Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops?: The Lost Toys, Tastes, and Trends of the 70s and 80s
(Perigee Trade; US: Jun 2011)
Ah, the ‘70s and ‘80s. Or, strictly speaking, the mid-‘70s through approximately 1992.
But then, this was no time to be pedantic. This was the time when the survivors of the hard-nosed ‘50s and taboo-shattering ‘60s settled down to consolidate their gains – and proceeded to blow it all on the biggest, loudest, most over-the-top party Western civilization had ever seen. Yes, even greater than the Roaring Twenties. Did they have Atari back then? Did they? Huh?
They settled down, had some offspring, and bought minivans – that being the only vehicle that would hold all the offspring’s stuff. This (the offspring that is, not the minivan) is the origin story of Generation X. And thus this is their unique dilemma today, some 40 years later, as they begin to settle back and think about consolidation in their turn… and find themselves contemplating the shortcomings of “Greed is good!” as a noble contribution to societal advancement, never mind source of cool stories to tell the grandkids.
We GenXers were left with only two viable choices, if we wanted to assert the validity of an era in which Don Johnson had a recording career: shoot the next Baby Boomer to start nattering smugly on about Woodstock… or discover the meaning of irony.
In the end, we went with Choice #2, given that after paying for our Monty Python VHS box sets we had nothing left for ammunition that month. Besides, we had meanwhile discovered the sweet, safe haven from relevance that is the Internet. In short order, we established that even our most mundane piece of middle-school nostalgia could be given a clever post-modern wink with the right snarky caption… and lo, the tone was set for an age. We may not have had much in the way of social justice, but by God we had plastic lightsabers, and no bloody Episode I, II or III models, either.
This is the manifesto-slash-support-group that maintains many of the Net’s most popular websites. Go on, Google how many lists of, say, ‘Most Useless GI Joe Figures’ there are out there. Then check out how many people in the comments below confess, with varying degrees of sheepishness, that actually, they always thought [insert at least three listed Joes here] were totally rad…
Ahem. Having just recalled that the editor asked for a short review, we segue hastily into Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes & Trends of the ‘70s & ‘80s, the latest manifestation of this phenomenon. Written by journalists Gael Fashingbauer Cooper (author of the popular Pop Culture Junk Mail blog), and Brian Bellmont, this collection of quick trips down memory lane – a few paragraphs per pop-cult phenom—is beautifully written, crisp, clever and fun. Also grammatically impeccable, which is no small matter to one who’s suffered through quite a lot of this sort of blog. You could use it as a manual of style for would-be Net humourists. There’s even a handy table at the end of each entry, to indicate ‘Gone for good’ or ‘Revised and revived’ or ‘Still going strong.’
It’s all so snappily put together that, honestly, I couldn’t help feeling like a lot of potential was going to waste.
The effort that’s gone into compiling the tables is appreciated, and the gimmick has possibilities as both nostalgic day-brightener and garage-sale valuation guide (“Oo! Fashion Plates have been discontinued! To the eBay!”) I personally had missed those pudding pops a lot, as it happens, and am pleasantly smug to think that the current generation doesn’t realise what they’re missing. Where the entries thus relate back to my own memories, the details of the authors’ reminisces are misty-smile-worthily accurate; and when they’re not, they’re still grounded in reality enough to be highly entertaining.
It’s just that the idea seems to have stopped so completely dead at “Remember this? Wasn’t it great? Well, here’s what happened to it!” Given the obvious intelligence and insight—not to say willingness to research—on display in just those few soundbites, there’s more than enough room here for at least a bit of background on who we were and why we cared. I’d gladly give up a table or two if it meant being told what the hell the manufacturer of Blythe dolls were thinking when they gave them interchangeable pink-and-orange eye colours… ah, thank you Wikipedia, they’re originally from Japan. Figures.
The more you read, the more you realise that the format itself demands that some more thought be at least put into prioritization than is usual online. That the entries are wholly America-centric is not fatal, and may even—depending on the reader’s own ethnocentric sensibilities—be considered an extra little side bonus (you guys seriously don’t have Aero bars? Dang, that’s harsh.)
On the other hand, that the entries are disproportionately weighted towards kiddie toys and treats of the mid-‘70s (plus a couple from the late ‘60s, which I submit is just cheating), some of which are fairly obscure and most of which are adorably—not to say WASP-y—cute’n'wholesome… now, this could be a problem.
I would have liked to see colour photos of all that stuff noted, here (starting, once again, with those Blythe dolls). Alas, there’s a curious lack altogether of youthful joie de vivre in the book’s design.
The authors’ ambitions may stretch beyond cyberspace but their concept is still apparently stuck back at the snarky-caption stage, is what I am saying here. At least, they haven’t priced themselves much beyond what the average dead-tree reader would expect to pay for same.
Your best bet is to reserve this book for situations where your expectations are low and your chances of downing it in (with?) one Big Gulp are high. Pick it up before your next plane trip, for example, and be guaranteed a quick, nifty and frequently misty read. Then, if you still have cravings for more, you can visit whateverhappenedtopuddingpops.com and click ‘Blog’ for fresh entries. So the Gen-X experience beats on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the feckless past…