Category Archives: Videocracy

My Favorite Video of the Year

In the giving spirit of the season, I want to share you my favorite video of the year. If you read this site, you know the kind of videos I gravitate toward, and so you’d probably think I’d pick some weird old commercial or that amazing compilation of Russian drivers. Worthy choices, but I have gone in a different direction, something you’ve probably never seen if you don’t have grade school-age children or aren’t 10 years old.

Being the father of a young girl, I am often subjected to Disney Channel’s wide array of programming. Some of it is actually pretty good (Phineas and Ferb, Gravity Falls). Some of it, not so much. One afternoon, we found ourselves watching Make Your Mark, a dance competition show that fell right in the middle of the pack. At the very least, it was light years better than Austin & Ally or Jessie, two Disney Channel shows so awful they make my teeth itch.

The big highlight of Make Your Mark was a segment in which the finalists go backstage at a theater where Justin Bieber will soon be giving a concert. The kids are then surprised with a visit from Beebs himself. He shakes their hands and watches them dance and gives them a little pep talk. It was very cute to see these kids freak out over meeting their idol.

And yet, as I watched this scene, I couldn’t get past one very strange element. Take a peek (it’s less than two minutes long, won’t kill ya) and see if you can spot it.

Did you notice that Bieber enters on a Segway? He also shakes kids’ hands on a Segway, beatboxes on a Segway, delivers a motivational speech on a Segway, and exits on a Segway. He does not get off the Segway for one second.

When I saw this show live, I rewound the segment–no joke–eight times, because I was sure I blinked and missed a part where Bieber hopped off the Segway. Nope! He stays atop it the entire time. While this scene is surely edited from much longer footage, it seems pretty clear from what we’re shown that he never once left his vehicle. What a bizarre, imperious thing to do. It’s the kind of power play an ancient duke would have pulled, if only Segways existed in Elizabethan times. “The Earl of Hartfordshire only greets commoners while riding his Gyro-Perch.”

Is there a better demonstration of Modern Celebrity than this? Dedicate yourself, never give up on your dreams, and you too may some day get to meet your heroes. But, your heroes probably won’t deign to remove themselves from their royal litter.

Not long ago, Bieber was like these kids, dreaming of the big time. Now, he’s filmed from behind, shown towering over these kids from a lofty mobile dais, lecturing them on working hard and keeping their families first before speeding away on his magical chariot.

Well, Merry Christmas everyone!

YouTube Comment of the Week: Smurfs Pasta

Time was, you were nobody unless you got your own canned pasta. In the days of my kid-dom, every cartoon character was immortalized in semolina form by Chef Boyardee or Franco-American. Any resemblance between the pasta and the character(s) they were supposed to represent was purely coincidental; most of the shapes looked more like amoebas than anything else. They all tasted the same as well, industrial fake cheese and processed tomato sauce tang. I know because I ate every single one of these pastas at least once. I was a carb completist. (Although I feel that by calling these things “pasta,” I should have to apologize to some kindly old Italian grandmother somewhere. Perdonilo, nonna!)

The Smurfs received this tribute, of course, since they were on TV for roughly 73 years. Was the pasta blue? Of course not; such technology did not exist yet, and let’s pray it never does. The Pasta Smurfs looked and tasted exactly like the Pasta Pac-Man and the Pasta X-Men, which is to say carb-loaded blobs swimming in Campbell’s tomato soup. Uniqueness, verisimilitude, and taste were not the goals here. The goal was to make a canned pasta that you could put a cartoon label on so dumb kids (like me) would beg for it. Mission accomplished.

However, I do understand that the mere sight of these items have a nostalgic pull for folks of a certain age, myself included, which is why I found the comment you’ll see below this clip oddly endearing. And odd. Though no more odd than the commercial itself, in which Papa Smurf reacts to a Gargamel-induced food shortage by transforming a bunch of Smurf houses into Smurf pasta. Thanks, Papa Smurf! Now I’m no longer hungry but I have to sleep in a ditch!

Honorable mention for this comment that points out a continuity flaw in the ad copy:

YouTube Comment of the Week: Chef Boyardee

This Chef Boyardee commercial is an amusing artifact from the 1980s, and typical of a certain genre of ad seen at this time. You see, by mid-decade, people were starting to be more health conscious, as exemplified by the aerobics fad (and to a lesser extent, the jazzercise fad). Corporations recognized this trend and acted accordingly. Not by actually making their products healthier, mind you, but by insisting their products were healthy enough as is, thank you very much.

The usual tack these ads took was that [PRODUCT X] gave you energy to get through your busy day. Take, for example, this Snickers ad, which obliquely endorses the idea of chowing down on a candy bar at 10am to tide over a hungry construction worker until lunchtime.

This Chef Boyardee commercial takes a similar approach. Kids and adults alike with active lifestyles are seen chowing down on Chef Boyardee products because they have “no preservatives.” Either Chef Boyardee has a very different definition of “preservatives” or he’s lying. There’s no way pasta can sit in a can for months at a time and still be edible without some kind of Franken-science involved. If you encased a mummy in a can of Beefaroni, he’d be unchanged a millennium later.

Of course, I’m not here to argue the healthy benefits of Chef Boyardee. I am here to point out a comment that was recently posted underneath this video. Enjoy.

Internet Gauntlet Answered: Heinz Homestyle Gravy

Almost a year ago, I threw down an Internet Gauntlet demanding to see the original version of a Heinz Homestyle Gravy commercial from the mid-80s. As you may recall–look, I know you don’t, but just say you do–there were several instances of this ad on the web, but not the original, long-form, unexpurgated version that I remember my grandfather loving so much.

How do I know? Because I could tell there were a few subtle differences between the original and the harshly edited variation that later polluted the airwaves. Either they reshot the thing or they used a different take. In the later version, the old man mugs a bit more, and addresses his sad lament (“oh no…”) directly to the camera. But in the majestic original, he keeps laughing to himself even as he realizes he just pissed off his old battle axe of a wife and will probably get a rolling pin on the dome for his insolence.

I couldn’t have been older than 10 when these ads first aired, and yet I remember being mad when they switched them up. Why? Because I recognized the comedic superiority of the first version, and because I was a really weird kid. I thought we’ve been through this already, jeez.

And yet, when I asked for the original version from you, the internet, I received not one response. Not one! You should all hang your heads in shame, you cowards.

And you should now raise your heads to witness this!

That’s right, some brave American patriot has posted the original Heinz Homestyle Gravy commercial! Tell me the delivery employed in this ad does not make it a million times better than that cheap hack job remake. You can’t tell me that, because it is not true and you are not a liar. Also, I now realize that the old man went on to play Louis CK’s agent in an episode of Louie. You know, the one where he was forced into playing a cop in a Matthew Broderick movie. Amazing how these things come back around.

I think I’m gonna go lie down for a while.

YouTube Comment of the Week: Rhyming Fries

It seems we just keep coming back to McDonalds, don’t it? Ads for this obscure family restaurant make up a healthy percentage of my YouTube haul, because their commercials were even more ubiquitous back in the 1980s than they are now. Especially if you were a kid, because McDonalds had an entire line of spots aimed squarely at children, in a way that would be unthinkable (and possibly illegal) now.

Most (if not all) McDonalds commercials from this period were huge production numbers, replete with choreography, show-stopping tunes, and the occasional celebrity appearance. The ads meant to entice little kids were no exception. In fact, looking at them with adult eyes, I can barely fathom how much time, energy, and cash was expended on these 30 second spots that would only alert children to the existence of food they already knew about.

Take for example this ad from 1985, entitled “Rhyming with Fries.” Just look at the sets, the puppetry, the special effects, all employed to tell kids that McDonalds’ fries are delicious. What kid didn’t know that, even in 1985? I never went to McDonalds as a kid, and even I knew their french fries were manna from heaven.

Of course, the real reason we’re here is a comment posted below this commercial. I try not to comment on these comments (meta!), but let’s just say it neatly sums up my inexplicable obsession with these ads, and possibly my life.

YouTube Comment(s) of the Week: News!

The vast majority of my YouTube collection is made up of random ads. I don’t think there’s anything particularly special about most of them; I’ve just placed them there because I found them on old VHS tapes and want to preserve them for posterity in a new format. I realize the impulse to do this is perhaps a form of OCD, autism, or full-blown mental illness.

However, in so doing, I’ve found that there are people out there people who even more trainspotty than me, folks who can recall exactly what aired when on TV throughout the ages, right down to all the ads, and are very eager to tell me in the comments (especially if I’ve gotten some detail wrong). For some reason, this is particularly true for local news ads/clips. Perhaps because the personalities from local news usually endure longer than those seen in national ad campaigns, or they evoke a sense of community. It’s also possible these folks are just bonkers.

Here’s an example: A promo for CBS-2 news with a “health” bent, followed by a comment from someone who knows exactly where some of the footage originated.

The same commenter made another appearance on another news-related YouTube video of mine. This was a montage of terrifying local news teasers from the 1980s, but this commenter was still able to isolate one moment in the video and not only identify the source, but tell me when it aired.

As a bonus, here’s what another wag had to say about this video.

YouTube Comment of the Week: Z. Cavaricci

If you’re not of a certain age, “Z. Cavaricci” probably sounds like the name of a pasta sauce or a striker for Inter Milan. It’s actually a brand of clothery that was quite popular in the late 1980s/early 1990s, right around the time that I was in junior high. It was what the cool kids wore, at least in my neck of the woods. Like any other fashion trend, there’s no good answer to the question of why it became so popular. It just was, end of story.

But if there was any specific reason why Cavaricci clothes were so popular, it was because they were kind of expensive. Owning a pair of Cavaricci jeans signified that you could afford to own them. I coveted them for the same reason I desperately wanted a pair of Agassis, or the Nike mock turtleneck thing that came in Agassi colors. My wardrobe still consisted of a large number of hand-me-downs from older cousins, and the rest was strictly Caldors. It never occurred to me that a short fat kid like me would’ve had a hard time finding Cavariccis in my size and would’ve looked awful in them even if I did. The heart wants what it wants.

Why did Cavaricci’s go away? Again, fashion comes and goes, usually with little rhyme or reason. But if I had to guess, one clue is that this ad aired during an episode of MTV’s 120 Minutes. The episode in question featured an airing of the video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which had debuted just a few weeks earlier. The dressed-down grunge era was nigh, and Cavariccis were doomed. But at least one person remembers those glory days, as you can see below this here video.

YouTube Comment of the Week: Westchester County Fair

For this edition of YTCOTW (that’s what the kids call it, yo), we look at another ad that ran completely unchanged for my entire childhood and adolescence and a small portion of my adulthood, too. It’s a commercial for the Westchester County Fair. If you know anything about Westchester County, NY, you know that large swaths of it are comprised of suburbs that are both insanely affluent and oddly retro, like a safe haven for The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit recreationists. If you went to many towns in Westchester and saw Don Draper staggering his way up the sidewalk after a five-martini business lunch, you would not be surprised.

And yet, when the time came for the Westchester County Fair to promote itself, they chose to produce a commercial that looks and sounds like an outtake from Hee-Haw. Fiddles! Tow Mater accents! Hay! This ad appears more suited for Hooterville than one of the richest places in the country.

This is one of the most viewed and most commented upon ads in my YouTube collection. It ran for so long on local TV that it strikes an immediate chord with anyone who grew up within a 100-mile radius of New York in the last 30 years. That’s why I found this comment oddly affecting.

YouTube Comment of the Week: Toys R Us

Today‚Äôs installment of YouTube Comment of the Week comes from a Halloween-themed ad for Toys R Us that ran for approximately 900 years. At the end of the commercial, you can see a little “(c) 1983” in the lower left-hand corner, but the tape from which this was digitized was made many years later, and the ad continued to be run each October for several years after that. It was an evergreen reminder of the season, like fake cobwebs on hedges, or dire warnings about evil strangers who might put staples in your candy.

We had no Toys R Us where I grew up, and yet would get ads like this on local TV out of The City, which of course made me extremely envious of relatives who lived within driving distance of one, or friends whose indulgent parents would drive to far, far away places like Paramus to go to one. I don’t know why I wanted to go there so badly, since I couldn’t have afforded to buy anything I wanted anyway. I do know that it was a horrible tease to see commercials for this wondrous fairy land on TV when the closest location was a good 40 miles away. Chuck E. Cheese did the same thing, those cruel bastards.

My Own Personal Viral Ad Infection

Last night, while trying to complete one of my eight million different projects/assignments/schemes, I had this sudden vision. It was more a memory, really, but it hit me like a bolt from the blue. It came to me like one single frame in a filmstrip, there that quickly, gone that quickly. The image was so sudden and disturbing I had to put down what I was doing and look this thing up, because I had to reassure myself it really happened and I hadn’t just dreamed (or, more accurately, nightmared) it.

What I’m referring to is a long-form commercial produced by Scion circa 2007, intended to be part of a viral ad campaign. I’m guessing the idea was to produce something like Apple’s 1984 ad, but a million times creepier. It certainly was viral, however, because I’ve been infected with it to this day. Put it this way: The ad was produced in Romania, with all Romanian actors, in the most Eastern European-y setting imaginable. Let your mind wander from there.

I saw this a few times, almost always late at night. But when it aired, I hadn’t the slightest idea it was an ad for Scion, or an ad at all. If anything, it looks like a spot for Saw 17. The only indication that it’s not is a URL at the very end, which I didn’t dare look up at the time because I was too terrified. If you visit it now, there’s now hint of this horror, just an almost cutesy Flash-heavy site with lots of boxy things and none of…this.

This is one of those items I never even bothered to ask, “Do you remember…” to anyone I know because I didn’t want to remember it. I feel a little wary of posting it at all, afraid that I will pollute other people’s minds with it as mine has been. So just know, before you click the play button, there are some things you can’t unsee, man!

Happy nightmares!