuck with me all these years later, much like it had in the 30 minutes or so that I saw back in 1990.  As of my writing this post, it’s not available on a streaming service, but a Blu-Ray was released earlier this year that apparently cleaned up some of the picture issues seen on the DVD and may have even remastered the sound (if there’s one thing you have to get used to, it’s the amount of dialogue that was obviously looped in post-production).  I’d check it out if you’re a fan of schlocky, crazy horror or really like gothic cathedrals.

In Country: Marvel Comics’ “The ‘Nam” — Episode 85

IC 85 Website CoverIt is an extra-sized episode and an extra-sized issue as The ‘Nam hits issue #75.  In four different stories that take us in country and back again, we look at events and perspectives surrounding the My Lai massacre.  Creators in this one include original ‘Nam writer Doug Murray, Scott Lobdell, Don Lomax, Mike Harris, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Herb Trimpe.

Plus, I also take a long look at the final season of China Beach with expanded coverage of the events of the season and its final three episodes.

You can download the episode via iTunes or listen directly at the Two True Freaks website

In Country iTunes feed

In Country Episode 84 direct link

Nam 75