Juicy Details

If you’re anything like me then it doesn’t take a whole lot to jog your memory and find yourself frozen on a familiar street, in a store, or with an old friend, reminiscing over some vague image from childhood suddenly stuck in your amygdala. Without notice, products, people, and places play out like scenes from what ought to be a “classic” film you remember from youth. Except this is your movie. And it’s boring. Because it’s just a carton of juice. Bruce Willis isn’t shooting anyone. (If he did, your thoughts are actually Post-Traumatic Stress, and you should seek help. See previous post.)

Getting back to the innocuousness of juice, every so often – out of nowhere – I find myself thinking of Five Alive. For those unfamiliar with the beverage, Five Alive is a citrus juice drink created by the Coca-Cola brand, Minute Maid. The “Five” represents the five fruit flavors in the drink. There has been a total of seven varieties, but the original was a blend of orange, lemon, grapefruit, tangerine, and lime. I have no idea what this combination tastes like; I’ve never had Five Alive. The memory I have of this product is entirely visual, etched into my psyche from a passing glance in a grocery store some 22 years ago.

Here it is in its simple, dated glory.

5Alive80s

Minute Maid totes Five Alive as a “family” beverage that you can “enjoy all day long.” But for me, Five Alive was always a beverage other families enjoyed. That’s not to say it was better or worse than what my family drank (admittedly I started on coffee around three – which upon reflection is markedly worse). Yet despite my avoidance, this carton of what sounds like pure acid continues to wrest my imagination.

Perhaps it’s a lost association. If I didn’t drink Five Alive, who did? My aunt and her kids? My mother stocked the kitchen and fridge with what appealed to only her palate, and everyone in the house had to follow suit. Visiting friends and family always led to something of a discovery as a kid, opening their fridges and learning what variations in grocery choices existed outside of mine. But I don’t recall seeing Five Alive in any refrigerator. Or seeing anyone swig from a bottle of it on a hot summer day.

Although apparently someone did.

Although apparently someone did.

Maybe it’s just the carton itself. After all, a line of big royal blue boxes uniformly resting in the refrigerator aisle, eye-level with a sprouting eight-year-old, is rather mouthwatering (look at the Hi-C juice box above; I feel like I just licked a salt mine). Is Five Alive’s indelible legacy a result of nothing more than great product design? Hey, good for Minute Maid, if so. It’s a great example of brand positioning beginning with effective packaging. The carton made Five Alive one of those somewhat obscure supermarket staples I always wanted to like, but never tried, similar to Underwood’s Deviled Ham, and that weird peanut butter and jelly that comes in one jar.*

While relatively popular in the U.K. today, Five Alive’s accessibility in the United States is limited. How it fell into reticence is anyone’s guess. Here’s a modern image of the drink.

five alive

five alive (Photo credit: ..tmh)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m not sure why it’s on fire here – maybe this is how it feels when you pour it over a paper cut. Regardless, that old blue carton continues to stand out in visions of antiquity. Perhaps it persists in my thoughts as a combination: part mystery, part visual beauty, part lure toward emotional introspection – it’s more than revved my historical engine while I have been writing, and I’m reminded of another juice drink from childhood.

What ever happened to Veryfine (I know; Sunny Delight owns the brand now)? I loved the old glass bottles you could once get. I also loved Veryfine because it lent itself so well to the self-aware cheesiness of pickup lines… think about it.

Veryfine

For the record, every drink tastes better out of glass.

*Smuckers makes a product called “Goobers” that blends peanut butter and jelly. I can’t recall if this is the exact product I remember from the 80s.

veryfine

Advertisements

“To survive war, you have to become war.”

One of, if not the most remarkable aspects of Eighties culture is the decade’s rich and varied list of iconic movies and film characters. The blockbuster – a child of the Seventies – particularly came into its own in the Eighties thanks to hits like Back to the Future, Beverly Hills Cop, and Friday the 13th. The arrival of VHS, Betamax, and the video rental store added a significant boost to cinema consumption as movies became more accessible and subsequently more memorable.

Without a doubt, the breakout star of the era was the action film. Sure, the Seventies provided its fair share of nail-biters, but most of these were either western remnants or entries from the then-popular “disaster movie” sub-genre. But the Eighties gave moviegoers something new: the action hero. Typically a self-reliant loner with a calm defiance toward authority, the action hero – or more appropriately, the anti-hero – defined the prototypical masculine product of the Reagan Era. And it all began with one man: John Rambo.

Though his conception dates back to 1972, David Morrell’s distraught and equally destructive Vietnam veteran from the novel First Blood gained worldwide attention in 1982 thanks to Sylvester Stallone‘s iconic cinematic portrayal.

John Rambo in 1982, after returning to civilia...

John Rambo in 1982, after returning to civilian life. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First Blood became a milestone film in the action movie genre; it established the popular formula of the outnumbered protagonist successfully defending himself against an oppressive militant group in an isolated environment. Die Hard may have perfected this formula, but First Blood blazed the path. Yet despite the series’ collective reputation, First Blood is not exceptionally violent. There’s only one character death throughout the entire film. Unlike its three sequels, First Blood is an action film only on the surface; underneath it’s a sober examination of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the lasting affects of war. And say what you will about Stallone’s historically one-dimensional film characters, this is his ultimate performance (sorry, Rocky fans). Preceding Schwarzenegger’s Terminator by two years, Stallone delivers a perfectly mechanical fighting machine, right up until his emotional explosion at the film’s climax. It’s a rare moment of vulnerability for Rambo, but one that touches upon an often marginalized symptom of military serviceman and women. Until recently, action films were regularly dismissed by film critics, and almost exclusively overlooked during award season, but in today’s diversified film market, it’s not hard to imagine Stallone earning an Oscar nod for his performance

Rambo’s enduring legacy, however, was eventually built around the Eighties definitive excess. Something of a victim in First Blood, Rambo became a juggernaut of destruction in 1985’s Rambo: First Blood Part II. Instructed by his perennial mentor, Col. Samuel Trautman, not to go for “the old blood and guts” routine, Rambo does just that, fearlessly taking on the combined forces of North Vietnam and Russia, and cementing himself as America’s favorite anti-communist symbol (although this becomes somewhat ironic by the third film in which we see Rambo working for free at a Buddhist monastery). R:FB Part II is a much hammier affair, but that may be due to James Cameron’s participation in writing the screenplay with Stallone. Cameron at that time was still fresh out of his tutelage at the hands of Roger Corman, who never veered shy of a little schlock.

While certainly inappropriate for younger audiences, Rambo: First Blood Part II found its way into the hearts and minds of boys across the world who longed for Rambo’s resourcefulness and physical superiority – and a girlfriend that looked like Co-Bao. R:FB Part II officially ignited Rambo-mania. A toy line followed, as did a cartoon series and video games, and the Rambo franchise secured its indelibility for generations to come.

By the time Rambo III was released in 1988, the Cold War was at its apex. Possibly looking to escape the simplistic brutality of its immediate predecessor, Rambo III reached for loftier intellect, relying on the United States and Soviet Union’s legitimate entanglement, and the U.S.S.R’s occupation of Afghanistan as pretense for the action. It was a common theme at the time, but here the film’s message is eerily prophetic. Attempting to confront the main antagonist’s misguided imperialistic efforts, Col. Trautman delivers a speech someone should have replayed for George W. Bush 13 years later. Guess Dubya’s more of Charles Bronson fan.

Rambo ends up turning everybody into chop suey by the end of the film, and so much of the political backdrop is lost, but Rambo III is undoubtedly the most cerebral of the Rambo sequels (and yes, I’m aware this is a movie that opens with a stick fight).

Sadly, this is Richard Crenna’s final appearance in a Rambo film. Crenna died in 2003, long before the latest Rambo installment went into production. An integral component to the series, Crenna’s sage Col. Trautman takes on a much more utilitarian role in Rambo III, literally fighting alongside his pupil and bringing the character full circle.

As staples of Eighties culture, the first three Rambo movies have entered the American lexicon and turned Rambo into as much institution as character, and arguably shaped the idea of U.S. militarism for any boy born between 1976 and 1989 – this includes fighting wars in red bandanas while almost exclusively shirtless.

If you are at all a fan of Eighties action movies, you’ve done yourself a grave disservice if you’ve missed out on the Rambo series. Entering the franchise now, there may be elements of the films that border on parody, but this is only because they have been referenced countless times in a plethora of mediums. Indeed, the first and second sequels can go over the top, but at the same time they’ll have you up at three a.m., ordering survival knives on Amazon.com. They’re good fun (the movies; not the knives), but the original is your best bet for a more emotionally connective experience. There is a third sequel titled just plain Rambo. Easily the darkest of the series, it’s worth checking out, but falls way outside the scope of this blog’s parameters (2008). Sorry, you’re own your own with that one.

It starts with the most important meal of the day…

Welcome to Retrobacktive, a blog dedicated to revisiting cultural milestones and obscure memories inherent to the 1980s, give or take a decade. This blog was written with the intention of constructing a digital stream of consciousness to historically map a social timeline beginning in 1981 – but this, on its own, seemed somewhat bloodless, hence the occasional incorporation of Seventies and Nineties references (this also solves issues of overlap).

This blog is based on consumerism – fashion, music, food & drink, sports, television, movies, and the devices that deliver them share two common bonds: they were built for capricious consumption, and they have lived in expandability since time immemorial. What developed in the Eighties, however, to set the Millennial Generation apart from its predecessors was the advent of new media. Before there were only commercials and what you saw in the aisle at the grocery store. The Eighties ushered in an age of computers; there was no World Wide Web plagued with pop-ups yet, but between Commodores, Atari 2600s, arcade games, MTV, and the breakdown of traditional nuclear families, late Gen X’ers and early Millennials spent more time in front of screens than any generation before. The result: a lot of short-lived products permanently etched into malleable psyches via intense visual promotion.

Some items and moments proved to be enduring and continue to entertain both new and old audiences (observe Hollywood’s recent transformation into a remake/reboot/reimage factory – reimage isn’t even a word). Yet for all the Indiana Jones’ and Nintendo Famicons that reached unprecedented heights of success, there are several products and releases that went the way of the Betamax, safari hats, and Banana Frosted Flakes. Speaking of which…

If you were born after 1971, you likely ate cereal for breakfast. And by the time the Eighties rolled around there was no dearth of options to choose from. Kellogg, General Mills, and Post made cold cereal big business in the latter half of the 20th Century, and they always kept one aisle of the supermarket lined with a rainbow’s prism of colors to hypnotically draw the curiosity (and appetites) of the most demanding consumer: the child. Breakfast cereals continue to come and go today, but a look back upon a few of the more obscure flavors and mascots presents equal parts nostalgia and what-the-hell-were-they-thinking ruminations.

Here’s a piece of obscurity: In 1981, Kellogg’s released Banana Frosted Flakes. More amendment than invention, the cereal consisted of Kellogg’s Sugar Frosted Flakes (“Sugar” appeared in the title of the cereal until nutritional concerns became prominent in the Eighties and the word was dropped), with real bits of banana laced into the flakes. By using arguably the most recognizable mascot in breakfast, Tony the Tiger, Kellogg’s was poised to have a bona fide hit with a fruit-flavored cereal. But by 1984, the cereal was gone, as was the straw farmer’s hat Tony had adopted. It’s easy to assume this cereal failed the kid test; you can call them what you want, but most “fruit” flavored cereals are really corn and sugar delivery systems. The addition of real fruit has rarely succeeded outside of Special K diet cereals, and for those who do appreciate real fruit taste, there isn’t much that can substitute cutting up a fresh banana and putting it in a bowl. One ought to applaud Kellogg’s for taking a chance on an oft-overlooked flavor choice, though a call to Hostess’ Twinkie department might have saved them some effort (kudos if you know what I’m taking about right now).

banana

One component of Kellogg’s marketing that deserves immense praise is their development of mascots. Tony the Tiger leads a motley charge of gnomes, cavemen, and anthropomorphic animals from around the the world. Snap, Crackle, and Pop, Toucan Sam, and Cornelius the Rooster are well known and still used to this day, but a special nod ought to be given to Tusk the Elephant. Essentially a miniature Mr. Snuffleupagus, Tusk the Elephant was the mascot for Kellogg’s Cocoa Krispies from 1971 until 1982. Like sports organizations, marketing teams occasionally develop culturally insensitive mascots (like Cocoa Krispies original spokes-charater, Jose the Monkey), and these mascots are discontinued. But the fairly innocuous Tusk seemed to disappear without explanation. Snap, Crackle, and Pop took over in his absence, suggesting perhaps sales were stagnant and more reliable brand ambassadors were needed.

80_3763_ucp

Moving over to General Mills, one of the more fascinating cereals lines, for no other reason than its continued elusiveness, are the “monster cereals,” based on Universal’s classic monster characters. Most people are aware of three: Franken Berry, Boo Berry, and Count Chocula. But there has actually been a total of five monster cereals. In 1974, GM released Fruit Brute – either a lime-flavored cereal with fruit-flavored marshmallows, or a fruit-flavored cereal with lime-flavored marshmallows, depending on who you ask; it’s a little hard to check now as the cereal was discontinued in 1983. Considering the time frame, Fruit Brute could have reasonably fallen under the same plight at Banana Frosted Flakes. Lime-flavored cereal? If you had a choice when you were six between chocolate and lime, which would you have picked, honestly? Another compelling aspect of Fruit Brute was the gap in identity. Count Chocula and Franken Berry were based on classic movie monster adaptations. And you could infer the character of Boo Berry based on the name. But without seeing the box and recognizing a werewolf, Fruit Brute remained confusing, if not banal, and one has to wonder if brand loyalty suffered (I’d have called it Berry-Wolf. You know, instead of were-y-wolf. Okay, you come up with something.)

General Mills launched Yummy Mummy cereal in 1987. It was a frosted fruit-flavored cereal with vanilla marshmallows and came with the tagline, “Fruity Yummy Mummy makes your tummy feel yummy! Heh, heh, heh!” GM has stated Yummy Mummy was never part of the monster cereal line, but a look at the box makes the claim a little hard to swallow (pun intended). Six years after its release, Yummy Mummy was put to rest (yes, also intended).

yummy-mummy-fruit-brute

It’s become apparent an entire blog could be devoted to nothing but cereals of the past forty years (and you would have your hands full). This merely scratches the surface, but ideally paints an accurate if not embryonic picture of Retrobacktive. Please come back for more.