Friday, July 29, 2011

The F Word Has Lost its Shock Value

Remember when the f word used to be bad? It was the word that earned Ralphie a mouthful of soap in A Christmas Story. It was, as Ralphie put it, "The mother of all dirty words. The f dash-dash-dash word."

Well, not so much anymore, folks. Our society has become a bunch of potty mouths, because the word for unlawful carnal knowledge is so ingrained in our modern culture that it's openly used in public and on TV as a verb, adjective, adverb, noun and anything else we can get away with grammatically. On a recent edition of Hell's Kitchen, I counted the f word bleeped out no less than 15 times in only one minute, and most of them weren't coming out of Gordon Ramsey's mouth, but those of the contestants.

I mentioned to my mother the other day that one of the reasons I like Mad Men so much is because there's virtually no swearing in it, particularly the f bomb. No matter how agitated the characters get, you don't hear them telling someone to f off. She said, "That's because we didn't say it back then (in the 60s)! It was a bad word and you didn't hear anyone making it a part of regular daily conversation." And when we were growing up in the 70s and 80s, who could ever imagine a hit pop song having the f word in the title or lyrics? Yet that's exactly what happened to Cee Lo Green with his now iconic up yours aria "F*** You." OK, I'll admit it, I loved this contagious hit as much as anyone else (and its censored twin, "Forget You", just didn't have the same impact) but the first time I listened to it I was a little embarrassed. Worst of all, I see the f-bomb regularly dropped on Facebook by some of my Gen Y connections. C'mon kids, wouldn't your parents be ashamed?

So what the f--I mean, heck, happened? I've really noticed the change in movie and television dialogue during the past 15 years. There's some debate as to when the f word was first used on the big screen. According to Roger Ebert's book Questions from the Movie Answerman, it was first said in a movie during the 1930s; however, some people think Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe? and Midnight Cowboy both opened the doors for the f word to be freely used. Today it's pretty rare to watch a film that doesn't use it, but it's the ones who overuse it that bother me. Nothing annoys me more than when every other word in a string of dialogue is the f word. Unless it's truly appropriate to the character, it's a sign to me that the screenwriter is low class and frankly, unimaginative. It has actually caused me to stop watching a DVD or two when it's relentless. 

Please know that I'm no prude--it's not like I never say or write the word. However, I try to reserve it for the appropriate time and place, if you know what I mean. You've probably noticed that I've never written it, to the best of my knowledge, on this blog, and I would NEVER say it at the office or in a professional environment, or with people I barely know. I wonder how many kids get away with saying it in school. Back in my day, saying the word out loud in class would earn you a one-way ticket to the principle's office.

The f word's popularity in current pop culture means that it's also lost its shock value. Think about it--are we really shocked anymore when we hear it? Now that it's no longer a big deal, the question is what will take its place as the mother of all swear words? Maybe I don't want to know, but it's amazing that a word with roots dating back to 1475 enjoyed its profane reputation up until about 10 years ago. I guess we all need to keep those bars of soap handy.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Defunct Amusement Park: Pleasure Island

It's a shame that I was born too late to visit Pleasure Island--an amusement park close to my hometown that went out of business in 1969, three years before I was born. The irony is that I worked there in the mid-90s, as the location is now home to a business park. Taking my daily lunchtime walk around the small lake, I had no idea that it was once home to Moby Dick, a giant mechanical whale meant to emulate the one that Herman Melville made famous, or that Captain Kid once guarded his ship there and posed for pictures with kids. However, the memories of Pleasure Island are so vivid to those locals who enjoyed it that there's a pretty extensive website dedicated to its memory.
Billed as the "Disneyland of the east," Pleasure Island opened in 1959 in the Boston suburb of Wakefield, Massachusetts (the exit for it off the highway is still called Pleasure Island Road.) In fact, the "island" was designed by Disneyland's developer, Cornelius Vanderbilt Wood, and founded by William Hawkes, the publisher of Child Life magazine. Pleasure Island was unique in that it mixed a taste of the wild West with the swashbuckling high seas. Some of the attractions included a Stagecoach Ride, the Pirate Ride, the Burro Trail, Moby Dick Ride, Indian Village, Captain Kid's Pirate Cove, and the Horseless Carriage ride, among many others. The "Showbowl" was where entertainment usually played, and the biggest names who appeared at Pleasure Island were Rick Nelson, The Modernaires, The Duke Ellington Orchestra, Michael Landon, The Three Stooges, Don Ameche, and Lassie! There was also a petting zoo, a shooting gallery, a Western-style saloon, carousel, railroad station, ice cream parlor, and more. 

Costumed actors were a fixture in the park. A recurring theme was when bandits would try to board the train ride to rob the conductor and passengers. They never succeeded, however, because the sheriff always made sure of it by "gunning them down." Corny for sure, but this was during an era when the Lone Ranger was popular.

My parents had many fond memories of taking my siblings to Pleasure Island during the 60s, and was very disappointed when it closed. My mother says that my sister was terrified of Moby Dick, who would rise from the lake during the boat ride, open his mouth to reveal his sharp teeth, and blow water from his spout. As someone who saw (and enjoyed) the movie Jaws when I was only 3 and a half years old, I think I would have dug that ride!

With such a wonderful array of attractions for families to enjoy and see, you may be wondering why the park went out of business: it was the New England weather. Only open during the seasonal summer months, Pleasure Island eventually couldn't keep up with the expenses of running it, and closed in 1969. A string of poor management may have contributed to its demise as well. 

I grew up going to Canobe Lake Park in nearby Salem, NH but visiting the Pleasure Island tribute site definitely makes me wish I could have been there. I can only experience it through the many photos found on the site, some of which I've posted here. There's too many original photographers credited, so if these belong to any readers who come across this post, just let me know and I'll credit you. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Two Forgotten Friday Favorites: Martha Reeves and the Vandellas

Twitter has Follow Fridays, and Go Retro has Forgotten Friday Favorites. Actually, my song picks for today are not exactly forgotten, just appropriate because of the sweltering heat and humidity many of my fellow Americans are experiencing today.

Martha and the Vandellas were the most active from 1963 to 1972, racking up an amazing 26 hits, yet they never received a Grammy (they were, however, inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in the late 90s.) Their hit "Dancing in the Street" has been covered by other artists many times, most notably David Bowie and Mick Jagger.

So grab a mojito and sit back and listen to Vandellas' hits "(Love is Like) a Heat Wave" and "Quicksand." Stay cool and safe this weekend, everybody!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Whatever Happened to...Full Service Gas Stations?

The gas station of yesteryear puts today's modern filling facilities to shame. It's insulting that we must pay close to $4 a gallon for gas, often pump it ourselves, and not get any kind of reward or thanks for our patronage. 

For me, one of the most memorable scenes from Back to the Future is when Marty McFly, upon landing in his hometown during the 1950s, witnesses a full service gas station. A car pulls up and out of the station spring four uniformed attendants who not only fill the tank, but check the tire pressure and oil and wash the car's windows. These perks were free and it was the norm up until the 1970s. Not only that, but gas stations often gave away trinkets such as drinking glasses, toys, key chains, calendars, trading stamps and even road maps. Exxon was known for giving away a plush tiger's tail that could be affixed to your car's gas cap or a bicycle, to go along with their famous slogan, "Put a tiger in your tank." 

Image copyright Chris Donner
This was also service with a smile - one baby boomer recalls here how he was allowed to help the attendant pump gas, earning a small reward as a result. 

The oil crisis of the 1970s marked the beginning of the end for the full service station. Oil companies figured that customers wanted to pump their own gas in exchange for saving a few pennies. Pretty soon, the attendants were no longer needed. Also, the process of getting gas at a full service station took about 10-15 minutes, which sadly is considered too long in today's high paced, impatient world. 

It's sad--especially considering I don't remember visiting one as a kid growing up in the 70s. Interestingly, all stations in Oregon and New Jersey are considered full service because it's against the law in those two states for customers to pump their own gas.

There is one modern gas station that I've heard of that offers full service the way it used to be: Forrest's Duxler filling station Wilmette, IL. Check it out below!

And here's a vintage clip showing one of the originals:

Do you remember full service gas stations? What kinds of freebies did you make out with?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Vantastic! How to Build the Ultimate Shagging Wagon

'Tis that time of year when vintage car owners show off their chrome and wheels at cruise nights and classic car gatherings, but the custom van of the 70s usually isn't one of them. I don't know why no one is restoring these shag pads on wheels, because street vans were a huge automotive phenomenon during the late 70s and early 80s--there was even a magazine dedicated to them called Travelin' Vans. However, as a public service to my readers, I'd like to offer three simple steps on how to turn any mommy (or daddy) minivan into the Ultimate Shagging Wagon. Get ready to say to your friends and neighbors, "If this van is a-rockin', don't come a-knocking!"

1. Get a Custom Paint Job
Vans from this time period were adorned with a wild assortment of graphics and portraits, from bold, mod looking stripes to western landscapes. Nothing was too tacky for a 70s van, so let your imagination go wild--even if you're a Star Wars fan!

2. Get a Custom Interior
Don't forget about the inside of your vehicle! Shag or velour carpeting will make those trysts with your loved one a little more comfy (but watch out for carpet burn!) while curtains ensure privacy. A lava lamp, dashboard Jesus, or fuzzy dice adds a nice ambiance and sets the mood. For added flair, consider the chain steering wheel--it was a favorite of Cheech and Chong's, after all. 

Or how about some fiber optic lighting???

3. Go Where the Girls (or the Guys) Are
Take the van to the beach, local swimming hole, or your neighborhood block party. They'll flock to it like moths to a flame! 

Don't you just totally want one now?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Pinup Girl Clothing: Vampalicious Vintage Swimsuits and More

Mod Bow-tie mini dress, $128
All too often, I often forget to mention retro items that you can buy in favor of the usual Go Retro commentary. I'd like to remedy that by sharing the love for some of the cool vintage-themed stores I've found online, starting with the site Pinup Girl Clothing. I found them not long ago while looking for vintage-styled swimsuits online, but love all of their product departments, particularly the dresses and bags. If you're a woman looking to wear something bombshell sexy along the lines of Marilyn Monroe or Mad Men's Joan Holloway, this is the site to check out. The company also prides itself on using models of various dress sizes to show off the clothing and accessories. Here's just a few of the favorite things that I'd like to add to my wish list:

Birdie Party Dress in Red Vintage Floral by Pinup Couture, $118

Natasha Dress in White Pin Dot by Pinup Couture, $88

Paris Dress in Grey with Pink Trim by Dixiefried, $116

Look familiar, Mad Men fans? This is the Joanie Dress in Olive Green by Pinup Couture, $96

Retro Halter Swimsuit - The Bettie One Piece in Red Polka Dot by Pinup Couture, $78

Sailor Girl Nautical Bikini Top and Bottom, $56 for each piece

Red Sparkle Train Case by Pinup Couture, $112 

Just in time for the upcoming ABC series, the Pan Am Hat Bag, $87

There's oodles more where these goodies came from, so check out the site. Happy shopping!

Friday, July 08, 2011

And the Winner Is...

I just picked a winner for the Jacob Bromwell skewers. Needless to say, this being a retro themed blog, my method of choosing a name is old school...

I know it's hard to see, but the winner is...Mimi, of 1972: The Retro WW Experiment! Congratulations, Mimi! I'll be in touch to obtain the address to have the skewers shipped to. Enjoy, but don't go using these for your nasty gelatin Weight Watchers recipes (she knows how much I hate gelatin!)

Nice try to everyone who participated, and thanks again to Jacob Bromwell for reaching out to me and contributing the item. I hope to have more cool giveaway items for my readers in the future.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Go Retro's Summer Giveaway!

Now that I have your attention, I'm excited to announce that I have another giveaway item for my readers! Last week, the president of a company called Jacob Bromwell, Inc. reached out to me. Jacob Bromwell is a manufacturer of American cookware since 1819, specializing in vintage, nostalgic, and hard-to-find kitchen and campfire cooking products. Named for its founder, Jacob Bromwell, this company is recognized as America's Oldest Cookware. Best of all, every product is made with pride in the U.S.A. and backed by a lifetime guarantee!
Jacob Bromwell is offering a lucky reader of this blog a pair of Ohio Barbeque Skewers, pictured above, a $29.50 value. These beautiful skewers are 20" long and feature wooden handles to keep hands cool while cooking. They are right at home around a campfire or on the grill, and perfect for roasting or grilling marshmellows, hot dogs, kebabs, and more. You can see additional photos and read more about them on the Jacob Bromwell site here.

To win them, just leave me a comment on this post.  The only rule is I must have a way of contacting you, so any anonymous commenters must leave a valid email address where they can be reached. I'll draw a name Friday morning at 9 AM EST and will announce the winner then. The skewers will ship directly to the winner from Jacob Bromwell. 

I also encourage everyone to check out the Jacob Bromwell site to see all of the cool items they offer. Good luck!

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Land of the Lost TV Series: Crime Story

This fall, NBC and ABC are going to try to capitalize on the success of Mad Men with two shows that are set in the 1960s: The Playboy Club (NBC) and Pan Am (ABC.) Time will tell if either of these dramas becomes a hit (I'm guessing no - too little, too late, folks,) but people may forget that this isn't the first time the 60s era was portrayed on network television. In the mid-80s, NBC did a pretty good job with a short-lived but compelling series called Crime Story.

Crime Story was produced by Michael Mann, who had left Miami Vice in 1986 to work on the new show, which took place in 1963 Chicago (and later, Las Vegas.) The series starred Dennis Farina as the tough talking Lt. Mike Torello, and Anthony Denison as his nemesis, gangster Ray Luca. Torello's thwarted attempts to bring Luca down was the underlining theme of the show, but other sub-plots were worked into the storyline, and both seasons ended with cliffhangers that left viewers wondering if the main characters would survive. 

A lot of that cool art deco style so prominent in Miami Vice oozed over into Crime Story and worked nicely in what has become known as the pre-Beatles period of American history. By the second season, each episode cost over $1 million to produce, because of the period costumes and props required and because it was shot on location. The opening theme was a cover of Del Shannon's hit Runaway, with the lyrics slightly altered. Although many clips of the show don't currently exist on YouTube, this 10-minute sequence was full of eye candy to me: a pastel colored department store, impeccably dressed extras, and shiny, fish-finned cars. Is it also wrong of me to think that the bad guy, Ray Luca, is kind of a hottie? Whoever the set director was for Crime Story, they captured the look of the time period as nicely as the crew of Mad Men does:

I get the impression that the Lt. Torello character rarely smiled in this show - he was the epitome of the crusty, hard working TV cop. This scene made me laugh - his marriage is ending, and he discovers his wife's lover in his home...but he's not giving up his beloved TV set without a fight!

Even though Crime Story only aired for two seasons, several big-time actors got their starts on the show. Julia Roberts made her TV debut playing a rape victim in one of the episodes. Gary Sinese starred as a man who robbed in order to pay for his wife's health expenses (see clip below) and Kevin Spacey portrayed a Kennedy-esque politician. Stanley Tucci played a bomber and David Caruso had a recurring role as a minor character in the pilot and some of the season one episodes. 

I regret that I didn't appreciate Crime Story as much when it first aired, but the premise just didn't appeal to my 14 year-old female mind (Don Johnson sans shirt, however, did on MV.) The show did fairly well after its premiere, where it aired after Miami Vice on Friday nights. When NBC made the fatal move of switching it to another night to compete with Moonlighting, its ratings sunk. They tried the 10 PM Friday night slot again but to no avail: the show was canceled after the second season ended and we never learned if Lt. Torello and his colleagues survived a plane crash. 

Martin Scorsese noted that at the premiere of his film Casino that Crime Story served as an inspiration for the movie. It also was one of the first TV shows that followed a storyline over an entire season, instead of episode by episode, a format which later became popular with 24 and The Sopranos.

Here's the opening theme to Crime Story. Both seasons of the show are available on DVD and you can also watch them on Hulu.

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