Just Say No to Wall Paper

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My first encounter with HGTV was a bit of a shock (even though it was a good decade ago). Why are they bringing back the things from the 80s that weren’t a good idea in the first place? Any child of the 80s in America probably remembers their parents spending a lot of time and / or money to decorate their houses in certain ways, only to see them spend a lot more time and / or money removing all of that in the 90s.

Gold hardware? Trust me – don’t go there. It will go out of style again. Fast

White walls and color schemes? It only looks modern” for a little bit?

Wall paper. Ugh, don’t get me started on wall paper.

Except, well… I did get started on wall paper. I remember my parents had a lot of wall paper put up in the kitchen and bathrooms of our ranch house at the beginning of the 1980s. I remember that as a kid I actually liked the wall paper in the hall bathroom. I also remember all the DIY time they spent removing the wall paper in the 90s. To replace it with… faux paint. Well, at least that unfortunate trend is not making a comeback.

Wait, what? I don’t want to know. I DON’T want to know.

Anyways, back to the wall paper I did like as a kid. I remember that it had some cool vintage drawings of huge old sailing ships. I used to love drawing those ships over and over again, sometimes using that bathroom wall paper as a guide. The ships were mixed in with vintage maps of the world that were somewhat – but not fully – accurate. I saw some Fixer Flipper Brothers and Sisters List It show on HGTV that had some sailing ship inspired wall paper and it made me think about that wall paper I loved. So of course, I wondered if I could ever find it online anywhere.

Sure enough, after several dead ends and rabbit trails that shall never be spoken of in public, I did find the exact same pattern we had (on eBay of all places). Just a different color scheme.

Vintage wallpaper with large sailing ships superimposed on old maps

This version has blues and reds, where ours had greens and yellows. And yes, those are just some random “exotic” animals (some not native to the area) added to Africa… just because I guess?

Anyways, needless to say, for the few years that I was into drawing sailing ships, this ship frequently made it into my drawings:

Of course, as a kid they don’t tell you that these ships often carried stolen goods, cultural artifacts, and even people from around the world back to Europe or the U.S. And that even those engaging in legitimate trade were often full of disease and lack of sanitation. We just always thought that ships looked cool, and when you did see them on TV or in the cartoons, they were taking heroes off to some adventure. I probably read C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader a lot during this time as well. So no real deep thoughts here, other than the usual “they didn’t give us the hard truth as kids” point that seems to go along with, well, all of the stuff from our childhood.

And I guess that not all wallpaper (or faux paint for that matter) is bad.

The Cybertronic Spree: What If The Transformers Formed a Geek Culture Tribute Band?

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The Cybertronic Spree

This seems to be a random entry that will actually fit in all three categories of this website: Modern Geekery, Nostalgia Culture, and Not Your Typical Music. The Cybertronic Spree is a band that is currently rocking around North America. Each member dresses as a character from Transformers: The Movie (and not just kind of dresses like characters: they have a Gwar-level dedication to their stage costumes). They cover songs like “Kashmir,” “The Pokemon Theme,” and “Nothin’s Gonna Stand in Our Way” (originally on the Transfomers: The Movie Soundtrack). Their live show moves are a mixture of classic cartoon poses with robots doing the floss, light sabers, and…. Shockwave twerking? Can someone get them to do a better video of their cover of Lion’s “Transformer’s Theme“?

I don’t know if this is Nostaliga Culture run amok or Modern Geekery perfected… or both. Listening to the lyrics of “Nothin’s Gonna Stand in Our Way” now, I am reminded of how so many of us Gen-Xers thought this way: We are the generation! We will fix this world! Nothing will stop us ever! But then we got older and, well, a lot of stuff got in the way. Some of us became the boomers that we swore to rebel against. We are now just as likely the ones saying “kids these days!” as our parents are.

So I try to listen to songs like this just to remind myself that its not too late to go back to this mindset. I just wonder if this group is made up of Gen X or Millennials or both? Anyway, here are two of my favorites by them:

The Matterhorn: A Family Adventure

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The Matterhorn Entertainment Park

I have a vague memory of visiting a restaurant inside of a mountain as a kid. For a while, I thought it might have been some random dream I mistook for reality, but it turns out this was not so. What I remember was driving a long time to a large fake mountain next to the highway, and then eating inside a large area inside of the mountain that had a pool, waterfalls, slides, and divers as part of a show. Also, I remember there were many back rooms, side caves, rooms hanging from the ceiling, and pretty much a maze of hallways to explore.

Sound like a weird kid dream? Turns out, it is real.

After years of searching for more information, I finally found out that this place was real: The Matterhorn. The Matterhorn was a Bavarian-themed amusement park in Prairie Dell, Texas that operated briefly in the early 1980s right off of the I-35 frontage road. I think I only went at night, as I don’t remember the park part. But apparently this park featured a train ride that went through tunnels, carnival rides (such as a tornado), slides, an inside roller coaster, an indoor roller rink, bumper boats, bounce houses, smaller carnival rides, ponies, a merry-go-round, a fake casino, a health spa, large-screen televisions, an arcade, and a dance floor with live bands on the weekends. As one person remembered it: “It was called the Matterhorn, since the main attraction was a huge fake mountain surrounded by Bavarian style shops. The inside had a waterfall and slide, where for a fee you could swim or just dine in the restaurant while watching professional divers. It also boasted of having the world’s largest indoor roller rink.” As you can see in the picture above, this “large fake mountain” was a replica of the Matterhorn itself.

By the way, fans of horror films might also recognize this place, as the park’s ruins were used for scenes in the 1986 movie Texas Chainsaw Massacre II after the park closed.

It seems that at first The Matterhorn was a success, but that changed fast. Apparently it had wonderful steaks and large crowds at first, but a change in management led to it flopping after only a few years. Kids loved it, of course, but apparently since it did not serve alcohol, adults weren’t as keen on making the drive (Prairie Dell is between Salado and Jarrell in Texas – South of Waco and North of Austin by a good drive from either direction).

Inside of the main Matterhorn was a restaurant in a large room with a large lake. This lake had cliffs around it with performers that would dive and slide into the lake for a dinner show. This is the part I remember. I also remember off to the side of the lake was a maze of dark rooms and caves that you probably weren’t supposed to go into at night, as they were usually abandoned. My brother and I would sneak off into these caves and look around. Eventually we found some stairs that went up to some hanging platforms above a large room that I now assume was either the dance floor or the roller rink (or a room that served as both). We thought it was the coolest thing, because it was actually a series of open platforms with bridges between them hanging from the ceiling like a mixture of tree houses and the Ewok village (without the trees).

Later on, the land became the Emerald Lake RV Park. That is now closed and the land seems to be private property.

It turns out that the Matterhorn was not the beginning of the story. The Matterhorn was created by a Temple, Texas restaurant owner that had previously made his Tex-Mex restaurant look like a cave. Basically, they used a paper mâché or blown-on expandable insulation like material to cover the walls and create a maze-like cavern. At one point the walls were even sprayed over with a layer of plaster and finished with sprinkle glitter. The man’s name was Frank Weis, who along with his wife Susie ran this restaurant, called El Chacho.

El Chacho (at the corner of 3rd and French) was described as a labyrinth that you could easily get lost in. There were different rooms, with different themes. Small gift shops were said to be scattered throughout the caves, complete with a man in a tamale costume that would hand out cheap toys. People remember seeing a toy train going through the restaurant as they got lost. One room had a waterfall. They had a wishing well right inside the front door. They even tried some dinner theater where a singer would go around singing to the guests. Sound familiar?

Part of the popularity was due to the food. People remember the sopapillas being “crazy good.” Many also fondly remember the queso. There was even a buffet on the weekend. The owner was famous for serving all-you-can-eat steaks that were cooked outside on pecan wood. Servers would even give you free cheese slices from a block of cheese while you waited for your table.

The other part of the popularity was the owners. Frank and Susie would pull in teenagers and special abilities kids, becoming like substitute parents to many. Frank was said to have big plans for the teens that worked for him. They even took the staff to Monterrey and Saltillo in Mexico as a thank you for their hard work.

However, it was the unique design that eventually closed the restaurant down (but possibly opened the door for the Matterhorn?). The fake walls and ceilings started to fall apart and land on customers. There were said to be lawsuits from this. All of this led to the restaurant caves being declared fire hazards and the restaurant shutting down. The fire department was worried about people getting lost in the case of an emergency, plus all of the candles on tables in rooms with flammable material falling off the walls was a source of concern as well. There is now a Cefco gas station where the restaurant used to be.

I don’t really know if people open roadside places like the Matterhorn any more. I am a bit too young to know much about Route 66, but the Interstate Highway system I traveled on for family vacations in the 70s and 80s still reflected the distinct influence of the Mother Road. There is a lot about the Route 66 days that fascinate me, especially how people would put together a bunch of cement and cheap building materials to make a “roadside attraction.” You can see by the pictures above and below that these were often not high quality attempts by any stretch. Probably not exactly safe, either. Route 66 is not a popular route anymore, and most of its influence has been removed from the interstate highway system to make way for wider, newer roads. My nostalgia definitely makes me remember these places as being cooler and more realistic than they were. I seem to find that a lot as I dig into the past: what seemed so cool as a kid turned out to be cheap plastic and cardboard (or cement and foam). A metaphor for modern life, or just progress at all costs? Hard to say.

The Matterhorn Entertainment Park

Rise of Skywalker: Cash Grab or Nostalgia Trip?

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Let me get this out of the way first and foremost: Every single star Wars film has had it’s haters, since the very first one. You or me not liking The Rise of Skywalker is not proof of anything other than different people can have different opinions. A lot of us hated, hated, hated The Empire Strikes Back when it came out. Then we (yes I am one of those) came around to loving it years and years later. For me, I am still not a fan of the prequels at all. I kind of liked Phantom Menace at first, but got tired of it quickly. By the time Revenge of the Sith rolled around, me and my friends were walking out of the theater making fun of each one.

Star Wars films are always full of problems. But if you let yourself not worry about those problems and just go with the narrative, sometimes (but not always) you can at least be entertained. Until you start thinking about the problems.

But on the other hand, you or I or anyone else liking The Rise of Skywalker is not really proof of anything, either.

For me, some Star Wars films (like A New Hope, The Last Jedi, and Rogue One) I liked in theater, and as I watched them several more times I liked them even more. Others (like Return of the Jedi, Solo, and The Force Awakens) I was entertained by them when I watched them, I am still entertained by them now, but I recognize their problems. I already mentioned Empire Strikes Back and The Phantom Menace. Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith are ones that I just could never get into. I tried re-watching them before the sequel trilogy came out, and I still couldn’t.

So where does The Rise of Skywalker fall for me? After only one viewing, I was entertained while still seeing the problems. I will see what further views will lead me to think.

First of all, lets deal with some of the fan weirdness. Star Wars has ALWAYS been about fan service. Yes, even episodes 5 and 6 had a lot of it back in the day. I remember the complaints. It was where I learned what “fan service” means. The prequel trilogy was major fan service by Lucas, until he found out he misunderstood what the fans wanted, and suddenly they became “an artistic risk” or whatever he is currently saying. So just saying “it’s fan service!” kind of makes no sense to me. And not just because Star Wars has always been fan service, but because, well… isn’t that how you get people to watch movies? Give them something they want? Where is this magical line between “creating something people will pay money to see” and “fan service”?

Obviously, that line exists in a different place for different people, between what they personally liked and personally didn’t like.

Another issue to address is this idea that the sequel trilogy was a cash grab after the “perfect ending” of episode 6. Sorry, but we have known that Lucas planned NINE movies from the moment he realized there could be more than one Star Wars. I remember back after Empire came out, Mark Hamill mentioned that Lucas had already talked to him about coming back as an old man Luke in the 9th movie. It was always going to happen. Lucas never envisioned Empire as the end, and no one really saw it as a “perfect” ending anyways.

Yes, I know that everyone saw Palpatine as dead at the end of Return, including Lucas and the actor that played him as well. But don’t forget: Luke was not Leia’s brother at the end of A New Hope, and Darth Vader was not Luke’s father at the end of the first movie either. Things change as new Star Wars movies come out. This is the way.

What I did see was a film that had to deal with wrapping up 10 films, 3 animated series, a bunch of books and comics, and so on. This means there would be huge problems doing all of that in one film. Which was probably the biggest problem many noted with Rise of Skywalker: too much going on in too short of a film.

For me, there are several things I would have changed. The beginning crawl just sounded bad to me. I would have worked more on that in general. There were some weird lines of dialog that just needed to be re-written here and there. Especially the whole meeting between Poe and Zorii Bliss. A lot of that just made no sense. Just cut it down to her pointing a gun at his head, making some faux gestures of being mad, and then pulling a Lando and being glad to see him. That whole “I think you are okay” thing (after nearly killing each other with weapons) was just… weird.

Also, why on earth would you start the whole thing about Finn having something to tell Rey and then not get to having him, you know, actually say what it was? J.J. Abrams has confirmed that Finn was going to tell Rey that he could feel the Force. But if you aren’t going to have him say that, then leave it out. The audience still got Finn’s force connection outside of that trope.

And the whole thing with Palpatine shooting lightning to take down a whole fleet? That was weird. They should have made it look like he was channeling some of the planet’s darkside energy to do that. Or… something. That was just too much of a stretch for me.

But yes, even for me there are several things that just go into the “bad fan service” pile as well, like Chewbacca getting the medal. After we were told things like that don’t matter to Wookies. The whole Charlie Hobbit role was basically a dude voicing fan theories only to get debunked. It really worked well when he shot down fan theories that were shooting down the Holdo Maneuver from The Last Jedi, but I would have honestly re-written his lines better and given them all to Rose.

Then there are those that feel that Rey’s Palpatine connection ruined the message of The Last Jedi because it destroys the idea that greatness can come from anywhere. I get that, and its a real concern to those that saw Rey as the embodiment of “greatness from anywhere.” To me, the boy with the broom at the end of The Last Jedi was more of symbol of that message. There are also the thousands of Jedi of the prequels that also support that idea as well, including Yoda, Mace Windu, and so many others that still had great power in the Force without powerful lineage. That may not be enough for some, but for me it seems to still support the overall idea.

I have a theory that Rian Johnson might have gone kind of rogue with The Last Jedi and left out some ideas that should have been in the movie. I think some of the big reveals in Rise of Skywalker would have paid off more if they had been hinted at in The Last Jedi:

  • Think about how much better it would have been if The Last Jedi had introduced the question of “why did Leia stop her Jedi training?” at the beginning. It would have made the reveal about why in Rise better, and it would have been a better context for the “flying through space before she died” scene in episode 8 as well. We didn’t have enough time with Leia in The Force Awakens to explore this, so The Last Jedi would have been the best place to raise this in a few places.
  • Hints about a mysterious force behind Snoke should have been mentioned in The Last Jedi as well. Again, we didn’t have enough time with Snoke in episode 7 to do this, but 8 would have been a great place for this. Just some hints about older ancient Sith magic pulling the strings in some way. This would have set up Palpatine’s revelation so much better in Rise of Skywalker. Of course, it could be that Maz Kanata was hinting at this in The Force Awakens. Or it could have been that all of the sequels were hinting at it all along.
  • Just one line in The Last Jedi about Rey’s parents could have set things up for episode 9 nicely: after talking about her parents, Kylo Ren says “but you are asking the wrong questions about where you come from” before getting cut off.
  • The Sith fleet was impossibly too big to just come out of nowhere. Someone would have noticed that massive amount of supplies and people going missing. While the fleet should have been smaller to be more realistic, I would have also planted some kind of mention in The Last Jedi about massive amounts of materials disappearing across the galaxy without a trace in The Last Jedi and even The Force Awakens.

So obviously my feelings about The Rise of Skywalker are closer to “its complicated” than outright “I liked it,” but a lot of that comes from nitpicking over details. But it is okay to like something while still thinking of ways to improve it. It seems to me that it also really spent a lot of time setting up future movies (Lando finds out Jannah is his daughter, Rey training a new form of force warriors called Skywalkers, even how Rey’s parents turned against Palpatine), adding to the issue of it being too much for one movie.

To me, what The Rise of Skywalker does is show that nostalgia is not a constant, but a contextual way of evaluating anything that reaches back to something in our past. Reviews of movies like The Rise of Skywalker become problematic, because we are all going to have different contexts for why some things work as callbacks to nostalgia and why other things fall into useless fan service categories. The ideal scenario would be to evaluate it as a stand alone movie, but the idea that episode 9 wraps up the entire Skywalker saga prevents this on many levels. They do reveal the conclusion to many long standing questions, whether we like those reveals or not. They also satisfied the studio’s desire to set up future movies. All of which would have happened had they been put out ten years ago under the direction of George Lucas as well. Except we apparently would have gotten Lucas doubling down on that whole midi-chlorians thing.

In some sense, the sequel trilogy ended up being a rough approximation of what we were always going to get. But it could have been worse. Just imagine what the Jar Jar Binks of a microbiotic Lucas world would be like….

Going Extra Dark With Dark Crystal: The Age of Resistance

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To be honest, I really had not thought much about the Dark Crystal movie since I saw it in the 80s. My brother and I liked it… and were creeped out by it. It really wasn’t a kids movie. The Henson company was convinced that muppets needed an adult image I guess, and they set out to prove they could be more than funny kids props.

Of course, the movie opened the door for thousands of years of history to explore in the Dark Crystal world, and a brave new world of possibilities to think about after the ending. But apparently not enough people were interested in that back in the day to make a sequel or prequel movie. Now with 80s nostalgia culture worship in full swing, it seems like we get the prequel series that not many were asking for? Or maybe many were and I just didn’t know.

I have to admit that I was intrigued by the idea. I am not against re-visiting older properties just for the sake of being against the idea. Sometimes – like in the case of Battlestar Galactica – revisiting older ideas can produce entertaining (even if imperfect) results. But focusing so much on gelflings before the time frame of the movie… knowing that they will pretty much all die? That’s dark, man.

To me, the beginning of the new Netflix series felt like 9.5 hours of “gee, look at the cool puppetry we can make” mixed with a half hour of plot development. Even once the series finally did pull me in and get me interested halfway through, they still needed to cut the character count way down. Just too many plots and creatures to keep track off.

And the darkness just kept getting darker and darker. At one point in the series, I felt that the 10th episode was just going to start off with a black hole mysteriously appearing next to the planet, followed by an hour of all of the characters screaming in agony as they get crushed by it. It was really just that bleak. I had to listen to some bleak black metal just to cheer up my mood.

Will I continue watching the next season when it comes out? I don’t know. I don’t mind dark themes, but I can’t really take as much as they put in this first season. And they didn’t even get to where the movie itself starts, where most of the “good side” in this series is all…. dead. But I will say that the rich mythology they have created for this world is interesting. Sure, it is rather Tolkien-esque in some ways (and hard to track fully without charts handy), but that is not a bad thing.

Even though the creators stuck with puppets and/or people in costumes for a lot of the effects, they did get an upgrade with some CG elements that does help. However, sticking with the puppets at times ends up falling flat, like when they try to show feet running. It looks about like what you would think – stuffed animal feet or paws hitting the ground with all the impact of cotton stuffed fabric, and all of the speed of someone moving those feet with their hands rather than being actual running legs.

So on a nostalgia culture scale between “okay, this works like Battlestar Galactica” to “this is just pure mindless worship like Ready Player One“… I guess Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance falls somewhere in the middle? Either that, or it is just off the scale somewhere in the “you might need counseling to deal with unseeing much of what the Skeksis do.”

Here is the original movie trailer:

And the trailer for the new series:

Knock-Off Mystery Toys From the 80s

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One of the more fascinating aspect of toys the 80s (and I am sure the decades before as well) is the fact that there was an abundance of cheap knock-off toys available everywhere. There was some effort to enforce copyrights on some things, but that really didn’t seem to have much effect until later decades. So your favorite toy you remember fondly might end up being a cheap knock-off of some more famous toy – and now you can’t find much (if any) information on it because it was so unofficial. Sometimes a few rare things will pop-up on blogs like Plaid Stallions, but that is a rare occurrence.

So you also have to wonder about the safety standards of the material used in these toys… especially the bane of all old childhood toys: lead paint. Yay.

While I was fortunate enough to grow up in a family that could afford some of the bigger name Star Wars and Mego toys, I also had many family members that were “thrifty” shoppers – meaning they frequently hit the bargain toy racks at Gibsons, Eckerd Drugstores, and local mom and pop toy stores in the mall. These places were havens for stuff that would never be legally allowed today. And lets be honest – my parents also like to save money on things when the could as well.

One of my favorite toys in Kindergarten was this robot:

So much so that it is one of the few toys I have a picture with. I have cropped this old pic of me down to just the robot, and of course the awesome t-shirt with Spider-man playing football. Obviously, the first guess with this is that it is a Shogun Warrior toy. I have looked through every online collection I can find of Shogun Warrior toys – and can’t find one that looks like this. I have looked through their competitors – nothing. This toy was possibly an unlicensed knock-off. It was all plastic (Shogun toys this size at the time were die-cast metal), but the fists did shoot out… at first (until my parents decided that was too dangerous and they hot-glued them into the arms).

So who knows – maybe someone will see this and be able to tell me where to find more information about this toy?

The Tale of Two Dungeons & Dragons

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Growing up in rural Southern U.S., the entire Dungeons & Dragons brand was pretty controversial. D&D was ground zero for the Satanic panic, Christian boycotts, school watch lists, and general FUD (at some point I will need to write about how during the Satanic Panic I made it onto my high school’s “List of Students Most Likely to be Satan Worshippers”). I was a somewhat fan of D&D that tried to get some games together in a rural Texas town… with very little luck.

However, for three brief seasons between 1983 and 1985, I did have the Dungeons & Dragons Saturday morning cartoon to fill my fantasy gamer dreams. How on earth a kids cartoon show about D&D made it on network television in the 80s is a mystery to me. The idea of children running away from scary looking monsters surely inspired a massive number of Sunday School sermons on the evils of witchcraft, playing with magic, and fantasy in general. Wikipedia even notes: “In 1985, the National Coalition on Television Violence demanded that the FTC run a warning during each broadcast stating that Dungeons & Dragons had been linked to real-life violent deaths” (I believe those deadly D&D connections were debunked decades ago).

Somebody actually took the time to add a nice collection of all of the cartoon’s episodes on to YouTube, with the added bonus of a radio play that is designed to give closure to the series that was cancelled early. Sort of. Here is the playlist:

I recently finished watching all of these videos. I was surprised at how many I vaguely remembered from the first season, and how many I didn’t from the second and third seasons.

I might have blocked out the second and third seasons, because to be honest… it got really dark somewhere in the middle of season 2. It went from weekly fun tales of a bunch of kids and teens romping around a strange world getting out of troubled spots (usually through some bumbling mistake), to a dark exploration of the PTSD these kids faced being trapped away from home and having to fight monsters every week only to have a sliver of hope for return snatched away. Every time.

Seriously. The second half of season two started having main characters betraying the group, 8 year olds yelling and crying about wanting to go home, fights between the characters that you never saw on other cartoons, sad emotional looks from characters losing yet another hope of getting home, kids plotting to kill their enemy Venger, and so on. Wikipedia even notes that one episode almost got shelved as too dark and violent. Yikes! The last televised episode was a straight out horror themed episode that probably never should have played on Saturday mornings.

In some ways, I should have seen the change coming – because the first several episodes were the same basic plot over and over again: the episode opens with the kids wrapping up a former quest for Dungeon Master, who usually appears again and gives another easy to translate riddle, the kids don’t get the riddle, Dungeon Master disappears when they look away (stop. looking. away. already.), Eric complains about Dungeon Master, they head off in some random direction hoping to be able to follow DM’s riddle (seriously – couldn’t the guy just at least point in the right direction occasionally?), a few mistakes or mishaps happen, you see the answer to the riddle coming a mile away, the kids finally get the riddle at the last minute, they perform a few brave moves, they always have to choose to save people / sentient creatures in exchange for losing their chance to go home, DM appears and gives some obvious lesson, Eric complains, Eric does something goofy, they all laugh, end of episode.

The interesting thing about the cartoon was that the people drawing the backgrounds and creatures did an incredible job translating existing D&D monsters/backgrounds, as well as creating some creative ones of their own. As formulaic and simple as the plots and animation was, the design was very interesting and expansive.

The series also suffered from the 80s version of “diversity”: basically, almost all human characters were white except for Diana the Acrobat, a black female. But wow was she the badass of the group. She was braver than Bobby the Barbarian, but with better tactical skill than Hank the Ranger. The few times she got captured by an enemy just felt too forced.

Of course, a lot of things about the series didn’t make sense. One of the biggest ones for me was how Hank’s electric bow was an awesome weapon of power that could take out mountain sides with a single arrow, but also some how form bridges and nets that didn’t burn the feet or clothes of those touching them. Weird. To be honest, every episode should have ended early with Hank blowing up whatever bad creature got in their way. They showed it having that much power at times, but others… not so much.

Because the magic bow couldn’t be shown killing creatures on screen, it often suddenly became the electric version of Mr. Fantastic’s stretchy arm in the middle of a battle. Saturday morning cartoon morality story telling was a weird thing – very inconsistent and wrapped into everything.

But if you wonder why so many people today think diversity is a simple fix that already happened a long time ago, or that powerful weapons can be utilized safely just because the owner wielding it is a “good guy”… might want to ask them what cartoons they watched as a kid. Sometime later I will have to dive more into this aspect with cartoons like G.I. Joe.

Anyways, if this cartoon was a modern day Netflix show, you would have sworn they were setting it up for Bobby to kill Hank and Venger (the main big bad for the series) while assuming the mantle of Venger. That is how dark it was getting. Of course, it was an 80s cartoon, so all Bobby had to do was laugh about something and be okay. That also sounds strangely familiar to how some people deal with problems today.

The sad thing is, the series was cancelled before the third season was finished, so we never know if the children got home. Well, I should say we never knew if Dungeon Master quit using them to fix his problems long enough to let them go home. I had thought it would be cool if they found a way to open a permanent door home – maybe through Presto the Magician finally learning to use his hat right. Dungeon Master would call them when there was evil to fight, they would go fight it, and get home in time for dinner.

Several people did record a series finale in a radio-show format for the DVD release in 2006. I’m not sure why they didn’t just make a cartoon in the 80s style – it wouldn’t be that expensive in the 2000s. But, oh well. This radio show featured the children actually getting the chance to choose if they wanted to go home or stay…. but it ends before they choose. Argh!

Apparently this was on purpose as they were trying to set-up a new format for season four. So I will just pretend that they were going to go with with my version of the “permanent open door” concept.

So many things and problems with North American 80s culture have been touched on here, so much more to unpack with those issues, so many obvious influences on the problems in the world today. I am sure I will get to that. But I also still have fond memories of playing Dungeons & Dragons cartoon characters with family and friends when we would get together and play make believe. Thankfully we didn’t do the dark parts.

In Search of the Mighty Orbots

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Some time around 15-ish years ago, I started noticing there were a large number of websites dedicated to various toy lines, television shows, cartoons, and other aspects of the past decades (especially the 80s and 90s). Sometimes it would be an entire website dedicated to one specific thing, other times it would be larger areas like “early 80s kids cartoons” or whatever. These websites had been around for a while, I just had not noticed too many of them before.

So I looked through these sites, reminisced about the past, and remembered many, many things I had forgotten about my childhood. I also started remembering obscure things that weren’t on some of these websites… and that I couldn’t remember what they were myself. A few quick web searches helped me pinpoint names of some. But others still eluded me. I soon developed a short list in my head of stuff I was trying to remember, but couldn’t quite discover online.

For a few years, I really couldn’t find anything on any of the items on this list. Well, considering I would only do a search once or twice a year, that is not saying much. But I was just missing too many details to really pinpoint many of them.

Finally I had a random connection on one item that seem to start a string of obscure memory discoveries from my childhood.

I had a somewhat vague memory of a cartoon that was about 5 or so smaller robots that joined together to form a larger robot, but it wasn’t Transformers or Voltron or any of the other more popular cartoon/toy lines that most people associate with the concept (“Combining Mecha” is the technical term). In fact, I didn’t remember there being any toys associated with the show at all (a really rare occurrence). All I could vaguely remember was that we would watch the show and then go outside and play like we were the robots from the show, usually singing the show’s theme song.

Then finally I saw a word in a list of obscure “Combining Mecha” shows: Orbots. Sure enough, once I knew the title, I found all kinds of tribute websites and even the catchy theme song on YouTube:

And sure enough, it was a one season show with apparently few toys connected to it… which ironically got cancelled because of some dispute or lawsuit from the makers of Go-Bots (they thought the idea was too close to theirs).

This kind of shows how different things were before the Internet. We know that television shows, music groups, movie franchises, etc will go on hiatus after a season or tour or movie release or whatever. Today we tend to still hear a slow to drowning stream of updates, tweets, and news bits from all types of artists and entertainers even during these cyclical down times. We know when they are and aren’t working on new songs or seasons or material or whatever. We all know the minute that our shows are cancelled or renewed. Its all pretty standard now.

But back in the 80s? Stuff would go on hiatus after a season finale and never be heard from again. Sometimes you would hear in the news that a prime-time show was cancelled. But a cartoon like the Orbots could stop go off the air over Christmas holidays or summer vacation or whenever, and just never come back. You might not even notice it because there was a whole slew of new cartoons capturing your attention.

This is pretty much what happened with the Orbots. We watched the last episode of Season 1, probably went out to play as our favorite Orbots, and then filed it all in the back of minds for the next season. But that new season never came, and we got distracted so much by new cartoons that we never pulled the old memory out, and then decades later i am trying to wrack my brain to figure out what that one show that one time was called….

Of course, there were shows that people knew were cancelled and they tried to write in and change minds of the studio executives and all of that, but you have to wonder. Did our current disposable culture of always focusing on the new bands and new movies and new entertainment get trained in us as children? Possibly so. Does the fact that so many of these cartoon shows are just vague memories without a specific title in our minds just reveal that we were trained to focus on the new shiny object as they came out? Maybe, maybe not. But still, its kind of weird that we just forget about something like that – possibly for the rest of our life – without a trace of a flag in our mind that something we used to enjoy immensely is now gone.

Nostalgia Culture and the Worship of the Past

posted in: Nostalgia Culture | 0

So you might have noticed that there is a sort of revival of all things 80s in current pop culture – thanks in no small part to books like Ready Player One and television shows like Stranger Things. Now it seems like the 90s are starting to get their nostalgia turn. I have kind of wanted to blog about the 70s, 80s, and 90s for years before they made a comeback, but never got the chance. Now it seems a little cliche to jump on the band wagon, but that is what we did back then anyways, right?

As many people have noted, things like Ready Player One are really more about celebrating middle class white 80s culture. That was why I have been putting off blogging about any of it – there were many problems and issues with assigning “the 80s” to one specific sociocultural group. In a lot of ways, that is what the 80s were all about. We thought we had solved things like racism, sexism, and hatred just because we had recorded “We are the World”…

Of course, we never really asked anyone outside of white middle class culture if that was really the case. We just knew we had. And yes, it was “we” that recorded “We are the World,” because we often saw ourselves as somehow cosmically part of anything that “we” liked. Even if we never actually even bought the song and just taped it off the radio.

There were always those downer alternative/goth/industrial kids… but what did they know? Oh, we were about to find out the hard way when they rose to the top in the 90s.

Still, its not to say that I can’t both reminisce about the past while also recognizing it as problematic. I was a kid in the 70s, in junior high and high school in the 80s, and in college in the 90s. I kind of got all three decades at about the right age (at least in my opinion).

Today, that hopeless sense of “didn’t we fix this already?” that is left over from the ashes of the 80s is probably what drives a lot of people my age to push back against any kind of movement to fix anything now. Which is weird – we were the kids that took a pseudo-punk / heavy metal attitude of “middle finger to the authority figures” so seriously in high school and college. It was always “adults” and “the man” that was causing all the problems by not listening to all of our solutions in our art and music…. until we were the adults and the authorities. Then it suddenly became the “kids these days!”

When I think back to 80s, I often remember an average Saturday in the summer, when I tended to sleep in until my Dad started mowing the lawn. I would wake up with the sun shinning in the window and bask in how “solved” the whole world felt. My generation had figured out how to perfect music, movies, television, sports, you name it. We were even generous in letting the older generations enjoy success if they were still “good.” Aerosmith, Robert Plant, Cher, Robert Redford, Aretha Franklin, and many other older stars and artists from the past were still in our top charts and top movies and so on. At the end of the 80s, as hair metal tamed down into blues metal and early rap toughened up into street rap, we thought we were just perfecting culture. We were sure it would all carry on for infinity after a few more years of getting it all… right.

Then the 90s happened. And that was a whole other story.

But you see, this was the sense we had in the 80s. We were perfecting everything. We were sending food to Ethiopia, right? We were solving the problems. We kept the nukes from launching just by watching War Games gosh darn it!

Yeah, we were naive. Not all of us. But the white suburban kids you usually see idolized in Stranger Things now? That was me. Well, without the cool supernatural stuff. And we were naive about the problems brewing in other parts of the world as well as on the other side of town until it slapped us in the face in the 90s… or 00s… or 10s… just like many of the kids in Stranger Things were oblivious to the problems lurking around them until they found themselves face to face with something… other.

What is Monsoon River?

Monsoon River was originally a website for my web design company (the files are still there behind the scenes). I did a few websites for friends and family mostly, but it never went anywhere. The name came from a couple of trips to India. We always seem to be there when the monsoon rains started, and when that happens – it rains. A lot. The picture in the header image was taken by me near Darjeeling  while on a bus trying to get out of the foothills of the Himalayan mountains. The monsoon rains create several rivers where there were just valleys, and this one was causing traffic delays. Our driver said “look – monsoon river!” and I liked the word.

You could just look at this website and say “another day, another blog…” I have been wanting to start a blog like this for a while. Like many people, I began to find a lot of stuff from my childhood being memorialized on websites, Flickr, YouTube, and other places. These trips down memory lane are often popular because they bring back nostalgic memories of the 70s, 80s, and 90s for myself and others. I kind of wanted to do a blog to jump on that bandwagon (because that was really what the whole 80s was about, anyways). Then the 80s got a huge popularity boost through shows like Stranger Things – and it seemed like a whole “nostalgia culture” sprang up over night around fondly remembering the past. But the past wasn’t all that great for everyone. So while I will talk about my past, I also want to take on this 80s attitude of thinking we “fixed” the world just because we recorded “We are the World.” Because “us” being a part of the culture change was also part of what the 80s sold as well, leading to the realization in the 90s that we weren’t doing that great in fixing the world after all just because we had a lot of feels during some cheesy teen flick. But more on that later.

For now, I will probably talk about what I remember and what I liked back in the day and probably even critically examine styles and trends that led us to where we are today. Sorry if I go too “head in the clouds” or “the sky is falling” in any one particular post. That will probably all be based on how I am feeling each day.

However…. I had wanted to originally talk about some of the less well-known music I find, so there will be a lot about that here as well. My focus will be on non-standard styles of music. We already have enough coverage of twenty something white males doing rock. I want to look at Mongolian folk thrash, Indonesian Hajib funk metal, Asian underground electronic music, Indian rap metal, black feminist punk rock, and so on. I will keep a YouTube playlist with most of the artists I find, but I will probably come here to talk about them.

And… years and years ago, I had a blog called Your Official Portal to Geekdom that was basically me geeking out about new technology. Then, that technology got more invasive and surveillance capitalist, and it wasn’t so fun anymore. I still want to blog about interesting technology things, but maybe also look at the problems so I can add to those that are trying to swing the conversation away from just accepting the invasion of privacy that has become default these days.

So there you have it: Music, Nostalgia Culture, and Modern Geekery. Just FYI – this is not my only blog. You can also find me blogging about Education and Technology at EduGeek Journal, as well as politics and religion at Metamodern Faith.