The Sweet Taste Of 'Pop' Culture Nostalgia
Do you have the Eight is Enough theme music burned into your brain? Do you fall into a Proustian reverie at the fizzy punch of Pop Rocks? Are you old enough to remember carrying a metal lunch box to school — and clobbering your friends with it?
Then you're the perfect age to appreciate a new book called Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes & Trends of the '70s & '80s. It's a catalogue of things designed to make you smile and say, "Oh yeah, I remember that!" Candy cigarettes, Fantasy Island, encyclopedias, and Stretch Armstrong dolls all make an appearance.
Co-author Gael Fashingbauer Cooper tells weekend on All Things Considered host Rachel Martin that she wanted to preserve bits of pop culture that slipped away without anyone noticing.
"The speed of change gets lost sometimes, when we're in the middle of it, and I think looking back is something we don't always do enough," she says.
Cooper, who wrote the book with Brian Bellmont, had another, more personal reason for writing the book.
"I'm the youngest of seven, and all my brothers and sisters are baby boomers," she says. "Their pop culture ... dominated my life. And so to look back on my own was kind of a fresh experience for me."
But why pudding pops? Cooper says the sweet treats embody the experience she's trying to capture in her book.
"They were here in the '80s, thanks to the Bill Cosby ads, everyone knew about them, and then they vanished for a while," she says. "And then they very quietly came back in about 2000 or so."
Cooper says purists complain that the rebooted Pudding Pop doesn't taste the same, but they're still a welcome sight in the freezer case.
"The joy that you would see in a person who would be like, 'Pudding Pops are back?' That was kind of like why we wanted to do the book," she says. "To tell them, you know, so many things from your childhood may be back. They may have different names or different formats, but a lot of this can be found, and we're gonna tell you where you can find it."
RACHEL MARTIN, host: We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MARTIN: Is this music burned into your brain?
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EIGHT IS ENOUGH")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) Oh, eight is enough to fill our lives with love.
MARTIN: Do you fall into a nostalgic trance after a fizzy mouthful of Pop Rocks? Are you old enough to remember carrying a metal lunchbox to school? Then you are the perfect age to appreciate a new book, called "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the 1970s and '80s." Author Gael Fashingbauer Cooper has compiled an encyclopedia of things that make you smile and say: Oh, yeah, I remember that. And you know what? There is even an entry on encyclopedias. Gael Fashingbauer Cooper joins me now from member station KUOW in Seattle. Welcome to the show, Gael.
GAEL FASHINGBAUER COOPER: Thanks so much.
MARTIN: So there's so much to talk about in this book. I want to start off on a sweet note. Let's talk about candy. I mean, I was reading this book the other night and just howling at some of these entries. I mean, we remember, we all remember - some of us of a certain age - there were these super sugary candies: I mean, Nerds and Pop Rocks.
COOPER: Exactly. Bottle Caps was another one.
MARTIN: Oh, yeah. Bottle Caps.
COOPER: From the same Wonka candy company. Pop Rocks were huge on our playgrounds because they were the only candy that fought back when they were inside your mouth, being eaten.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
COOPER: And if you weren't ready for them, they were kind of wooh, a shocker taste.
(SOUNDBITE OF ADVERTISEMENT)
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Pop Rocks.
ANNOUNCER: Introducing Pop Rocks crackling candy. They'll burst all over your mouth in cherry, grape and orange.
GROUP: (Singing) Pop Rocks.
MARTIN: Earlier, I mentioned encyclopedias. And it's something you don't really think about until it's pointed out, but no one has encyclopedias anymore. I mean, when I was growing up...
COOPER: Well, and why would we need them, right? Twenty-six volumes of heavy books on your shelf that your parents had to pay a lot of money for, but they're outdated - as soon as they're printed, they're out of date. But we loved them. You know, both my co-author, Brian Bellmont, and I would sit and read them like they were books. We were just fascinated by the bizarre things we would only read about in the encyclopedia.
MARTIN: So all this stuff is fun. But you have to admit, Gael, most of it wasn't really meant to last. It is disposable, to some degree. So why was it so important for you to catalog it like this?
COOPER: You know, a bunch of reasons, but one of them was just how far we've come. Looking back at where we came from, you know, the speed of change gets lost sometimes when we're in the middle of it. And I think looking back is something we don't always do enough. Another reason I wrote it was because I'm the youngest of seven, and all my brothers and sisters are baby boomers. Their pop culture was - dominated my life. And so to look back on my own was kind of a fresh experience for me and a neat treat.
MARTIN: One of the things that you point out in your book is the way that in the 1970s and '80s, we were actually obsessed with the 1950s: "Happy Days," "M*A*S*H" on TV, these TV shows...
COOPER: Oh, yes. "Grease" the movie.
MARTIN: ...Sha-Na-Na in concert, "Grease" the movie.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GREASE")
FRANKIE VALLI: (Singing) Grease is the word.
UNIDENTIFIED CHORUS: (Singing) Is the word, is the word that you heard.
VALLI: (Singing) It's got groove, it's got meaning.
MARTIN: Have you thought about why that was? It's almost like this nostalgia doubling back on itself.
COOPER: I think every, you know, every generation looks back. When a certain generation gets older, they want to rehash their past. And maybe there was something in the '50s that in the '70s, we needed to kind of work through. If you look at, you know, "M*A*S*H," which was set in the '50s, it was very much a '70s show. They were - Alan Alda was a very sensitive '70s guy, not your hard-core '50s doctor. And so maybe we were trying to look at that Korean War and kind of accept it in a '70s way.
MARTIN: And finally, whatever happened to these things?
(SOUNDBITE OF ADVERTISEMENT)
BILL COSBY: New Jell-O Pudding Pops. New Jell-O Pudding Pops.
COOPER: Pudding Pops were one of those things that when they were here in the '80s, thanks to the Bill Cosby ads, everyone knew about them. And then they vanished for a while, and they very quietly came back in about 2000 or so. But Jell-O had licensed them to Popsicle, so they had a different shape. And people said the recipe wasn't the same. But...
MARTIN: The recipe.
COOPER: ...The joy that you would see in a person who would be like, Pudding Pops are back? That was kind of like why we wanted to do the book - to tell them, you know, so many things from your childhood may be back. They may have different names or different formats, but a lot of this can be found, and we're going to tell you where you can find it.
MARTIN: Gael Fashingbauer Cooper is the author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the 1970s & '80s." Gael, thanks so much for joining us.
COOPER: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME")
SIMPLE MINDS: (Singing) Don't you forget about me. Don't, don't, don't, don't, don't you forget about me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.