On TV, it’s that retro, corny time of the year

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The Ecololodge TV options...
The Ecololodge TV options…

By Darren Johnson
Campus News and Nu2U.info

I’ve had sort of a retro Thanksgiving time off. It all started with what I thought was new technology, satellite radio. I was flipping around and the Howard Stern channel was pretty much playing random shows from the 1990s, give or take. These were from when the show was still on regular radio. Who listens to regular radio?

In any case, it was nostalgic. Topics included the Marv Albert trial (the hockey announcer who allegedly – I can’t remember if he was found guilty or not, so will err on the side of caution and use the word “allegedly” – bit some woman on the back during a weird sex tryst), the Amy Fisher case (the Long Island Lolita, who shot the wife of some sleazy auto shop owner who she was dating – these people still pop up in pop culture once in a while still), Jerry Seinfeld before “Seinfeld,” the death of the guy who founded Mad Magazine and other vague memories of mine, of news stories I kind of remember. Nostalgia…

The Hostess drama was unfolding in the media. Items such as Ho-Hos, Twinkees and Wonder Bread with their gaudy packaging really came of age in my early ’80s youth. Back then food was food. You were hungry, you ate, without much thought. It’s not like today, where people read labels.

Still, up until the company’s collapse, when I found myself depressed I’d pick up a two pack of Hostess cupcakes at some gas station and a chocolate milk – with whole milk, of course – and let the meal soothe me back to simpler times.
The Hostess saga made me think that this is a company I won’t miss; but the products shaped a lifetime of bad eating habits, along with Pepsi, McDonald’s and the like. My parents would get us this kind of food all the time growing up. They often both worked, and I was usually a latchkey kid. It was quick. It was cheap. It was satisfying.
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The company somehow kept the larger-than-life packaging from a bygone, gee-whiz era even when other companies went in a more subtle direction. Think of the rise of Entemann’s with its simple packaging. That company has thrived. Meanwhile, Hostess packages have big bright colors and crazy fonts with cartoon characters. We would have to close our eyes to know we weren’t eating something completely artificial. The end-of-the-world films where a few human survivors find Twinkees totally intact didn’t help the product’s image, either. Some film product placements aren’t good. Whomever did Hostess’s marketing all these years is the one to blame, not the unions and greedy CEOs.

Then, on the road, I holed up at a very out-of-date Econolodge motel. Even putting the word “Econo” in front of anything is dated and wrong. Ford ended its Econoline van series in recent years, for example. Yeah, everyone wants to save cash, but not advertise their frugality to the world!

I’ve stayed in a bunch of $50/night motels over the years in my travel like this one. If I tell people after I stayed at a Day’s Inn, they seem fine with that. But if I tell them it was an Econolodge, they act aghast, even though, typically, these places are often in the same price range.

In any case, the room was a horror show at this Econolodge. It was a smoking room – all they had left. And the smell of smoke takes me back to a bygone era. I was raised by smokers. I have extended family who smoke. Several relatives have died because of it. But it’s rare in modern New York with all its laws for the typical person to be around tobacco smoke anymore. When I got home, all of my clothes stunk of it, just by being in that room.

Nothing was modern in the room. An old wall heater clanged noisily. The ballpoint pen on the nightstand had chew marks on it. There was an old tube TV encased in plastic with a fake wood color. It had a remote that only had up and down buttons; no numbers. Bored, I scrolled through the channels, and happened upon a show that I have avoided for years – “Frasier.” Somehow it seemed appropriate on a tube TV, as the last time I had seen an episode I doubt flat screens were commonly available. More retro.

The episode was very good – Frasier, who is host of a call-in psychology radio show, takes a call from a man (the voice of Joe Pesci) who is having issues with his girlfriend; Frasier advises him to break up with her, and then meets the girlfriend and has the ethical dilemma of whether he should accept her advances or not – and this interesting premise made me wonder why I felt I had hated the show so much.

Then another episode of “Frasier” came on and I remembered why. It focused on Frasier’s strange brother’s sappy, sexless relationship with Frasier’s maid, and was totally finger-in-throat awful with awkward dialogue including several “I love yous” between the two. I won’t watch that show again for at least another 15 years!

At home, my wife was away, and I wanted to queue up something on Netflix to watch with my daughter that was family oriented. She hadn’t seen “Coming to America” before, and I hadn’t seen it since it first came out – was it the early 1990s? But I had remembered it was relatively clean, except that the Murphy character, who plays a royal African, is so wealthy that he has attractive female “bathers” to wash him. But that’s only two seconds of boobies over two hours. Not enough to fast forward over.

I remembered the move as a bit pat – perhaps this was the beginning of the Eddie Murphy most people under 30 know today, who does horrible kids’ movies like “Daddy Daycare,” likely just for the pay day. Not the funny Eddie Murphy from the 1980s.

But, seeing “Coming to America” with new eyes, I realized it actually was a really well put together film, with many great actors – Arsenio Hall, James Earl Jones and even the dad from “Good Times.” Murphy himself has a sparkle in his eye he since has lost.

After my daughter fell asleep, I went for more nostalgia and put on “Eddie Murphy: Raw,” also on Netflix, one of the best standup performances ever recorded for the big screen, and still as funny and topical 25 years later. I think I like Eddie Murphy again. He’s all over Netflix now, for some reason.

still-of-eddie-murphy-and-arsenio-hall-in-coming-to-america-large-pictureOf course, Thanksgiving itself is the ultimate retro event, what with the roast turkey and all dating back hundreds of years, even if turkeys today have a few more chemicals and hormones in them. And the networks keep playing those Charlie Brown cartoons. They inspired my cartooning as a kid, because they were relatively simple art I could also accomplish. Ah, childhood.

My daughter asked why the Peanuts never have parents around. I told her my childhood was kind of like that. Kids were more self-sufficient. She asked which character I related to the most. While her choice was Linus, mine was Charlie Brown, the reluctant leader who always seems underappreciated but plods on anyway.

“Yeah, but why is he bald? That’s weird,” she said. “Is he sick?”

I’d never thought about. Why is he bald?

Could it be from the chemicals in the turkey, and, maybe, Twinkees?

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