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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Raisins Are Better With Clay

I’ll be honest with you.  I used to be a very picky eater. 
I can remember being very little, and completely naming off a list of all the foods that I did not like at all.  Broccoli, lettuce, green beans, potatoes, carrots, onions...heck, pretty much all vegetables.  I convinced myself that I didn’t like any vegetable, and I flat out told my parents that they should never serve me vegetables for dinner, because I would not eat them.

And, naturally, my parents would only use it as an excuse to serve me more vegetables. 

Never mind the fact that I refused to try the vegetables in the first place.  I had convinced myself that there was no way that those vegetables would ever go inside my mouth.
But as I grew older, I started to appreciate vegetables a little bit more, and now at age thirty, I incorporate vegetables into my eating habits whenever I can.  I absolutely love fresh salads.  I am a huge fan of veggie trays at parties.  I can even admit to liking a little bit of broccoli once in a while.

As far as onions and brussel sprouts go on the other hand...well, let’s just say that there are even some vegetables that you can’t make me eat.
The same deal goes for fruit.  Granted, I have a mild allergy to strawberries, so that fruit is understandable.  But, I’m also not a huge fan of peaches, plums, and cantaloupe.  I’ve tried them, but they just aren’t something that I would readily choose to eat.

But the absolute worst thing that I have to say that I have ever eaten from the fruit family is the disgusting brownish-purple dried fruit known as the raisin.

I absolutely despise raisins.  I have heard some people refer to raisins as ‘nature’s candy’.  To me, I don’t believe that nature would be so cruel as to call a grape that has been left in a tanning booth way too long a ‘candy’.
Have you ever been in a situation where you grab a delicious looking cookie or muffin, thinking that it is of the chocolate chip variety? And once you bite in, you realize that you now have a mouthful of raisins in your mouth?  I have.  And, it is NOT a pretty picture.

Now, granted, I know that some of you reading this blog entry ARE raisin lovers, and I’m sure that some of you will try to convince me that raisins are better than chocolate and sex combined.  That’s fine.  Personally, I’d rather swallow a canary whole than eat just one raisin.
Luckily for me, I had two sisters who loved everything about raisins, so every time I went trick-or-treating for Halloween, all the boxes of raisins that I would get in my loot bag automatically went to them.

(I mean, seriously, who the heck gives out raisins for Halloween?)
Just in case I wasn’t clear...I HATE raisins!!!

Well, okay.  Maybe I don’t hate ALL raisins.
There are some raisins that I didn’t mind all that much.  In fact, the best things about these raisins were that I didn’t even have to eat them.  All I had to do was watch them sing songs and interact with each other.

And, no, I haven’t lost my mind either.  Just hear me out.
In order to explain my last statement, we have to take a trip back in time to the year 1986.  It was the year that acid washed jeans were in fashion.  It was the year where boys watched G.I. Joe and girls watched Jem and the Holograms (or vice versa, if you will).  It was the year that solo female artists like Janet Jackson, Madonna, and the late Whitney Houston dominated the Billboard charts.

And it was also the year that an exciting new style of animation debuted.

Although animator Will Vinton had started up his production company eight years earlier and was the one who took the word ‘claymation’ and turned it into a registered trademark, it wasn’t until the 1980s that the process became popular.
Claymation (a portmanteau of clay and animation) is a process where objects moulded with clay and/or plasticine are made around a wire skeleton.  These objects are then arranged in different poses, with each pose filling in one frame.  When all the frames are put together and played in rapid succession, the clay images move on screen, just the same way that a cartoon would be animated.  It was a really neat process to watch, and back in 1986, it was a revolutionary process.

And in 1986, Claymation was everywhere.  Some segments of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse were filmed with Claymation technology (most notably, the segments starring Penny).  Peter Gabriel’s ‘Sledgehammer’ video was a Claymation masterpiece.  And, during 1986, Will Vinton was at work filming a Claymation Christmas special (which would be ready for the 1987 Christmas season).
Claymation was heavily used for an advertising campaign during the mid-1980s as well.  An advertising campaign involving raisins.

The California Raisins, to be specific.
Back in 1986, an advertising company had been brainstorming ideas regarding a commercial that they were to film for the California Raisin Advisory Board, but they were at a loss as to how to go about it.  One of the company’s employees (writer Seth Werner) suggested a rather outlandish idea.

What if they had a bunch of dancing raisins singing the classic Marvin Gaye song “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”?
I know what you must be thinking.  What a crazy idea!  That would never work.

Nevertheless, the idea was presented to Will Vinton, who set to work on taking the idea that the ad agency came up with and turning it into a standard 30-second commercial.

So, imagine everyone’s surprise when the commercial became wildly popular!  Audiences loved The California Raisins, and soon more commercials followed.  The raisins soon began taking on the appearances of celebrities, such as Ray Charles and Michael Jackson in future advertisements.
The California Raisins became so popular during the 1980s that they were even added into Will Vinton’s Claymation Christmas Celebration, singing Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.  I know that Christmas was two months ago, but if you want to listen to them perform the song, you can click here.

And since we are on the subject of music, did you know that The California Raisins recorded four studio albums in the late 1980s, and that their own version of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” actually landed on the Billboard Charts? 
But, while The California Raisins had made a small impact on the music scene, they made an even larger impact in the world of television.  In November 1988, Will Vinton helped bring forth the first full-length animated television special.  Airing on CBS, the special “Meet The Raisins!” debuted to huge ratings, and was nominated for an Emmy award in 1989.  The special allowed the viewer to get to know the band members of the group in great detail, and gave them more personality traits.  The individual raisins were even given names, like A.C., Beebop, Redd, and Stretch.

In 1989, an animated series known as The California Raisins Show aired on CBS.  Although it wasn’t renewed for a second season following its initial 13-episode run, The California Raisins proved that they were still relevant as they entered the 1990s with a second animated special called “Raisins: Sold Out!”, released on August 29, 1990.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about The California Raisins was the fact that they were really one of the first commercial mascots to successfully launch a line of merchandise.  As an elementary school student in the late 1980s, there was certainly a lot of memorabilia on famous bands, cartoon characters, and television heartthrobs and sweethearts.  But beginning around my second grade year, everyone seemed to be all about The California Raisins.  They were on notebooks, backpacks, posters, bedsheets, and costumes.

MINI-CONFESSION:  When I was in second grade, I proudly owned a California Raisins sweatshirt, and I loved that thing to pieces.  I literally wore that sweatshirt until it fell apart.

The California Raisins were also manufactured into collectable figurines.  Restaurant chain Hardee’s would offer the non-poseable figures as a promotional gimmick to sell their Cinnamon ‘n’ Raisin biscuits.  The figurines were a huge hit with consumers, and many people actively collected each one.  Country singer Blake Shelton once admitted that he had a sizeable collection of California Raisin figurines at one time. 
And with California Raisin figurine lines launched in 1987, 1988, 1991, and 2001, there certainly were lots of figures to get.  I often wonder how many were actually made over the years.

These days, The California Raisins don’t really make many appearances on the television, but various pieces of merchandise can be found on display at the Smithsonian.  And as recently as 2011, a picture of a California Raisin can be found on boxes of Sun-Maid Natural California Raisin packages.  It’s hard to say whether or not The California Raisins can make another comeback or not.  But, I suppose if enough time passes, everything old can be new again eventually, so never say never.
Though I will say that just because I may have been a fan of the California Raisins growing up, it did not change my opinion about eating raisins.  I never liked eating raisins, and I don’t think I ever will like eating raisins as long as I live.  But, at least for a couple of years, they were entertaining enough for me to look at them in a whole new light.

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