1994

Boldy Went

Star_Trek_GenerationsEarlier this year, I sat down with Michael Bailey and talked about the comic books of 1994.  He talked about how this was a landmark year for him as a comic collector because it was the year that the greater DC Universe opened up to him.  I actually remember it as being a bit of the opposite.  I didn’t stop collecting comics or anything, but I did find myself becoming more discerning as a comic book reader and collector.  As I’ve thought about 1994 and its importance in the decade, I’ve come to realize that this also applies to Star Trek.

I was a pretty big Star Trek fan from the time I was about nine years old and saw Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home for the first time in the movie theater and through most of junior high and the first year or two of high school.  Being a fan of Trek wasn’t exactly popular at the time and I definitely took a fair amount of shit, but I seemed to take a fair amount of shit for simply breathing when I was in the eighth grade, so whatever.

Anyway, 1994 is a landmark year in Trek because it marked the end of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the show that really cemented the concept of Star Trek as a show with a legacy beyond a 1960s television show and a series of popular movies starring the same group of people.  I had been kind of cold to the show when it premiered in 1987 because I was huge fan of original series reruns and original series movies, but it grew on me.  I never found myself watching it on a regular basis, but I do remember streaks of several weeks in a row because one episode hooked me in (my all-time favorite is the two-part cliffhanger “The Best of Both Worlds”).

“All Good Things,” which was the final episode of ST:TNG, aired on May 23, 1994 and being in the New York area, that was on WPIX at either 7:00 or 8:00 on a Saturday night.  I missed the original airing because I had to go to some family party, so I programmed the ancient top-loading Panasonic VCR in our basement to tape it when I got home.  For whatever reason–probably user error–it didn’t tape.  I was bummed but apparently not bummed enough to try and find a rerun because I didn’t actually see “All Good Things” until about 2009 or 2010 when I found it randomly on cable one night.

But the Trek faithful didn’t have too much to be upset about that year when it came to losing their favorite show.  Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was still on the air (although I admittedly didn’t watch it) and that November, Star Trek: Generations hit theaters.  This was a movie that was set up to be a pretty big deal–Kirk and Picard were going to be on screen together.  There was time travel involved, of course, but it was going to be huge.

I missed this in the theater and when I eventually saw it on video, I was kind of glad I did.  Star Trek: Generations is not that great of a movie.  It’s not Star Trek V horrible by any means, but it definitely follows the pattern of odd-numbered Trek movies being “meh.”  Granted, I haven’t watched it in two decades so I may be wrong, and that’s why I’m not going in-depth with a review of it or offering up a podcast episode.

What strikes me, though, when thinking about this, was how it was one of the first times where I hit a point that I definitely could say that I was at the end of my fandom of something.  It’s not that I stopped liking Star Trek by any means–in fact, I went and saw First Contact in the theater (and thought it was pretty good)–it’s that I was no longer so attached to it.  And really, I wasn’t used to that.  Since then, it’s happened with several things from bands like Metallica to comics like Batman, but Trek was the first “living” thing that I could turn to and feel a specific nostalgia for (as opposed to long-dead cartoons like Voltron, for instance), as if it reminded me of a place, time, and attitude that was no longer there.

Oh, and I still think Kirk’s death was cheap.

Pop Culture Affidavit, Episode 32 — Royale With Cheese

Episode 32 CoverSit back, relax, drink some of Jimmy’s coffee, give your girl a foot massage and make sure the gimp has a $5 milkshake, it’s time to take a look at the movie of 1994: Pulp Fiction.  I take a look at each section of the movie, talk a little bit about the film’s soundtrack and discuss its lasting influence as well as why it should have been Best Picture.

You can listen here:

iTunes:  Pop Culture Affidavit

Direct Download 

Pop Culture Affidavit podcast page

5 Things to Love and 5 Things to Hate About Forrest Gump

Forrest Gump PosterI could not spend a whole year talking about 1994 and calling it “the most important year of the Nineties” if I didn’t take the time to talk about the film from 1994 that would go on to win best picture: Forrest Gump.  Directed by Robert Zemeckis, it is the story of a simple-minded man (the un-PC term would be “mentally retarded”) who winds up living an extraordinary life.  Told through mostly flashbacks, the story concerns Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks), who is sitting on a bus stop bench in 1982 on his way to see Jenny, who as we learn over the course of the movie, is the love of his life.  He tells his life story to anyone who happens to be sitting next to him (as well as the audience):  born in Alabama, Forrest has a low I.Q. and had to wear braces on his legs as a kid until one day he learned how to run.  This served him well more than once, as he played for the University of Alabama football team, served in Vietnam, played diplomatic ping pong, opened a shrimping company, and started a running craze.  Along the way, we also see the life of his girl, Jenny (Robin Wright), who had a life that directly contrasts Hanks’s characcter: she was abused as a child, became a hippie, and spent much of her formative years in a drug- and alcohol-induced haze until finally coming home to Alabama and living with Forrest before leaving (which prompts Forrest to start running and the creation of his running craze).  When Forrest and Jenny meet up after he’s done telling his story, she tells him that she is dying and that she has a son named Forrest, who is the result of the one night that the two of them slept together.  By the end of the film Jenny has passed away and Forrest is now raising his son in his childhood home in Alabama.

That’s a gross simplification of the movie’s plot (after all, I didn’t mention Bubba or Lt. Dan), but most of the people reading this post are probably at least familiar enough with the film to follow along (and if you’re not, the film is available for streaming via Netflix).    Or you can check out the trailer:

So, with the plot out of the way, I thought I’d get to what I wanted to say about this movie, which has not been one of my favorites; in fact, I’ve long contended that with both The Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction nominated for best picture that year, I can’t understand how this won best picture.  Okay, I can see why it was a popular choice for best picture, what with its sentimentality and emotional impact; I can’t understand how the Academy thought that this was more worthy of that particular honor than those two films, the latter of which had a major influence on filmmaking for at least the better part of the rest of the decade (and possibly beyond).

You know, never mind that I saw this three times in the theater, bought the soundtrack, and own a copy on VHS (although for the life of me I have no idea where that copy is).  In fact, I liked the movie when it came out.  It was beautifully shot, was pretty funny, and the music was great.  But it did not age well, especially after I saw Pulp Fiction and read Winston Groom’s novel upon which the film is based.  The novel turned me against the film in a big way, as Groom’s Forrest is a lot less likable than the buffoon with a heart of gold that Hanks plays on screen (and for which he won Best Actor).  Prior to writing this post, I hadn’t watched the film since 1996 and decided to give it a fair shake.  I didn’t hate it as much as I thought I would, although I still think it wasn’t worth the Best Picture honor (and I still maintain that it’s right up there with the oft-derided Ordinary People’s victory as Oscar larceny).  So what I did was do what any lazy good blogger does, and that’s made a list.  So here are the top five things I liked and the top five things I hated about Forrest Gump. (more…)

Pop Culture Affidavit, Episode 31 — The 1994 Grab Bag!

man reaching into grab bagWhat do Beverly Hills, 90210, the 1994 Baseball Strike, and Zima all have in common?  They’re all covered in the latest episode of Pop Culture Affidavit!  As part of my series of posts and episodes called 1994: The Most Important Year of the Nineties, I take a look at ten completely random things from 1994.  It’s movies, television, music, and current events all in one convenient episode!

You can listen here:

iTunes:  Pop Culture Affidavit

Direct Download 

Pop Culture Affidavit podcast page

(more…)

Leave Yourself Behind

Tom Paris 1994A quick note:  This piece originally appeared on an old blog of mine in July 2004.  I’ve edited and updated it.

My only regret is that I did not stay longer. I would have loved to experience more, go deeper into some countries and learn more about other cultures. However, being a Student Ambassador has opened my mind even further, as I am forced to think on a global scale about my life, and the lives around me.

That is the final paragraph of the journal I kept during the summer of 1994, after I had spent 23 days touring France, Germany, Switzerland, and Spain as a People to People Student Ambassador. Written on a flight back from Paris after my fellow “ambassadors” and I had exhausted the plane’s supply of coffee and soda and had annoyed all of the other passengers, it’s a statement typical of a 17-year-old. At the time, I thought that the program changed my life. Of course, at 17, it had. Being on the verge of my senior year of high school, I was making earnest statements like that on a regular basis. Still, I cannot discount that those three weeks were a turning point in my adolescence, the result of a program whose educational experience was more well-rounded than intended.

Can You Really Get There From Here?

The mission of People to People International and its Student Ambassador program is: “to bridge cultural and political borders through education and exchange, creating global citizens and making the world a better place for future generations.” I received their brochure in the fall of my junior year, right around the time my guidance counselor was drilling into my head that I was in the most important year of my academic career, perhaps even my life. As a result, I went looking for the type of opportunities that would look good on what eventually became a rejected application to Dartmouth — Anchor Club historian, student journalist, and mock trial lawyer. “Student Ambassador to Europe” was something that college admissions officers were impressed with. Europe was where great art was born; where history took place; and where entire generations of disaffected young Americans fled to find themselves.

I convinced my parents that not only would I make it into the program, I would somehow come up with $1200 of the trip’s cost. Not that I knew how I was going to pull that off — this wasn’t exactly like the time I hoarded my $25/week from JillMatt Cards & Gifts so that I could save enough money to visit my friend Chris in Fort Lauderdale. But after some creative publicity, including a story in The Suffolk County News and a talk with the Kiwanis Club (where I made a never-fulfilled promise to come back and speak to them), I had my tuition. On June 24, I set off for Kennedy airport, where I met up with the rest of the Long Island delegation. We had our flight to Washington, D.C. canceled and were forced to cab it to LaGuardia where, in a move reminiscent of a bad Amazing Race moment, two of our group members were dropped off at the Delta terminal and not the Delta Shuttle terminal.

Don’t Smurf an International Incident

Ultimately, my People to People delegation arrived in Washington intact. The entire group of 28 hailed from Long Island, Connecticut, Virginia, Tennessee, and California, and was lorded over by three advisors — the LaMers of Connecticut and Mary Nolan, who had run the Long Island pre-trip meetings. They were all nearing senior citizenship (if they weren’t there already), and I have to admit that I admire anyone that age who is willing to travel for three weeks with a group of unruly teenagers. They had some help during those first few days while we stayed at George Washington University, where People to People’s representatives laid down all of the rules.  Essentially, they wanted to avoid three things: the “ugly American” syndrome, an international incident, and a babysit-the-rich-kids summer camp. I mean, that’s why the Student Ambassador program director stood on the stage in a university lecture hall and told us that we weren’t allowed to drink, smoke, do drugs, have sex, or even form cliques.

I honestly thought that last one was insane. Not that I wanted cliques to form, but it seemed that with 28 teenagers in close quarters, cliquing up was inevitable. In fact, small groups of friends formed on the very first day and would get even more defined as the trip went on. But when up against Papa & Mrs. Smurf (named so for Mr. LaMers’ beard) and Punky (Mary Nolan wore a spiked femullet), we were a single group of 28 students who annoyed everyone on the National Mall, the Metro and in the Crystal Underground. I guess all the things that annoyed me about D.C. when I was living and working there, then, were come-uppance for my acting like an asshat at 17. But anyway, I wrote about our initial camaraderie: “We started as … two groups of people from different states. We left as a group of Americans wearing stupid shirts and name tags.” (more…)

June 17, 1994: The Most Important Day of the Nineties

The cover to the 1994 Regents exam in English.

The cover to the 1994 Regents exam in English.

Had the events of the evening of June 17, 1994 not proceeded the way they did, i am sure that I would have remembered the day anyway.  It wouldn’t have had the national significance that it does; still, it’s not every year that the Rangers get a ticker tape parade because they won the Stanley Cup.  In fact, that day wound up marking the end of two significant periods of my life hours before O.J. and A.C. managed to take the Los Angeles Police Department and every television station in the country up the 405 for 50 miles and a few hours.

At 8:30 that morning in the Sayville High School gymnasium, I sat down to take my English Regents.  This was both the culmination of three years of novels, plays, literary essays, and compositions at the hands of my English teachers as well as the very last Regents I would have to take.  That may not seem like much, especially to people who did not grow up and attend public school in New York State, but those who did know exactly what I mean when I say that I considered the end of my Regents-taking career to be a cause for celebration, if however minor.

Regents were what kept us in school until late in June (well, that an starting after Labor Day and having a week off in February) and were a ritual for high school students since the New York State Department of Education started them way back in the 1930s (a quick look at the archives, shows tests on homemaking in the 1950s and 1960s).  Coming sealed in plastic and bearing titles like “The University of the State of New York Regents High School Examination Comprehensive Examination in English,” the tests were more than a rite of passage–they were one of the most important rituals of our academic careers.  Starting after Easter, our book bags were further weighed down with Red Barron’s books full of old tests, which we’d take and then pore over to see what we were doing right and what needed improvement.

A Barron's Regents review book, courtesy of Amazon.com

A Barron’s Regents review book, courtesy of Amazon.com

And English wasn’t particularly hard, although I’m sure my students would blanch at the sight of it.  Whereas current students in Virginia take SOL exams in reading and writing that are passage-based and have one simple five-paragraph prompt-based persuasive essay, my generation had to endure spelling,  definitions, two essays (a literary analysis piece and a composition), and a listening section.  That’s right–a portion of our test required us to sit and listen while our teachers read a passage and we had to answer multiple-choice questions based on what we heard.  I’m sure that such a concept would send today’s average anti-testing advocate/expert into a blood-vomiting rage.  Personally, I never thought twice about it, but then again I was one of those students they’d accuse of having Stockholm Syndrome or something because I dutifully took my Regents exams and did well in school.

Anyway, I remember chugging through the multiple choice, choosing one of the two literary essay prompts (which have both made their way onto my 10th grade advanced English final in recent years) and writing a composition that I think I titled “Notes From a Rest Stop on the Information Highway.”  It was my attempt at wit, I guess, and it seemed to work because I did well enough to continue on my path to graduating with honors a year later.

A page from the spelling section of the 1994 Regents English exam.

A page from the spelling section of the 1994 Regents English exam.

I wasn’t thinking of any of that while taking the test, of course, because the Rangers parade was going to be on television and the Regents exam was the only reason I hadn’t asked my parents if I could take the train to the city that morning (same could be said for my friends as well because we all had to take the Regents).  So like everyone else, I watched it on television.  To this day, the Rangers hoisting the Cup as they drove through the Canyon of Heroes followed by the presentations at City Hall seem surreal.  I wasn’t wearing my jersey–I had finally thrown that in the laundry after superstitiously refusing to wash it throughout the playoffs–but I was glued to my television set the way I was eight years earlier when my dad taped the 1986 Mets parade for me.

The Rangers hoist the cup on Broadway.

The Rangers hoist the cup on Broadway.

Of course, the television would be more important later that night.  But I didn’t know that; did anyone?

Stone Temple Pilots were supposed to appear on Letterman.  I don’t think that’s why I stayed home, but at some point in the afternoon, I made a mental note to stay up late and turn on The Late Show after I was done with whatever Friday night plans I had made–which, knowing my life in 1994 was probably renting videos and watching them in the basement–so I could see one of my favorite bands.  But of course, that didn’t happen.  Well, the STP performance actually did because Letterman taped his show in the afternoon, but it never aired.

At some point–I don’t remember when–I turned on the television and saw live footage of a white Ford Bronco speeding down a Los Angeles freeway followed by police.  The news reporters said that driving the Bronco was Al Cowlings and his passenger was O.J. Simpson. (more…)

Pop Culture Affidavit, Episode 29 — Now I Can Die in Peace

Episode 29 CoverTwenty years ago, the New York Rangers won their first Stanley Cup since 1940.  Join me as I reminisce about that amazing run and talk about my life as a Rangers fan as well as share the memories of some of my friends.

You can listen here:

iTunes:  Pop Culture Affidavit

Direct Download 

Pop Culture Affidavit podcast page

And in case you’d like to relive the entire season, here is “OH BABY!” the Rangers highlight video from 1994: