Cultural Phenomenon of My Time
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DragonBall Z (1989)
Even without considering its foray in the West, Dragon Ball Z still established hegemony in Asia. It was a massive hit in Hong Kong, to the point where even your grandparents knew what it was. The show would somehow find its way into the daily conversation without fail. It was like every Asian kids' obsession. The notion of any person who didn't like Dragon Ball Z just didn't cross my mind (or anybody's). The animation was excellent, the battles were epic and the music was sublime.
The Super Saiyan idea was a great marketing ploy. Aside from a change in the aesthetic appearance in the character who undergoes a transformation, it's really nothing more than a glorified power up. But kids like myself hoovered it up like drones.
I knew it was going to be a hit for those into action and superheroes in the West, but I didn't expect it to be this well-received. Kids even having been born after the anime was finished have huge respect for it.
Simply put it, never in my lifetime have I ever encountered anything bigger than Dragon Ball Z and it doesn't look like I will ever again.
They were the neverending elevator music of the late 90s. Like earworms burrowing into my brain which won't come out. Even without revisiting some of their music videos I can recite the lyrics no problem. It's become a part of my bloodstream by now something even time couldn't undo. I was in my last year of primary school when I started hearing about them. They were the textbook definition of an overnight sensation. Things were going great for them until Geri Haliwell decided to call it a day and they broke up and went their own ways.
Everyone had a favourite Spice Girl. Mine was undoubtedly Ginger Spice and my opinion hasn't changed for 20+ years. I think the rest of the group were just too comfortable with their nicknames and never really developed from their stock roles. Ginger rises above her station (indistinct as it is) and was given more leeway for self-expression. It also helps that she was physically attractive and had the most sex appeal. She was the engine of the boat and losing her meant the whole thing sank.
Something the media picked up on but only after 20 years later was how the black girl was referred to as Scary Spice. No surprise there given the political climate. To them it's an offensive nickname to use. I thought it had something to do with her opening her mouth all the time (literally) to appear intimidating in shoots. She on the other hand considered it an empowering compliment:
“I’m still Scary Spice. It was because I was very opinionated and people perceive that as being a bit scary. But these days women who have opinions speak up – they know what they want.”
Well if she says so, somehow I just never got that impression from her.
In conclusion though, it's safe to say they were The Beatles of my generation. They didn't revolutionise music, but in terms of hype they were second to none.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987)
Who would've known a bunch of anthropomorphic reptiles chomping on pizzas could generate so much $$$? The choice of naming them after Italian Renaissance painters was an interesting one since none of them had anything to do with their namesake. Leonardo was my favourite of the four, he was alpha-male personified and had the gift of the gab. Definitely qualities I absorbed well as a kid. Now that I'm older, I'm even more appreciative of Donatello's efforts for the team. Leonardo was very hands-on and likes to get stuck in there but Donatello preferred to sit back and let his brains dictate the outcome.
"If you're favorite Turtle is Leonardo: You're the alpha male. You're a natural born leader, and you walk around with so much swaggering confidence and charisma, people glom onto you like thirsty leeches. You love to swoop in and solve petty squabbles, and you love the fact that people look up to you."
Street Fighter II: The World Warrior - Arcade
This is one of those things every kid had to have at least tried out once. Fighting games were pretty barebones until Street Fighter came along and showed everyone how they're meant to be done. It caused an explosion of interest from all over the world, The effects of which trickled down into wider society. There were films made in multiple countries (Japan, US and Hong Kong) and films inevitably referencing or parodying it.
Back then arcades were still going strong and this was the go to game during your leisure time. I think the first Street Fighter I got into was the Champion Edition when I played as Guile, and all I remember was how the first enemy I faced was not onscreen but what I'm pressing beneath my hands. I spent god knows how long figuring how the whole thing is supposed to work. But I knew a lot of thought had been put into this game, and when I got my SNES, the first instinct I had was to get good at it. Which I did and came to love in the process.
Pokemon: Gold Version - Game Boy Color
I've been put off from trying out these games for a long while. Maybe now's the time to understand what the fuss was all about. I've seen various episodes of the anime, played games which included the monsters but never got round to the real deal.
The ultimate blonde bombshell of the 90s. The very idea or concept of a beautiful woman was born in my mind through her pleasing appearance. There's something about surgically enhanced breasts which speaks of the time too since her Asian equivalent Amy Yip was also notable for it, and she made it even more hip. Also of note is her sultry cooing voice which can put any man in the mood for love whenever she speaks. All this combines to make her one awesome package that men of all ages will find irresistble. My older male relatives and friends all seemed to have a photo or calendar of her in their bedroom.
There's no doubt she was the it girl of the 90s. If you were a kid then, you know the pain of naked ladies being barred from access to your innocent eyes. Pam was the closest tease you'll ever get. She sells the idea of a woman having control of her own sexuality and that the greatest happiness a man could get lies in a beautiful woman who fulfils your sexual whims and fantasies.
For children of the 90s, here’s an toy you might remember: the Tamagotchi. Once a coveted pop culture phenomenon, the tiny egg is back to help your adult life in a big way. Rather than be a needy pet, it’s now a portable charger for your cell phone.
Night of the Living Dummy (Goosebumps, No 7) - R. L. Stine
I think what might explain the success of Goosebumps is the lack of horror fiction aimed at kids in the market. Children are curious of the world around them, something mysterious and exotic, kids will be attracted to like bees to honey. The writing is also snappy which makes for a fast read; ideal for those who don't enjoy reading but still want to let rip with their imagination. It's the fast food mentality applied to the reading world and boy did it strike gold. A TV series was spawned at the peak of its popularity but it doesn't hold a candle to Are You Afraid of the Dark?
Here's an interview with R L Stine detailing its meteroic rise:
Here's an interview with R L Stine detailing its meteroic rise:
Interviewer: "I was a kid when Goosebumps became a phenomenon, and at the time, it seemed inescapable, but actually there was little initial promotion for the books. You didn't do interviews. How did the series go from a handful of overlooked books to selling almost 4 million copies a month?"
Stine: "It's a great mystery, isn't it? Because there wasn't any advertising or anything. [The books] sat around on the shelves for about three months. We signed up to do four of them. A couple of them came out and they did nothing. They sat there. If this was today — with the computers and everything — I think the stores would have pulled them off the shelves and that would've been it. It would've been considered a failure.
But the bookstores were more patient in those days, and after about three or four months, I think it was discovered by kids. And the whole thing happened by word of mouth. It was just kids telling kids. I really think there's this secret kids' network. The difference is they’re in school, they’re together, and they talk — not like adults.
Kids told kids. I think that's how all the big book crazes started, not by advertising. You can't really force kids to read something they don't want. Harry Potter started the same way, I think. Kids telling kids, all over the world. That's the amazing part."
Harry Potter - J. K. Rowling
During its initial stage of ascendancy, I thought I had already outgrown stuff in the vein of Harry Potter, at least that's what i thought at the time. As I got older though, somehow this viewpoint changed, and instead I became even more receptive and embraced works geared to a young audience.
So different were people's attitudes towards 'kids books' that a friend of mine even had the gall to defend his liking of it in a presentation for English class. I don't think anybody past their late teens would face ridicule nowadays given how it's been deeply ingrained into the public subconsciousness. It's level of esteem rivals that of Tolkien's and J. K. Rowling is considered a national treasure. What seemed "uncool" then is now the opposite. My young female cousin from Hong Kong loves this franchise and the plucky Hermione. Nerdiness is becoming fashionable all of a sudden, thanks to Harry Potter and The Big Bang Theory.
South Park (1997)
South Park is about a group of elementary school youngsters who don't act their age. That is compelling enough to cause a stir in communities especially among adults. For those of us who were of a similar age range though, we can relate to the trials and tribulations that Cartman and co face. Its profanity laden dialogue was definitely controversial, I'm sure many parents were aghast of children dropping f-bombs at every turn. But this is commonplace at the schools I went to and to see my generation portrayed in this way (although exaggerated for comedic purposes) is refreshing. Parents don't have a tight grip anymore on what children consumes as in the past. They might have a soap ready at hand when in our presence, but behind their backs we spewed out whatever vile filth we could possibly imagine from our heads. Shows like Rugrats are an idealisation of childhood innocence. While South Park can hardly be called nuanced, the kids are far more complex and mature than adults give them credit for. They already have one foot in the the adult realm. Further amplifyng their message of that flimsy line between childhood and adulthood is the target audience of the show, whose age range is much higher than the main characters.
The Simpsons (1989)
There's no question that The Simpsons is massive in the west. I think I've amassed a ton of merchandise from the show, anything that had the "Simpsons" label on it grabbed my attention when I was young. But that's where the popularity stops. Its ideas and themes are not as far-reaching and as universal as I originally thought it would've been. A lot of the men and boys were portrayed as dim-witted, morally deficient or lazy as fuck, hardly the makings of good role models. Whereas the women are bright, just or highly competent. Homer might be the breadwinner but Marge is the one who holds authority in the house. It's often on considered the most influential tv show ever but compared to a cinema titan such as "The Godfather", it really isn't on the same page. Coppola's film changed the face of cinema on a worldwide scale. Imitations and parodies were abound in the wake of its impact. For a film released 45 years ago, society is still feeling the effects of The Godfather touch. The Simpsons just didn't wield that kind of clout.
When I first started watching WWE (or WWF as it was known pre-00s), Hulkamania had lost quite a bit of its lustre. Don't get me wrong, it is big, but from my point of view, there was not really that much talk of it during the start of the 90s.
The only two superstars that ran off the mouths of most boys were Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock, the latter in particular. My generation just loved copying or imitating other personalities, and these two happened to be the prime targets of their adulation. The originality of their personalities, the strength of their catchphrases spoke to many disaffected teens.
Game of Thrones (2011)
I'm one of the few people who actually read the books which was known as Song of Fire and Ice before the TV series came out, way back in 2010 hehehe. I discovered talk of it from a recently defunct website called gametrailers which I frequented on a regular basis in the past. Certain gamers whom I have respect for were pushing the book series. Its hype was so massive I felt eager to check it out. I don't think it's all that it's cracked up to be, but it's better than your average fantasy fiction. I saw that betrayal coming from a mile away.
The TV series is really where it took the franchise to a whole new level of popularity. The show itself is considered by some to be the greatest ever. I hoped I could share a similar kind of passion towards it but this is one such time I don't unfortunately. Tyrion Lannister is pretty badass though; nothing like what I imagined him to be but he owned every scene he was featured in.
God of Gamblers (1989)
Nearly 30 years on, the behemoth that is God of Gamblers is still fervent in people's minds. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a 152nd film made recently that belongs in its canon. When I went to Hong Kong in 1993, the hysteria surrounding the franchise hasn't let up yet. The mixture of gambling, action and comedy proved to be a winning formula and filmmakers just went to town with it, because the audience can't seem to get enough. It bled all over the place. It was tough avoiding films and tv shows that didn't cannibalise something off of the flicks.
The first film focused more on the main character's genius and trickery. After that, special powers was incorporated into its ethos which derailed the semi-realistic approach the original took. It culminated in my favourite film of the series "Back to Shanghai," which, next to Chrono Trigger and Old Master Q: Water Tiger, is one of the finest escapist time travelling stories I've had the pleasure of experiencing.
The franchise solidified Chow Yun Fat's dominance in the box office, while the sequels effectively launched the careers of today's established idols such as Stephen Chow and Andy Lau. Many who were involved in the films saw themselves move up a rung or two on the movie business ladder.
Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades #1) - E L James
Are we in an era where people's attitudes towards sex is becoming more open and liberal? What was once unthinkable during Mary Whitehouse days of watertight censorship appear to have gone lax. Televison is revelling in a period of sexual freedom and Spartacus, Game of Thrones, True Blood are leading the way with their white hot steamy scenes. What was once rated only appropriate for 15 year olds or higher in the past have moved down to 12.
The success of Fifty Shades is a confirmation of my suspicions. Something that's considered niche and belongs in the same category as Story of O (1954) isn't so much shunned anymore but rather embraced by the larger public. Powerplay and kinky sex is a fundamental part of our collective well-being and I'm glad people aren't so reserved about these matters as in the past. Suddenly more people are interested in erotic fiction and writers of this genre are basking in the limelight that was shone by this series.
I was born in the 80s, but the greatest part of my childhood I remember most was the 90s. While I didn't get Sky until the tail end of that decade, it was great being a kid in those times. A lot of the media invariably shaped my thinking and I got to enjoy what was there to the full extent.
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