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Nightmare of the ‘90s, Vol. 2: 3 More Terrifying Pop Culture Touchstones

A while back, I wrote a cathartic post about 5 pop culture products of the ‘90s that absolutely terrified me. It felt good to get those fears out in the open, and at first I thought I could be done discussing my childhood pop culture trauma, but I recently realized that there were way more than 5 things that caused me to lose sleep as a kid. Here are 3 more of them.

The Secret of NIMH

This movie actually came out way back in ‘82, but I’m including it on this list because I’m pretty sure just about every kid who grew up in the ‘90s saw this at one time or another when it aired on every single children’s channel ever. The movie has all the ingredients of a great kid’s movie—a scrappy protagonist, talking animals, a bucolic country setting, an incredibly grating comic relief character…but then the writers and animators apparently decided that it was about time kids learned what fear really meant. To properly scare the bejeezus out of young viewers, they added elements like a rat that chases the protagonist with an electrified trident, another rat who looks like he’s trying out for the role of Possessed Dumbledore, and a demon owl who seems to have clawed and fluttered his way out of Pan’s Labyrinth.

This is the face of an owl that probably eats children in its spare time. Source:


On a side note, I also have negative associations with the book on which this movie is based, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. I read it almost entirely in one night on a summer vacation, after winning a hard-fought battle against my brother to claim the bed closest to the reading lamp in our cabin. I stayed up until the wee hours reading that book while simultaneously being bitten by hundreds of tiny ants who had, unbeknownst to me, called pre-dibs on that bed.

Legends of the Hidden Temple


Blurry footage of a temple guard clothes-lining a child who has clearly just seen her life flash before her eyes. Source:

Like many a child of the ‘90s, I grew up harboring a not-so-secret desire to be on the game show Legends of the Hidden Temple (or, failing that, it’s lesser cousin, Guts). Never mind that the show was no longer in production by the time I would have been old enough to assemble that damn silver monkey statue—I had temple dreams and I had them bad. I believed that I had just the right combination of athleticism and intelligence to breeze through the Moat Challenge and conquer the Steps of Knowledge; I even believed I could stay cool under the no-doubt immense pressure of the two-team Temple Games. The only thing holding me back was the final Temple Run.

For those who have managed to block the Temple Run from their memories, let me remind you: the challenge seemed to involve, at least to my young mind, one singled out, sacrificial child leaving the show’s sound stage in Orlando and traveling into a jungle hellscape, where they would have to clamber around the wreckage of a Mayan temple. The setting itself might not have been so bad, except for the temple guards. These were grown men dressed in Mayan costumes who sprung out of hiding spots (secret revolving doors, potted plants, vents that they passed through in silver liquid form, stuff like that) and “captured” contestants, who could only escape if they handed over a hard-won temple token. If the kid didn’t have a full token, they were removed from the game, presumably either to be taken to their parents or to their death (it was never clear which).

Those temple guards were always my hang-up, my fear of flying, and I’ll never forget how they crushed my dreams of appearing on Legends of the Hidden Temple.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark


Oh no, these aren’t the kinds of images that will stick in an impressionable young mind for years to come. Source:

I was a pretty avid book connoisseur at my elementary school’s library, and I was a fan of some of the kids’ horror offerings (Goosebumps and Bailey School House Kids for the most part), but Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was the one book in that library I wanted nothing to do with. It might as well have been that satanic book from the Evil Dead movies, emitting tortured groans and stirring up sudden lightning storms whenever a kid walked near it. It was sort of an act of defiant bravery if you were able to open that book and stare at its illustrations—which appear to be the black and white water colors of an artist committed to a Victorian asylum—for more than a couple seconds.

To this day, I’m not actually sure if I was ever able to pick up the book and open it myself, or if I just sort of glanced at it out of the corner of my eye while braver, more desensitized kids who were allowed to watch R-rated movies flipped through it. I did look back at some of the original artwork while I was writing this article, though, and it’s still terrifying. I do, however, disagree with the relatively recent decision to change the book’s artwork to something less nightmare-inducing, because modern kids deserve the same opportunities to have the shit scared out of them that I had when I was growing up.

Hopefully today’s parents will do the right thing and at the very least get their kids to watch timeless traumatizing classics, like Dark Crystal and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

If you have your own ‘90s pop culture moments that haunt you to this day, feel free to share them in the comments!


Music Video of the Week: “Hideaway” by Kiesza

I’m not quite sure why I’m calling this the music video of the week as it’s been floating around the Internet for a few months now, but it’s the music video of MY week, at least, and hopefully it’ll make you as happy as it makes me.

I think my happiness with this music video is based on 3 things:

  1. The full commitment to the ’90s in the music, costuming, and dancing (everyone starts doing the running man at one point!). I know trends are cyclical, and we’ve been getting a lot of ’80s synth pop in the last few years, and this is the next logical progression. I for one am ready for a ’90s revival, as long as we don’t go too overboard on the sexy sax (sorry, Kenny G).
  2. The generally great choreography. I’m not going to pretend I’m an expert on dance, but I have watched a lot of So You Think You Can Dance, and I know that I like watching people who are good at dancing.
  3. Kiesza. Just all of Kiesza. She’s got great energy, an amazing voice, and she’s also released a super soulful cover of Haddaway’s “What Is Love”, so in my mind that somehow makes her a triple threat. She’s apparently getting pretty big in the UK, so I hope she has similar success in the States.

Runner Up Video of the Week: “Fancy” by Iggy Azalea featuring Charli XCX

This one’s also been out for awhile, but I figured I couldn’t take about a ’90s resurrection without bringing up a video that plays loving tribute to “Clueless”, one of the greatest movies of the ’90s (fact).


Quiz: Which Victorian Bogeyman Are You?

1. What do you have an appetite for?

  1. Murder
  2. Mass hysteria
  3. Pies
  4. All of the above

2. You’ve got a night to yourself. You spend it:

  1. Lurking in the shadows
  2. Skulking in the shadows
  3. Shadowing other people’s shadows
  4. Seeing Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

3. If you have a flaw—IF being a key word—it’s probably that you:

  1. Care too much
  2. Care too little
  3. Are too hard on yourself
  4. Can’t stop, won’t stop

4. You’re lost in the big city, a la Macauley Culkin in Home Alone 2. What do you do?

  1. Solicit ladies of the night for directions; waggle eyebrows
  2. Hardcore parcour; scale the tallest building so I can get my bearings
  3. Make the best of the situation and establish a local business (this is your home now)
  4. Use Google maps? Or is this supposed to be what I’d do in Victorian times?

5. Surprise Rorscach test! Pretend you’re looking at an ink blot (use your imagination, okay?). What does      it resemble?

  1. The dark hole where your heart should be
  2. Your hero, Batman
  3. Clumps of hair on a barber shop floor
  4. I can just say anything? Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”, I guess

6. If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, it would be:

  1. Blood oranges. Or blood pudding. Blood something.
  2. Pop Rocks
  3. Hormel’s chill, high-sodium edition
  4. What?! Those are all horrible questions. I don’t understand what this quiz is supposed to reveal.

7. Your perfect date involves:

  1. Sparkling conversation, a carriage ride, a well-aged Cabernet
  2. Putt Putt, skinny dipping, Miller Light
  3. A home-cooked dinner, talking late into the night, a nice port
  4. Wait, isn’t this quiz about Victorian bogeyman? How is any of this relevant?

8. Let’s follow up with this date thing. If your first date goes well, what do you do for the second date?

  1. I don’t do second dates
  2. Something spontaneous
  3. Hesitate before calling, mumble something about having a good time and maybe going to a museum opening
  4. Dinner and a movie, I guess, but why does this matter?

9. You’re taking a quiz about Victorian bogeyman. How do you feel?

  1. Thrilled; I believe personality quizzes can reveal secrets buried deep inside ourselves
  2. Ecstatic; learning more about myself is my favorite activity
  3. Overjoyed; I’ve always wanted to know which Victorian villain I am
  4. Frustrated with the direction this quiz has gone

10. We’re almost done here. Last question, which is also the most important one. Which of these words most speaks to you?

  1. Verisimilitude
  2. Rapscallion
  3. Harbinger

Now On To the Results!

Mostly A’s: You’re Jack the Ripper

Congratulations—you’re one of history’s greatest monsters! You’re enigmatic and don’t often let people get close to you, but that’s only because you’re worried you’ll get hurt (or arrested and executed for all the horrific atrocities you’ve committed). You also have a tendency towards being a perfectionist, whether you’re wielding a sharpened knife or studying for that important midterm. You need to learn to let things go. Take a break from murdering, or studying, or whatever it is that’s been stressing you out.

Mostly B’s: Your Spring-Heeled Jack

Well bust my buttons, you’re that devilish specter that many a Londoner reported leaping about the city throughout the 19th century. You’re a kid at heart, and you find play much more important than work. You’re also an athlete, and you need an outlet for your energy or else you go a little crazy. Some people think there are times you should tone it down, like when you pulled that prank at the company Christmas party last year and it didn’t go over very well. Maybe find a better use for your energy, like hot yoga?

Mostly C’s: You’re Sweeney Todd

I say, you’re the spitting image of the demon barber of Fleet Street! You may have struggled with your original business, but you’ve gone on to become a role model for other entrepreneurs dreaming of a midlife career change. You’re a hard worker, and when you set your mind to something then by golly, you’ll achieve it (no matter how devious it is). You’re a textbook case of a self-made individual, but sometimes you take yourself a little too seriously, you know? Relax. Sit back and enjoy the meat pies while you can.

Mostly D’s: You’re Potpourri Charlie

You got Potpourri Charlie because you’re a little bit all over the place, aka you refused to participate in this quiz the way you were supposed to. I know, I know, you’re probably saying that you finished the stupid quiz and just answered ‘D’ a bunch, but you knew that wasn’t how it was supposed to go. You had the opportunity to learn more about Victorian history and—dare I say it—yourself, but you blew it, and now you get to be a non-descript Victorian bogeyman that I, the quizmaster, just made up. Buzzfeed would be ashamed of your quiz-taking attitude.


10 Innovative Creative Writing Prompts—Fun for the Whole Family!

Are you a college student struggling to come up with ideas for an intro-level creative writing class? Are you an established writer wondering how to follow up your last great success? Are you a tiny child grasping a crayon for the first time and struggling with existential writer’s block? Whatever kind of person or infant you are, I’ve got the answer for you. Try any of these 10 writing prompts and before you know it, you will have blacked out and written the next Hunger Games, or at the very least a detailed technical manual for Hungry Hungry Hippos (the prompts work in mysterious ways and I can’t be held responsible for where they take you). Proceed at your own risk.

  1. Imagine that you are a knot in a rope. You can be whatever kind you want—sheep shank, bowline, clove hitch, it doesn’t matter to me. How do you feel about being a knot? Is it kind of a bummer ,or are you totally into it? Write a 10 page academic philosophy paper from this perspective.
  2. Oh crap, you forgot to file your taxes and they have to be in by tomorrow! Write step-by-step instructions on how to file your taxes at the last minute and then email them to me, please, just in case I run into this exact problem come April. (Just to clarify: you are not still a knot in this scenario.)
  3. Remember that movie where James McAvoy and Angelina Jolie were super hot assasins and could bend bullets and shit? Wanted, right? You know, the one where Morgan Freeman was their mentor or something? That movie was a blast, am I right?
  4. Look through your old journals and diaries. Find the most depressing passage possible, like maybe one where you’re talking about how you just know you’re going to be a super successful trial lawyer by the time you’re 26. Reassess your life based on this passage.
  5. You’re walking down the street, minding your own business, maybe thinking about going to the latest picture show, when a squirrel pops out of the bushes and starts talking to you in a Cockney accent. Write a one act play in which you and this squirrel discuss the highlights of Winston Churchill’s political career.
  6. You wake up one morning and are horrified to find that you’ve turned into a PhD student in an underfunded English lit program. Write a 100 page dissertation on game theory in the works of Jane Austen, submit to your department chair by Wednesday.
  7. Fill in the blanks: If it weren’t for ______, I would have gotten away with ________ and ______ the whole damn ______, leaving only ______ and _________ in my ___________, you ________.
  8. Imagine that you are stranded on a desert island with only a functioning life raft, rations for a month, sunscreen, a wetsuit, road flares, a crossbow, TV personality Bear Grylls, and a cell phone that has great reception. How on earth are you and Bear going to get out of this pickle?!
  9. Begin a story with this sentence: “Well bust my buttons, if it isn’t ol’ Clem Smithey, the fastest pistol draw this side of the Mason Dixon line!” You must set your story in the 18th century French court of Versailles.
  10. Write everything that comes to your mind for 10 minutes straight. Do not stop, even if you are kidnapped by ninjas or find yourself on one of those G-force rides at the local fair. I think you’ll find that this uninhibited, stream of consciousness writing allows you to truly bare your soul and discover more about yourself. Publish piece on your blog when you’ve finished, but only if it’s made you feel particularly vulnerable.

State of the Pop Music Union

I ended up spending more time in a car than I was planning on yesterday (gotta love Austin traffic) so I decided to listen to NPR in order to catch up on culture and current events. I got all caught up and cultured for awhile, but around the time that Terry Gross said, “When we come back, we’ll be talking more about cats”, I decided that what I really needed to do was catch up with Top 40 radio.

And apparently I’ve completely missed the recent pop music boat, because there was a lot of futuristic space person music that I didn’t recognize. I mean, I recognized “Blurred Lines” because I’ve been outside my house in the past 4 months, but beyond that…not much. So I decided that the best thing I could do for my blog this week would be to look up the Billboard Top 40 for this week and break all the songs into easy to understand categories so that other out-of-touch, crotchety twentysomethings can reconnect with today’s youth.

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SXSW 2013: Waiting in Linefest Comes to an End


South by Southwest played out much differently than I imagined it would, but largely in a good way. It didn’t follow the music festival schema I was used to, where there are maybe 4 or 5 stages within a contained space and a clear schedule mapping out which bands are playing when. South by Southwest was much more of a deranged Easter egg hunt with venues all over the city, secret shows, and really no way to outline when and where the hundreds of bands are playing (unless you’re crazy organized). There are a few things I regret about the week, such as not being able to get in to see Major Lazer and not having Justin Timberlake e-mail me the location of his secret show after I signed up for his precious New Myspace. In general, however, it was an amazing time. Below are a few of the bands that stood out to me, my favorite free events, and things I would do differently next year.

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SXSW 2013: Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head

Crowd outside of the Viceland Andrew WK show

Crowd outside of the Viceland Andrew WK show

South by Southwest (aka Austin City Explosion, aka For the Love of God, Don’t Try Driving Downtownfest) kicked off this weekend, and a bunch of my friends and I have been taking advantage of the event. Most of us moved to Austin from out of state 7 months ago and have never been to SXSW before, so we’ve made a few rookie mistakes, but the learning curve is steep and I think we’re going to be much better equipped to navigate the giant music festival by the end of the week. Below are some of the highlights (and just generally notable moments) of my first weekend at South by Southwest.

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