Day 361: Happy 25th Birthday, Lots Of Stuff!

originally published December 26, 2012

We are rapidly running out of 2012. This means that we can look forward to list upon list, looking back at the top 10 movies, TV shows, songs, albums, video games, news stories, product releases, recipes, memes, weather patterns, hairstyles, and misconceptions about Liam Neeson’s genitalia from the past twelve months. It’s tiresome, really.

It’s also usually quite inaccurate. The top ten whatevers that we think of from the past year don’t necessarily reflect the top ten whatevers that will be remembered a decade from now. What did this year produce that has staying power? A few weeks ago I wrote an article about stuff that turned fifty in 2012. It garnered tremendous praise, mostly from my primary bulldog, Rufus, who stayed fully awake and only farted twice when I read it to him. With that in mind, let’s see what memorable doodads turned 25 this year. What came out of 1987 and subsequently stood the test of a quarter century?

Here’s one that didn’t fly. Every kid wants ice cream for breakfast, so it made sense to General Mills to release a cereal that looked like ice cream. Had they actually produced a healthy ice-cream-tasting breakfast, parents might have bought in. But these were sugar-sweetened puffs mixed with sugar cone pieces. It was sugar with sugar, and only considered “part of this nutritious breakfast” if you ate it alongside a salad that would fill an oil drum.

The spokesman for this disaster – which was discontinued the same year it was released – was a guy named Ice Cream Jones. Coincidentally, an Ice Cream jones is exactly the condition kids would suffer when their sugar spike abated quickly and they found themselves immobile on the kitchen floor, craving more delicious breakfast cereal.

I’ll be honest, I could probably fill this entire article with video game releases from 1987 that became historically significant, inasmuch as video games are ever historically significant (Final Fantasy, for example). There’s not a lot I can say about Mega Man. It was a platform game, which means a lot of jumping around and shooting at bad guys in a 2-D environment. In looking back on all the Nintendo games to which I devoted a sizable chunk of my youth, this was one of the most addictive.

The latest incarnation of this series, Mega Man 10, was released just two years ago. Screenshots of the game look almost the same as the original. I suppose in the world of battle robots and cannon-arms, some consistency can be comforting.

Twenty-five years ago, some guy named Ralph Bruno took the innards from his mother’s couch and carved them into an orange wedge. Then he slapped that wedge on his head and went to cheer on his beloved Milwaukee Brewers against the Chicago White Sox. I don’t know if this is still a big thing at Brewers games, but Green Bay Packers fans wear their orange foam wedges like mighty crowns.

Ralph Bruno wisely started selling the hats as novelties, and now they’re up there with the Pittsburgh ‘Terrible Towel’ as one of the most recognizable and best-selling items of football fandom weirdness.

Speaking of strange sports memorabilia, how about the Homer Hanky? One state over from Cheesehead country, fans of the Minnesota Twins began waving around these pre-printed handkerchiefs in 1987 as their team made a successful run for a World Series win. They have been reprinted several times since, generally at the end of a regular season as an encouragement to the team in the playoffs.

This differentiates the Hanky from the Terrible Towel or the Cheesehead – people may still wave them in the bleachers during the regular season, but the latest, most current models are personalized for the specific post-season every applicable year. That makes them collector’s items, I suppose. If you’re into collecting important handkerchiefs from history (and if you are, please let me know. I would pay to see that collection).

Neither Wikipedia nor the company’s website will tell me who invented Hooked On Phonics, the at-home program that has helped roughly 2.6 gazillion people learn to read. The legend states it was ‘a father’ who had ‘a son’ who had trouble reading. This mysterious father came up with the idea, and it sprouted into a massive industry.

I have no personal experience with Hooked On Phonics, but anything that gets kids reading can’t hurt. I say that as a writer of kid-friendly articles, except when I use words like “shit-gargle” and “fuck-basket”. But that’s pretty rare.

I still want to know who this father was. Why doesn’t he get a little bit of fame? Some recognition for what he contributed to the world? Or could it be that he doesn’t exist – that he is merely a corporate front for a product that was invented unceremoniously in a research-heavy environment by a team of people, none of whom were charismatic or attractive enough to appear on the front of the box? Or is that my Hooked-On-Skepticism training coming through?

A number of important television characters were introduced in 1987, including Jean-Luc Picard, Al Bundy and Joey Jeremiah (my Canadian fans will know what I’m talking about). But none have remained so impressively immovable from the public eye as the Simpson clan. The family was introduced on The Tracey Ullman Show on April 19, 1987, in a short cartoon called “Good Night”.

The history and cultural impact of the Simpsons is so painfully obvious I wouldn’t even bother wasting a thousand words trying to document it. But this first short is a little surprising. Bart asking about the nature of the mind, as impulses or something tangible? That doesn’t really fit with the Kowabunga-Bart we started watching in ’89.

I’m pretty sure any list made in the final week of 1987 would have failed to include the Simpsons as one of the top ten important cultural achievements of the year. But looking back, they should have topped it. This is why I’ll be ignoring all Best-of-2012 lists this week.

Even if I end up making my own. Hey, I’ve still got five thousand words left to write this year. Gotta fill that space with something.

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