April 2011

Mixed Blessings of the 1980s: Microwave Popcorn

For most of North American history (corn is a New World crop, remember, so only Native Americans snacked on it before Columbus arrived) if you wanted to pop yourself some corn, you needed to have a sturdy pot and your wits about you.

Then Jiffy Pop came along in the 1950s and like magic, families were treated to the delight of freshly-popped corn in an overly expensive single-use container that was nevertheless entertaining for children. But it still took some doing. The Jiffy Pop threshold between "delicious" and "irretrievably scorched" is approximately three seconds.

Along came the 1980s, and the rise of a formidable new arena of snacking: the bag of microwave popcorn.

Song of the Day: "Faith"

Maybe it’s because I was five years old when it came out, or maybe it’s because I remember dancing to the song on my grandmother’s porch (now my porch, actually) until dusk on summer nights with my friends, but I will always love the George Michaels’ song, “Faith.” I had no idea that he used to be a part of Wham; in fact, I don’t think I even knew who Wham was until I was in my late teens. All I knew was that I loved how he bellowed, “Ba-bay!” And, of course, for kids who love pop music, the whole “Faith, Faith, Faith-ah” was a pretty easy lyric to sing over and over again.

The Near-Extinction of the California Condor

The California condor was a cause célèbre of the 1980s. We were just coming out of the DDT age, a dark time when we were still feeling our way around the food chain. The plight of the California condor is how many of us learned about key ecological concepts like habitat conservation and bioaccumulation.

The use of DDT in the 1970s and early 1980s wreaked havoc on our nation's birds - particularly the raptors. DDT poisoned bugs, and small birds and rodents that ate the bugs passed that poison up the food chain to the raptors and scavengers. Birds like the Peregrine falcon and the Bald eagle were nearly wiped out, thanks to DDT's unhappy side effect of causing the birds to lay eggs so fragile that they were crushed when the female attempted to sit on the nest to incubate them.

Condors got a double whammy of America's then-heedless attitude towards wildlife. Ranchers were freely attempting to kill coyotes by baiting dead sheep with strychnine. The condors would eat the poisoned carcasses and die.

Swatch Watches

I have been thinking about the topic of Swatch watches for a while now, and I am still at a loss to explain this phenomenon. I think it can be best understood as a collecting mania, not unlike Beanie Babies or bobblehead dolls. When collecting mania strikes, it doesn't really matter what it is you're collecting. Like the proverbial shells of the Trobriand islanders, it only matters that you are collecting it. The value of the item depends solely on our collective hallucination.

Down side: when the hallucinatory bubble pops - as it always must - you end up with a house full of useless crap. Related: anyone want to buy some X-Files trading cards?

With its pop candy colors and simplistic design, the Swatch watch was a reaction to the black plastic digital nerd watches of the late 1970s. A cheerful Swatch was the exact opposite of a Seiko calculator watch, and it served as a signifier for that schism between nerds and cool kids. (I myself owned a Pac Man watch which I loved dearly.)

"The Lost Boys"

I have a wise friend who believes that for those of us who came of age in the 80s, there were two versions of that decade. There was the boy 80s, and the girl 80s.
  • Boy 80s: Transformers. Girl 80s: Care Bears
  • Boy 80s: Thundercats. Girl 80s: My Little Pony
  • Boy 80s: Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots. Girl 80s: Cabbage Patch Kids
  • Boy 80s: Red Dawn. Girl 80s: The Lost Boys

Sure, as girls we were aware of the boy's stuff. But it was the girl's stuff that our memories revolve around. (And same for the boys.) A lot of boys watched "The Lost Boys" in the 1980s, but it was almost universally girls who really took the movie to heart. Just as you can make a room full of guys laugh by shouting "WOLVERIIIIIIIINES!" you can make a room full of girls laugh by pointing at someone's bowl of rice and saying, "It's maggots, Michael! No - wait - it's rice. NO, MAGGOTS!"

Song of the Day: "Papa Don't Preach"

Having gone through a huge Madonna phase in my youth, I have a big appreciation for Madge. Though she could definitely be considered a sex object, I’ve also always thought of her as a powerful woman who took the world by storm. When I was young I didn’t understand that “Papa Don’t Preach” was about an unintended pregnancy; in my naiveté, I simply thought that it meant that the singer didn’t want her father bossing her around, even when she specifically sings, “I’m keeping my baby.”

The song is one of empowerment, in a way; it’s about a girl who is scared but in love, who defies her father to do what she believes is right and, most importantly, what she wants to do herself. It’s also simply sung beautifully, but then again, aren’t most of Madonna’s songs?

The Rubik's Cube

Eternally doomed to be mis-spelled "Rubix," the Rubik's Cube was an unbelievably stupid toy that completely took over our lives in the 1980s. To such an extent that it still remains an iconic item, even to kids who hadn't been born yet.

Invented by a Hungarian sculptor (and presumed sadist) named Erno Rubik, the Rubik's Cube is visually reminiscent of the 1980s, as well. You have the nice cubic shape (we liked straight lines and right angles in the 80s) combined with a bright "pop" of color on each side. The colors are vivid, invoking the Italian flag, Mondrian's paintings, and delighting our day-glo sensibilities.

Sadly, the Rubik's Cube is only perfect for about three seconds. Then you can't help but turn it, shuffling the sides, and you are officially doomed.

Song of the Day: "Time After Time"

I am madly in love with Cyndi Lauper. Remember in Date Night when Steve Carrell confessed that he’d love to be with her, then or now? Yeah, I’d love to be her either way. She’s like this composition of Drew Barrymore, Stevie Nicks, and a woodland fairy. In short, she is made of awesome, and so is this song.

Yesterday’s song was directly inspired by how much my husband was driving me crazy, so today I chose one of “our songs.” 80s music is his favorite genre, and this song is our favorite to sing when we do karaoke together. Then again, he doesn’t like how his voice sounds so much and I refuse to sing alone, so maybe that’s why it works so well.

Then again, “Time After Time” is simply a gorgeous song to begin with. With lyrics like

80s Song of the Day: “She Drives Me Crazy”

That 80s Blog is now hosting a special song of the day, each and every day, for your throwback jamming and big haired pleasure. Feel free to don your Hammer pants, or to slip into some leg warmers, and enjoy the songs—or even add your own if you feel so inclined!

Today’s song is the Fine Young Cannibals hit, “She Drives Me Crazy.” While this song is technically at the tail end of the 80s, released in 1989, its poppy beat and high-pitched vocals bring nothing to mind but typical 80s head-bobbing and mustache wearing. It was played at every junior high (and possibly high school) dance that I attended, a perfect testament to its (temporary) timelessness.

Hot Pockets: The Ugly Side of the 1980s

My mania for using coupons seduced me into buying two boxes of Hot Pockets this weekend. (Only 99 cents per box!) I used to eat a lot of Hot Pockets, but I literally do not remember the last time I ate one. It must have been at least a decade ago.

Hot Pockets emerged on the national scene in 1983, capitalizing on the sudden rise in home microwave ovens. Hot Pockets were one of those "foods of the future" that we all loved in the 80s. These space age foods typically came individually wrapped, and were either shelf-stable or non-perishable.

Hot Pockets also catered to a relatively new market: Latchkey Kids, home after school and hungry, but without parents to cook proper meals until they came home from work. Your typical latchkey kid was allowed to use the microwave, and thus, could prepare Hot Pockets at will.