Friday, May 13, 2005

Retrobsession No.1: Super Crazy Neon Rage!

Electric Youth
Now In Shocking Neon!
As a kid in the Eighties, everything was a shade of neon. Our clothes, toys...even our cereal had to have Neon to be able to sell it. I didn't particularly ask my mom for stuff just because it was laser yellow or electric blue but it sure increased my status points if my shoe laces gave my third period teacher a migrane.
Name: Neon
Symbol: Ne
Atomic Number: 10
Atomic Weight: 20.1797 (6)
Group Number: 18
Group Name: Noble Gas
Period Number: 2
Neon was discovered by Sir William Ramsay and Morris Travers in 1898 very shortly after their discovery of the element krypton. Both elements were discovered through work on liquid air. A little later they discovered xenon using similar methods. It is a very inert element. Neon forms an unstable hydrate. In a vacuum discharge tube, neon glows reddish orange. Of all the rare gases, the discharge of neon is the most intense at ordinary voltages and currents.
No one that I know of is able to pinpoint the exact time or year that everything went flourescent but from my recollection it happened overnight. Like something out of War of the Worlds, a strange red plant covering the planet, it was just accepted as the norm. Everything went neon not just our fashions. Trapper Keepers and pencils...the trend engulfed everything from drink coasters to toothbrushes and frisbees to winshield wipers (although the latter are still en vogue today with the fashionably unconscionable). Even the one market that didn't need help in the Eighties got Neon-ified: Toys. The Eighties were signifigant to me as much for its toys as it was for its music. Standard Eighties staples got the Neon makeover, sometimes for the worse. Transformers and GO-Bots once titans of the toy world were "improved" by the addidtion of neon versions of themselves. Coincidentally, it was around this time that GO-Bots went the way of the dinosaur, the non-Neon dinosaur. Most prominently Neon were the plastic toys, with most notable mention going to my childhood fav, M.U.S.C.L.E. Plastic and Neon just go together so I suppose that was bound to happen. Note to the marketing guys, it did not make my double suplex any better in the world of M.U.S.C.L.E. wrestling.
The coolest thing about the neon colors is that it totally defined a decade and they were unclassifiable. We went beyond basic ROYGBIV with neon colors, why color with Forrest Green when the grass could look like acid!! Living within the coloring book world I created in 1984 would make a trip through Willie Wonka's factory look like life in a puritanical Currier & Ives print.

I know this sounds crazy but one of the most attractive things about Neon colored things was its smell. Of course they didn't really smell any different than anything else, but to someone as strange as I am, who suffers a tad bit from Synesthesia, I remember that anything Neon I had was associated with a certain olfactory experience. It was a smell that was sterile like plastic but sweet like Starburst (I'm thinking close to the strawberry or Lemon ones). Okay, I'll shut up now.
Pretty in Shocking Pink!

Neon pink was by far the most popular of the neon colors by sheer volume. Either it was easier to manufacture or some faction of the Republican party controlled it like everything was everywhere! My choice (if given the option) was usually the neon green as it had a certain "glow" quality as well as a retina burning potential if done right. Sadly though, pink seemed to be the rage so unless you were getting an assortment of say, cheap-ass neon sunglasses, you were pretty much going to wear shocking pink...even if you were a boy! My favorite moment in pink came when Pac Man cereal added Ms. Pac Man marshmellows. I loved the commercial for it! These beatnik kids all dressed in hot pink with berets playing jazz music singing about how "Pac Man cereal's got a new's shocking PINK! New Ms. Pac Man Marshmellows!"
The big four. Pink, Orange, Yellow and Green which were usually given special names in the identity-obsessed Eighties like: Shocking Pink, Outrageous Orange, Laser Yellow and Ultra Green. My favorite of the neon colors happened to be the hardest to find represented in either toys, accessories or clothing of the period...Electric Blue
Crayola Crayons were responsible for giving even those with little or no access to Neon hued clothes or toys the power to light up their lives. Back in 1972 (they could forsee trends) they added 8 Flourescent colors:
Hot Magenta
Ultra Blue
Ultra Green
Ultra Orange
Ultra Pink
Ultra Red
Ultra Yellow
A whopping 18 years later in 1990, after the wane of the Neon and Flourescent movement, they were renamed to possibly give identity to the afore-mentioned autonomous "Ultra" colors:
Atomic Tangerine
Hot Magenta
Blizzard Blue
Screamin' Green
Outrageous Orange
Shocking Pink
Wild Watermelon
Laser Lemon
Oddly, also in 1990, Crayola added sixteen brand new colors with retro names such as: Electric Lime, Neon Carrot, Purple Pizzazz, Radical Red, Razzle Dazzle Rose, Sunglow, Unmellow Yellow and Vivid Tangerine (but sadly deleted from their vocabulary such staples as: maize, violet blue, orange red, orange yellow, green blue and lemon yellow).
Shoe Laces
The one general staple of the neon movement that could add class to any ensemble were neon laces. The contemporary equivelant at this time, and a slight precursor as well, were the novelty shoe laces. These laces had things like skeletons or geometric shapes on them. But right on their heels were the too hot neon colored laces. It didn't matter what skids you had as long as neons went with them (although having Puma's helped). I had a few of these but even then I was a bit self-conscious about how gay all this looked.

I certainly steered clear of the curly "coil" shoe laces that were poplar at the time, not only because they screamed "give me a wedgie" but also because they were just damn hard to lace. My sister had a pair and I failed miserably at being able to help her get them laced.
The Pinnacle: Electricity!!!

If there was one thing that sold the Neon experience more than any other thing, it was it's ability to kick ass visually. Neon was the one thing that was able to put its money where its mouth was, it could potentially do at night the exact thing it mimicked during the day...glow! Everything in the Eighties had to glow. My walls were covered with the entire range of the Neon color cannon in the form of stickers or posters from Weekly Reader. No normal person growing up in the midwest like me every actually wore clothing that glows, but we fantasized about it and knew it existed because we saw it in movies! The closest thing we ever got to electric clothing was in the form of a great "toy" in the Eighties called Leon Neon.

Leon Neon
Hard to press this into the toy category but that is where it was sold. I remember the commercial for this one too, which is what got me excited about it, a total glow in the dark fest, these kids were so lucky, they must have had like eight of those sets. I remember finally getting mine and there not being enough of the glow ropes in the box to carry out my master plan of turning myself into a Tron reject. You could do all kinds of things with Leon Neon but none could quite match the artistry of the kids in the commercial (they made freakin' hand puppets out of the stuff!) A very simple toy in a very simple time that couldn't hold a candle to tricked out cars with X-Boxes in them, etc...
The fantastic folks at X-Entertainment have a great article about Leon Neon that'll bring back a ton of memories.

Tron Genesis

One of the best representations (and most likely the status-making event of the Neon fad) is summed up in one word: Tron. Hell, it could very well be the exact epicenter of everyday Neon in our lives. Tron was kick ass, and even by today's standards, the wet dream of computer geek fanboys everywhere. Of course the world inside your computers in the Eighties was a neon drenched shangri-la, it just took Disney and Bruce Boxleitner to tell us.

Tron cycles, cool electric blue body suits, neat discs that lit up and flew back like boomerangs! Forget the insane and out of date plot, life inside the mainframe was cool.

Are you glowing or are you just happy to see me?

And finally the whole thing came to an explosive yet dissapointing end when...

Sigh...Debbie Gibson and her personification of Electric Youth. Yet another attempt to try and label kids and what's happening to a certain person or phrase. If anything Electric Youth should describe the sucktacular early Nineties that it ushered in. A world full of Tiffany, Vanilla Ice and Gerardo. If I could have puked in Neon, I would have. But a decade was over as well as a way of life. After this, I think we all collectively burned all our Neon painter's caps and toothbrushes.

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