True, some fads of the 90’s actually still exist and continue to be manufactured, from the virtual pet Tamagotchi (which teaches children how to come to terms with accidentally killing a baby dinosaur) to child-sized Power Wheels cars (which allows preschoolers to operate an actual moving vehicle, sometimes accidentally on the highway, often in reverse, and while screaming for Mommy). But most fads simply couldn’t make into the 21st century without a desperate reinvention or the collective shoulder shrug of kids everywhere.
Some fads can last a good 15 minutes before everyone looks at each other and collectively shouts, “WHAT THE HELL ARE WE WEARING?!?” (This happened in the 80’s with acid-wash jeans and in the 70’s with every piece of clothing sold.) Such was the case with Hypercolor T-shirts, which were seemingly invented to identify groping victims. Each shirt was made from temperature-sensitive fabric that would change colors whenever you or someone else touched it. Or whenever you sweat, making it look like your armpits suddenly made a bold fashion statement. Add the fact that Hypercolor shirts would get ruined in the laundry and you had countless kids wandering around in dirty, stinky tees that looked like someone had crossbred a mood ring with Old Navy.
Pogs didn’t start out as collectibles but rather as the little cardboard discs inside juice caps. (Just like baseball cards started out as a way to promote cigarettes and Pet Rocks started out as a way to slowly get rid of mountains.) Then companies started selling those discs without the cap or even juice. (Just like Frisbees were originally sold as cake pans without the cake and Boomerangs as coat hangers without having to hurl a three-piece suit into the air). Then companies started putting little illustrations on them. Then kids everywhere started playing a game in which you stacked pogs into piles and threw a plastic “slammer” on top of them, keeping whatever pogs landed face up. Unless your opponent caught the golden snitch. Or you thought twice about how you were spending your afternoons. In other words, before the Web you had to make your own fun, and sometimes that fun involved playing with things you normally would have just thrown straight into the trash.
What if Skynet from the “Terminator” films had brought toys instead of machines to life? Well, that’s essentially the Furby, a plaything that appeared a foot closer to you every time you blinked until it was on you with a kitchen knife. What made the Furby truly terrifying was not only its ability to learn and adapt but that it could communicate with other Furbies, allowing you to watch a violent revolution slowly come together on your own bedroom table. In fact, had the toys been around just long enough to learn both weaponry and parliamentary procedure we would have wound up with a “Planet of the Apes” scenario in which enslaved humans would be muttering, “I can’t believe I’m being whipped by a six-inch Gremlins knock-off.”
There came a point when Nickelodeon realized that if they just run an ad enough times something would snap inside pre-teens and they would hurl themselves off a cliff into a gasoline truck if they didn’t get a certain toy. Such was the case with Moon Shoes, a product whose commercial ran so often it would seemingly interrupt itself with its own ad. But being told you want something and actually enjoying that something are two very different things when it comes to walking on tiny, cheap trampolines that with just enough of a miscalculation could hurl you into a wall, off a balcony, or over a cliff into a waiting gasoline truck.
Combining the unbridled joy of an at-home gym class with the festive accessorizing of an all-too-chipper chain gang, Skip-It taught kids everywhere that having fun was as easy as counting to a thousand while jumping in place for six straight hours without food or social contact. Praised by parents for encouraging kids to stop watching TV and exercise (after those very kids had seen the commercial for it on Nickelodeon so many times they held their own families hostage until a purchase was made), Skip-It was eventually upgraded with a counter that came far too late for users already crippled with an OCD number-shouting tic. To this day many twentysomethings can still be seen lifting one leg repeatedly for no reason before they realize everyone in the office is staring at them.
Finally, the modern miracle for kids exhausted from wrapping a bracelet around their own wrist. With Slap Bracelets all you had to do was slap the band on your arm and it would automatically lock into place, a truly wondrous invention that could only mean hover cars and teleporters were a mere month or two away. Of course, anyone who ever read “Lord of the Flies” or hung around an eight-year-old for more than two seconds would have guessed it would only be a matter of time before something that went “THWACK!” on the wrist would soon be used to go “THWACK!” on other kids’ heads (before the assailant bounced off on his Moon Shoes and into a tree). Eventually slap bracelets were banned across the country after causing more eye and skull injuries in elementary school than Pee Wee Helmetless Jousting.
“You got a question? You ask the eight-ball.” So said Puddy on “Seinfeld” and so I ask here: Why do some toy-inspired clothing like a Magic 8-Ball jacket hit it big while no one will buy my Rubik’s Cube pants in which you have to solve them before you can wear them because people say it will result in a generation of half-naked, frustrated shut-ins? Sometimes I just don’t understand fashion.
“But wait,” you’re saying. “I just saw Beanie Babies in a store recently!” Alas, what you actually saw are the last defiant but dying members of a once-strong, once-plentiful race of small stuffed animals that proudly went by such names as “Legs the Frog,” “Flash the Dolphin,” and “Chocolate the Moose” (all which sound like the nicknames of the most hilariously inept mobsters ever). As demand for the toy grew, various designs would be retired ( or whacked, as was the case with that bigmouth “Squealer the Pig”). Of course, removing certain models only resulted in parents beating the crap out of each other over a rare Beanie Baby, resulting in countless trails in which the defendant’s own layer couldn’t stop laughing before blurting out , “Over a freakin’ lobster named Pinchers!”
Yes, it was gloriously, disgustingly oozy, like some scientist had created a polymer entirely out of snot. And yes, it let you play your own version of “Double Dare” at home so long as by “home” you meant “some other kid’s house so my folks don’t kill me.” But perhaps the thing that truly designated Gak as the ultimate toy was the farting noise it made when you tried to shove it back into its container. So incredible was this one-two punch of playable vomit and odorless flatulence to kids that it’s no surprise Nickelodeon has actually brought Gak back, hoping to introduce a whole new generation to the joys of playing with what would essentially be your liver if you left it out in the sun too long.
Which is your favorite 90s fad? Let us know in the comments!