Posts Tagged ‘Police Academy: The Series’

Fire Flies pogs and water squirters (1994/1995)

2016/02/27

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So today (yesterday?) marks the 20th anniversary of the United States release of the Pokémon video game (games?). I’m a librarian, and my uncertainty in that last sentence should clue you in to how little I care to read about the franchise.  I was 11 when it first came out.  I had a Gameboy back then, and all I ever played on it was Zelda: Link’s Awakening, Tetris Blast, and The Ren and Stimpy Show: Veediots! (boy howdy was that game hard!).  I remember Pokémon being a Gameboy game… also a Nintendo 64 game?  Also that it was really popular and featured way too many characters and that the art held absolutely no appeal for me.

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You see, it was too simple.  And my preadolescent cortical folds associated simple art with simple concepts.  Pokémon read as very much for small children.  To me, this was the beginning of the end of the kind of art & design in cartoons and toys that appealed to me. In my formative years, I watched cartoons like Police Academy: The Series, Inspector Gadget, The Real Ghostbusters.

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There were at least three or four prevailing design aesthetics I can think of from my childhood. Police Academy: the Series was a Ruby-Spears production, and I can recognize it in other cartoons (Alvin and the Chipmunks, f’rinstance). You had the Disney/CalArts aesthetic and its various derivates. Then you’d get the odd French design (Inspector Gadget, Heathcliff, The All-New Dennis the Menace, various other DiC/Nelvana productions).  The Real Ghostbusters, I’m now realizing, was also produced by DiC, but in retrospect the art has a definite Japanese bent to it, especially with some of the ghosts. Obviously there’s lots I don’t know about these aesthetics, but I see trends.  Plus, when Nicktoons premiered in 1991, you had a variety of shows with their own quirky styles.  I could go on (Beavis and Butt-Head, Ren & Stimpy, The Maxx, Animaniacs) but the point, I suppose, is that there was a lot going on–in terms of diversity and in terms of design.  We weren’t talking shitty rubber hose animation or rotoscoping, you had real squash and stretch going on, even if some of it was very cheaply produced.  It, at least to my 11-year-old mind, was more realistic. There was often–I point you again to The Real Ghostbusters–a celebration of the grotesque and weird.  The late 80s/early 90s were a fun time, and I say this with full knowledge that I’m as biased as anyone who grew up 10 years before me, or 10 years after me.  I’m sure they were all fun times.  And everything I said about cartoons? Same thing for toys.  Again, I point you to The Real Ghostbusters.

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But by 1994, even, I saw this celebration of the grotesque on the downswing. I look back on the Mighty Max toyline now with a lot of fondness, but even back then it seemed a little watered down from hideously cool shit like the Brain Blaster Ghost (and his mini-lobe ghosts). By the time Pokémon came along, it seemed that the images of my youth were dead forever, and that a world of simplified, heavily-Japanese-influenced, cute characters were there to stay.

I’m as swayed by packaging as much as the next person, I suppose.  I like TaB cola primarily because it’s in a pink can.  My experience of Weezer’s Make Believe is shaded greatly by the fact that the album cover is black.  So, even though I was big into pogs in 1994, I sure as fuck wasn’t going to try to get my parents to by my Slammer Whammers.

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Forget that it wasn’t the official POG brand–look at this shit! I still react to it.  It’s trying way too fucking hard!  That font, trying to trademark some spin on the word “slammer”, the colors are four years out of style, the shapes were 25 years out of style… everything about this packaging screams “bargain bin”.  But looking back?  I far prefer this to Pokémon and everything that came after it.  But even the packaging pales in comparison to the art on the pogs themselves. I bought three packages of these so I could open one up.

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I hope you’ll forgive the shitty photos–my camera’s probably a decade old by now–and the dirty scans–made on the same scanner where I scan the pencil and crayon art for Jimmy Jone. But what we’ve got here is a derivative of the Ed Roth/Rat Fink/Weird-Ohs/Nutty Mads monster style, which itself was decades old at that point.  You’ll see the Rat Fink brand try to assert itself and catch on again every few years with a new toyline–there was one in 1991, Rat Fink Rad Rods–but it never really meets with much success.  I always get the impression that the Rat Fink brand is overseen by old men who wear “I’m in the Dickie-Do Club” shirts and have too much extra money. Anyway, Rat Fink never really catches on big no matter how many times it tries, and the same is even more true for anything that mimics the aesthetic.

I have no idea who did the art for Fire Flies, but it’s decent art! There were 24 pogs total, plus the pack I opened had an extra pog featuring “Hatchet Man”, as well as two slammers featuring a “Cap-Vac”, which I guess was a special vacuum for pogs that I now wish I owned. I could throw these pogs on the floor and vacuum them. The Imperial company made cheap toys all through the 80s and 90s–many of you probably know them through the Garbage Pail Kids toys they made.  So I have to imagine that they bought up a number of cheap properties that didn’t find any success with bigger companies.  There were probably grand ideas for a cartoon series, comic books, and even a full-fledged action figure line!  But what we ended up with, here in the wasteland of the mid-90s, were 24 pogs and 6 water-squirting toys.  Oh yeah, the toys!  Here’s some pictures:

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There were six Fire Flies toys total, released as carded two-packs. And maybe also individually in baggies? There’s a choking warning on the bag, so probably.  But again, look at that packaging design.  ABSOLUTE SHIT.  Two friggin’ layers of “reduced” price stickers on these things.  And yet I paid close to $100 for everything you see here today!  But that’s okay, because the point I’m trying to make here is that I prefer stuff I would have thrown away as a kid to Pokémon.

Did these Fire Flies have names?  Yes!  Well, almost…

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Chief, Chopper, Seltzer, Wrench, Trucker, and Snake. These aren’t so much names as they are identification instructions for the workers at the Chinese factory who had to paint and sort these into various bins. (Sidebar: I always hated that crap where a toy’s packaging or a cereal box purported to offer you “trading cards” that you had to cut out. I never liked it when the procurement of collectables depended on my subpar hand-eye coordination.)

Also, parents get some handy safety tips that were never, ever mentioned by the liberal 90s media, like using Class A.B.C extinguishers, or never using gasoline to bathe your children.  I feel like there should have been a warning not to use these water-squirters to try to put out a fire, but obviously the target audience for these things needed to be told that smoke detectors detect smoke, so nevermind.

For completeness, and for you collectors out there who will soon construct your eBay saved searches, the Slammer Whammers pogs are Series III, packaging dated 1994, with both US and Canadian releases.  The toys themselves are marked 1995, both on the cardbacks and the toys themselves.  The stamp on the figures’ bases lists both Steddy Toys as well as Imperial.  For those of you with time machines, these figures can be found in fine retailers like Kmart.

Commercials Grandma Taped

2015/12/28

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Hey! If you’re anywhere near my age (31), I think you’ll like this post.

I’ve been carrying a box full of VHS tapes with me for the past 10 years and 5 moves. Since 2015 has been the Year of Doing All These Project I Had Been Putting Off Since I Was On Dialysis, I thought it was time to finally digitize these, upload them to YouTube, and talk about them.

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When I was a kid, I didn’t have cable television. We had an antenna, which basically meant that we got the basic networks: ABC (channel 2), NBC (channels 3 and 11), Fox (channel 5), CBS (channels 6 and 12), and PBS/GPTV (channel 8). In middle school, we got an antenna that you could point in different directions through use of a knob on a box. You’d turn the knob, and you’d the hear the antenna on the roof slowly rotating. If you found a good direction for a particular channel number, the device came with its own set of stickers that you could place around the knob’s circumference.

Suddenly, a whole new world of local stations was open to me! The Alabama PBS station on channel 7, which allowed me to watch 2 hours straight of Teletubbies on summer mornings! Things I can’t remember on 13 and 17! And whatever 36 was by then, sometimes I could get Simpsons reruns!

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I was always told we couldn’t get cable because of how far off the road we lived. This was believable enough, given that our landline was staticky due to a buildup of water and spiders in some sort of box connected to the telephone pole. But we were only quarter mile off the highway, so I halfway-suspect now that this was a lie to cover the fact that we couldn’t afford it back then.

What this meant, especially when I was very little, was that outside of Saturday mornings and VHS copies of Betty Boop, Popeye vs. Sinbad, and whatever iteration of 50 Great Cartoon Classics was currently on the shelves at Big “B” Drugs, there wasn’t a hell of a lot of variety to provide me when it came to cartoons. But my grandmother had cable; and more to the point, she had TBS Superstation and WATL 36, Atlanta stations that would show cartoon reruns in the afternoons after schooltime. She also had a VCR, and she would record hours upon hours of what must have been my favorite shows then. Or, possibly, simply what I would sit still and watch; when you’re three years old, those are basically the same thing.

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Tom & Jerry’s Funhouse. Dennis the Menace. Police Academy: the Series. DuckTales. The 1966 Batman show. The Real Ghostbusters. Filmation’s Ghostbusters. The Woody Woodpecker Show. God damn there’s a lot of Woody Woodpecker Show on these tapes.

I don’t remember watching many of these, except for the one with Police Academy and Ghostbusters on it. And I know for sure I never made it more than an hour or so into any of these when I would pop one in the VCR every few years to reminisce. There was a lot on these that I had no recollection of. Like, Dennis the Menace? Nutcracker Scoob? When did I ever watch these things?

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But even getting to see these shows holds no strong appeal for me. Any one of these is bound to be available in some form now, either on DVD, YouTube, or through a torrent site. These days, what means the most to me are the commercials. Just like the Dumpster Vinyl I’ve been uploading (gee, I should get back to that), these commercials are tiny windows into the past, chock full of anthropological & historical wonders such as fashions, language, mores, even, to an extent, the racial makeup of Atlanta between 1987 and 1990 (more on that in a minute).

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So when I digitized these tapes, I also decided to upload the commercials to YouTube. It was a pretty long process of cutting out the shows and leaving just the ads and show bumpers, but I really like the end result. Most of the YouTube videos ended up being about an hour and a half long. And that’s what I’m posting today to give to you, as sort of a late Christmas present. But one that will keep on giving, because, good grief, there’s like 19 of these videos here.

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I’m going to admit, I sort of know what’s here, because I had to scan through these on my computer screen to strip out the TV shows. But I haven’t actually watched more than an hour, total, of all of this. I can tell you that there’s lots of ads for toys and cereal and snack foods. I can tell you that there’s some Disney Channel commercials (probably taped by my uncle, who had a satellite dish). I can tell you that there’s plenty of local Atlanta commercials (keep an eye out for the EZ Rental stuff). I can tell you that there may very well be a surprising amount of commercials featuring African Americans. (When I posted some of these on Reddit, some commenter was bitching about how everything was biased in favor of black people, “even back then”, and who refused to revise his statement in light of me pointing out to him that Atlanta’s population was 2/3 African American by the time of the 1990 census; the number of other redditors who downvoted his comment warms my heart).

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Anyway, without further ado, here’s 23 hours and some change of commercials and station IDs from 1987 through 1990. Watch them all straight through, or just jump around until you find Bubba.