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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Across The Pond And Beyond - Swing Out Sister

I've been doing a lot of thinking about big breaks, and how it's come to my understanding that in order to find your breaks in this world, you have to actively seek them out.

This is something that I have completely struggled with my whole life.

There's a lot of factors that surround why I have had such feelings in my lifetime.  Some of it is linked to the feelings of low self-worth that I carried around with me for years.  Feelings that I undoubtedly never should have had in the first place, but for whatever reason did have.  It's been a life-long struggle, but I feel like I have my emotions in check.

There's the fact that I am currently in a physical place that I'm quickly losing my lustre for.  Though, that's less of a concern than it has been, and I'm well on my way to finding a solution to that goal as well.

No, I think the biggest thing that is stopping me is the fear of failure. 

Do I have the utmost confidence in my abilities as a writer?  Yes, absolutely.  I look through newspapers and publications for spelling and grammatical errors as a source of fun and entertainment.  Not necessarily because I'm an arrogant S.O.B. that believes that he is the best writer in the world, but because I think that if someone is to put out a publication that is read by thousands of people, they should care more about spelling and typographical errors.  Mistakes do happen, but when you can pick them out like clockwork, it becomes a bit hysterical, and a little sad.

Am I in a place where there's a lot of opportunity to showcase my abilities?  Not really.

And that's where the fear comes into place.  In order to pursue my real dreams, I know I have to cut the cords of the safety net and fly, fly away.  It did happen once in my life.  For two years, I had the best time, and being away from everyone and having the chance to be who I wanted to be and find myself was a great experience.  Unfortunately, for whatever reason, it didn't work out.

It actually wasn't until recently that the feelings of wanting to better myself really came out.  And maybe it's worth venturing out into the world despite the risks of everything bad that could happen (such as ending up homeless, jobless, and tending to my eighty-seven cats, pushing a bent shopping cart with three wheels asking people for spare change.)

But that won't happen to me because I won't let it.

It's just summoning up the courage to tell myself that I deserve better.  That's the tricky part.

I know that I owe it to myself to stop digging my heels.  The action behind doing it is something that I need to do, but I guess in some ways, I have suffered from a weird form of stage fright. 

Whenever I do try to get a plan going, I seem to chicken out.  Freeze up.  I'm like that guy who is standing on stage in just his underwear panicked at what to do while everyone else points and snickers.  I listen to other people tell me that I need to do these things to better myself, but something inside me is preventing me from doing so.  It's a bit hard to explain why this is.  It's not laziness.  It's not stubbornness.  It's just...I don't know what it is.  I've always been an open book in most cases, and I can come up with a logical explanation for why I am the way I am except for this one thing.  Eventually, I hope to unlock the mystery behind why I am like this, but for now, we'll continue.

Keeping with the trend of making your breaks happen is today's blog subject.  This is a song that I hear quite often through the music player at my workplace, and the lyrics of the song kind of go along with what I'm trying (and failing miserably in my honest opinion) to say in this blog.

Have any of you heard of the pop group Swing Out Sister?

In the spirit of the Across The Pond And Beyond Wednesday, this group is based from the UK.  Originally a trio (one of the members has since left), the members comprise of lead singer Corinne Drewery, Andy Connell (keyboards) and Martin Jackson (drums).  They selected the name from the title of a 1945 movie called Swing Out, Sister, but it's not because they agreed because they liked it.  All three actually HATED the name!

What made the group's beginnings unique was that one of the members went into the group not having any musical experience whatsoever.  Connell and Jackson were in other bands before forming Swing Out Sister, but Corinne Drewery was into fashion design, and worked as a model before joining the group.  However, this background ended up featuring prominently in one of Swing Out Sister's biggest hits.

Swing Out Sister's big break came in 1986, when their album 'It's Better To Travel' was released in the United Kingdom.  Over the next year, people really seemed to enjoy the band because they combined jazz music with electronic beats to make some music that sounded different from all the other music acts out there.  In 1987, Swing Out Sister was discovered in America, and while their success was never quite as big over in North America as it was in the United Kingdom, their persistence over their desire to 'breakout' into the world helped secure them a top ten hit in the United States, as well as two Grammy Award nominations in 1988.

So it's only fitting that we talk a little bit about the song that helped them 'breakout', so to speak.

ARTIST:  Swing Out Sister
SONG:  Breakout
ALBUM:  It's Better To Travel
DATE RELEASED:  October 3, 1986

It's been 25 years since this song came out, and one thing that I've noticed is that the whole video is the perfect example of everything about the 1980s being condensed into one four-minute video.  The brightly coloured garish clothes.  The funky backgrounds and shapes.  The fun and excitement that everyone in the video has.

The 1980s were one of those carefree times where people were happy, happy, happy.  I think maybe on a side note, this is why I have such a fond recollection of that decade because it reminded me of a simpler time in life.

Of course, I was only five years old in 1986, and the only stressful decision I had to make was whether to use crayons or markers to colour a picture.

But we aren't here to talk about the 1980s.  We're here to talk about 'Breakout'.  And one thing you might notice is that the subject of the video has to do with fashion design.  This video is somewhat on the ironic side, mainly because of the subject.

As I said before, Corinne Drewery's main goal in life was to become a fashion designer.  She wanted to showcase her talents.  Stitch up clothes.  Sketch new designs.  To become a contestant on Project Runway before Project Runway even existed.  So, to have a little bit of fun with that idea, the video sort of examines the possibility of Corinne achieving her dream.  She designs this little blue number with the help of her bandmates, shows it off at a fashion show, and it immediately becomes the showstopper.  It's presumed that she goes on to become a success as a fashion designer and her designs rival those of Calvin Klein, Donna Karan and Jean-Paul Gaultier.

Here's the irony.  That song did nothing for the fashion design aspirations for Corinne, but it DID help put her name on the music charts.

Though it wasn't exactly the way that she wanted to break out on the scene, it was the big break that she sang about (and it was the break for the rest of the band as well).

But listening closely to the lyrics, it seems to be showing me some added perspective.

The song talks about how one must overcome their fears and anxieties, and look past an uncertain tomorrow to find their big break.  Maybe it's time I take those lyrics to heart. 

The statistics are straight forward.  A lot of jobs created nowadays require a person to have a post-secondary degree.  As some of you may know, I don't have any sort of a degree in this at all.  Certainly there are other aspects that lead to getting job offers, such as networking with others, and showing general aptitude for a certain skill.  But if that's what it takes, I think that I would like the chance to try something that I can fall back on, just in case the writing career does not pan out.  That's not to say that I will NOT give up on making a career as a writer.

Being a writer, especially in a world where people's attention spans are decreasing, is going to be an incredibly tough market to get into.  That said, I know that I have the talent to be the best damn writer that anyone could ever hope to have.

I just have to keep my mind open, and realize that my big break is out there.  I just have to find it.


As for the future of Swing Out Sister, well, Breakout may have been their big breakout hit, but they didn't seem to have the same success in either their native UK or the US.  However, in Japan, they have sort of a cult following, and have had a slew of success in that country.  Though, given that Japan has also made pop idols out of Alyssa Milano and Jennifer Love Hewitt, it's really up to you to define the word success.

Regardless, it's worth it to listen to some of Swing Out Sister's songs that didn't do as well, because there really was no group that sounded like them.  Like this minor hit from '89.

Or, this one from '92.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter

Above is a stock photograph that I borrowed from the great search engine known as Google.  You will see that you have three things that are usually present at most breakfast tables.  You got some butter, a pitcher of milk, and a rather unusual looking loaf of bread.

It almost seems a given that a loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter would be discussed in great detail in this blog.  It is after all, the title of this blog entry for today.

But what could I possibly talk about in regards to those three things.  Yes, they are things that you can eat.  At my current job in a supermarket, I sell two of these things in my department on any given day.  But to make it an entire blog entry for something that seems so insignificant to life, or even pop culture (of which this blog is three-quarters of the content) seems like an odd choice.

Or, is it?

Just think about this for a second.  A loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter.

A loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter.

A loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter.

Somehow, I'm getting a Sesame Street flashback.  A flashback to a particular segment that used to air during Sesame Street in the days that I was a youngster.

A segment that starred a loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter!  I don't know when it originally aired, but I would think that it was an early 1970s production, and here it is in full.

I'm sure that many of you my age or older can remember this segment vividly, and before Elmo's World set up shop on Sesame Street and took over half the show, segments like this one popped up quite often. 

And the reason I posted this one in particular is a segway into the REAL point of this thread, which is all about the power of having a great memory.

The little girl in the video remembered her mother's grocery list by saying it over and over again, and although she had a brief memory lapse when it came to remembering the last item, she managed to get everything on her list.  It's a good thing that she didn't end up running into someone else on the street or else she might have been jumbled up a bit.  Instead of a stick of butter, she may have ended up bringing home a stick of glue, or a stick of baking chocolate, or a stick of dynamite.

Well, okay, not a stick of dynamite.  It is Sesame Street.

The point is that there are lots of tricks that people can use to improve their memories.  I used quite a few of them when it came down to studying for tests.  Acronyms were a huge help.  There was a question on a geography exam where we had to name all five of the great lakes in North America, but I had trouble remembering all five.  Until I realized that if you took the first letter of each of the five lakes and used them to form a word, it made remembering them easier.  In this case, the word was HOMES (for Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior).

Mnemonic devices were another popular tool to use for study aids.  One episode of the Facts of Life made use of one when the girls were studying for a final.  Natalie couldn't remember the periodic element code for Gold, so Tootie helped Natalie remember it by thinking of Gold as the phrase 'EY, YOU!' (Au).  It worked!

My memory is one of those mystical things that I have a hard time explaining myself.  In fact, if my memory serves me, I actually wrote an essay about this subject a few years back, so rather than attempt to explain it and babble on and on, I'll just repost that essay here.  It was written on November 14, 2007, and although it was four years ago, it still applies today.

Strolling Down Memory Lane, Thinking About My Own Memory

French class was always a fun time for me. The vast majority of classmates I attended French class with hated the subject. I get the distinct feeling that everytime my teacher would wheel in her little black cart with the green Dimoitou puppet, some kids groaned. I loved it though, and I would often get good grades in the subject.

I remember one year, we were doing a unit study on foods. We had to learn what several of the French words were for fruits and vegetables at the time. Some of them were really easy. Orange was orange. Banana was banane. Easy-peasy, right?

Not all of them were all that easy though. When it came down to the french word for pineapple, most of the class was stumped. When the teacher asked us what the French word for pineapple was, nobody knew.

But, I knew. I knew it very well. I shot up my hand and proudly declared that it was "un ananas"!

And, the teacher was impressed. Very impressed.

She flashed other fruits to me, and I named them all. Cherry=cerise. Grape=raisin. Pomme=apple. Pomme de Terre=Potato.

We then had to do a colouring page afterwards, and at this time, another teacher had come into the classroom. I don't think I was supposed to hear the conversation that the two teachers were having, but I distinctly remember hearing my French teacher talking about how I had a really good photographic memory.

I wondered to myself...what did that mean? I didn't understand the concept of that statement. I certainly didn't take Polaroid pictures with my mind.

As I grew older, though, I began to understand what she meant.

Part of the reason why I knew what the French word for pineapple was? TVOntario.

I remember watching TVO non-stop, and one of the programs was some silly little French show where the star was a talking pineapple. I didn't understand what the heck the people were saying, as my mother tongue was English, but the pineapple's name stuck out in my mind.

The pineapple was named "Ananas".

It seems silly, right? How watching a show that I had no hope of understanding as a five year old helped me enrich my vocabulary in another language. But, maybe my teacher had a point. If I hadn't have watched the show, would I have remembered the term? Probably not.

I was also a huge fan of Kool-Aid as a kid, and remember helping my mom mix it up many times. I would often read the label of the package while I poured the water into the pitcher, just to see how many cups of water I had to pour in. Keep in mind that I'm Canadian, so all our packaging was written in both English and French. That's probably how I learned the French words of the other fruits.

Apparently, the French language wasn't the only thing I remembered from way back when.

Does anyone remember those Laurentian pencil crayons? The 24 packs of coloured pencils with each one individually numbered. Well, if you told me a number, I could tell you the corresponding colour. #1, for instance was Deep Yellow.  #22 was Sky Magenta.  My favourite colour was #5, Orchid Purple.  I even got to memorize the 60-pack variety, and got to love using colours like #25, #37, and #39 (True Blue, Grape-Violet, and Ocean Blue).

People have told me that I have a diabolical memory, and I think that my long-term memory is really good.

My short-term memory is not the best. In fact, I'd say that it completely sucks.

Try as I might, I always seem to misplace the remote-control, my wallet, my one day, I misplaced all three.

I would try to take a course in improving my short-term memory...but I keep forgetting.

What's the point of this little note? Well, in my last note, I talked about my biggest weaknesses, and I figure that I should lighten the mood by talking about my strengths.

A good memory just happens to be one of my strengths.

I'm sure that I will come up with more strengths...if I remember to do so.

And, maybe...just maybe, I'll be as savvy as the girl who went to the store and bought a loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Monday Matinee: Problem Child

In our lifetimes, there comes a time in which sometimes have to put our trust in people, even though we have been hurt so much in our past lives.  How one person can become a lifeline to someone who has never really had one can be the greatest feeling in the world.

Benjamin Healy Jr. was one of those lifelines, only he didn't know it.

Benjamin Healy Jr. was one of the characters in the 1990 movie 'Problem Child', played by the late John Ritter.  In that movie, he and his shrew of a wife Flo (played by Amy Yasbeck, who funnily enough would end up marrying John Ritter for real), wanted to have a child of their own, but for different reasons.

Ben genuinely loved children, and really wanted to become a father.  His wife wanted children for a more self-indulging reason.  She figured that if she had a child, then she could finally be invited to high society dinners and functions.  She was also a gold-digger who only wanted material things from her husband, and basically treated him terribly.  To make Ben's life even more harder, Ben's father, Benjamin Healy Sr. (who went by Big Ben) was in the middle of an election campaign to become the mayor of Cold River.  Although Big Ben had made a fortune through his sporting goods store, he would rather sell his store to Japanese businessmen rather than leave the franchise to his own son, even though his own son has been loyal to the sporting goods store for years.

Basically, Ben is getting the shaft in every way possible.  His marriage is basically on the rocks, his father has pretty much washed his hands of him, and even his neighbours don't really think anything of him.  The frustrating part about this is that it would be perfectly understandable if Ben was an evil calculating mastermind of some dastardly plan where he kidnaps every puppy in North America, but he wasn't.  He was actually one of the nicest people you could meet.

So, Ben figured that if he could conceive a child with Flo, all of his problems would be solved, and that he would finally start getting some respect.  One problem.  Flo was as barren as a dairy supermarket shelf that had just run out of eggs, and therefore was unable to give birth naturally.  So the decision was made to adopt a child.  However, neither Ben or Flo knew exactly what they were getting into when they arrived at the office of Igor Peabody to make the adoption a reality.  I believe this trailer for the film will give you a basic idea.

And that's just all the mischief and trouble that could be shown in a two and a half minute trailer!

Junior (played by Michael Oliver) was abandoned by his birth mother when he was just days old.  Since then, he had been bounced around from home to home (thirty in total) because he proved to be way too much for any family that tried to take him in.  What we don't know is that the only reason Junior causes trouble for people is because he feels that they don't really care about him.  A lot of the people had incredibly self-centered ideals, and basically used Junior to enhance their own lives without even giving him the positive attention that he secretly wanted.  His mean-spiritedness and seemingly evil nature was a defense mechanism for him, because he was too afraid of getting hurt by the selfishness of others.

So when Ben and Flo brought Junior home to live with them, you could only imagine that family number thirty-one would be subjected to the same abuse that plagued the families before him that gave him up when the going got tough.  If you predicted that Junior drove the Healy family nuts the minute he got there, you would be absolutely right.  From making Big Ben fall down a flight of stairs by throwing a cat on his head to sabotaging a camping trip, Ben and Flo certainly had their hands full.  Unbeknownst to Ben and Flo, Junior even had a connection to a very dangerous criminal.  He was a pen pal of Martin Beck (Michael Richards), who was in prison for killing several people.  He was known around Cold River as the 'Bowtie Killer', and as a result, Junior wore a bow tie to be just like him.

Thing is...I can understand why Junior was the way that he was.  He had been abandoned thirty times.  Wouldn't you feel unloved or unwanted if that happened to you?  And it wasn't as if Junior just randomly decided to play pranks or tricks on people just because he could.  There was a reason behind the choice of his victims.

They were all self-centered, self-absorbed, narcissistic jerks who got off on other people's misery, misfortune, and suffering.  Certainly Flo was a popular target for Junior's abuse, as Junior could see right through her off the bat.  Big Ben Healy was another person who Junior also purposely targetted, which was again, no surprise, since he cared more about getting elected as mayor of the town to satisfy his hunger for power.  And certainly, some of the snobby, stuck-up neighbours got their share as well.  I can remember the scene in which Junior is invited to the sixth birthday party of a neighbour girl named Lucy, who is probably even more spoiled and selfish than her parents.  She is forced to invite Junior to her party by her mother, but instantly bans Junior from attending a magic show at the party, claiming that he touched her presents without her permission.  Rewatching the movie, it was incredibly hurtful, and totally unnecessary.  Of course, Junior got her back, and got her back good.

And before you go on thinking that I'm actually defending this sort of behaviour., I kind of am!  So there!

Of course, I wouldn't advocate blowing up the birthday cake of a six year old, or throwing the presents in the swimming pool, or tossing a bullfrog in the tropical punch.

(Well, okay, I gotta admit, that frog thing was golden, and had I been seven, I would have done the same thing.)

The point I'm trying to make is that I don't condone what Junior did.  I do understand why he did it.  If there was one personality type that I could never tolerate throughout my life, it was people who were so up themselves that they tuned everyone else out.  People who were so selfish that their needs came first before anyone else's.  People who displayed classic schadenfreude, reveling in the misfortune of others.

People like Flo, Big Ben Healy, Lucy, and almost everyone else who had crossed Junior's path.  When someone like Junior was exposed to several people who were cruel, self-absorbed, and who never really had the interest of being a parent for all the right reasons, it's easy to see why Junior lashed out the way that he did.  To put so much faith in someone, hoping that they will take care of you through thick and thin, and then disappointing you is a tough pill to swallow.  A tough pill that poor Junior had to swallow thirty times in only seven years.

Somehow though, Junior didn't seem to scare Little Ben away.  Sure, his pranks annoyed Ben, and at some point during the movie nearly drives Ben into having a nervous breakdown.  But unlike all the other adults in his life at the time, Ben didn't respond with cruelty, sarcasm, or even so much as a menacing grimace.  He treated Junior with kindness, warmth, and even love.  It confused Junior, because he never really had the opportunity to know someone like that.  Even with some of the nastiest pranks that Junior pulled, Ben always was there for Junior, even if Junior tried to push him away.  Junior wasn't sure what Ben's deal was.  Why was he being so nice, when everyone else was so mean to him?

To further solidify the bond between Ben and Junior, Ben could see that Junior was hurt by Lucy's decision to bar him from the magic show at her party (this was before the whole birthday party sabotage), and Ben decided that he would cheer Junior up by giving him his most prized possession.

When Ben handed Junior a prune, Junior was confused as to why he would give him such an unusual present.  Ben explained that the prune belonged to his late grandfather (who claimed that the prune resembled President Roosevelt), and tells Junior that the prune is meant to represent a strong bond between two people.  It was a touching gesture on Ben's part, and for a minute, it almost seemed as if Junior had found the one thing that he had looked for all his life.

But after the birthday party incident, and an incident at a little league game, Ben begins to reconsider ever adopting Ben, and makes the decision to send Junior back to the orphanage.  But after Peabody (Gilbert Gottfried) filled Ben in on how many times Junior had been sent back, he has a change of heart and wants to continue caring for Junior.  But when Junior overhears the initial plan to send him back, he refuses to believe that Ben changed his mind, and ends up taking Flo's car for a joyride through Big Ben's sporting goods store.

The damage to the store is severe, and Ben goes broke paying it off, while Big Ben secretly gloats over his son's own misfortune.  Ben has at this point had it with Junior, and almost is on the brink of having his nerves completely shot when the Bowtie Killer, who had just broken out of prison, arrives at the door of the Healy residence, claiming that Junior is his nephew.  What really happens is that the Bowtie Killer kidnaps both Junior and Flo, and holds them for ransom.  To Ben, this becomes the happiest day of his life.  Not only is Junior out of his life, but he got rid of his harping, shrieking, about to divorce wife as a bonus.  Ben starts throwing everything of Junior's out the window, including some crude drawings of Big Ben and Flo.  But Ben pauses when he picks up a drawing of himself.  Unlike the other drawings, which were crudely drawn and filled with malice, the picture of Ben was very nicely done.  A lot of effort went into making the drawing, and it was filled with bright, warm colours.  Underneath the picture was the prune that Junior had kept wrapped up in a drawer.  It was at this moment that Ben realized that somehow, he had gotten through to Junior, and that Junior really cared for him a lot.

In the last half hour of the film, Ben tries desperately to find Junior and rescue him from the Bowtie Killer.  And, it is here that I will cease this review, given my policy of never revealling a complete and detailed movie ending.  All you need to know is that trapeze artists, a suitcase, a hog farm truck, and that special prune are all featured in the ending, which is a lot sweeter than you'd think, given the tone of the original movie.

I guess if there is any lesson to be learned from the movie Problem Child, it's that nobody is unlovable.  Thirty families tried and failed to incorporate Junior into their families, because they simply didn't try hard enough to get to know him.  They were unable to pierce the brick wall of emotion that surrounded Junior for every day of his seven years of life.  It wasn't until Benjamin Healy Jr. came into Junior's life that things started to improve, not just for Junior, but for Ben himself.  It was Junior that brought joy to Ben's life, and it was his love for Junior that made him see that he didn't need to have a belittling father, a loveless marriage, or snooty neighbours to impress, when all that mattered was the love that he had for a child that he wanted more than anything.

It may not have worked out exactly the way that Ben had planned it, but 31 turned out to be a lucky number for him, and for Junior.  And the very next year, both of them would star in another adventure, where they would meet some very...interesting people.

But that's another movie for another Monday matinee.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sunday Jukebox - I Got You Babe by Sonny & Cher (Plus a BONUS song!)

Hard to believe, but it's been a little over three months since I started this blog, and now here we are.  My one hundredth blog entry.  I can't believe I managed to talk about one hundred pop culture references every day for three whole months.

(Well, okay...actually only 98, since one blog post was an introduction, and the other one was made when I had a bout of computer trouble.  This still makes this post number 100!)

And the timing of this post really could not have been any better.

Today happens to be the 28th of August, 2011.  Not too special of a day (well, unless you're unlucky enough to be in the path of hurricane Irene, of which point you really should log off and take cover) at least for this year.

This date had some significance 46 years ago, in 1965.

August 28, 1965 saw quite a few things happen.  The Beatles played in San Diego, California, and Shania Twain was born on this date in Ontario, Canada.

It also happens to be the date that my parents got hitched.

I tried to get them to allow me to post their wedding photos on my blog, but they refused to cooperate, so the only thing that I can do is describe to you what the wedding was like.  That particular August 28 was unseasonably chilly.  Although it was the tail end of summer when my parents got married, the weather was really, really cold.  Though with all the talk about global warming that is in the news lately, I wonder if maybe in the mid-1960's, it really WAS colder?

Well, that, plus the wedding was in Canada, and all Americans know that Canadians live in igloos twelve months a year right?  ;)

Anyway, the ceremony was quite small.  Just a simple ceremony with a simple reception.  Nothing real fancy.  Then again, my parents were only 19 years old when they got married, so it wasn't like they had a whole lot to spend on a lavish affair catered by the finest caterers complete with strawberries dipped in four different kinds of expensive Swiss chocolate.  They were simple folk, they were.

A few years back, when they celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary (ironically enough, another hurricane, Katrina, was causing havoc in the southern states at the time), I asked them if there was anything about their wedding that they would like to have changed, and you know what?  Each of them said that if they could do it all over again, they would had done things completely differently!  Funny how time changes perspectives, huh?

I know my mom's side of the family for whatever reason was unable to attend the wedding ceremony, so you know what her regret was.  And, I know my father really wanted to have a more decent wedding ceremony for them both, but couldn't afford to.  But you know, if there's anything that I can learn from my own parents trials and tribulations over their now 46-year old marriage, it's that sometimes you don't need to have a lot of money or prestige to earn someone's love.  Granted, my parents marriage has not exactly been all Ozzie and Harriet like.  In fact, I think I could probably name at least half a dozen instances in my own childhood where I was legitimately surprised that they even stayed together! 

Still, for them (and any couple for that matter) to last over four and a half decades together as husband and wife is something that sadly in today's society you don't see too much of.  In a world where divorce procedures can last longer than the actual marriage itself, and where prenuptial agreements take center stage, it almost seems unheard of for a couple to last even one decade together, let alone four.  It's sad, but unfortunately something that people have to deal with.  In one aspect, as wild and crazy as my parents marriage has been at times, deep down inside, I am really glad that they stuck it out if only because they are proof positive that if you work hard enough at something, it can be great and long-lasting.  My parents are now both 65 years of age, and neither one of them thankfully are showing any signs of slowing down.  Maybe at this time in 2015, I'll be writing about the crazy things they did for their 50th wedding anniversary.

And, this leads to the subject of the blog entry for today, which has a little bit of delicious irony attached to it.  My parents wedding date was August 28, 1965, and as it so happened, the number one song on the Billboard charts back in that time period was sung by a real-life couple professing their own love for one another.  The song had hit number one two weeks prior to that, and had my parents probably had known that, they may have very well danced to this song for their first dance.

Or, maybe it would have been some twangy country hillbilly hit, like the ones that both of them listened to at the time.

At any rate, here it is.

ARTIST: Sonny & Cher
SONG:  I Got You Babe
ALBUM:  Look At Us
DATE RELEASED:  July 10, 1965

Now, unless you've lived under a rock, I'm sure that almost everyone on this planet has heard of Sonny & Cher...or at the very least Cher.  This song just happened to be their biggest hit, and was the song that made them stars.

The song was featured on their 1965 album, 'Look At Us', and since then, the song has been covered by several artists, including a memorable cover version twenty years after the original release featuring UB40 and Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders.  The song itself featured prominently in the movie 'Groundhog Day', and was performed by cast members on the shows 'Full House', 'The Golden Girls' and 'Home Improvement'.  Rolling Stone magazine listed the song at #444 of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  For a song to even make that list of the tens of thousands of songs recorded since the early days of the Billboard charts meant that it was something special.

But do you know how the song was created?  Back in 1965, Sonny Bono was sitting in his basement in the house that he lived in with then wife Cher (whom he had married the year before), inspired by a song recorded by Bob Dylan entitled 'It Ain't Me Babe'.  Sonny had expressed a desire to capitalize on the term 'babe' after hearing it in song, and figured the best way to do that was to write a song for himself and Cher to sing.

That song debuted on the charts in July 1965, and just thirty-five days later reached the top of the charts.  It became an anthem of sorts for the hippie movement that was just starting to emerge at the time, and made Sonny & Cher household names.

Over the next few years, Sonny & Cher recorded more songs, and more albums, but never quite could reach the same success as they had with 'I Got You Babe'.  They tried hard to make it in the music business together, but unfortunately their drug-free idyllic music was no match for the psychadelic, drug-induced, Woodstock festival music that dominated the music industry throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s.  Throughout it all, they managed to stick it out through the rough time, and in March 1969, Cher gave birth to their only child together a daughter named Chastity (who now goes by Chaz, but that's another topic for another day).

As the 1960s ended, and the 1970s began, Sonny & Cher got their second wind in an very unusual venue.  It all began in 1971, when Sonny & Cher starred in their first television special.  The special was called The Nitty Gritty hour, and it was basically a show that was part slapstick comedy, part live music.  Basically, it was like Saturday Night Live before Saturday Night Live even debuted.

And the special was a bonafide smash on television.

The special was such a success that it attracted the eye of a staff member of the 'Eye' network.

Fred Silverman, the head of programming for CBS had saw the duo in action and was so impressed that he offered them their own, and in the summer of 1971, the Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour premiered on CBS.  It was a huge hit, and propelled Sonny & Cher to further stardom.

The television show revived the duo's once stagnant recording career, giving them two more top ten hits in 1972, and the show itself was nominated for fifteen Emmy awards (winning one for Best Direction) during its initial run.

Sadly, as Sonny & Cher's professional life together was gaining in popularity, their personal life together was deteriorating.  By the third season of the show, it was apparent that Sonny and Cher's relationship was getting more and more strained by the day.  The duo separated, and the show went on hiatus.  On June 27, 1975, their divorce was finalized, and reports stated that it was initially not an amicable split at first, and that the divorce was very messy and nasty.

Sonny and Cher both tried their hands at their own solo variety shows a year apart.  Sonny's show debuted in 1974, and was cancelled just six weeks later.  Cher's program debuted just six months after Sonny's, and fared a little bit better in the ratings.  But, most audiences agreed that the duo was better together than apart.  However, their divorce proceedings were ugly, and the odds of them ever being on camera together was an impossibility.

Or was it?

After their 1975 divorce, Cher and Sonny had went their separate ways, and hadn't seen each other in a whole year.  But then one chance encounter in 1976 seemed to change things.  It was in 1976 that Sonny had opened up a restaurant, and Cher attended the grand opening as a peace offering of some sort, supporting him in his venture.  Their marriage was over, and they would never get back together again romantically, but it was enough of a gesture for Sonny and Cher to once again establish a friendship.  And that friendship inspired a revival of the Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour in 1976.  Though they were divorced, they were both committed to making the show work, and the show managed to run straight through 1977.  It was after this second attempt at the show that the two parted ways on a more permanent basis.

In the years since the Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour went off the air, both Sonny and Cher managed to find new career paths as individuals.  Certainly, everyone knows that Cher continued to stay in music, scoring several top ten singles including 'If I Could Turn Back Time', 'I Found Someone', and 'Just Like Jesse James'.  She has also become an activist for LGBT rights, likely inspired by Chastity's decision to come out of the closet in the mid 1990s.  Cher also became an established actress in her own right over the years.  Appearing in such films as 'Mermaids', 'The Witches Of Eastwick' and 'Moonstruck' (in which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1988), Cher proved that she could make it on her own.  But so did Sonny.

Sonny Bono in his later years had abandoned the entertainment industry entirely since the Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour ended for good.  In the 1980s, Sonny Bono tried to open up a restaurant in the city of Palm Springs, California, but found the government bureaucracy of the town incredibly frustrating to navigate through.  In 1988, when Cher was celebrating her Oscar win, Sonny put his name in the race for the mayoral election in Palm Springs.  He won the election and served as mayor of the city until 1992.  During his mayoral term, he succeeded in bringing more businesses to the city, and was instrumental in spearheading the creation of the Palm Springs International Film Festival.  Two years later, he became a member of the United States House of Representatives, and was sworn into the position in January 1995.

While Sonny and Cher both went their separate ways and were doing their separate things, they never really forgot about each other.  On November 13, 1987, the two reunited on the David Letterman show, and sang their iconic 1965 hit one final time.

You could tell that even though they had been divorced for years at this point, and while both of them were in different directions, there was still something magical that sparked between the two.  At the time, 22 years had passed since the song was a number one hit, and yet, they still looked as if they enjoyed singing together just as much as they did back in the days when they were husband and wife.  I think it was awesome that they ended up letting bygones be bygones, and how they managed to remain rather good friends.

Further proof of the deep respect they had for each other came at a rather sad time.  When Sonny Bono tragically died in a skiing accident in the first few days of 1998, it was Cher who was asked by Sonny's then wife, Mary Bono to write his eulogy.  Needless to say, Cher delivered.

Even years after Sonny's death, Cher continues to speak very highly of him.  Although, she poked fun at his expense (as displayed in 1993 when she sang their iconic song with Beavis and Butthead), she really did care for him, and never really stopped.  Here's where our bonus track comes into play.  For it was Sonny's death that inspired Cher to record a whole album of new material that sparked a brand new group of fans.  It was around Thanksgiving, 1998 that Cher's newest song was released.  While the song may or may not have been inspired by Sonny, it did have a powerful message in that you can believe that there is life after love. 

That song became a massive hit for Cher, and ended up putting Cher in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the oldest female to score a #1 hit on the Billboard Charts (Cher was 52 when the song was recorded).  And somewhere up there, I think Sonny Bono was smiling down on her all the way...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Saturday Morning - Inspector Gadget

Have you ever worked hard on some project or task, and have someone else completely steal all the credit for your accomplishments?  Wouldn't it just make you go crazy with anger and fury?

Or, at the very least make you very, very sad?

I can recall a couple of school projects that I ended up doing that involved group work.  We had to work on various projects that had to do with our hometown, and we have five subjects that we had to look at.  We could choose our partners for two of these five projects, but the other three were chosen by random draw (think putting all the names in a hat and randomly pairing people off).  For the record, the projects where I could choose the partner worked out really well, as I knew what kind of work each one was capable of.

It was the game of chance that apparently didn't work too well in my favour.

One partner was fine enough.  We worked hard on the project, and we ended up doing not too badly.  But the other two were a bit harder to get a feel for.  It also didn't help matters much that both of these people were ones that I really had a difficult time getting along with outside of the classroom.  But, nevertheless, I attempted to make it work.

In one case, the above scenario took place, and I ended up practically doing the whole project at home by myself without even so much as any input from my partner at the time.  It was one of the best pieces of work that I could have ever come up with, and I was quite proud of it. 

Ironically enough, the project that I ended up doing by myself was the only project where I had received a perfect mark.  And I had to share that perfect mark with someone who basically did nothing on the whole project?

That's shameful.

But you know, it wasn't nearly as shameful as the experience that I had with my second partner, who gladly won the title of Control Freak '94.  Boy, oh, boy that was a disaster waiting to happen.  Unlike the first partner I talked about, who took a backseat approach to the project, I actually had ideas for this project.  I wanted to take on an active role in the planning process.  I wanted to feel like I had a voice in how this project should come together.

This person wouldn't hear of it.  Every one of my ideas were pooh-poohed, just like that.  This person claimed to have the perfect idea, that she would be the one to put in into place.  Which would have been fine and dandy, except that she never told me what her idea was.  Lovely communication skills that we had now, didn't we?

Had I known what the idea was, I probably would have stopped the project from going right then and there, because the end result was something that looked like a kindergarten student made.  Again, this was a project that I had absolutely no say in.  Unlike the first project, where I practically begged my partner to take a more active role in the planning process, I was effectively frozen out of the project.

Conversely, project #2 was my lowest graded project.  I'll accept some of the blame, because I realize that I could have stuck to my convictions more, but really, when you were effectively kept from the planning phases of the project from the very beginning, would it really have made a difference?

Those two projects pretty much eliminated any desire for me to work in group work settings.  From that moment on, I avoided group projects like a person in Stephen King's 'The Stand' avoided Captain Trips.  There were some aspects where I had no choice but to find people to work with, but for the most part, I chose my partners very wisely (with one notable exception from my high school years).

The whole experience did help me realize that I didn't need to wholly rely on anybody in order to put my best work forward.  I could do projects just as well by myself as I could in a group...maybe even better.  Still, when I think about those two projects, it still admittedly gets me a bit riled up.  Could you imagine doing all the work for someone else, and not getting any credit for it?  Still kind of riles me up.

Maybe I need to turn on some cartoon show to cool me off.

What a coincidence!  Today's blog entry happens to be on a show that illustrates my opening paragraph beautifully!

(Bet you didn't see that one coming, huh?)

Before I go on with why 'Inspector Gadget' is the ultimate example of showcasing someone stealing the credit from someone else, let's talk a little bit about the show itself.

Inspector Gadget was a cartoon series produced by DIC Entertainment, and what made this program unique was that several countries were linked together in its creation.

Created specifically for the American market, DIC Entertainment (which at the time was based in France) joined forces with Nelvana (Canada), Tokyo Movie Shinsha (Japan), and Cuckoo's Nest Studio (Taiwan), Inspector Gadget was first broadcast September 12, 1983, on CBS initially, and ran until 1986.  The show ran on syndication and cable channels years after its debut.  Given the number of countries involved in the production of the show, as well as the long syndication history behind it, I would think that it would be a fair assessment that millions of children watched this program at some point in their lives.

And I was one of them.

For years, Inspector Gadget was my favourite cartoon show.  I would watch it every morning on Global television before school started for much of my elementary school years.  Sure, we saw the same episodes over and over again, but it didn't matter to me.  I loved the show that much.  Heck, I reckon that I'd STILL watch the show if it still aired.

Each of the episodes (at least during the 1983 episodes) followed the same formula.  Inspector Gadget, who was based in the fictional city known as Metro City would be asked by Chief Quimby to foil one of Dr. Claw's evil schemes (don't worry, I'll talk about that later in the blog).  Every episode showed Chief Quimby hiding in some sort of costume and giving Gadget a message about his next case.  Here's an example below.

Poor Chief Quimby.  Why does he put up with him?

Probably because Chief Quimby has the idea in his head that Inspector Gadget is the best detective he has working for him.  During the course of the show, Gadget foiled several plots inside Metro City (though as of right now, in the episode I posted, he's currently in the middle of investigating a bomb plot in the new amusement park).  Gadget has also flown to several countries (some real, some fictional) to foil Dr. Claw's evil plots.  He's been to all the countries involved with the creation of Inspector Gadget at least once, and has even gone underwater and in outer space to stop Dr. Claw and his M.A.D. organization.

Dr. Claw is no nice guy.  With his trusty M.A.D. cat by his side, he watches Gadget on his what I'm sure was technologically advanced for 1983 computer, and he plots to destroy Gadget at every opportunity.  Throughout the whole series, all you see of Dr. Claw is his right arm.  During the course of the whole series, you never see Dr. Claw's face.  That doesn't mean that he doesn't have one though.  In fact, at the end of this blog entry, I promise to show you what Dr. Claw really looked like.  How's that for incentive to reading this whole entry, huh?

At any rate, most of Dr. Claw's henchmen dress up in disguises.  Sometimes, they end up actually working at actual workplaces, and are M.A.D. sympathizers, such as a health club owner, a scientist, or a movie actress.  In this case, we know that the carnival game booth operator is evil, and that's even before he ended up giving Gadget that panda bear bomb.  If you noticed during the scene where Gadget is playing the duck game, each of the duckies had this symbol on their backsides.

That, my friends, is the insignia of Dr. Claw's M.A.D. crime syndicate, which presumably could have been named after his beloved feline friend.  Or, maybe not, it's hard to say.  The resemblance is uncanny though, and if you happen to see this symbol anywhere in Gadget, you know that Gadget is getting closer to the truth.

So, here we have Inspector Gadget, not even aware of the fact that his stuffed bear is filled with enough dynamite to make rubble out of a roller coaster...mistakenly believing that a ten-year-old boy is a M.A.D. agent, and follows him into a reptile show where he's about to get eaten by alligators.  Certainly not proving Quimby's belief that Gadget is the best detective there is, is there?

Wanna watch part two?  I'm certain you do.

Aha...the plot thickens.

I do believe that we have two new characters to introduce here.

First, we have Penny.  She's Gadget's niece, and she lives with her Uncle Gadget at his home in Metro City.  Though, we don't exactly know why this is the case, as the cartoon never really mentioned what happened to Penny's parents (though the 1999 live-action movie of Inspector Gadget explains that Penny's father was actually murdered by Dr. Claw himself, which would make the reason why Penny is so concerned for Gadget's safety crystal clear).

She's blonde, about ten years old, always wears the same red shirt and lime green jeans every day.  Oh, and she's a super genius of a child who has an incredibly high IQ for her decade of living.  Whereas most girls her age played with Barbie dolls and jump ropes, Penny's favourite toy was her beloved computer book (which I admit to asking for seven Christmases in a row as a gift, but unsurprisingly never got).  On the outside, it looked like an average textbook, but on the inside was a technology geek's fantasy.  Dozens of buttons, tracking devices, and bells and whistles made the book the best tool Penny had for keeping tabs on her uncle, which was good, since Gadget obviously was a bit...shall we say...distracted.

It's also here that we get a good look at why Inspector Gadget was named as such.  His entire coat, as well as limbs on his body were fitted with robotic gadgets, designed to help him get an edge over M.A.D. agents.  All he had to do was say Go Go Gadget before it, and eight times out of ten, it would work.  If he said, Go Go Gadget coat, his coat would inflate so he could float.  Go Go Gadget phone shot a mobile phone antenna out of his thumb.  His car even had the Go Go Gadget technology, transforming it from minivan to police cruiser.

You may have also noticed that Penny isn't exactly alone in her quest to help Gadget along.

Penny's dog, Brain, surprisingly enough seems to have a super human brain, which allows him to dress up in costumes, perform pantomime like actions to communicate, and at times can even possess super human strength.  Brain disguises himself to keep an eye on Gadget, and sometimes, he'll even be mistaken as a M.A.D. agent by Gadget himself, which actually worked to Brain's advantage, since Brain will often get Gadget out of harm's way.

These are all nice little pieces of information here, but how exactly does it link back to my opening paragraph?  We have Gadget, who still has no idea that his panda is packing major explosive action.  Penny, who is desperately using her computer book to track the bomb.  And Brain, who is disguised as a man selling balloons.  How will this all end?  Will Metro City's only amusement park be saved?

Well, there you have it.  Another plot by Dr. Claw foiled by Inspector Gadget.  He found the bomb, he disposed of it, and Metro City is saved.

Only, he didn't really foil the plot.  He didn't really know he HAD the bomb.  He disposed of the bomb purely by accident, and he ended up taking credit for the whole thing.

Because Penny ended up doing all the hard work.  Penny found the bomb.  Penny helped dispose of the bomb with Brain's help.  Penny solved the case.

In short...Penny is the brains behind every single one of Gadget's missions.  In every case Gadget worked on, Penny was the one who put all of the pieces together and single-handedly foiled every single one of Dr. Claw's attempts at evil doing.

Yet, she never got any credit for it.  Not a bit.  And what's even more unbelievable is that she was perfectly fine doing exactly that!  She stood back in the shadows and watched as Gadget got all the glory.

There's a few reasons I can think of why this was the case.  Most obvious one being that Penny was all of ten and no police station would even think of having a child on the force, no matter how intelligent she is.  But I think part of it could be her desire to protect her uncle.  For whatever reason, Gadget is all that she has left for family and if anything happened to him, who knows what would become of her.  For Penny, protecting Gadget is essential for her to enjoy the normal life that she currently has.

(Well, aside from all the secret spy stuff that is).

If I were Penny though, I'd at least demand a bigger room, or something to offset the lack of credit she got for her role in the series.  She at least deserved that.

That's about all that I have to say about Inspector Gadget.  But, as promised, I will now show you the real Dr. Claw, and how the design came about.

It was back in 1992.  Although by that time, the Inspector Gadget cartoon was almost as old as Penny was in the show, some toy company decided to make action figures of Inspector Gadget characters.  You had Gadget of course, but there was also one for Penny, Brain, Chief Quimby...

...and DR. CLAW!

To increase the marketing possibilities (translation:  to make sure you bought it), the company placed labels deliberately over the face of the Dr. Claw figure, so that you had to BUY the doll to see what he looked like.  Pretty sneaky, huh?

So, without further adieu, ladies and gentlemen...the real Dr. Claw.

Friday, August 26, 2011

TGIF: That '70s Show

Who here remembers the 1970s?  I'm sure that I have quite a few regular readers of this blog who were either born in the 1970s or grew up during the 1970s. 

It was a decade where disco was king, and everyone tried to mimic the same moves John Travolta did on that multicoloured floor of lights.

It was a decade where gas shortages were in the news, and long lines of cars could be seen at gas stations and convenience stores for miles.

It was a decade where women embraced feminism, and you could see hundreds of women burning their bras as a form of protest.

Yes, the 1970s were a decade of great change.  People showed off their mood rings and pet rocks, embraced the 8-track-tape and Betamax, and wore bell bottoms and feathered hair.

It was a decade that I completely missed out on.

Having been born in 1981, I was unable to experience the 1970s.  I had older sisters and cousins who were born in that time period, who managed to experience some of the decade, but I could only read about it in books, or watch television shows made in the 1970s to fully understand what they were like.

It really wasn't until 1998 came around that a television show came along that showed all of us who missed the 1970s a general idea of what living in that decade really was like.

That '70s Show premiered on the FOX television network on August 23, 1998, and ran until May 18, 2006.  The show was centered around six high school aged students in Point Place, Wisconsin, and was set in the time period between May 1976 and January 1980. 

From left to right, the kids of That '70s Show are Michael Kelso, Eric Forman, Steven Hyde, Donna Pinciotti, Fez, and Jackie Burkhart.  Other characters include Eric's parents, Red and Kitty (Kurtwood Smith and Debra Jo Rupp), Eric's sister (Lisa Robin Kelly), Donna's parents Bob and Midge (Don Stark and Tanya Roberts), Leo (Tommy Chong), and Randy (Josh Meyers).

Just for this blog entry, I'm going to focus on the kids of the show, since they were the real stars of the show.

Like any high school group shown on various television sitcoms over the years, each person in the group had their own distinctive personality.  Some members of the group got into trouble and the others had to bail them out.  Some members dated each other within the group, or slept with others in the group, which had the tendency to make things a bit awkward, especially if the relationship fizzled.  Sometimes, the events of the 1970s would have profound effects on one member of the group, and those effects could spill over into the rest of the circle.

Speaking of circles... of the recurring gags of the series involved some members of the group in the basement of Eric's house (one of the main hangouts for the young cast of the series) in a circle formation.  The scenes were one of the main ways that the group would update each other on various problems or issues that they were experiencing.  Usually, the groups would include the males of the group, but on rare instances, Donna and Jackie would take part in the discussion as well.  The camera would be present in the center of the circle, and would focus on the character currently speaking.  When it came time for the next person to speak, the camera would turn towards the next person. 

Oh, yeah...there's one minor detail that I should add.  You may have noticed a distinct haze in the background of these circle scenes.  Although you never saw any of the characters in the show visually smoking up, the haze was meant to simulate the effect one might notice if they walked in on a group of people smoking up.  I mean, if you watched the clip of the circle that I posted, you may note that the smoke seemed the thickest around Kelso, and well...if you saw the way that Kelso acted in the circle, it makes a lot of sense!

Another gimmick that the show used quite often was the split-screen technology.  Split-screen technology is used when you have two or more characters talking to each other via telephone, or in recent shows, online.  It had been previously used in shows like Three's Company (when characters talked with Suzanne Somers during her publicized conflict dispute with showrunners and producers), and on The View (the argument between Rosie O'Donnell and Elisabeth Hasselbeck, which prompted Rosie to leave the program two months early).

On That '70s Show, the split-screen gimmick was used quite often, to move the storyline of each episode along.

At any rate, the show managed to be a huge hit on FOX.  Here's a little bit of trivia for you.  Of all the programs that debuted in 1998 on the FOX network, That '70s Show was the ONLY one to last longer than one season, airing exactly 200 episodes during its whole run.  Although the show went through some cast changes (including Topher Grace and Ashton Kutcher leaving the series at the beginning of the show's final season), it still kept the humour and the jokes going at full force, which I certainly appreciated.

So, I guess this is the point in the blog where we talk about the main cast of the program.  As always, I'll describe the cast briefly, and see if I can relate to any of these characters (despite them living in a time period that I completely missed).  We'll begin with...

Eric Forman
played by Topher Grace (1998-2005; 2006)

Of all the characters that appear in That '70s Show, I think I am the most like Eric.  Overprotective mother?  We both have them.  Easily agitated father?  Yep, we both have them.  Strained and prickly relationships with an older sibling?  Well...okay, we differ on that one, as I actually have a somewhat decent relationship with mine.  I imagine that had we been born without the age difference, we probably wouldn't get along. 
That being said, Eric had a rather central role in the series for the first seven seasons, and even made a memorable appearance at the series finale.

Eric's personality was quite a bit like mine as well.  Aside from the whole experimentation with marijuana with my closest circle of friends, Eric and I are quite a lot alike.  Eric's basically a good kid with a sense of humour that is peppered with sarcasm and acerbic wit.  This is probably a good thing for him to have, as his physical attributes leave little to be desired.  He has been described as geeky, scrawny, and physically weak, and has been given the nicknames of Zitty Stardust, Foreplay, and Dumbass by his friends and family.  Compare that with me.  I'm probably the biggest geek that most people could ever know (which I proudly own up to, by the way).  When I was younger, I ran away from physical fights, and did a crappy job of trying to defend myself against people who used to beat me up. 

That said, Eric could find the strength to stand up to bullies and family members if provoked enough.  He threatened Casey Kelso with violence if he ever hurt Donna, he stood up to his parents when they tried to interfere in his plans to marry Donna, and has even punched out a couple of people during the show's run. 

Within the main group, Eric's best friend was Hyde, and it was Eric who convinced his parents to let Hyde move in with them when his mother abandoned him.  The person in the group who Eric seems to dislike the most is Jackie, although they manage to put their differences aside in later season.  And then there's his on-off romance with Donna, which seemingly ends in season seven as Eric decides to go to Africa for a year (kicking off Topher Grace leaving the series).  But he returns to the show on the series finale where he sees Donna one final time.

Jackie Burkhart
played by Mila Kunis (1998-2006)

Jackie is the youngest member of the group (as well as the show, as Mila Kunis was barely fifteen when she was cast on the program), and has probably one of the most prickly personalities of the core six.  When you consider that one of her nicknames on the show was 'Little Red Riding Bitch', it's a clear indicator of what kind of personality she had.

You know those people who you may encounter that would give you unsolicited advice on something that ends up being thoughtless or superficial in nature, but ends up being correct?  That was Jackie in a nutshell.  She was portrayed as spoiled and stuck-up, with a hint of narcissism mixed in for bad measure.  That said, at least you could say that any intention that she had was good. 

Still, there's a lot more to Jackie than her conceit and her constant drive to be voted Most Popular or have the best legs.  It ends up that the reason why she acted so conceited was a defense mechanism of sorts to prevent herself from getting hurt.  Her home life was a bit tumultuous as well, with her father in prison and her mother abandoning her.  She also has issues with insecurity, as the only reason she feels like she is a part of Eric's group is because of her relationship with Michael Kelso.  What Jackie didn't initially realize was that her defense mechanism of conceit ended up sabotaging prospective friendships.  All I'll say to that is that I can probably say the same thing about myself (at least during those awkward middle school years anyways).

By the end of the series, Jackie managed to prove herself to the others, and really began to be accepted by the group as more than just the girlfriend of one of the gang.  Though, it's interesting to note that she had relationships with three of the four men in the group (first Kelso, then Hyde, and finally Fez).  She also looked up to Donna as a big sister, and had a rather unique bond with Eric's father, Red.

Michael Kelso
played by Ashton Kutcher (1998-2005; 2006)

Oh, Kelso, Kelso, Kelso...what a man-bimbo you were.

As if he was a combination of Reggie Mantle and Big Moose from Archie comics, Reggie was vapid, shallow, and according to a lot of people, a little bit stupid.  Probably why he ended up dating Jackie at the beginning of the series, as back in those days, Jackie was a traditionalist who mistakenly believed that she needed a man to make her happy, and, well...Kelso was it. 

There is a trait that Kelso and I both share though.  Two actually.  He and I were both sensitive people, and we both had nicknames that we both despised in high school.  First, let's talk about the sensitivity issue.  Before I found my inner strength and started standing up to people, I used to take abuse and jeers and cheers from classmates, and it affected me in a negative manner.  Kelso was basically the same way.  He took the negative comments that the gang made personally when he wore a Fonzie style leather jacket.  He's also surprisingly mature when it comes to how he handled relationships.  Despite cheating on Jackie once, in all subsequent relationships he had, he never cheated on his partner at all after that one time.  When Kelso became a father during season seven, he accepted his responsibility and moved away from Point Place to fulfill his responsibilities (effectively setting the stage for Ashton Kutcher's exit in season eight).

Oh, and the nickname?  The one I was saddled with was 'Turkey', which was taken from the first part of my real last name.  I hated the nickname with a passion, and it seemed the more I voiced my disapproval, the more kids called me it, even going so far as carving it into my locker with a compass from a mathematics kit.  Real mature.  As it turned out, Kelso's embarrassing nickname also originated in high school.  Offscreen, he was in the cafeteria when he slipped on some mashed potatoes and slid right into a pole, earning him the less than affectionate nickname of 'Tater Nuts'.

Kelso's intelligence is also downplayed.  Of course, he gives off the impression that he is a bumbling idiot, but when given the right incentive (money, beer, sex, etc), he displays intelligence beyond belief.  He earned a respectable 1030 on his SAT's, and has a great deal of practical knowledge (yet lacks the ambition to show it off in most cases).  Kelso has also dated a lot of people on the show, but the two that are most notable are Jackie and Eric's sister, Laurie.

Steven Hyde
played by Danny Masterson (1998-2006)

Introduced as Eric Forman's best friend, Hyde's background is probably one of the most dysfunctional.  With an absentee father, and a mother who abandoned him, Hyde is taken in by the Forman family, effectively making Hyde a foster brother to Eric.  The friendship between Eric and Hyde is probably the friendship that is the strongest of all the friendships within the show.

Hyde worked at a Foto Hut where he befriended his boss Leo.  Although the friendship was tested over the years (including one instance in which Hyde told off Leo for not doing his job, despite being his supervisor), the friendship seemed to have survived.

What's interesting about Hyde is that Eric's father, Red, seemed to be more accepting of Hyde as a son, rather than Eric, because Hyde had all of the qualities that Eric lacked, which was more masculinity, and less showing of his emotions, a contrast of the 'New-Age' phonomenon of the 1970s.  Later in the series, we meet Hyde's real father, who surprisingly enough happens to be African-American (making Hyde biracial).  At the end of the series, Hyde becomes the manager of a record store within a chain that his father once owned.

I actually think that Hyde was probably one of my favourite characters in the whole show because he also had a lot in common with me.  He shunned organized religion, as I have a tendency to do myself (which doesn't mean that I don't believe in God, but that's another topic altogether).  He doesn't rush into relationships at all (his only serious one on the show was with Jackie).  While at first he was rebellious and had a 'me against the world' attitude towards life, when he moved into the Forman residence, he lost his rebellious streak, and actually pitched in with chores and the like.  He had high respect for the Formans, probably because they refused to give up on him, unlike his own family.

Perhaps the one thing I liked best about Hyde was the fact that he always put his friendships first above material possessions and needs.  It takes a real mature and secure person to be able to do that, and I think that's why Hyde became my favourite person on the whole show.

Donna Pinciotti
played by Laura Prepon (1998-2006)

Donna is a tomboyish type girl, who spent most of the series being Eric's love interest.  Unlike Jackie, she embraced the idea of feminism, and was extremely confident and strong in her opinions.  Sometimes though, she could take it to the extreme, misleading people into thinking she was arrogant or self-righteous.

She rejects almost all articles that showcase extreme femininity, such as lipstick, skirts, jewelry, and dresses, although on special occasions she will glam it up.  After her wedding with Eric was called off, she even dyed her hair blonde (actress Laura Prepon had dyed it for a movie role that she filmed in between seasons seven and eight).

Although Hyde had expressed feelings for Donna early in the series, Donna's main love interest was Eric, and they had an on-again, off-again romance for most of the series run.  Her best friend (some might say frenemy) is Jackie, and although Jackie can be abrasive with Donna, Donna can give it right back to her.

Despite Donna's confidence, she does have some insecurities, largely stemming from her parents rocky relationship, and subsequent split from each other (which is how the show explained the departure of Tanya Roberts).  Donna believed that she had the hardest life out of the whole group, but Hyde reminded her that his life was the same way, and yet he never complained about it, reassessing Donna's own feelings about herself.  She also had trust issues with Eric, and in one episode, she thinks he is cheating on her when she finds a mysterious pair of panties in his car (which turned out to belong to her mother, when she and Bob had...relations in the car).

played by Wilmer Valderrama

Finally (and I'll wrap this up here, as this blog entry is getting incredibly long), we have foreign exchange student Fez, from...well, actually, we have no idea what country he's from.  In a recurring gag, everytime Fez tries to tell where he's from, he keeps getting interrupted.  It worked kind of the same way as the gag on The Simpsons, when people try to explain where Springfield is located.

Fez isn't exactly Fez's real name.  It's a nickname that is derived from the term 'foreign exchange student'.  The gang do know his real name, but we never hear it, as they claim that they don't have any idea how it is pronounced.

Fez develops friendships with Hyde and Eric on the show, but his best friend is Kelso.  He had deep admiration for Donna, and has a lot of affection towards her, but nothing romantic developed between them.  His relationship with Jackie was one that was slow-going at first.  He had been enamored with Jackie since the beginning of the show, but since she was already committed to Kelso at the time, nothing ever came out of least initially.  In the last season, after Kelso left, Jackie and Fez moved in together, where Jackie soon started developing feelings for Fez.  Fex, rebuffed her affections, telling Jackie that he didn't want to be her last resort.  This prompted Jackie to seek out revenge on Fez, and Fez retaliated by dying Jackie's hair green, telling her that she now looked as ugly on the outside as she was inside.  Jackie was deeply hurt by this and moved out.  Fez realized that he was hard on her, and that he really did want to be with her, but when he tried to apologize, Jackie refused to hear it.  It wasn't until the end of the series before Jackie and Fez began to reciprocate their feelings for one another.

Fez was a bit awkward in the early years with women, and had very little success in his romantic life.  In fact, he was the last of his friends to lose his virginity (gee, this sounds very strangely on par with my own experience with love and romance, I have to say, but again, that's another blog entry for another day).  By the end of the series, he almost becomes a regular womanizer, often experiencing situations that the other three male leads never really did.

Still, Fez's friends were there for him when he needed them.  In one case, when Fez was threatened with deportation after being arrested for vandalism, Eric's sister, Laurie decided to marry Fez to keep him in the country!  The marriage was obviously one of convenience, and once the ceremony happened, the two went on their separate ways, and the marriage was presumably annulled.  Still, you have to hand it to Fez for having such a personality that people would want to keep him around...even if he doesn't quite grasp American culture quite the way the others did.