I’ve posted many videos to YouTube over the years. Most of them are commercials from old VHS tapes. Why do I feel compelled to do this? No idea. It’s just my nature You might as well ask the salmon why he swims upstream, or Rudy Giuliani why he says “9/11” all the time.
I have email alerts setup to inform me whenever someone comments on one of my videos. Because I don’t know if you noticed, but YouTube comments have a tendency to be hideously wrong. Racist, sexist, homophobic–you name the wrongness, they’ll invoke it. I’d really rather not have something I posted as a lark be polluted by sub-literate hate. At least learn some proper spelling and grammar, hate-mongers!
Amazingly, very, very few of my videos have gotten such comments. But they have gotten a few that are doozies for other reasons. So I thought I’d share some, without editorializing, with the public. The inaugural edition comes courtesy of an old McDonald’s commercial crica 1986 called “Daydream.” (All 1980s McDonald’s ads had titles and seems about 11 months long compared to their modern counterparts.) Comment appears below the video.
How many of my previous Internet Gauntlets have been satisfied? Let’s see, by my calculations…ZERO. Someone has to step it up, people, and it seems that someone is me.
My plan was to do a new Internet Gauntlet Thrown for an ad I haven’t seen in many a moon. It was for a line of toys in the late 1980s called Spy Tech. I never played with them, as I was a little older than their target audience by the time they debuted. However, I did enjoy the Spy Tech ads, which were a perfect encapsulation of a very childish, very 1980s brand of paranoia. Here’s an example.
I love this ad so very much, for so many reasons. It taps into a very basic fear/hope that all children have: Adults are engaged in evil, nefarious schemes they must hide from kids AT ALL COSTS. Naturally, when kids think things are being hidden from them, they must try to uncover them. Kids like to think that they may become entangled in a great mystery or adventure which only they can see to its conclusion (see: every cartoon made in the last 50 years).
Spy Tech could only have come from the 1980s, a time when children were told that an endless series of mysterious strangers were trying to capture them and take them away in a windowless van, never to be seen again except on the back of a milk carton. Of course, you were never told exactly why this might happen, so the sensible response was to FEAR EVERYONE. Like in this ad. “There’s a stranger on your block!” That’s all we need to hear! Better follow him to the movies, kids!
The kicker: These kids really have stumbled on something. They’ve so unnerved The Stranger that he tells his contact in the movie theater ticket booth, “Cancel the plan–they have Spy Tech!” The contact, looking more annoyed than alarmed, hastily places a CLOSED sign in the window. Joke’s on her, though; the CLOSED part is facing inward, so everyone will assume the theater is still open.
The universe of the Spy Tech ads has two features that nowadays would at least be questioned, if not banned outright:
Kids can go off by themselves and shadow potentially dangerous strangers.
Anyone even slightly different is deserving of suspicion and should be monitored as closely as possible.
There were many Spy Tech ads, all of which followed a similar template. In another commercial, a couple of kids track the new couple who moved next door, who just MUST be up to something. It ends by revealing these seemingly mild mannered professionals have a living room full of surveillance equipment of their own! Gadzooks!
But my favorite was one I’ve been hunting down for years. It has the typical Spy Tech scenario: kids surreptitiously follow a weirdo on their block. Why is he a weirdo? Because he has shifty eyes and whistles loudly on his way to work. Better make sure he’s not in a sleeper cell!
Hounded by a crew of amateur spooks, The Whistler stops at a newsstand. He does not make eye contact with the man behind the counter. He does not even stop as he picks up a newspaper. He simply says, “They have Spy Tech” in an ominous growl and moves on his way. The man at the newsstand, panicked, squeaks out “They know!” And, scene.
The reason this one always cracked me up is because it was so vague and menacing. All the other ads are fairly explicit in some way or another that demonstrate the tailed strangers are spies. This one leaves so much to the imagination. The Whistler just grabs his paper and passes along the bad news to his contact, who tells us nothing more than THEY KNOW! It always killed me.
I’ve been looking for this ad for years. Years, people. Not only could I find no one else who remembered it, but I also couldn’t find anyone who remembered Spy Tech itself. How soon we forget! I began to wonder if I’d exaggerated the memory, or even imagined it altogether.
Well, it turns out, if you want something done, you gotta do it yourself. Deep in the bowels of YouTube, I finally found this commercial again, and yes, it is everything I remembered, and more. The quality is substandard even by YouTube’s yardstick, but I think the essential Spy Tech-iness comes across. You’re welcome, Internet.*
* Keep watching after the Spy Tech ad for an awesome Cheerios ad featuring Bo Jackson, as well as some more relics from this glorious era in the history of kids commercials.
Just so I’m not ending the working week on a total down note, please enjoy this workout video from the glorious, un-self-aware 1980s starring Phil Simms. This came over my transom thanks to Dan Epstein, author of the great retrospective of 1970s baseball Big Hair and Plastic Grass. I interviewed Dan on this site way back in May of last year. Why not read it, tough guy?
This past weekend, we decided to venture into Manhattan, which was mistake number 1. Thanks to Bloomberg, subway service on Saturdays has become twisted Kafka-esque nightmare, with a smell to match. Trying to make our way to the upper west side, we changed routes several times, wasting an insane amount of time just trying to find a train that moved. It felt a lot longer than it really was, because we had The Baby in tow, and we began to acquire a child’s sense of the interminable passage of time by osmosis.
After a few geological epochs had passed, we finally got in a functional C train. Someone on that train asked us how they could hook back up with the 3 train, which was not running between 96th Street and Forever. Thanks to an investigation, this woman had heard. She was right, but “investigation” was an extreme understatement.
The investigation in question was to catch Maksim Gelman, a maniac who’d spent the previous 28 hours stabbing people across Brooklyn, killing four and wounding several others in a drug-and-rage-fueled rampage. I didn’t learn any of this until Sunday. I didn’t even know about Gelman’s one-man terrorist campaign before we left; if I had, I probably would’ve stayed home. We had even contemplated taking the 1-2-3 to our destination, the train where Gelman stabbed one last victim before being apprehended.
Aside from being one of those horrifying incidents that reminds you there are monsters in the world, Gelman’s exploits were reminiscent of those I saw on the news every night as a kid, back when senseless murders were as common in NYC as hot dog carts.
It seemed that each evening would bring some new horror on the city streets, be it a copycat Zodiac Killer or a model who was slashed in the face when she rejected her landlord’s advances. This why a subway vigilante like Bernard Goetz was elevated to the level of folk hero by some people, even though he was just a weird little creep. And if it wasn’t some unearthly horror, it was some everyday item turned deadly, like when Tylenol was suddenly filled with cyanide.
This was the landscape of my mind as a kid. This is why, whenever someone says “the 80s were awesome,” I want to karate chop them in the throat.
I believe that hate, like love, is within all of us, and that we have a need to hate as much as we have a need to love. It can be a cleansing, cathartic emotion, as long as it is expressed in a healthy, non-violent fashion.
Assuming this is true, why do we hate certain things? Is it nature or nurture? Would you hate the same things you hate if you were born in Morocco, or Bavaria, or Upper Mongolia?
I can’t answer that for certain. My gut feeling is that there are certain things I would not hate if I came from a different background, simply because I wouldn’t care about them. My vitriol for Chipper Jones and Roger Clemens would probably be diminished if I was born in Sri Lanka and had no interest in baseball.
But there are other things I am certain I would hate no matter what, because they are so eminently hateable, they transcend culture, race, and creed. I shall discuss one of them today.
First, some background: The 1980s gave us many, many bad things, one of which was the proliferation of Wine Product. Not wine, but not not-wine, either. This led in turn to the Wine Product commercial, which came in varying shades of horrible.
For instance, the Bruce Willis Seagram’s ads, made at the height of his popularity and ubiquity. I hesitate to even call them bad because, as is the case with pretty much everything he’s ever done, Bruce seems so self-conscious of his own smug brand of douchery. His every smirk silently communicates, I know this is all bullshit. I almost have to admire him.
These ads, however, are not the focus of this post (and probably deserve their own analysis, which we may get to at a future date). The commercial I have in mind belongs to a different category of Wine Product, the kind that actually tried to masquerade as wine.
Back in the 80s, you still couldn’t advertise straight-up, non-beer booze on TV. But you could run ads for this type of alcoholic beverage. The kind of cheap, wine-esque swill you still see in supermarkets and bodegas.
The affordability of these products was never emphasized in any way. In fact, the bottlers went to great lengths to insist that their stuff was enjoyed by jet setting glitterati. Remember, this was the same era as Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, when people actually watched a show that did nothing but remind them how many wonderful things they could never have. (Jesus, the 80s were gross.)
A prime example: This ad for Riunite, in which rich young things ski down the slopes grabbing bottles of Riunite as they slalom, on their way to a mountaintop barbecue.
Even as a kid, ads like this angered me. There was something so venal about trying to sell something so cheap (in several senses of the word) as a ticket to affluence to the poor slobs who could afford no better. And in retrospect, it seems even more gross, as the 80s were the decade when the American working class took its last gasp before a slow extinction.
But this Riunite commercial isn’t the object of my hatred. There was one ad that stood out, one that filled me with an absolute, undying, white hot hatred I still have to this day.
Truth be told, I couldn’t even remember what product this was for, until I tweeted about it yesterday and received a link from WFMU’s own Evan “Funk” Davies (who can be heard tonight and every Wednesday at 9pm). Turns out, it was a commercial for Harvey’s Bristol Cream, and it is every bit as infuriating as I remember.
There are many, many things to hate about this ad. The jingle is terrible. The weird, contrapuntal spoken word duet part in the middle of said jingle (“upper crrrrusty!”) is nauseating. And the guests at the party look like a second grader’s idea of Rich Fancy People. But what really pushes my feelings into the realm of Super Hate is the last line, and the Patrick Bateman-esque bastard who says it, in his fake Pierce Brosnan accent.
The last line of this ad has rung in my head for the last 20+ years. Just hearing it is like a boxing bell, making me jump up with my fists clenched, ready to start swinging. If I ever found the man who uttered it–or better yet, the ad wizard who wrote it–I would pummel this man with all my might, and I would not stop until someone pulled me off him.
Here it is, folks. Brace yourselves.
“Your palace or mine.” Ugh. Go die, Anonymous Smug Guy.
Who can say what forces shape us? We are often the prisoners of our times. One’s future could be shaped by simply being at the right place at the right time—or the wrong place at the wrong time. Have you ever thought about what might have influenced your life if you were born during a different age? The Renaissance? The Civil War? The Great Depression? Who can say what heights you may have climbed, or to what depths you may have sunk?
Me, I haven’t thought about this conundrum much, because I was born during the Age of Advertising, and thus have a miniscule attention span. I’ve said this many, many times here at Scratchbomb, but I have been immensely influenced by commercials. I feel like they’ve rattled in my brain my entire life. Anyone who says they are not influenced in any way by ads is deluded or lying.
When you’re a kid, you find many things funny that you don’t as an adult. Specifically, other people. Adults won’t just laugh in random people’s faces, but kids will. They can laugh for hours about somebody they see in the street with a weird haircut or dumb hat on. And if the same person also says something weird, in a weird voice, forget it.
I was reminded of this cruel fact of kid-hood when Joe Randazzo of the Onion tweeted a link to this commercial for Polly-O string cheese (the most needless and unasked for food innovation of all time until pancakes and sausage on a stick). This ad ran for roughly 8 billion years during my childhood, but despite its ubiquity, me and my brothers always found it funny. Always.
Why? Because of the wizened old man who says NUTHIN? The way he said this, combined with his wrinkly face—he looks like a slightly melted candle, or a shar pei—was comedy gold to us.
If you’re seeing this for the first time, or were not as struck by it as I was as a kid, I don’t expect you to think it’s funny. I wouldn’t either, if I hadn’t spent my entire childhood laughing at it.
Watching this ad an adult, I am struck by a few things.
Check out the odd posters hanging from the wall, that almost give it a Sedelmaier feel. I particularly like the one that bizarrely reads NO SCREAMING.
The guy behind the counter who yells at the old wrinkly man calls him “Shimmy”. Obviously, he was trying to say “Jimmy” and failed. But Polly-O wasn’t gonna shell out for more than one take or overdubbing in post. So there it sits, “Shimmy”. My brothers and I found this quite hysterical. HIS NAME IS SHIMMY! WHOSE NAME IS SHIMMY?!
Is cheese really the best part of the pizza, as this ad insists? That’s a matter of opinion, of course. But I think I’d rather have a whole slice of pizza than any one individual part of it. I like pizza, but I never get the craving to drink a cup of a tomato sauce on its own. In fact, cheese is probably the worst part of the pizza, nutritionally speaking.
I now realize that all Polly-O string cheese really did was make it acceptable for you to chomp down on a huge chunk of fattening mozzarella at lunchtime. It’s like having individually wrapped pudding cups filled with foie gras.
At the end of the ad, the kids taste the string cheese and give it glowing praise in foreign languages. But only the first kid says something in Italian (“Bellissimo!”). The last two say French expressions. (“Magnifique!” and “C’est si bon!”) C’mon, Polly-O, you’re making mozzarella and you don’t know the difference between Italian and French? Your handlebar-mustachioed ancestors are spinning in their graves.
Yesterday, The Wife and I were debating where to seek out a certain piece of electronic equipment for the house (if you must know, we want to get one of those jacuzzi tanning beds–we work hard, we deserve it!). I jokingly said she should look for it at Consumers, which I thought would be a sure-fire laugh getter, but I was only greeted with silence. It dawned on me that there must be some people out there unfamiliar with the infuriating world of Consumers.
In case you are one of those blighted few, I’ll fill you in. Consumers was a big, boxy store that inexplicably sprang up all over the northeast corridor in the 1980s, despite having one of the counterintuitive business models ever.
The idea behind Consumers: the store could save overhead by not having a big showroom for all its wares, and pass those savings along to you. The stores were extremely minimalist, with only a few items on display, and sometimes a jewelry counter.
But if they had no showroom, how did you get your stuff? I’m glad you asked! Consumers had huge catalogs full of all the items they sold. It was sort of a Sears Wish Book, except it contained more than kids stuff. VCRs, jewelry, lawnmowers, you name it.
The catalog was enormous, and enticing. I remember being very impressed by them as a kid, especially the toy/video game section. They even had a teaser for Super Mario Brother 2 several months before it was released. Of course, it was just a screenshot of Super Mario Brothers 1 blown up really big, a ruse even eight-year-old me was able to suss out. But I appreciated the effort they went through to trick me.
If you wanted something at Consumers, you filled out a slip with the item’s info, then got on a Space Mountain-sized line that snaked through rows of metal corrals. Eventually, you came face to face with an actual clerk manning one of the many counter stations that lined the length of the store. You handed your slip to a clerk and waited for them to retrieve your item from the warehouse. And waited. And waited. And waited. And also waited.
And after all of this waiting, there was no guarantee the store would actually have the item in question. Consumers lacked either the ability or the willingness to implement a computerized database to track such things (even though this technology existed by the mid-80s), so the only way to determine if the store had something in stock was to actually go in the back and check.
Disappointment can happen to you at any store, of course. You go to the mall, hoping to find a certain thing, and it turns out no one has it. But there is something especially exasperating about jumping through all these bureaucratic steps, and waiting on line, and waiting for a clerk to emerge from the back, and then finding out you’re screwed. Kafka himself could not have designed a more Kafka-esque shopping experience.
This was torturous when I was a kid. We didn’t get toys too often, but when we did, it was often at Consumers, because it was cheap and we didn’t have a Toys R Us nearby. Children have no patience to begin with, but asking them to endure this rigamarole is impossible. I would hear other kids cry and scream and throw fits as they found out the toys they wanted were out of stock, and just pray they didn’t want the same thing I wanted.
This shows just how far things have advanced in the last 25 years. The modern shopping experience is all pitched toward empowering the consumer, giving them as many choices as possible and extensive previews of the product they’re considering buying. Can you imagine a store that not only required such waiting, but didn’t guarantee they’d have what you wanted? There’d be riots in the streets.
What’s even more amazing is that Consumers was simply the most austere of the catalog stores of the 80s. There were a few others, like Service Merchandise, but these other stores also had a lot of goods on display. You could actually buy things off the rack at Service Merchandise. You could not do that at Consumers.
In a weird way, Consumers was a predecessor of sites like Amazon, which also have no physical displays, which cuts down on costs. And you can think of a catalog as a low-tech site showcasing a store’s wares. The big difference, of course, is that you don’t have to leave your house to window-shop at Amazon. And if what they have is out of stock, you go to another site, or shrug your shoulders, rather than leave a store completely defeated and hating life.
UPDATE, 12.16.09: Video now working. Thanks for your patience.
I’ve written about this before, but I think it bears repeating: I was scarred for life by the news teasers I saw as a kid. There are two reasons for this.
1) I grew up in New York in the 1980s. In these post-Giuliani’s reich years, it’s hard to remember just how truly effed up NYC was in the 80s. The city was beset by all manner of horrifying things–drugs, murder, arson, poverty, Ed Koch…
2) The 1980s also marked the beginning of SCARE NEWS. Local stations couldn’t just entice you with actual news. They did SPECIAL REPORTS and INVESTIGATIONS on how everything in your house could murder you in your sleep.
The combination of these two phenomena made watching TV as a kid an exercise in terror. In my memories, the news was even worse during the holidays. Every news clip took place in a driving snowstorm, with squad car lights glinting off dirty road ice, and included at least three of the following:
A crumbling tenement stairwell
Cops draping a white sheet across a dead body
Blood spattered on wall/floor/window
A front door blackened by fire/explosion
Close up of a crack vial
Victim’s screaming relatives
Charred children’s toys
A sketch of the alleged perpetrator, making him look like maniac
If you weren’t there, it’s hard to convey just how frightening it was. But thanks to the Vast and Dusty Scratchbomb VHS Archives, I’ve compiled a bunch of these teasers into one handy-dandy YouTube clip.
Most of these are from CBS-2, but they’re pretty representative of news teasers for all local NYC stations back in the 1980s. Keep in mind, all of these teasers–all of them–aired during holiday specials intended for kids. “Manhunt in progress for the man police call The Face-Peeling Rapist. Is he in your town? We’ll tell you at 11. But now, back to A Charlie Brown Christmas!”
I don’t get tunes stuck in my head. They burrow into my brain like ticks, and it takes some serious countermeasures to lodge them loose, like extreme zen-like concentration, or dynamite.
But even worse is when I get a tune stuck in my head that I associate with a particular visual memory. 99 percent of the time, that visual memory is an old TV show or commercial. It’s a bizarre sensory memory, almost Proustian–in that it makes me want to lock myself in a cork-lined room and never come out again.
Since I seem to be the only idiot who remembers the bygone TV fare of yesteryear, there’s usually no point in explaining the whole Madison Avenue spectacle going on in my head. All it does is make me appear more insane than usual, like I’m starring in my own private version of Gaslight. Except I’m not being tortured by a sadistic husband, but my own steel-trap memory (if steel traps only clamped down on pointless garbage).
Regardless, I want to give you a glimpse of the hell that has been my brain for the last few days. Over the holidays, I heard “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” more than once. So it got stuck in my head, right? Oh, if only t’were so simple!