Abigail D. Malik

Month: February, 2014

10 Pop Culture References The Golden Girls Can Teach You

GGWhy on God’s green earth would anyone today enjoy watching a 30-year-old sitcom about four older women’s lives in Miami? That’s a joke question, of course, because the answer is, “There are infinity reasons why anyone should love The Golden Girls.” One particularly good reason is the abundance of pop culture references peppered throughout the seven seasons that aired from 1985 to 1992.

The references to film, music, television, books, celebrities, and more offer learning opportunities for those who weren’t around then or are too young to remember anything besides Care Bears and slap bracelets. And for those who rocked it loud and proud during those two decades, here are some humorous flashbacks.

Before Snuggie and ShamWow, there was Amazing Discoveries.

In season seven, Blanche is imploring Dorothy to get up off the couch and join her at her favorite bar, The Rusty Anchor. But Dorothy is staring at the television, absorbed in Amazing Discoveries: “Look at that,” she says from the couch. “The thing just shucks the corn off the cob. It just shucks it off.”

Hosted by Mike Levey, Amazing Discoveries ran from 1989 to 1997 and is said to be the pioneer of “direct response television” (today’s Proactive, PedEgg and others). According to Direct Marketing News’ 2003 story on Levey’s death (he was only 55), the Amazing Discoveries host was once known as “the most watched man on television,” and throughout the nearly 100 episodes that aired, many fans tuned in just to see what style of sweater he’d have on.

Donald Trump has always kind of been disliked.*

The show makes many references to media mogul Merv Griffin, the force behind, among other things, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!. In a season-seven dream, Dorothy is a contestant on Jeopardy!, and when Merv Griffin (who plays himself) emerges at the end of the dream, Dorothy says: “Mr. Griffin, please, you are the most beloved man in America. You are bright, you are charming, you are the anti-Trump.”

According to Forbes, in 1992, the year this season of The Golden Girls aired, Trump filed for corporate bankruptcy, the second in what would be four times between 1991 and 2009. In addition, 1992 was the year Trump and wife Ivana divorced after a 15-year marriage. Rough year, Donny. Griffin, on the other hand, was enjoying the success of the two game shows in addition to his own increasing wealth from hotel and gambling business ventures.

*This essay was written well before Donald Trump became president of the United States in 2016.

Oprah Winfrey has always had to deal with the haters.

In season four, Rose was convinced she witnessed a UFO when she was out on the lanai. Dorothy, the sensible one, refuses to believe it and tries to convince Rose that what she saw couldn’t have been a UFO.

“Well, it wasn’t a plane,” Rose says. “Planes aren’t that thin or that bright.” To which Dorothy responds, “Neither is Oprah Winfrey, but that doesn’t make her a flying saucer.”

Ouch. Season four of The Golden Girls aired in late 1988 through mid-1989, and The Oprah Winfrey Show made its debut in 1986, airing for 25 years. Oprah’s famous “wagon of fat” episode happened in 1988: for months she starved herself on a liquid diet, and after losing 67 pounds and fitting into size-10 Calvin Klein’s, she wheeled a red wagon piled high with fat onto the set to represent what she lost. According to a 2005 USA Today story, she said that’s the television stunt she regrets most.

You know actor Raul Julia’s face, but you probably don’t know his name.

In a season-seven episode, Stan and Dorothy are accused of being slum lords of an apartment building they co-own, and they are forced by a judge to spend the night in one of the bug-infested apartments as punishment. When Dorothy returns home the next morning, Sophia thinks she has escaped illegally and starts planning Dorothy’s future on the lam: she can obtain a fake birth certificate, go into hiding, and get plastic surgery. “By tomorrow morning, you can be Raul Julia,” Sophia says.

Julia was a Puerto Rican actor who had notable roles on screen and on stage, but for many, he’s probably most recognizable for his portrayal of Gomez in the 1991 film The Addams Family. This Golden Girls reference is from the 1992 season, and Julia passed away two years later at the age of 54.

Never forget that at one time, tanning beds were pretty widely accepted.

Dorothy’s daughter Kate gets married in season two, and she invites Stan, Dorothy’s ex-husband, to the ceremony. When Dorothy calls to invite Stan, he explains why his new wife, Chrissy, won’t be able to attend, to which Dorothy responds, “No, no I didn’t know that could happen from a tanning machine.”

Sometimes it’s hard to believe there was a time when tanning-bed use was generally accepted, but this episode aired in the show’s 1986 season, in what could be considered the heyday of the “tanning machine.” According to a Huffington Post article, tanning beds were becoming increasingly popular in the early 1980s, and by the 1990s, they were becoming even more popular with teens. It’s shameful to admit, but there’s a good chance many of us can remember hitting up the tanning salon before prom back in the day.

Don’t let whatever happened to Chrissy happen to you.

You know Chef Boyardee, but do you know Mama Celeste?

In season one, Sophia spends an episode striving to upstage and up-cook her arch rival, Mama Celeste, whom she was childhood friends with in Italy. After giving Blanche, Rose, and Dorothy a taste test of her own pizza versus “Mama You-Know-Who’s,” the girls don’t choose Sophia’s. “You can’t pick pizza, and you can’t pick men!” she exclaims.

Celeste brand frozen pizzas are still around today, but the brand started out as Mama Celeste. In 1970, the frozen pizzas were top sellers, but then distribution was restricted to regional markets, Florida being one of them. The pleasant-looking Mama Celeste – which is the actual face of founder Celeste Lizio – is still on the box, though Sophia wishes it was her face “in every freezer in America.”

Televised talent competitions did not begin with American Idol.

In season five, Blanche’s daughter decides to get artificially inseminated. As usual, the girls discuss this drama around the kitchen table. “You know, I’ve read that you can even buy the sperm of Nobel Prize winners,” Rose says. “Or is it Star Search winners?”

Star Search was an awesome show hosted by Ed McMahon that aired from 1983 to 1995. Performers competed in several categories, including singing, dancing, comedy, and spokes model. The show was the first of its kind at the time, and it gave a bazillion current pop culture figures their first exposure to the limelight, including (to name a few) Beyoncé, Britney Spears, Rosie O’Donnell, Drew Carey, Justin Timberlake, Alanis Morissette, and Usher – and they all lost!

Vanna White really did write an autobiography.

In season five, Stan’s cousin Magda, a communist from Czechoslovakia, comes to visit. In order to teach her about the American experience, Dorothy recommends Magda read two books: Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and Vanna White’s autobiography.

“I think it’ll give you some idea of what freedom is all about,” Dorothy explains of Paine’s book. And of White’s book, Magda asks, “Why should I read this?”

“It’s just a hell of a book,” Dorothy responds.

And indeed, around two years before this Golden Girls episode aired, White authored an autobiography, in 1987, titled Vanna Speaks. The book came four years into her career role as wheel turner on The Wheel of Fortune, and, according to a 1987 Chicago Tribune story, the book was White’s response to her growing reputation as a “dumb blond,” “real-life Barbie doll,” and “Marshmallow Fluff.” You keep using your letters, Vanna.

It wasn’t always just Sonny and Cher. It used to be Cher and…. a lot of people.

In a late season five episode, Rose is having trouble choosing between Miles, her current boyfriend, and Buzz, a long-lost love from St. Olaf. At one point, Sophia walks in on Rose and Miles talking and exclaims, “Oh god, now she’s with the other one, it’s like living with Cher.”

Cher is pretty well known as the other half of “Sonny and Cher,” but that relationship (which only lasted for 10 years) is, well, not even the half of it. In 2012, the 67-year-old married her third husband, and in the 1980s, according to The Daily Mail, Cher had at least eight prominent relationships, which included famous musicians, actors, producers, a professional hockey player, and a bagel shop worker.

General Hospital was the reigning queen of daytime soap operas. And once upon a time, there were a bunch of them, so that meant something.

Sophia, in a season four episode, volunteers at a hospital. In typical Sophia fashion, she argues with one of her fellow volunteers, a man, loudly and in front of everyone. “What’s the matter, don’t you watch General Hospital? This place is a passion pit.”

In 1988, you were hard pressed to find someone who didn’t watch General Hospital. The show began in 1963, making it the longest-running daytime soap still currently in production. In 2012, it experienced a cancellation scare, but avoided it after the show’s plots, twists, turns, and characters were altered to appeal to a younger audience. Interestingly, according to a Los Angeles Times article, the show originally was the soap opera “that brought young people to daytime television” when it first aired more than 50 years ago. In November 1981, an on-screen wedding with characters Laura and Luke gained 30 million viewers, which is still a record for biggest daytime audience.

General Hospital is one of only four daytime soaps still on the air, and, as of 2013, it has remained the top daytime drama for 25 consecutive years.


Personal Essay: Wrestling Mania

wrestlingShe leaned across her seat, tapped me on the arm, and pointed to the WWE Live ring in the center of the arena floor.

“If he can crawl over to the edge and touch the rope, he’ll be free,” my mom whispered excitedly, as a grown man in a mask tried to get his head out from between some other grown man’s pretzel-twisted legs. I didn’t know which was more fun: the professional wrestling match or my mom’s knowledge of it. Who knew beneath that sweet personality and gentle smile there was a woman who got her kicks on body slams, trash talking, and men in tight pants?

Funny thing is, she always has. It’s a family tradition: in the 1970s, my mom would travel with her mom and aunts to the big city of Charleston, West Virginia, to see professional wrestling matches when they rolled through town. It was a big to-do for them, and so for her 62nd birthday, I wanted to experience with her what she had so many years ago with her mother and aunts.

The woman was pumped. My dad half-jokingly said he’d be on standby in case she got out of control and had to be escorted out of the arena.

She was well behaved, but she wasn’t quiet. Completely unfamiliar with modern wrestlers like Randy Orton and CM Punk, we mostly booed and cheered and shook our fists according to what the crowd did. Sometimes, though, we based our cheers on which wrestler was better looking.

“Oh, come on! Get up, you wimp,” my mom growled throughout the night. She slammed her hand on the armrest in frustration. “Yeah, hit him harder!”

During intermission, she reflected on the wrestlers she saw in the 1970s and 80s: Andre the Giant, The Million Dollar Man. Then, in the 1990s, when Pay-Per-View was something fancy, my mom’s family gathered at someone’s house to watch a match, everyone chipping in some money and plenty of food to spend an evening with “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan, Jake “The Snake” Roberts – with his real snake, Mom reminds me! – and so many more.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, there was a resurgence in the popularity of professional wrestling. Who can forget “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and his infernal t-shirts? Every boy in my high school had one.

That night at the arena with my mom, it was easy to suspend disbelief. It was escapism at its best, and I haven’t spent such a unique Friday night since. That WWE professional wrestling match was fun. We’d both do it again in a heartbeat, only this time, my mom said she’s going to brush up on today’s wrestlers, so she’ll know at which wrestlers to really direct her screams.

Personal Essay: Ode to the Boot-cut Jean

jeansRack after rack of jeans fills my local Goodwill store, a sea of discarded, heavy denim to wade through in search of a good-enough pair. Shopping makes my arms hurt, as my left one holds try-ons and my right one screeches hangers rhythmically down the line. To the left, away you go – wrong size, weird color, too long.

And boot cut. Mostly, they’re all boot cut. On one hand, the sad thrift-store sea of discarded boot-cut jeans is puzzling – what exactly is wrong with that style? It clearly used to get a lot of love. On the other hand, it doesn’t matter why they’re there en masse because they now present themselves as an opportunity to the forward thinker: buy a bunch and hoard them until the style returns.

And the style, like so many others, will come back, raging and loud, perhaps just as strong as the skinny-leg fad it feels like we’ve been experiencing for quite some time.

Unaware of it until recently, I’ve been sort of preparing for this revolution. Folded reverently in a dresser drawer at home is a pair of 2001 Calvin Klein’s: dark blue denim, the most flattering back pockets you could imagine, and boot cut. I even remember saving the money to buy them at the mall that summer after high-school graduation. During my first year of college, I rocked them almost every day, and then, as happens sometimes, they started to feel a little too tight. But I kept them; something in the back of my mind whispered, “Just in case.” More than a decade later, having toted them from city to city and season to season, they fit again. They look good.

Except, of course, for the legs. Those poor Calvin’s seem almost bell-bottomed compared to the straight-leg pants folded on top of them in my dresser drawer. Sorry, Brooke Shields, but something has come between me and my Calvin’s.

Depending on whom you ask or what you read, this most-recent skinny-leg jean fad (that is, since the 1980s punk-era fad) has been in mainstream culture since around 2005. Yet it has hit cultural saturation, it seems, in just the past couple of years. It’s a level of saturation that makes you grumble “Oh, come on!” when you can’t find a pair of jeans that will stretch over a strong, muscled calf you once thought was an asset.

In these moments, I look longingly toward my bedroom, where my 13-year-old Calvin’s rest, nestled snugly between newer pairs of denim. A decade from now, I wonder, how many 30-somethings will sort through a sea of consignment skinny jeans, arms aching, and think, “What in the world…?” before pushing them on down the rack.

Maybe, Brooke, I should wiggle back into my Calvin’s. Maybe the time for a boot-cut revolution is now.

Personal Essay: Basement Blues

basementThe suspicious feeling in the back of my mind insisted every now and then that living in my friend’s basement was too good to be true.

The monthly rent was more than fair, the house was in a nice, side-walked neighborhood, and the adjacent garage had ample room to store all my boxed- and bagged-up belongings. Besides, as my previous landlord, as well, my friend had decided to sell that house, and I needed to find a new home quickly. This temporary landing pad gave me time to search and her a few extra bucks.

And so for the first couple of months, when friends asked how the living situation was going, I was pleasantly surprised and happy to answer with “It’s great! Can you believe it? Things are great.”

Until that weekend I went out of town and returned Sunday evening to find my friend perched on the living room sofa waiting on me.

“Hey! You need help with your things? Hey, so. You’re either going to really love what I did or really hate what I did.” She spilled it out in one long breath, smiling tightly.

“Okay…” I replied, instantly worried she’d taken on a weekend wallpapering project. She lead the way as we trotted down the basement stairs.

“I was down here cleaning, earlier today,” she began. “And I moved your bookshelf to vacuum. Then I saw your clothes on the bed, so I started folding them, then when I noticed your books still packed, well, I thought, I should unpack those for her…” Her words became just a buzz as I took in the basement and realized what she’d done.

The neatly stacked boxes and bags filled with my life were no longer safely stored in the garage where I’d left them. Now, all of my belongings were unpacked, and she’d gone through every item, placing them around the basement where she though they belonged. Like a parent touring a preschool for the first time, I followed her from station to station while she explained why she put which item where.

We both knew, I thought, that me crashing in her basement was never a permanent living situation. So I’d decided in the beginning to unpack only the necessities. But my books, previously tied up neatly in plastic grocery bags, now lined the shelves. She had rearranged the little living-room area I’d created, and clothes folded in stacks on the bed two days ago now hung in a closet on hangers that didn’t belong to me. My DVDs, unpacked and mixed with some of hers, were lined up on a shelf in alphabetical order.

Then she told me that she put away the basket of laundry sitting on the floor. She folded what needed folding, hung up what needed hanging, and put away underwear that she decided now belonged in a nightstand drawer labeled with the typed phrase “Underwear, etc.”

All of the laundry in that basket was dirty. And the nightstand that was beside my bed when I left for the weekend is now what holds my dirty underwear.

“Wait,” I muttered, as I fumbled through the drawer. “If my underwear is here, then where is my…?”

Everyone knows that the top drawer of a woman’s nightstand is the goody drawer. She has been in my goody drawer, and she has seen, touched, and moved my goods.

The word violated flashed across my brain. I felt sweaty and weird.

By this time, she had gone back upstairs, leaving me to explore this brave new world she’d created. Before she left, she said by way of explanation that once she started going through and unpacking my things, she just couldn’t stop herself. And before she knew it, this had happened, and she waved her hand around the room as she scurried up the basement stairs.

Grabbing my phone, I burst through the basement door that leads to an outdoor patio. Pacing like a caged tiger, I called every friend I had.

When I finished sharing, in near whispers for fear she might hear me, I reluctantly went back inside. Everything felt slightly off kilter. That voice in my mind knew the basement was too good to be true. Curling up on the couch, I couldn’t make myself sleep in the bed on which she’d, for some reason, changed the sheets and comforter and added some throw pillows.

Things weren’t really the same between me and my friend. She’d seen too much in her basement, and I had, too.

I moved out as soon as I found another place. It was probably time to leave, anyway. No self-respecting 26-year-old woman with a full-time job should live in someone’s basement. Nothing good happens to anyone in a basement after, at most, the age of 17.

But I always hoped that maybe spying my goody drawer inspired her to get her own. If anyone was ever in need of something to occupy her hands on the weekends, it was her.