Saturday, April 30, 2011

Love in the Time of Dial-Up

Some products and their advertising campaigns are so classic and timeless that they remain virtually the same for years even decades. It's quite a remarkable feat for an ad given the ever changing nature of the marketplace and modern society in general with dynamic shifts in technology and popular culture occurring by the second. This particular AT&T ad for their internet services from 1997 is not one of those ads.

In the fourteen or so years since I last saw the commercial, I am quite shocked at how throughly outdated this spot has become in almost every possible way. The internet service that AT&T is primarily advertising is obviously going to come off as outmoded but really it's all the other incidental stuff in the ad that's truly disturbing. This one minute slice of life vignette of the mid-90's comes dangerously close to total irrelevance to younger viewers and in about another decade or so will become just as unrelatable as a black and white commercial for an Edsel or a Victrola. It's a harsh, undeniable indictment of my oldness that's scarier than any horror film.

Here's how it all breaks down:
  • First off, I think it's utterly fitting and proper that Larisa Oleynik plays the female protagonist of this commercial. Few actresses are as closely associated with the mid to late 90s than Larisa. Her entire career essentially runs from the 1994 to 1998 run of "The Secret World of Alex Mac" to her the reoccurring guest role on "3rd Rock from the Sun" to her grand swan song in 1999's "10 Things I Hate About You". Sure she continues to live and her filmography claims that she has been steadily working all throughout the 00's, but can you really say you've noticed her in anything post-"10 Things"? Also, the boyfriend sort of looks like a poor man's Andrew Keegan, another casualty of the 00's.
  • Check out out Larisa's vintage period gigantic sweater and jeans ensemble. It looks like she's wearing one of Nicholas Brendon's sweaters from "Buffy". She's practically drowning in wool. A burka would have been more revealing.
  • With the recent demise of the classic boxy archetypal station wagon, the boyfriend's sweet ride has now become just a relic of a bygone era. Perhaps one day you'll be showing this ad to your children and they'll ask "Mommy/Daddy, what is that weird looking car that's not as big as minivan but bigger than crossover SUV? Is this what life was really like before the war with the machines?"
  • The towering beige monolith and their accompanying bulky CRT monitors are an obvious and expected antiquity (Larissa's weird trackball mouse has aged particularly poorly). With the recent rise of laptops, tablets, smart phones, etc., it would appear that the desktop PC itself may be joining the station wagon soon enough.
  • I don't think I need to prove to you that "AT&T WorldNet Service" no longer exists. Also, doesn't it look like they are typing up word documents and emailing them back and forth to each other? These are like the only two suburban teenagers in 1997 without AIM.
  • I could devote an entire post just on the primative proto-"sexting" scene that goes on between the young couple. From just a sociological angle, it's fascinating how they both go through all the motions one would imagine from a modern day sexting session despite the fact that the picture couldn't be any tamer. There's the not so subtle flirty back and forth, the mischievous, playful look on Larissa's face as she send out her self shot pic, the sudden look of arousal on the part of the boyfriend when he receives it (maybe it's the first time her saw her sans sweater?), and the dude's eventual picture response (although the polite thing to do today would be to send a dick shot). It's like watching old "scandalous" footage of people wearing full suits to the beach.
  • From a technological angle, obviously the major difference is the lack of cellphones. If there was any modern sexting going on here it would most likely be done via SMS. Larisa's method of taking photos of herself with a Poloraid (which they no longer even make film for anymore) and scanning it to her beau is only slightly ahead of drawing a picture and mailing it. I do have to commend her dude's solid MS Paint skills, it was a pretty smooth cut and paste job given the time crunch.
So there you have it. If anyone asks, that's what life was like in America circa 1997. If it was anymore 1997, the Spice Girls would have shown up at the end carrying matching Tamagotchis. Quite unsettling how much everything changes in less than a decade and a half.

Getting old is the worst.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


In news that is of absolutely no value or consequence to everybody else, I am delighted to find out that Washington Nationals outfielder Roger "The Shark" Bernadina was called up from Class AAA Syracuse on Tuesday (he even went a meaningless 2 for 2 in last night's loss to the Mets).

As the owner of a fantasy team with an injury ravaged outfield in a sadistically deep NL Only league (to put things in perspective, the feather hitting Will Venable is an important cornerstone of my outfield), I can only hope that this may be the modest first step in him regaining a starting outfield position (which I reasonably assumed he would get at the beginning of the season when I drafted him) so I can reap the rewards of his sweet potential 15-15 while hitting around .250 abilities. The Shark may not quite be a "superstar" or even a "good player" by some metrics and his excellent defense won't translate into any fantasy value, but he is still probably better than Rick Ankiel or even Laynce Nix.

Additionally, there is no other player on the team, not even the $126 million man, Jayson Werth, that has the perplexingly rabid following, the bizarre folk hero status of Sharkadina (proving the old adage that it is always more fun to be a super fan of a marginal player than a star).

*Update: Well, so much for that, Bernadina just got sent back to AAA a few hours after this article was posted. It was a hell of a ride. For now we can only keep on the watch for additional shark sightings in the future. Maybe Matt Stairs will die of old age and clear up a roster spot.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Royal Wedding Makes Me Wanna Ralph

I woke up earlier than usual this morning and found myself cycling through all the major networks' prime 7 to 9 am block of morning news shows. Instead of the usual softball interviews with movie stars plugging their new films or tips on how to save at the grocery aisle or cooking segments about guiltless spring cocktails, all the morning shows were completely preoccupied with the shallow and asinine coverage of the upcoming Royal Wedding. The big three networks were even doing live broadcasts from London. I mean, it is still news but a front page story in US Weekly or People Magazine and a week of coverage on Extra and Entertainment Tonight should be enough. It should not be monopolizing all our fluff media outlets. There are too many other stories about dogs driving their owners to the hospital and pieces about celebrity beach bodies that are simply not being reported.

I mean did we lose a war or something? This is America, why should we even care this much (I know Tyler The Creator feels me on this; although to be fair he really doesn't give a shit about anything)? We fought a freakin' Revolutionary War against Prince William's family for crying out loud! As a nation founded on the principles of anti-monarchism it would be more acceptable to me if we devoted this level of attention to a prominent regicide. I imagine the only kinds of US residents that are eager to be up at 4am EST to 1am PST on Friday to watch the wedding live are either a) insane people or b) members of a sleeper cell of Revolutionary War loyalists.

One of the worse parts for me about this royal media frenzy is that despite the over saturation of coverage, not one TV channel has cashed in on this rare opportunity to air the 1991 John Goodman vehicle "King Ralph". As the most prominent mainstream film (aside from "The Queen") about the modern British Royal Family in the last 20 years and one of the most incisive commentaries on the complex historical culture clash between the United States and England, it's the perfect film to capture the zeitgeist of the moment.

If not now then when will the public get another opportunity so apt to watch this film? Its terrible box office history and critical drubbing has shown that it is certainly not meant for casual entertainment or humor. The only other time I can think of where an airing of "King Ralph" would be apropos would be if the entire Royal family perished en mass in some horrifying freak disaster like in the film (how is this movie even seen as a comedy in the UK?), but then you'd probably have some sensitive types claiming that an airing would be inappropriate.

All I'm saying is, the golden "King Ralph" showing window is rapidly closing by the hour. Will no one spare the mere two hours by Friday?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Numero Uno "Numero Uno" Shirt

I suppose the following post does contain spoilers for the documentary "Pumping Iron" so look away if you don't want to know about the results of the 1975 Mr. Olympia Bodybuilding Competition or if you haven't gotten around to watching your 36 year old DVR of it. Although can one really spoil a documentary about a public event? I mean the records are right there: the Union wins the Civil War, global warming continues unabated, McDonald's is bad for you. Regardless you have been warned.

I recently got around to watching the influential 1977 bodybuilding documentary (although I actually prefer wikipedia's characterization of it as a docudrama) "Pumping Iron". It was really quite entertaining. The insight into the seemingly alien subculture of competitive bodybuilders was interesting enough but the film's real strength was the deft editing and creative license of the filmmakers to craft compelling narratives between the competitors. This is really crucial for any sort presentation of a competition whether it be "Spellbound" or "American Idol". Some personalities came off as villains, some as heroes and it really raised the tension by the time the final results scenes came around.

Of course the film is most known for really raising the public profile of one Arnold Schwarzenegger (sorry "Hercules in New York") and he is the best part of the film. It's easy to say it now but hearing him talk, watching him train, seeing him play mind games with and completely psyching out his arch rival Lou Ferrigno, you just know that this is a dangerously ambitious individual that can essentially will himself to whatever he wants to achieve. There is a strong parallel to fellow icon Michael Jordan in that, in addition to being supremely talented and skilled and being the greatest at their sport, they are both psychotically competitive assholes. Both appear to have an unhealthy burning desire to win at everything at all costs that sets them apart from the merely great, but also ultimately alienates them from almost everyone as well. These character faults just continue become more fascinatingly pronounced as they age and move farther from their competitive primes. Some indications imply that Jordan has gradually become the NBA's Daniel Plainview while Arnold has been recently profiled as being proud of his achievements but deeply repulsed at his own frailty.

So going back to the movie, it comes as little shock at the end when Arnold defeats the younger and larger but not as mentally tough Ferrigno (whose overbearing stage father/trainer also helps) and captures his then record 6th consecutive Mr. Olympia title and retires as the greatest bodybuilder of all time. He celebrates his victory backstage with his fellow bodybuilders, a meal of fried chicken and cake, and a fat blunt. And as an exclamation point on this grand moment of triumph Arnold is seeing wearing a white ringer tee simply proclaiming "ARNOLD IS NUMERO UNO". It is one of the more famous scenes from the film (that and the scene where he explains how bodybuilding makes him feel like he's constantly "cumming").

As I later discovered to my surprise on the internet, the shirt's fame is apparently so great that an entire website and e-merchant exists that exclusively sells replicas of the "numero uno" shirt (and also making custom "[insert name here] IS NUMERO UNO" shirts). Now I know money is made in the most interesting and esoteric of ways on the internet, but I found this to be even more peculiar than most. I recall buying my replica Nigel Tufnel shirt from "This is Spinal Tap" off the internet but the site also specialized in a whole assortment of retro replica shirts. There are plenty of CafePress style custom stores that sell one off generic replicas of the "numero uno" shirt but this site is really dedicated to crafting as accurate a copy was possible right down to the material. It's really the authority for authentic replica shirts. I can't recall any other business devoted to just one shirt from one scene from one movie.

That being said it is a pretty sweet shirt and, if my thrifty immigrant upbringing did not preclude me from paying more than $15 for a simple t-shirt, I would consider ordering a custom made "VICTOR IS NUMERO UNO" to wear on birthdays, anniversaries, and Mr. Olympia victory parties

Saturday, April 23, 2011

I Just Wanna Watch The Girls Goin' By!

I am aware that the ideal time for a post about Y&T's 1985 music video for "Summertime Girls" would have been, well, in the summer time. However with the clear end of a historically terrible winter season and the, at least sporadic, return of warm weather I felt compelled to jump the gun a little.

Y&T is one of the more hard luck bands of the 80s hair metal genre. They appeared to be as musically talented and wrote songs that were as catchy as any one of their popular contemporaries, but they never quite reached a true breakthrough level of success (not even Great White or Dokken levels). "Summertime Girls" perfectly demonstrates this star crossed lack of karma. The song and accompanying music video, released during a period of mainstream hair metal domination, could have been any more commercial and pop friendly and nailed all the right notes for successful genre hit. The song is a giddy mix of crunching guitars, soaring metal vocals, good time lyrics, and anthemic choruses covered with a delicious layer of synths. As for the music video itself, it crams basically every rock video trope and cliche that the young medium had developed thus far from Huey Lewis style wackiness to Van Halen inspired cheekiness, placed in front of a sunny So Cal beach backdrop with plenty of chicks in bikinis on roller blades. It was pure naked ambition, the act of a band doing everything in their power to get a breakthrough pop hit. It eventually topped out at #55 on the Hot 100, their highest charting single to date.

Although "Summertime Girls" never really got the popularity and lasting recognition that it deserved, I think the least I can do, over 25 years after the fact, on my obscure little internet blog is to give it a proper in-depth "live blog" analysis in all its four minute glory:

0:00: A sly commentary on the widening income gap and general economic disparity under the Reagan administration's social and economic policies. An interesting way to start a music video indeed.

0:07: I think the "No Accordion Solos" sign was the band's attempt at goading Weird Al Yankovic into doing a parody of their song and thus giving them the extra exposure. I would have gone with "Summertime Grills".

0:10: "Heh heh, just like Oscar the Grouch."

0:14: I guess this is a not-so-subtle metaphor about how the band "rocks"? Also, it kind of makes it look like they were either having sex or hotboxing (or doing both) in that mysterious seaside cave.

0:28: Shooter Gavin's friend from "Happy Gilmore" should have the calibration checked on his "heavy metal detector", it seems to be also picking up "radio friendly pop metal" and "hair metal" as well.

0:33: Also, that's not how metal detectors work.

0:45: Ladies and gentlemen, Y&T!

0:54: And here come the babes. Like most fashions from the 80s I find those high V bikini bottoms to be powerfully unsexy despite the fact that they're more revealing than classic bottoms. I'd think'd almost prefer a woman in a one piece over those things.

1:06: Here comes the wacky cast of characters. The lady in the "Choose Me" shirt seems like an obvious reference to Wham's "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" but is the lifeguard a more obscure reference to Blotto's "I Wanna Be A Lifeguard"?

1:20: Four surly looking leather bound, chain wearing, biker chicks/dominatrices who are quite improperly dressed for the beach; do I sense a romantic story arch?

1:25: A little initial meet-cute action between the leather chicks and the boys. Also notice the incredibly sloppy acting of the out of place fat member of the band (if SNL ever decides to do an esoteric parody of this video you better believe you'll be seeing Bobby Moynihan in that yellow tank top).

1:39: Of course since those leather chicks are so beyond tough they have to set up shop in the junkyard portion of the beach adjacent to the nearby prison. Badasses!

1:45: He looks like he just completed a shift at Hooters.

1:48: In contrast to all those "good girls" who use sun screen and sun block to protect themselves the leather chicks use highly toxic and ultimately ineffective motor oil. Badasses!

1:56: I wonder why they picked the fat guy to be eating from the lady's headdress instead of romancing mermaids or stealing from nerds?

2:00: You've got to get that that band fake playing their instruments shot in somewhere.

2:08: Chicks in bikinis on roller skates with boomboxes, the triple crown of 80s music videos! You can also read the succession of shots of chicks with bigger boom boxes as the band's commentary on the absurdity of the then increasingly dangerous and costly nuclear and military arms race between the US and the Soviet Union.

2:22: Yes, even the leather chicks are getting in on the rolling action. They look like an extremely skanky yet highly successful roller derby team. Badasses!

2:36: "Children, that was our only ball. There'll be no team this year."

3:02: You know what will really impress that girl? If I blew up the game stand with a bazooka. Good thing there's a fully loaded one right here on top of that box of dynamite!

3:05: There's no indication that he actually shot his bazooka round into the clown's mouth, but I'm pretty sure he at least killed the game operator.

3:22: After a long day of fun and excitement at the beach there's nothing like walking off into the golden sunset while being serenaded by Y&T.

3:25: Gina Gershon?

3:29: That was certainly uncalled for. That robot's just being a dick.

3:40: Just when you thought that our lovelorn quartet were just going to sadly return to their cold, lonely garbage cans and abandoned caves, we get the crowd pleasing Hollywood ending with the once cold hearted leather chicks coming over and (instead of murdering them) giving them a rare smile, taking each of them by the hand and romantically walking off into the sunset. Badasses!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Announcement: Side Bloggin' Plug

Dear reader(s), you may have often wondered while perusing all my updates to this blog: "Gee, that Victor is so boundlessly prolific, maybe he should guest contribute to another blog that's more in need of articles." Well, you poor deluded fool, it looks like Christmas is coming in April this year!

Recently I was conscripted by an old college friend to be a fellow contributor to his latest get rich quick blogging scheme "Nerd Outrage". Despite explaining that I haven't exactly been cranking out the content here at the home office, I was brought on board anyway (if it's to piggyback on my World Series of Pop Culture buzz and fame, he's in for much disappointment). As the site's mission broad statement says, it's generally going to be a forum for opinions and angry dissents about a wide range of topics (we felt the internet hadn't quite reached full snarky blogging saturation yet). While I'm not exactly an "outrage" sort of guy, more of a minor complaint person, I promised to put drop in an article when I can. So I invite you all to check out the blog when you can. The way I figure it since I'm one of five contributors, the frequency would likely be 1/5 of the frequency of the posts I'm putting in here (you might have to break out a calculator if you're going to quantify that small fraction).

As for this side project's affect on the output of "Victor Sells Out", rest easy worried reader, you will get your 4-5 articles a month. This blog has always been and will alway be my main neglected priority.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

That's How She Became The Nanny

Truth be told, I never actually watched a single episode of "The Nanny", the 90's hit sitcom that brought Fran Dresher into the mainstream; I never made it past the opening theme. In retrospect I may have even enjoyed watching it. I do find her idiosyncratic voice and her effervescent, hyper-Queens persona to be oddly and somewhat inexplicably charming. I also remember kinda liking "The Beautician and the Beast" (in an odd and somewhat inexplicable manner) which was essentially the entire premise of the "The Nanny" condensed into one film.

Although my "Nanny" viewing history never made it beyond the introduction, I have to admit it was one of my all time favorite television introduction. It had everything that a classic TV theme song/intro needed: a unique visual style, insidiously catchy music and lyrics, and provided efficient introductory narrative exposition to any new viewer. On that last point, "The Nanny" was a masterpiece of economical exposition it laid out the entire 6 season story arch from her unexpected arrival from Queens to her romance with Mr. Sheffield to her conflicts with C.C. to the relationship with the children in less than a minute. If it was any more effective it would have been written by Sherwood Schwartz.

Given how great the intro was, it should not have been such a surprise to me that many of the foreign adaptations of the show (adapted in no less than 10 different countries! Alas no Trinidadian Nanny though. ) copied much of the same style but with (sometimes) subtle cultural variations. My four favorite adaptations I found on youtube were:

Russian Nanny
It's pretty faithful to the original. They try to keep the same style of music but it definitely loses something in the translation. I noticed that the butler makes the Russian Nanny sign some gigantic novelty sized contract, which I guess is standard for all domestic employees over there. Also who is the weird looking lady taking everyone's picture in the end, the Nanny just got hired and she's already outsourcing responsibilities?

Mexican Nanny
I had a friend growing up who had a Mexican nanny, it was never quite as madcap. It's no surprise that one of our closest neighbors also produces the closest version of the show. I actually dig the Latin flavored variation of the theme music, it changes things up without losing the original catchiness. The only other real difference I noticed was the overly cartoonish sound effects.

Polish Nanny
I am not a fan of the Polish Nanny's music. It has a bizarre late 80's, cheesiness to it that I just couldn't get aboard with (also had a weird Rusted Root-style chanting section at the end). Everything else seems to be pretty similar except for the fact that poor Polish Nanny has to resort to using an outdated, Soviet era, electric trolley car to make that initial trip the the Sheffields'; it's hard to look glamorous in that.

Chilean Nanny
The music remains quite faithful but everything else gets radically altered. The animation style completely changes from the minimalist, abstract caricature version to a more fluid, children's cartoon-like version. Also, Chilean Mr. Sheffield comes across as a bit of a sleaze with his Members Only-style jacket and his unabashed leering at the Nanny. The conflict for the affection of Mr. Sheffield between the Nanny and the kids verses C.C. is way more literally expressed as they actually drive her away from Mr. Sheffield (and into the trash). They are definitely messing with the formula but I sort of like the bold new direction.

Two final observations on the adaptations. First, it seems that every country has their own version of going from Queens to Manhattan, whether it be from one part of Santiago to the other or taking the crosstown tram in Warsaw. This would seem to imply that most big cities have a universal Queens/Manhattan dichotomy, whatever that would mean. Second, I wonder how all these shows deal with the overt East Coast Jewishness of Fran (if you think about it, with the exception of "Seinfeld", Fran Fine was the most prominent Jewish character on TV). Most likely none of the characters in the adaption are Jewish, so I guess they'd have to have to fill that gap with some other character trait (I think the Latin based shows just seem to give her bigger boobs).

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Beets Me

I'm going to have to ask everyone to bear with me on this one; the comparison may not be apparent at first and some degree of abstraction might be required. I randomly ended up hearing a clip of "Killer Tofu" recently by everyone's favorite fictional rock band The Beets. Now while The Beets on the show Doug were an outright parody of The Beetles, I found the sound of "Killer Tofu" specifically (I can't say the same for any of the other Beets hits like "Shout Your Lungs Out" or "I Need More Allowance") to be oddly similar to a Smiths song. While no one is going to confuse Flounder and Monroe Yoder for Johnny Marr and Morrissey respectively, the song sort of has familiar elements from both members at its core. The guitar has a distinctive Marr jangly sound (seriously, compare the start of "Killer Tofu" to the start of "Hand In Glove", can't you hear it a little?) while the lyrics have that sort of esoteric, first person, woe is me, theme reminiscent of Morrissey's work (and given the anti-fast food/pro-vegetarian message this would obviously be right at home on "Meat is Murder").

Or maybe I just ate t-t-t-t-t-too much fried food.