When you trade in nostalgia, the idea of a milestone anniversary for something you cherished in your formative years is constantly on your mind. Since starting this blog, I have watched the 20th, 25th, 30th, and even 40th anniversaries of pieces of popular culture that were personal milestones come and go. Some, I have celebrated; others, I have acknowledged but decided not to cover because the idea of constantly chasing such anniversaries sounds exhausting.
That being said, today marks 30 years since New Year’s Eve 1988. Nothing significant happened exactly on this day, but when I was thinking about what to write for my annual New Year’s Eve post, the thought of the 1988-1989 school year kept popping into my head and the more and more I thought about it, I discovered that in hindsight, this was a year that was more important than I once thought, both personally and culturally.
Why? Well, for a number of reasons (and not just mathematically), 1988 was the beginning of the end of what we commonly celebrate as the 1980s and as we moved into 1989, we would see our culture shift into that odd post-1980s hangover that was the pre-Nevermind early 1990s. It was, as the title of this post suggests, a time when we were on the brink. The Cold War was ending, we were heading toward a new decade, I was hitting puberty, and there were other societal shifts that we as a culture were both seeing and wouldn’t realize were there until they were over (or in my case, 30 years later).
So, to take us out of 2018, here is my list of … Eight Significant Things about 1988-1989. (more…)
Throughout history, we have been drawn to the great love stories, both triumphant and tragic. We cheered when Odysseus was finally reunited with Penelope and we cried when Romeo and Juliet met their fateful (though, I would argue, avoidable) ends. Yet none of those compare to the epic saga of the two lovers in a Wind Song commercial from the early 1990s.
Wind Song is an inexpensive perfume produced by Prince Matchabelli, which has been around since 1926 when its founder, Norina Machabelli fled the Soviet Union for the United States. It began making Wind Song in 1953 and the perfume has been available at drugstore counters ever since. I personally have never smelled it, so I will post the description provided by FragarenceX, where a bottle is currently on sale for $15.70:
A unique woody perfume, Wind Song was released in 1953 and has been enchanting consumers with its bright combination of flowers and spice ever since. The top notes include coriander, tarragon, orange leaf, and neroli, with gentle hints of mandarin, bergamot, and lemon. The heart opens with a flush of carnation and cloves, gently spreading to reveal touches of rose, ylang ylang, orris root, jasmine, and rosewood. The base slips in softly with the poignant scents of sandalwood and cedar, along with the faintest hints of vetiver, musk, benzoin, and amber. This refreshing fragrance is lovely for a day out in the spring or summer.
If I personally have smelled it, I don’t think I would know, which is not a knock against the perfume and more a testament to my inability to distinguish any one perfume from another (except maybe Axe Body Spray, but that’s because I teach high school). But I certainly remember the commercials that ran in the 1980s and 1990s and the famous jingle, “I can’t seem to forget you. Your Wind Song stays on my mind.”
There were a number of variants of this commercial over the years, but they more or less had the same premise. A woman wearing Wind Song perfume sprays a little bit on a letter or note and sends it a guy. He opens it, smells it, and … well, “I can’t seem to forget you. Your Wind Song stays on my mind.”
I’d imagine that if you aren’t familiar with the commercials, this description could provide you with a mental picture that is either very romantic or very awful. Wind Song could remind the guy of his lover, it could cause a terrible allergic reaction, it could trigger a PTSD flashback, or it could result in something much worse. For instance, in one of the commercials that ran during the 1980s, the woman spots her lover in a restaurant with a bunch of business colleagues and has a waiter send the note. It’s meant to be a reminder of romance, but it could also be the framing device for a flashback in a Skinemax movie, or the note could also read “I will not be ignored, DAN!”
Anyway, the commercial that I’m most familiar with, and which I mentioned briefly in my VHiStory episode, was from the 1990s and did not involve restaurants or possible Fatal Attraction scenarios.
It is a simple plot, but one for the ages. We have Rick, whose biceps strategically sweat while he shapes metal into various shapes. He is just going about his day in whatever dusty shop this is, one that is run by Old Man Weatherby (a guy who has been trying to get at those meddling kids for years). But then, the shaping of various metals must stop because the mail comes.
And yes, the Maguffin has arrived. It’s so important, in fact, that we get an artfully done special effect that even George Lucas is envious of with the letter flying toward him. What could be in this letter? Is it his electric bill? A notice that his metal shaping tools are being repossessed? Could he have finally gotten into Harvard?
No, it’s from Kate. She misses him and she sealed the letter with a kiss. I guess the perfume is strong enough to cut through all of the manly sweat and metal shaping smells, because Rick is definitely interested. He takes a big whiff of that letter and we cut to Kate aimlessly riding her bike on a bridge.
And she’s thinking: “Did I forget to turn off the coffee maker? I think I did. Wait, that’s not a big deal because it has an automatic shut-off. The house isn’t going to burn down. But did I lock the house? I’m pretty sure I locked the house. I remember getting my bike out of the garage, shutting the garage door, putting my keys in the … yes, I locked the house.”
Rick is so ready that he gets into his classic car and peels out of work. He probably didn’t even put his tools away and left everything a mess. Old Man Weatherby is going to be pissed. But who cares? Kate misses him, too, and that means someone’s gonna get lucky. He then reaches the bridge where he just happens to know where Kate is riding her bike, and is all: “Hey, baby.”
Kate: “Oh, it’s you.”
Seirously, that’s the expression. Like she’s the lady in Rupert Hine’s “Escape (The Pina Colada Song).”
Well, at first, anyway, because he eventually pulls over, they have this moment where he picks her up and swings her around and they kiss and then we end with the two of them standing on the bridge and kissing. Totally blocking traffic, by the way. What if someone else was commuting home and got stuck because of these two? That’s really rude.
The commercial ends with a shot of the box and a voice-over and I have to say that I have a number of unanswered questions. What kind of force is guiding that letter? Is it supernatural? I mean, Old Man Weatherby can’t have that good of a wrist, right? And what is Kate really like? Is she the good girl and Rick is the guy they can’t stand? And where exactly are these two living where he can work in shaping metal all day and afford a classic car while she can spend her days riding her bike aimlessly across bridges?
There’s some untapped fanfiction potential in this entire 30-second ad, if you ask me. I can see entire books being written on the moments that inspired her to send the flying letter. I can see erotica depicting the ten minutes that follow these thirty seconds. Maybe there’s a literary masterpiece detailing their suburban ennui years later. Or maybe a fantasy trilogy where he actually wants to escape but she has him under the spell of her Wind Song.
The possibilities are as endless and unforgettable as their love.
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.
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.
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.
Blank 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.
It’s an all-star “live” episode as I get the chance to sit down with Professor Alan and Stella and then Stella herself and talk about topics random and geeky! Enjoy such conversations as the novels of Thomas Hardy, DC Rebirth, the Human League, Bat-splaining, and Mad Men. Plus, LISTENER FEEDBACK!!!
Show notes and pictures are available at Pop Culture Affidavit, which is also where you can see regular weekly blog entries about the randomness that is pop culture.
A Y2K bunker. Although it doesn’t look like this one was very well-supplied.
So we survived yet another supposed apocalypse.You know, I have never been able to take threats of the end of the world very seriously. I suppose it’s due to the fact that in recent year, the talk of the end of days has come from the extreme type, those whose religious views are so out there that they may as well be something out of a bad movie about a cult. I suppose our popular culture hasn’t helped either. Turn on your average cable channel these days and while you surf through the low- class sideshow it has become (seriously, this is what I begged my parents for when I was a teenager?) you will more than likely come across a History Channel special where faux academics are interviewed about the vague statements made by someone before the flushable toilet was invented, or stuff like Doomsday Preppers.
I am not sure if the shows like these glorify these idiots or ridicule them. It seems like the fringe is more in the spotlight than they ever were, but it is hard to consider them “legitimate” because there really aren’t any threats anymore. It’s not like it’s 1962 anymore and we’re all building bombs shelters in our backyards because we are all scared of the bomb. As advanced as I guess the Mayans seemed, it was an ancient prophecy that seemed as unlikely as the prediction made last year by some dipwad who claimed that The Rapture was upon us (although I always thought The Rapture was not really in the book of Revelation, and instead was manufactured by someone who wanted followers to give him money). Besides, I had already become skeptical of apocalypse predictions years ago when Y2K didn’t happen.
Now, I’ m sure that most people who may read this remember what Y2K was, but its prominence as a threat to our society seems to have faded over time, becoming a footnote at least or the answer to a trivia question at best. In fact, the sophomores I teach had no idea what I was talking about when we were talking about the Mayan Apocalypse during some down time on the last day of classes before Christmas break. So, if you don’t know or don’t remember, Y2K was basically a widespread computer glitch that was going to destroy us all. The problem, basically, was that most co.puters were programmed with internal clocks that only displayed years with two digits. So, 1999 was simply 99. And on January 1, 2000, these computers would all display “00,” and since they didn’t know the difference between centuries, the computers would think it was not 2000, but 1900, and would shut down or something.
I first learned about it in Time when I came across the article “The End of the World As We Know It,” a title I suppose the magazine’s editors probably thought was hip but was really groan-worthy. Anyway, I had come across the article when I was in the Honors Program study lounge at Loyola, intending to do what everyone who went to the lounge always did, which was nap on the couch. Instead I got sucked into the story of the the Eckhart family of rural Ohio, who were among a population of very religious people who were convinced that it was the End of Days and had started to stockpile all sorts of supplies,including weapons, for the coming doom. They had even gone as far as to make bunkers, just like it was the Cuban Missile Crisis all over again. I was a typically self-absorbed college senior whose two major concerns were writing my weekly column in the student paper, and having the gas money to get to my girlfriend’s house on Friday night. Besides, I was set to graduate in May and only pulling 12 credits that semester, so I really didn’t give a crap.
Okay, that’s not entirely true,because I did run a Y2K compliance check on my computer (because my PC was so decrepit at that point that I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had exploded that January 1), and I had seen enough science fiction to wonder if it could really happen. But really, I just went about my business. (more…)