July 17, 2018

Digital Natives Are Now A Half-Century+ Old

I received my very first computer 45 years ago -- back in 1973.  Admittedly, it was merely a toy, but it was long before the iPhone's introduction more than thirty years later in 2007.  In fact, not a single Millennial was even alive in 1973 when I got my first computer.  I would argue that proves I've been a "digital native" a whole lot longer than they are.

I'm also a true "digital native" who will be age 50 next year.  (Catch a relevant article on Gen Xers turning age 50 at https://www.theepochtimes.com/gen-x-turns-50-were-doing-well-thanks-for-asking_1925959.html for more detail).

Millennials can only wait enviously behind Gen Xers on the distinction as "digital native", even if marketers or dumb employment recruiters think it means them.  Genuine digital natives precede Millennials by at least two decades, probably even more than that.  After all, it was Gen X kids like Matthew Broderick who saved the world from nuclear armageddon a decade later in the 1983 movie "War Games," so Gen Xers have an indisputable claim that the kids who once camped out in front of Apple Stores are no more digital native than we are, because we've been natives longer than they have by decades.

Early mobile phones (which were the size, shape and weight of bricks ... and had power that only lasted for 30 minutes), for example, were portable, but were analog and could only make audio telephone calls.  Today, smartphones are pocket-sized computer devices that are perennially running out of power, memory capacity, and arguably don't work very well if you want to preserve your eyesight beyond age 35.

As one Gizmodo article (see HERE for detail) eloquently put it:

"You'd think that toy computers would have reached their height in the last decade. This Playskool Play and Learn Computer is from 1972 and is a spectacular reminder that a) everything is toyable and b) computers have always been our future."

My own experience with computers actually began around 1973 when I was around four years old with the very Playskool Play 'n Learn Computer depicted in the Gizmodo article above.  Note that in the early 1970's, Playskool was still an independent toy company based in Wisconsin (it wouldn't be acquired by toy-giant Hasbro until 1984).  From the company's earliest days in the 1930's or so, its niche was always making toys for preschool aged children centered around the idea that its products could help develop coordination and stimulate the minds of small children.   As a precocious child, I was always troubled (and a bit insulted) by the fact that in the company name, "school" was incorrectly spelled "skool".  I was too young to understand that corporate names could be completely made-up.

The absolute top of my gift list for 1973 was the Playskool Play 'n Learn Computer.  I really loved this toy, and it was all I talked about in anticipation of that holiday.  On Christmas morning that year, I literally asked which wrapped gift was the computer, but my parents forced me to calm down, so I zeroed in on the box that looked like it might be the same size and opened that one first.  My family bought me plenty of other things that year, including clothes which I don't think any child has ever really wanted for the holiday, but usually got anyway.  I don't recall what any of the other gifts I got that year were because that computer was the only thing I really wanted.

I wanted that toy more than anything until Atari 2600 (it was called the Atari Video Computer System or VCS at the time, and it wouldn't be renamed Atari 2600 until a few years later) came about a decade later.  Kids like me instantly recognized the potential of computers, and many would go on to make that a reality.  For example, Gen Xers are behind things we take for granted today, such as Google, Twitter, Facebook and even online banking.  Realize that in 1972, I was only three years old, but I still saw computers featured on television programs my parents watched, and even on TV shows including Captain Kangaroo.  At the time, those were all big mainframe computers, rather than personal computers (the ones I saw were of the sort featured on the popular 2016 film "Hidden Figures" which supposedly took place in the late 1960's, see below for more detail).

Most of the depictions of computers in those days were big, bulky things (with reel-to-reel storage tapes that stored many programs and most data) that was also the era where computers kind of f'd things up.  Computer screw-ups were frequently shown in late sixties and early seventies TV shows.  Whether it was turning someone's electricity off because the computer mistakenly credited their payment to another customer's account, or in the case of "War Games" mistakenly initiating Global Thermonuclear War with Russia because the computer mistakenly believes it's just another computer game, or when ATM's withdraw thousands of dollars from someone's account but only giving them a twenty dollar bill.  Occasionally, there were humorous takes on "computer dating" which began in the 1960's but was a recurring theme into the 1970's.  For example, I remember seeing a rerun of the TV show "Love, American Style" about the humorous results of computer dating gone wrong.  People submitted their vital stats to a computer dating service along with lengthy questionnaires (usually on a paper form where the respondent colored in a particular circle to answer a certain way not too dissimilar to the way SAT's used to be handled).

The New Yorker reports (see HERE for a Business Insider article with a link to that original article in New Yorker plus some relevant other information) that one early computer dating service made people answer some 1,400 multiple-choice questions, and then charged them $5.00 to have a computer find their match (which was equivalent of about $30.00 in 2018), though an advertisement from a rival in Look magazine also dated 1966 showed its price at $3.00.  In those days, computers were routinely depicted with suspicion and disruptive.  But they were mainly disruptive to older people who grew up in the days when computers were simply not around and they did not see much need for them.  Truth be told, computers did automate many processes that often took more human effort in the old analog world, and also rendered some jobs people used to do as obsolete.  It's a similar dialogue now going on about so-called AI (the acronym for artificial intelligence, see a ZDNet article HERE for more).

The Playskool Play 'n Learn Computer was designed to look like a mainframe computer, only it was a mechanical toy that used no batteries or external power source to compute if child had correctly found the right answer.  Instead, it had five double-sided cards included. Rhyming words, similar pictures, beginning sounds, telling time, colors, adding facts and related objects, identifying parts of a whole, matching words to objects, and a blank card for child to fill out.  As a toy, I eventually mastered the handful of questions, and the company failed by not selling any additional cards for this computer, so I eventually lost interest.  But for a brief time in the early seventies, I thought it was about the greatest toy a child could have.

Around the same time, Playskool also sold what could best be described as dolls and stuffed animals made from cotton fabric and polyester fiberfill (petroleum-sourced polyester was all the rage those days).  Perhaps the most famous of those "dolls" was known as "Dressy Bessy" and her male counterpart was "Dapper Dan", both of which aimed to help teach small children to learn how to dress themselves, with common parts of clothing including zippers, snaps, buckles, buttons, and shoelaces.  At the time, Playskool even licensed the product to the pattern company that sold Simplicity patterns which  sold in fabric and sewing shops so homemakers could make these toys by themselves (presumably to give as gifts to children).  Whether they were any cheaper (if a pattern sold for $3.50 but the toy itself sold for $5.85 as it was priced in the Sears annual Wishbook in 1973 or so, one need not be a math genius to determine that the patterns plus the cost of fabric and time to make the Dressy Bessy meant it wasn't necessarily a great economy bargain).

Hasbro brought this particular toy back to market in 2001, but the market was less receptive at the time, perhaps due to a shortage of children of the right age to buy for and a glut of toys to choose from.  The toys were bright and colorful, although they were hardly fashionable even during the years preceding disco, polyester leisure suits, and platform shoes.  Indeed, some writers have jokingly stated: "Dapper?  Not so much."  Nevertheless, Bessy and Dan have remained a perpetually popular product line for Hasbro, even if not perennially available.

Using the same basic designs, the following year, the company expanded to offer what it called Hug-a-Book dolls, which featured the same garish colors (at least it did on the Jack and the Beanstalk and Little Red Riding Hood toys) in all of the Hug-a-Book line.  By that time, I was about 4 and already starting to read (at least I knew the stories by heart, so the words on the page looked familiar enough).  The company took several favorite fairy tales and downsized the stories to fit on tiny, 12-page (made of silk-screened cotton) story books which were fastened to the stomach of these dolls.  Initially, it focused on just a few such stories, including Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs and The Three Bears.

At the time, I was a four year-old child who was already very familiar with those stories, and I wanted one a lot like Ralphie wanted a "Red Rider" for Christmas (that's a reference to the 1983 movie "A Christmas Story").  I received the Hug-a-Book Jack and the Beanstalk for Christmas, and in the following April for my birthday, I received The Three Bears.  Eventually, the cover to Jack and the Beanstalk tore off, but my mother was a sewer, and she was able to fix it for me.

I grew older in the years that followed, so I outgrew all of Playskool's offerings, and would be mesmerized by things like The Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman (having aluminum lunchboxes with Steve Austin's image on it), as well as standard fare like Hot Wheels, Matchbox and Tomy Pocket cars.

I would later get handheld electronic games including Mattel's Electronic Basketball and Football, and rival Parker Brother's Merlin (catch my post on that by visiting http://hgm.sstrumello.com/2012/09/preservation-and-resurrection-of.html for more).  By the end of the decade, Atari's Video Computer System as it was originally called (later renamed Atari 2600, catch my post on that at http://hgm.sstrumello.com/2012/07/atari-celebrates-40th-anniversary.html for more) and the endless pursuit of new home video games for that would capture my attention until my interest shifted to real, personal computers which in hindsight, were incredibly overpriced and underpowered, but were never Apple anything as the company nearly went bankrupt and was more famous for selling vaporware than true technical expertise.

It was Lotus Development Corp. and a company known as WordPerfect that preceded even Microsoft as far as computer software that actually made computers run (Microsoft only for the operating system known as DOS or disk operating system).  As much as hipsters like to believe that Steve Jobs was the true computer visionary, he really wasn't, and his company got off to a very rocky start.
As a side-note, in 1978, Playskool itself would introduce a real (non-mechanical) computer toy called Alphie and a decade later in 1983, and pretend, musical mobile phone, but the original Playskool Play 'n Learn Computer will always remain as one of my all-time favorite holiday gifts.

But anyone under the age of 40 in 2018 who thinks they are a "digital native" is more of a liar than a "digital native".  Gen Xers gave the world Google and Twitter, and Baby Boomers like Bill Gates were pivotal in making those things happen.  But toys like Playskool Play-n-Learn Computer were the first introduction to the digital world for a generation of people who continue to define the term digital natives.  Sorry hipsters, you were about two decades late to the game.

See also:





July 8, 2018

Baby on Board: Blame Boomer Parents for Millennial Entitlement

Don't get me wrong: I like nearly all of the Millennials I've met, but I do think they exhibit a lot of the same self-absorbed behavior as the other massive demographic cohort which preceded their Gen X predecessors: specifically the Baby Boomers.  They can't help it; there are so damn many of them, it's easy to forget the world has perspectives beyond theirs.

Having lived with both groups through various life stages, I have first-hand experience of the commonalities both generations share.  Without even recognizing it, both demographic groups display episodes of outright narcissism, sociopathy and even occasional stupidity (all generations have, Gen Xers, too), all while telling the world how great they are and how no group before or after them will ever share their unique perspective.  Indeed, I generally like Millennials more than I like most Baby Boomers, perhaps because Gen Xers share more in common with them than we do with Boomers (not all, but SOME things).

For me, my Millennial irritation began decades ago when the Millennial generation was still tiny babies.  In 1984, a man named Michael Lerner founded Safety 1st for the purpose of manufacturing signs to be hung in the back windows of cars that looked much like a "caution" street sign you might find on a street someplace, only it read: "Baby on Board".  At the time, the roads of North America had become the showcase for what had then become America's latest pet rock (another Baby Boomer fad; don't ask), the "Baby on Board" sign.  The five-inch, black-on-yellow diamond-shaped signs had become an overnight sensation and were placed in corners of vehicles' rear windshields with suction cups.
I turned 16 the following year, and got my driver's license, and I felt that was overkill.  Not only did I, as a brand new driver, have to contend with processing all the genuine street signs, but now @$$#0l3 parents felt it was acceptable to remind the world that their precious Millennial babies were somehow 'special' and worthy of more automotive caution than usual.  In fact, all drivers must be careful, so the fact that a Millennial baby was on board was completely irrelevant and not deserving of any special attention.

From my perspective, it was fortunate that Mr. Lerner's vision was pretty quickly corrupted.  (see HERE for a 1986 New York Times article on the topic).  Within months after "Baby on Board" sign emerged, dozens of parodies emerged with messages as ''Nobody on Board!'' ''Baby Driving!'' and ''Baby Carries No Cash'' and others soon outsold the original by a factor of millions, and legislative efforts to try and ban the parodies largely failed.

Some of my feelings on the matter stem from the contempt that so many Baby Boomers had a decade earlier had for their children, as if they were a huge nuisance on their own personal vision quests.  The data backs me up.  Many researchers consider members of Gen X to have been among the least-nurtured children in American history with half coming from split families, and more than 40% raised as latchkey kids — literally, left home alone.  Baby Boomer parents divorced in unprecedented numbers when Xers were still children, and mothers (by virtue of economic necessity) entered the workforce en masse, leaving Gen Xers as un-nurtured latch-key kids.

I certainly did not give a $#!t about the baby in the car ahead of me any more or less than the other drivers and car passengers on the road.  But that was the environment that Millennials grew up in -- being coddled and pampered while Xers got the shaft.  Heck, when we were the same age, car seats were still optional, and my siblings and I routinely fought over who got to "ride shotgun" in the seat right next to the driver of a vehicle, and certainly without wearing a seatbelt, and it was all perfectly legal.  Today, that would be considered criminal.  My parents also had an original 1973 VW Beetle and my baby brother regularly rode in the cubby hole behind the back seat, which I think would be pretty deadly if we were ever rear-ended, but that was the lack of child safety environment of the era Gen Xers were raised.  Kids were an afterthought.

A bit more than decade after the introduction of the annoying "Baby on Board" window sign, as a young executive, I then saw dozens of news stories about young pre-teens and teenagers camping out in front of Apple Stores to buy the latest, overpriced iPhone model.  Again, I felt that Millennial ridiculousness had reached new heights.  In reality, it wasn't all that newsworthy except for the fact that Steve Jobs had managed to resurrect a moribund company known as Apple Computer which was teetering on the verge of bankruptcy a decade earlier.  But the fact that there are so many Millennials made it newsworthy for no other reason than there were so many people doing the exact same thing nationwide.

So whether its "Baby on Board" signs, lines for new iPhones or anything else, I feel more indifference to the vicissitudes of Millennial (or Baby Boomer) fads.  iPhones are not fads, but they also aren't a technology that truly changed the world (catch my previous post at https://goo.gl/uq7Fdn for more) since everything they do already existed.  They are an addiction among a demographic  more comfortable texting than having a conversation on the telephone.

I think Millennials have matured a great deal since their parents coddled them as kids, whereas Gen Xers' parents treated them as an interruption on their own personal vision quests and therefore Gen Xers had to grow up as children largely in the absence of parents.  But the real test of Millennial maturity will be whether they finally bury the "Baby on Board" window signs when they have children of their own.




June 15, 2018

The Magic Garden Continues

In 1972, the number of options for children on television were still limited. It's worth noting that this was definitely not the 1950's in which most Baby Boomers grew up; Howdy Doody, bobby socks, poodle skirts and greasers were assuredly not part of Generation X youth. Instead, 1972 was still in the crosshairs of the Vietnam war (which did not officially end until 1975), civil rights protests by Americans of African origin as well as LGBT Americans, women's liberation and much more all helped shape the environment in which Gen Xers were raised as children.

Hippy fashion was still very much in vogue at the time, including women's go go boots and bell bottom pants, often in autumn hues made from new synthetic fabrics like polyester. But it's also worth acknowledging that the seventies also ushered in an era of great social unrest caused by all of those seminal events. Politically, Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace following the Watergate break-in and his administration's subsequent attempt to cover up its involvement. When the burglars were caught and the conspiracy was discovered, Watergate was investigated by the United States Congress. But Richard Nixon's administration resisted its probes, which led to a constitutional crisis (not unlike the events going on in 2018 with the treasonous Trump Administration). Coinciding with all of that, U.S. imperialism along with its near-complete dependence on foreign oil would rear its ugly head with the OPEC oil embargo of 1973, which also introduced the U.S. to tremendous economic insecurity and economic stagflation which was unknown before that time.

Still, children were largely insulated from all of the chaos going on in the world outside, and broadcast television presented a picture of the world that looked different from reality. That was the lilly-white world that Donald Trump was referring to when he made the bogus promise to make America great again.

This was before cable television existed in a vast majority of American homes, and broadcast TV was limited to the three major American networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) plus PBS which was (at the time) still a quasi-government run television entity. Bigger markets may also have had one or two so-called "independent" broadcast stations that were best known for their local news coverage (often an hour earlier than their network peers), and filling the rest of their broadcast day with syndicated reruns (again, this was in the days before cable networks like TV Land or more recently, Antenna TV, Me-TV and Cozi TV came to dominate the market for reruns of old, network television programs).

In the New York City area, the nation's largest media market, there were three "independent" broadcast television stations, including WPIX (channel 11), WNET (channel 5, it would become a part of the Fox television network in 1986 becoming one of the then-new network's 5 flagship stations, although that particular station was actually part of the defunct DuMont television network from 1944-1956, and those years became part of what was known as the Metromedia era) and WNEW (Channel 9) which broadcast from Newark, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River.

In 1968, Congress passed into law called the Children's Television Act, which established an FCC requirement that a specific amount of programming had to be dedicated to children's content which was either educational and/or non-violent. To comply, all stations had to offer compliant programming; every station had to comply with the law, or risk having their broadcast license revoked.

Perhaps the biggest children's TV show at the time was "Captain Kangaroo" starring the legendary Bob Keeshan, which ran on CBS from 1955 to 1984. Another show which ran in syndication was known as the "New Zoo Revue" which ran from 1972 to 1977. I watched that show a great deal as a pre-school child. "New Zoo Review" is worthy of its own post, so I won't elaborate much further than to simply acknowledge it here.  Another syndicated show ran on rival WNEW called "Romper Room" but was actually produced by a station in Boston.  I personally disliked that show.

New York's WPIX-11, which was owned at the time by the city's favorite tabloid newspaper the New York Daily News, opted to produce its own, locally-made show, and a children's show called "The Magic Garden" was the result.  The Magic Garden, which was a highly-acclaimed and popular TV show ran on WPIX-TV (ch. 11) New York, starred Carole Demas and Paula Janis who helped create the show.

Carole Demas is perhaps best known for her critically acclaimed creation of the female lead, "Sandy", in the original Broadway blockbuster, Grease. Her colleague and co-star Paula Janis traveled widely as a musician and lead singer with a folk trio "The Wee'Uns", performing in Greenwich Village cafes, on TV and at Carnegie Hall. She holds an M.A. in Early Childhood Education from New York University. She would later became the director of Head Start programs in New York City.

As characterized by the New York Times, The Magic Garden "was a cheerful, low-budget, inadvertently psychedelic half-hour show in which Ms. Janis and Ms. Demas sat on giant toadstools, spoke to flowers, sang songs and told stories." The show was set in a colorful garden setting, where the duo brought stories, songs, games, lessons and laughter to viewers. The show also featured several puppet characters who were integral to the show, including a pink squirrel named Sherlock and a bird named Flapper. The co-stars were friends since they were students at a Brooklyn high school. During their years as teachers in the New York City School System, both Carole and Paula combined their teaching and performing talents.

The Magic Garden received citations from Action for Children's Television and Children's Television Workshop (now Sesame Workshop). Ratings for the show were equal to or exceeded those of Sesame Street and other shows of this genre (including Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, Romper Room, Captain Kangaroo, etc.). Today, WPIX-11 is no longer owned by the same company that owns and operates New York Daily News (it's now operated by Tribune Media -- but it was a different time for the broadcast media in those days -- and the station remains home to archives of its past). Indeed, several years ago, the station revealed it had discovered a long-lost Christmas episode of The Magic Garden, and now reruns that episode on Christmas morning. See the post about the discovery of the lost episode in a basement room of the station at http://pix11.com/2013/12/23/lost-christmas-episode-of-the-magic-garden-found-in-secret-pix11-basement-room/ for background.

The stars Carole Demas and Paula Janis maintain their own website at http://caroleandpaula.com/ and occasionally still tour local NYC-area venues (see https://nyti.ms/2sWdYID for more) and sometimes appear on the original station when it reruns old episodes of The Magic Garden. For example, the station announced that two episodes of the show would air on Saturday, June 16, 2018 from 2:00 to 3:00 PM.

Their own website has information about the show, as well as merchandise (DVD's and CD's from the program). It also has photos, some music and even a video clip. I am including the musical track below, or you can find it on their website (see the bottom of the page) at http://caroleandpaula.com/Ordering/index.html.

For its part, WPIX television also has some relevant video clips from The Magic Garden which can be visited on their Facebook page, and at http://pix11.com/category/11-alive/magic-garden/.

A 2013 clip provides a good overview and description of the show which can be seen below, or by visiting http://pix11.com/2013/12/24/the-story-behind-the-magic-garden/.

June 12, 2018

G&L Pulp Fiction: Effort to Document Obscure Items from U.S. Cultural History

In honor of Pride month, this post is dedicated to something that nearly became lost to history (fortunately, it hasn't been lost).  Although I've addressed the topic of how porn went mainstream (catch a previous post by visiting http://hgm.sstrumello.com/2013/03/documenting-porns-path-to-becoming_11.html), there's a tendency to think of porn mainly as a visual medium, hence literary porn is sometimes overlooked or forgotten.  But stories and novels depicting erotic behavior and intended to cause sexual excitement are very much part of the category.

Indeed, motion picture erotica basically hit the mainstream when "Deep Throat" premiered on June 12, 1972, but unlike a lot of porn today, there was an actual story and a script that existed in porn of that era.  Most had story lines (however weak) intended merely to introduce some sexual activity (for example, "Deep Throat's" premise was that Linda Lovelace's clitoris was located in a place other than the normal, biological location; it was discovered to be deep inside of her throat, hence the story line follows that premise), nevertheless, much of the early genre made a basic effort to have some kind of story, not simply a film of people having sex.

As a result of a series of different court cases, by the mid-1960's the U.S. Postal Service could no longer interdict books that contained homosexuality.  By the early 1970's, another legal challenge emerged to the inconsistently-applied American obscenity laws (notably Miller v. California, which was a 1973 Supreme Court decision which redefined the legal definition of obscenity from being "utterly without socially redeeming value" to that which lacks "serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value" which effectively narrowed prior restrictions used to persecute purveyors of "adult" materials not erotic in nature), and that opened the doors to erotica of all types.

Although photo magazines and movies were considered the primary medium for porn, print publishing also had a presence in the form of sexually-explicit fiction novels better known as "pulps".  The term "pulp" originates from the cheap paperback books of the latter half of the 20th century which were printed on cheap "pulp" paper and published as escapist fiction for the general entertainment of mass audiences.

Sex "pulps" took that segment of the publishing industry in a rather different direction, aimed at sexual arousal of the reader.  This was before the internet made it easy for anyone to publish adult stories online.  Paperback pulp porn novels (consisting of both hetero and homo) were often sold side-by-side with porn magazines, although they were also semi-discreetly sold in drugstores and random magazine stands back in the mid-1950's through the late-1970's.  These books were produced quickly and cheaply by sketchy imprints that were often opened just for the purpose of releasing a few titles, then dissolved before authorities could catch up with them.  The gay pulp genre, as it turns out, were dominated by a handful of paperback book publishers, many now known to have been operated by single a Chicago-based publisher which found a very lucrative niche with suggestive titles and covers, even if the published content inside was unrelated to the title or cover.

Author Michael Bronski, who in 2003 published the book "Pulp Friction: Uncovering the Golden Age of Gay Male Pulps" (see https://www.amazon.com/Pulp-Friction-Uncovering-Golden-Pulps/dp/0312252676 for more) says the first general mass-market paperback book to be published was Pearl S. Buck's "The Good Earth" back in 1939.  He said during World War II, soldiers had access to government-issued paperback books that supplied them with endless hours of topics to read about while waiting for action on the front-line. After the war was over, there was a boom in paperback publishing as a response to the now-growing demand for fiction that was realistic, edgier and more adventurous.

Most of the G&L pulps that have been re-discovered in an effort to catalogue, archive and retain them were found in garage sales, on eBay, a few porn shops' going-out-business liquidation sales, and even old homes that were sold.  The archives that have so far been documented focus mainly on the first 16 years of publishing by the organization that was run by William Hamling known informally as vintage Greenleaf Classics.  We now know that a man named Earl Kemp was editor at Greenleaf Classics Publishing from 1959 through 1973, and a man named Robert Bonfils was a cover artist during that same period.  During that time, thousands of titles were published within multiple series or lines. The term "imprint" is used for those series or lines; the books had miscellaneous publisher names including Beacon, Nightstand, Companion, Corinth, Pleasure Reader, French Line and others.  The number of titles published peaked during 1969 and 1972.

A relatively new, digital archive currently now catalogs some 3,500 titles in 25 different imprints.  All told, its known to have identified some 4,300 titles (also, a few titles were re-run under different titles with different cover art).  Evidently, the company had an organized numbering system which has been identified and is now understood, and most titles followed a fairly specific format in terms of book content; typically each chapter contained a vivid sex scene.  The content of each book is being digitized and at least a handful have been re-published in the modern era and can now be purchased on Amazon.com, perhaps the entire library will someday be available as MOD (manufacture on-demand) content.

120 Days Books is a small press that has reprinted a few Hamling/Greenleaf titles including "Night of the Sadist" and "Demon's Coronation" and soon "Gay Cruise".  The re-printed titles are sold on Amazon.com, and rely upon relatively new print-on-demand technology.  Its very similar to the technology which also enables DVD's which have been digitized to be produced on-demand.  Amazon's DVD manufacture on-demand (MOD) gets more press coverage, but it relies upon the underlying manufacturing capacity of Warner Home Video manufacture-on-demand which began in 2009 (also behind the large Warner Archive Collection).  In essence, once a book or movie is properly formatted, the digitized computer files can then be printed on-demand in the form of books or DVD's.  However, particularly in the video space, content owners or managers are really marketing streaming since nothing must be manufactured or mailed to a purchaser.

A handful of the G&L pulp book authors and/or artists who created cover artwork for Greenleaf were also able to be identified and interviewed (before a few, unfortunately, passed away).  But the interviews with those individuals answered some important questions about the underlying business that was done largely on the "down-low" before that term even existed.  In those days, it was a necessity to avoid law-enforcement from dismantling an otherwise law-abiding publishing business serving a neglected "niche" market.

We now know that the publisher, Mr. Hamling, kept First Amendment lawyer Stanley Fleishman, busy defending the right to publish and distribute erotic fiction in the many obscenity prosecutions that were mounted to try and suppress Greenleaf Classics. The winning results in those trials helped establish the case law that Americans enjoy now, and many publishers and movie producers continue to rely on today.  They did not win every trial, but the trial record helped establish an American right to publish (and consume) such materials that many now take for granted.

Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover each had issues with sexuality that was at odds with their public face. They took it personally that Greenleaf Classics sex novels were even being published. They used their position and power to repeatedly go after the Hamling organization.  Eventually the Feds won one.  Hamling and editor Earl Kemp, were however, convicted of "obscenity" in federal court and were forced out of the business in 1974 (their convictions were for mailing a promotional brochure about a book, not for the book itself).

Gay and lesbian sex pulps were cheap, and intended to be read and discarded.  Many people did just that, so there's no telling exactly how many ended up in landfills.  However, traditionally, Greenleaf Classics books were actively suppressed by book collectors. Some thrift stores threw donated copies into the dumpster.  Many used book stores wouldn't buy them for resale.  Estates took them to the landfill before the sale.  This means that searching for these books has been more work and a rather different experience than building a collection of say, the first 500 vintage Bantam paperbacks.  The primary method of acquisition has been active book scouting in every flea market and used book store in every city ever visited.  The tricky moment in searching for vintage Greenleaf books is how to ask about sex novels without appearing too creepy.

To some extent, the assembly of a coherent cataloging of these books has involved a few very dedicated people with an interest in the project.  Many aren't even gay or lesbian, but still found the work very interesting.  Notably, publisher and film scholar, Maitland McDonagh, a straight woman, says these books themselves provide a rare glimpse in to a world that was largely kept secret out of fear and shame.

"They're not poking fun at what they're describing," she explained. "Some of them are funny and humorous but they take their subject as seriously as if they were mainstream books." Given the insight these "stroke books" provide into gay life of another era, she began to view them and their preservation as a way of honoring a past that has long been hidden to all but a select few.  Fortunately, she has found others to work with who are also interested, albeit for different reasons.

Several sites emerged to showcase the vivid artwork that graced the covers of gay pulp books.  While the book content may not have been true gay or lesbian pulp, covers featuring scantily-clad women or semi-nude men on the cover with an identifiable publisher name made them sufficient to appear on the http://www.strangesisters.com or its counterpart http://www.gayontherange.com websites.

The artwork doesn't always mean the content of the classic gay pulp books is online (yet).  But a handful of titles have since been reprinted (see http://greenleaf-classics-books.com/vintage/ for the site that's now seriously archiving these books, and the company has reprinted (using on-demand book printing technology) a few titles at http://120daysbooks.blogspot.com/2015/.  Others are taking the subject of these books to an audio podcast in which the podcasters read the contents of a gay pulp book aloud to listeners (each podcast reads a chapter from one of the Greeleaf Classics gay pulp fiction novels), visit http://gaypulp.podomatic.com for more on the podcast.

An excerpt from one these podcasts (if you're inclined to listen) can be listened to below, or by visiting Summer in Sodom, Chapter 14, "Gay Whore":

Erotic pulp novels (both straight and gay) were largely a function of the era from the mid-1950's to the early 1980's before cable television, VCR's and subsequently, DVD's and then later, broadband internet became so pervasive.  G&L pulps were part of a larger erotic narrative pulp genre that also proliferated during that era.  But because this sub-genre was very actively suppressed, its since become very lucrative to collectors.  Although no one envisions a return to the day of erotic pulp novels being sold in drugstores, supermarkets and discount stores around the country, for anyone old enough to remember seeing, buying or reading any these books, the emergence of the internet may just restore a hidden part of pop-culture (admittedly, a somewhat sleazier part of pop-culture) that until quite recently, might have been lost forever.

The full list of titles in the collection are based on the fact that most book titles were published at the back of each of these books (with headlines saying something along the lines of: "If you enjoyed reading this, you might also be interested in reading the following").  While most titles have been cataloged, the cover artwork scanned and content in the process of being digitized, the entirety of the collection is still very much a work in-process.  Notably, a few titles are identified but copies of those particular books have yet to be located.

For anyone interested in exploring this topic further, its quite interesting.  Below is a list of some relevant links (including some actual news articles from publications like Rolling Stone) to explore.















June 6, 2018

Mister Rogers: Won't You Be My Neighbor? Opens This Week

On Friday (June 8, 2018), a new movie entitled "Mister Rogers: "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" opens nationwide (although its running mainly in art-house, indie, and/or repertory cinema venues).  This particular movie is a biopic about the late host of the long-running PBS children's show entitled "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood".  The biopic will open around the fiftieth anniversary of his long-running (having run for 33 years) children's show premier in the United States, which only left the airwaves as a first-run show in 2001.

The subject of this biopic first began his television career in 1963 with a children's program that ran on Canada's CBC network.  Three years later, in Pittsburgh, he created a regional show he called "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood".  In 1968, it began its run of more than three decades (33 years' total) on PBS, where it became a gently instructive, supportive safe-harbor for several generations of children.  All told, there were about 900 episodes recorded, which is an impressive track-record.

The official trailer for the "Mister Rogers: Won't You Be My Neighbor?" movie can be viewed below, or by visiting https://youtu.be/FhwktRDG_aQ:

Fred McFeely Rogers was born in Latrobe, PA which is about 40 miles east of Pittsburgh.  Fred Rogers died in 2003 at age 74 from stomach cancer.  During his lifetime, he earned a degree in music, and was preparing to enter seminary school after graduation when he saw a television for the first time at his parents' home.  His reaction to the show was not one of thrill, but of dismay.  The show he saw featured throwing a pie in another person's face, which he saw as unnecessary violence to get a laugh at someone else's expense.  His response was "We can do better".

Fred Rogers' real calling turned out to be a kind-hearted, neighborly, nurturing connection and host to his audiences who symbolized warmth, comfort and reassurance for children on television.  Indeed, during his show's run, he addressed many tough issues including the topic of divorce which would peak in the early 1980's just as Gen X kids were growing up, as well as addressing the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986.  Those were topics that were largely ignored by most other children's shows at the time, even though they were genuine issues kids were confronting.

Mister Rogers: Internet Celebrity

In the 15 years since Fred Rogers died, he's enjoyed something of a second life as an internet celebrity.  More than a few times, usually during yet another federal government debate about budgetary priorities, someone will dig up and pass around the video of Fred Rogers' testimony before Congress about the necessity of funding PBS from May 1, 1969.  Fred Rogers testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Communications to argue against proposed funding cuts to PBS.  Then-Senator John O. Pastore, who was the subcommittee chairman, had clearly never even heard of the host or seen any of his shows, but after only six minutes of testimony by Fred Rogers (including one song, recited from memory, about anger management), the politician went from a gruff, dismissive foe to a lifelong fan.

The organization that honor's Fred Rogers' memory has also deftly reminded people (again, using the internet) of how Fred Rogers reassured children in the wake of any tragedy or disaster, to the point where people today almost reflexively share his simple advice to children: "look for the helpers."

"Many people would call Fred a wimp, but what you realize in that moment is that Fred was the most iron-willed person out there," Academy award winning film producer Morgan Neville behind the most recent movie about Mister Rogers, saying "It's Mister Rogers goes to Washington. It's the perfect example of somebody speaking truth to power, and winning." (incidentally, I would remind people that Senator Pastore blocked the proposed cut.)

Fred Rogers poses with Daniel Striped Tiger
Of course, these days PBS (much like NPR) receives very little funding from U.S. taxpayers anymore.  It operates largely as a commercial entity with lucrative sponsored programming (except without the regular commerical interruptions), as well as grants from various non-profit foundations.  But in 1969, PBS was still an exception seen as advancing public interests rather than being for unencumbered commerical interests.  But the insignificant amount of remaining public support for PBS and NPR continues to be a source of anger from conservatives who believe public funding has no place in broadcasting, and the resent their more balanced news coverage since conservative media are known to promote outright falsehoods to advance their particular political agenda.

But Fred Rogers enjoyed lasting success educating and entertaining children on television.  Among numerous awards for excellence and public service, Fred Rogers won 4 daytime Emmys between 1979 and 1999, as well as a lifetime achievement award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 1997.

By the time Fred Rogers retired from TV at the age of 73 in 2001 (as noted, he died of stomach cancer less than two years later), the show did kind of feel like a relic, a window onto simpler times in the world of children's entertainment, like the 1950's.

But Fred Rogers didn't behave like a normal guy, either — certainly not the macho ideal that trained boys to bury their emotions deep inside.  He wore pink and lavender and he told everyone — even other grown men — that he loved them.  And he hated superheroes, which he found so phonily inspirational he brought his own show back from hiatus solely to battle the influence of the late "Superman" actor Christopher Reeve. He argued that a true hero wouldn't make a kid throw punches and jump off roofs. They'd bring peace by being peaceful.  Indeed, Fred Rogers had an unshakable sense that he was always right.

While the new biopic and a recent PBS special (see below) commemorating the anniversary of his long-running TV show have been mostly accolades (many well-deserved), its worth noting that the persona known as Mister Rogers, although largely recalled with fond memories, as noted above, was not without critics -- even among the very children whom the show was meant to serve, although memories of him are mostly fond.  

Faux (Fox) News Called Mister Rogers "Evil"

In an early (shortly after the cable network began) Fox News critique of Fred Rogers, he was described as "evil" man who "ruined a generation of children" [meaning Millennials] because his message to young children - that they were special just for being who they were — which Fox News said lead to narcissism and attitudes of entitlement.  The Fox News commentator then asked if kids believe they are special, why should they work hard and try to do better?  That early Fox News commentator no longer works in broadcasting, whereas Fred Rogers worked for more than 40 years in the medium.

In fact, the term "evil" used by Fox News to describe Fred Rogers in its nascent years was an unequivocal falsehood, because Fred Rogers was trained and ordained as a Presbyterian minister, which is the very antithesis of evil.

Mister Rogers Gets a Warm Posthumous Reception Today, But Wasn't Universally Popular

I would remind everyone that even when I was a child in the 1970's, in spite of a more indifferent reception among the kids the show targeted, nearly everyone still saw the show -- at least on occasion.  (For me, it preceded or followed The Electric Company, which I watched for the Joan Rivers' narrated character Captain Letterman, catch my reference to that at http://hgm.sstrumello.com/2013/02/joan-rivers-from-adventures-with.html).  Because of that, I occasionally watched Mister Rogers as I awaited the show I was tuned in for.

Mister Rogers was also described by kids when I was growing up as gay, even though he was recognized as a very devoted family man who was married to his college sweetheart Joanne Rogers for 50 years until his death.  The couple shared two sons.

David Newell, who played Mr. McFeely on the original series, said of the couple "They were perfect together.  They were both musicians, and they had twin pianos in their living room, which they would play together."

But the term gay was never used to describe his sexual orientation, rather it was meant to be a term of derision.  But his tone of voice (calm) and his nerdy-outfits (usually with a cardigan sweater and his un-trendy sneakers) were not considered aspirational by many kids back in the day.

SNL Eddie Murphy Parody: Mister Robinson's Neighborhood

Indeed, in 1981, Eddie Murphy introduced a parody called "Mister Robinson's Neighborhood" which was intended to be a ghetto version of the genuine, lilly-white Mister Rogers, premiered on the TV show "Saturday Night Live" (catch a 1983 clip at https://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/mr-robinsons-neighborhood/n9117 for reference). 

As Wikipedia notes (see HERE for detail), in the sketch, Eddie Murphy's character, named "Mister Robinson", speaks and presents the show in a similarly stilted manner, but lives in a considerably grittier venue and engages in a number of illegal and/or unethical activities for money due to his lack of a job, which he educates his young viewers about in each episode while at the same time teaching them cynical views on the government and life in general. 

For the record Fred Rogers actually took no offense to the Eddie Murphy parody (he was acknowledged to have a great sense of humor, as the new biopic movie will show).  On the contrary, he said found it amusing and affectionate.  The parody was also initially broadcast at a time of night when his own child audience was not likely to see it.

Another Movie Starring Tom Hanks, and a Book Coming Soon

I should also acknowledge that next year, another new film about the PBS children's show host starring Academy Award winner Tom Hanks entitled "You Are My Friend" will also open, although that film is focused on a reporter and [Mr. Rogers'] relationship to his life, and how [the reporter's] whole world changes when coming in contact with Fred Rogers.  That film [will be about] "one man who's in a critical point in his life — becoming a new father, having issues with his own father — and meeting Mr. Rogers to write a piece about him, thinking it's going to be a bit of a puff piece, but it ends up changing his entire life."

Separately, a book entitled "The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers" which will be the first full-length biography of Fred Rogers written by Maxwell King is set to be released by Abrams Books on September 4, 2018.

In the end, Fred Rogers' character Mister Rogers is being celebrated for the memorable contribution he made to popular culture, and to adults who tuned into his show as children.  As the recent PBS special "Mister Rogers: It's You I Like" (see https://www.pbs.org/video/mister-rogers-its-you-i-nwxrdh/ for the streaming version of that special) featured numerous celebrities including a few Gen Xers such as Sarah Silverman.  Again, while the retrospective is mostly adoration, Fred Rogers' had occasional critics for various reasons back in the day, but his underlying legacy will be the messages he taught.  His subtle message of acceptance and tolerance made a very lasting impression on children like me who weren't necessarily even watching his show because they were regular viewers.

Also visit the following links for more:

May 1, 2018

Green Goddess Salad Dressing Peaks With 1970's Era Feminism

Back in the early 1970's, the feminist movement was newly-ascendant in the U.S.  At the time, the Equal Rights Amendment, which ultimately failed to secure sufficient votes to amend the U.S. Constitution (its tough to amend the Constitution, but that was the last serious attempt to amend the Constitution as of 2018), was being advanced by women of all types, led by American feminists.  Songs such as Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman" topped the charts in 1972 (catch my post on that by visiting http://hgm.sstrumello.com/2015/02/helen-reddy-who-gave-modern-feminism.html for more).

To capitalize on the feminist trend of that era, packaged goods makers did their own part.

For example, by the late 1970's, Procter & Gamble's laundry detergent brand managers introduced a new, stain-fighting liquid laundry detergent they called "ERA" (in all caps, the name, not coincidentally, was also the acronym of the amendment being advanced by feminists at the time).  That brand continued well into the 1980's.  As of 2018, Era remains available in a limited fashion (for example, in certain bigger stores, or it can be ordered online), its no longer featured in the end-aisle displays of supermarket shelves as of 2018 (end-aisles cost money).  In 2014, the Cincinnati Enquirer (the hometown newspaper of Procter & Gamble, which calls that city home) reported that the Era brand of detergent which had become a low-cost product since its initial heyday was potentially at risk of being cut, as the company was cutting many smaller labels with flat retail sales.  Era remains around today, but could go in future brand-management decisions at the company.

Enter Green Goddess Salad Dressing as a Mass-Marketed Consumer Product

Another consumer products manufacturer, in this case salad dressing maker Seven Seas (which was subsequently acquired by Kraft in 1987 -- Kraft acquired the Seven Seas brand of salad dressings that belonged to Anderson Clayton Foods, which was acquired by Quaker Oats, but antitrust regulators made them divest Seven Seas, and Kraft was the winning acquirer) produced a bottled version of a salad dressing known as "Green Goddess" salad dressing.  It was a green colored (for which it was named), garlicky-flavored salad dressing recipe that had several strong flavors (including vinegar, cilantro, tarragon and anchovy paste).

A 1973 television advertisement for Seven Seas salad dressing starring the 1950's-era cowboy Roy Rogers and his wife Dale Evans even mentions Green Goddess dressing in the dialogue.  That ad can be seen below, or by visiting https://youtu.be/0utafzUPWq4:

The origins of Green Goddess dressings are usually attributed to the Palace Hotel in San Francisco way back in 1923, when that hotel's executive chef Philip Roemer wanted to make something to for a banquet being held at the hotel to pay tribute to actor George Arliss and his hit play, "The Green Goddess".  He then concocted this dressing, which like the play, also became a hit.  As noted, the original version of the dressing contained anchovies, scallions, parsley, tarragon, mayonnaise, vinegar, and chives.  But it is considered to be a variation of a dressing that originated in France by a chef to Louis XIII who made a sauce called "au vert" (green sauce) which was traditionally served with green eel.  In 1948, the New York Times published a recipe for Green Goddess salad dressing that also included salty Worcestershire sauce. Later versions of the recipe have also included variations such as the addition of yogurt instead of mayonnaise, avocado and/or basil (both also green in color).  One version of that recipe can be seen at  https://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/09/magazine/09Food-t-000.html if you're interested.

Kraft still occasionally sells Green Goddess dressing under the Kraft label (and sometimes even under the Seven Seas label!), but within a matter of months after its late 1960's packaged food introduction fueled by feminism of the era, other salad dressing manufacturers had pretty quickly copied the Seven Seas version.

For example, Unilever's Wish-Bone salad dressing brand (itself acquired by CPC Best Foods from a Kansas City restaurateur back in 1958), for example, offered its own version.  Today, while bottled salad dressings are no longer quite as popular as they once were, (today, home cooks regularly try home-made dressing versions inspired by cable cooking show programs which have proven how home-made salad dressings are very easy to make and often taste better), bottled dressings still sell a lot for time-constrained consumers in need of flavors to dress their salads.  But basics including Italian, French, Ranch and others dominate supermarket shelves.  Unfortunately, Green Goddess dressing isn't quite as popular as it was in the seventies when modern-day feminism really began.

Just as we have seen with many original food recipes, today, there's a much more conscious effort to rehabilitate tasty-but-fattening recipes with leaner varieties (which in this case might omit fattening mayonnaise, for example).  However, the fundamental taste of a strongly-flavored (and colored) recipe made in a blender is likely to re-emerge as cooks seek something that is out-of-the-ordinary.  With its bold flavor, Green Goddess dressing is likely to re-emerge in one form or anther.

Annie's Homegrown (which was founded as a natural foods company in 1989), best known for selling organic products was itself sold to packaged food giant General Mills for $820 million back in 2014.  Nevertheless, General Mills also sells its own version of Green Goddess salad dressing under the Annie's Homegrown brand, although the brand has since been expanded to various other "Goddess" dressing varieties.  Oddly, General Mills' Annie's Homegrown Green Goddess salad dressing is less-green than Kraft's or even home made varieties, which defies the "green" in its name, as something closer to ranch dressing, although it has strong hints of Caesar salad dressing.

April 11, 2018

Reports of the Death of U.S. Shopping Malls Are Greatly Exaggerated

The shopping mall, for better or worse, is not exclusive to the United States, although the concept arguably was first mass-marketed here, and the U.S. still has more shopping malls than most other countries.

Although there were a handful of others which preceded it, the first generally-acknowledged U.S. suburban shopping mall was the Southdale Center in Edina, Minnesota which opened its doors in 1956.  Victor Gruen, a refugee from Nazi-occupied Austria, envisioned the Southdale Center as a solution to suburban America's lack of public spaces.  Southdale Center still exists as a shopping mall, and as of 2018, its operated by Simon Properties, although its been remodeled and expanded from its original design.  Mr. Gruen designed the original Southdale Center as a fully-enclosed, introverted (meaning one where all of the shops face the inside), multitiered, double-anchor-tenant shopping complex with a garden court under a skylight — and today, virtually every regional shopping mall in America is a fully-enclosed, introverted, multitiered, multiple-anchor-tenant complex with a garden court under a skylight.

Victor Gruen didn't design a building; he designed an archetype that was widely copied.  Other suburban shopping malls may have more than two anchor stores (although as formerly-big department store chains have declined in number, mall operators have been forced to find new uses for large anchor stores once occupied by the likes of Montgomery Ward, Sears as well as various regional department store chains), but the basic idea originated with his concept.

But it was the Canadians (not the Americans) who arguably took the shopping mall concept to the extreme by building what was considered to be the largest enclosed shopping center when it was built known as the West Edmonton Mall [http://www.wem.ca/], and it still retains the title of the largest shopping mall in North America and the tenth largest in the world (along with The Dubai Mall, which ties it in terms of leasable space) by gross leasable area.  It is perhaps not surprising that Canada is its home, as the climate there is often inhospitable (particularly during winter months), making a climate-controlled shopping center there very appealing.  Note that the same also applies to Mall of America, which shares a great deal in common with West Edmonton Mall, including some of the developers.

West Edmonton Mall was the world's largest shopping mall from 1981 until 2004, when it lost that title after several newer shopping malls opened in Asia (including in Turkey, China, the Philippines, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Thailand) and elsewhere usurped the title of biggest.  The same family behind West Edmonton Mall also helped to develop the Mall of America located in Bloomington, Minnesota (in the Minneapolis-St. Paul suburbs) was involved in developing Mall of America (ironically, not very far from the Southdale Center noted above), which currently holds the distinction of being the largest enclosed shopping mall in the United States.  Like its Canadian counterpart, Mall of America also features an indoor theme park and various other attractions aside from shopping.  It also shares the distinction of having some brutally-cold winters, not unlike Edmonton, Canada.

However, this post is about shopping malls generally, so I'll skip talking about Mall of America and discuss West Edmonton Mall instead.  To give you just some idea of just how big Canada's West Edmonton Mall is, that particular shopping mall has more than 800 retail stores, restaurants and services under one roof in the compound, plus parking for more than 20,000 vehicles, and more than 24,000 people are employed at the property.  It also has the largest indoor amusement park in the world, and the largest indoor waterpark in the world all located inside the facility, as well as an indoor ice skating rink.

Alas, the concept of the American mall isn't quite as popular as it was during the mid-1950's when they first started appearing nationwide.  One of the reasons for rapid growth in shopping malls in the late 1960's into the 1970's was continued, widespread growth of the suburbs following World War II and more general prosperity of the era which fueled retail growth in the country overall.  That coincided with construction of Interstate highways across the country, enabling quick access to locales that once were time-consuming to get to.  But since the 1980's, virtually all U.S. prosperity has gone to the top income segment, hence there has been less to fuel growth as there was following World War II.

Indeed, the era of the "big-box" retail stores coincided with the rise of shopping malls (lagging by a few years).  But the same factors that led to growth in U.S. shopping malls were also criticized for decimating traditional downtown retail centers (where they existed; in other places, there were no central business districts to destroy because it was literally undeveloped land in far-out exurbs that had no town centers).  Although big-box retailers like Walmart and Home Depot are frequently criticized (and the companies certainly deserve a share of that criticism), more general suburbanization shares some of the responsibility.  During that time, concentrations of capital spilled out along new, federally-subsidized highways, covered old countryside with a new suburbia, and initially concentrated around highway interchanges.  There were the brand new shopping malls, while in gloomy old downtowns nearby, the streets often became empty and taxes rose along with crime rates.

Indeed, I believe that 1970's singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell (herself a Canadian who was transplanted to Los Angeles' famed Laurel Canyon neighborhood, which was home to many musicians of that era) popularized the idea of how suburbanization had a big downside, with a song she called "Big Yellow Taxi"  in 1971 in which she observed that "They paved paradise to put up a parking lot".  That line from her song is perhaps the most relevant observation for what was going on at the time.  Joni Mitchell maintains a website, and has the song there which can be listened to below, or by visiting http://jonimitchell.com/music/song.cfm?id=13.

At the indoor shopping mall's peak popularity (which some have estimated to be in 1990 based on both occupancy rates for for existing malls and the construction of new shopping malls), the U.S. opened 19 of them. But the U.S. hasn't cut the ribbon on a new, enclosed shopping mall since 2006.  It seems unlikely that more will come anytime soon.  According to The Atlantic, there still were about 1,200 malls in America in 2017. But the forecast is that in another decade, there might be about 900. That's not quite "the death of malls" as some have called it.  But it is a marked decline, and it seems to be inevitable.

In 2014, PBS featured an interesting segment entitled "The rise and fall of the American shopping mall" which visits a dead mall called "Rolling Acres" in the ailing city of Akron, Ohio as part of the story.  That report can be seen below, or by visiting http://www.pbs.org/video/2365378735/:

While online commerce is cited in many poorly-researched articles and in news stories as the main reason, a more important reason is there are simply far too many malls in the U.S. to remain commercially viable (at least as retail shopping centers).  The number of malls in the U.S. grew more than twice as fast as the population did between 1970 and 2015, according to Cowen and Company’s research analysts. By one measure of consumerist plentitude — shopping center "gross leasable area" — the U.S. still has 40% more shopping space per capita than Canada, five times more the the U.K., and 10 times more than Germany.  Of course, Europe has maintained its city centers, whereas in many parts of the U.S. as suburbs without existing retail centers grew more rapidly, more traditional town centers (referred to as "downtown") struggled, often due to limited space for modern retailers to operate.

While some shopping malls continue to thrive (particularly those located in convenient and/or affluent areas, or those targeting fast-growing populations such as Hispanics or Asian-Americans), the traditional model will nevertheless be impacted by the closure or downsizing of some traditional retail outlets.  Sears, Kmart, Barnes & Noble, Toys R Us, Macy’s and others are all downsizing as newer, more nimble retailers including Amazon capture more and more business.  A handful have experimented with retail outlets, including Amazon Books, but those are still fewer in number and are acknowledged to be experimental by company management.

But beyond the idea that online shopping has matured enough to kill traditional retail, the story is more complex.  Private equity, in particular, has played an enormous role in killing traditional retailers buy their purchase of many retail icons and loading these companies up with debts that simply cannot be repaid.  In 2017, Business Insider featured an article about that as did the Wall Street JournalBusiness Insider eloquently wrote: "Nearly every retail chain caught up in the brick & mortar meltdown is an LBO queen - acquired in a leveraged buyout by a private equity firm either during the LBO boom before the financial crisis or in the years of ultra-cheap money following it. During a leveraged buyout, the private equity firm uses little of its own capital.  Much of the money needed to buy the retailer comes from debt the retailer itself has to issue to fund the buyout, which leaves the retailer highly leveraged."

Other suburban malls have withered away and died, often as the communities they were located in also suffered big declines in populations and tax bases. 

These days it's very popular to declare, often with little or very limited and selective evidence, that Amazon.com and online retailing is destroying traditional retail, and as of 2017, it's no longer an anomaly to know of "dying malls".  The growth of blogs and websites with names like deadmalls.com, blogs like sickmalls and YouTube channels including the Charles Bell Dead Malls Series and similar pages all seemingly lends credibility to the notion that the suburban U.S. shopping mall and traditional retailing is rapidly disappearing.  Dying (or dead) malls exist in most every state, although they don't always remain in their dead format.  For example, in more urban parts of the country, the properties tend to be quickly leveled so something new can be built at the exact same location because the real estate is so valuable.  In less-populated areas, once-thriving malls are now sad graveyards of retailing and more prosperous times.  Some old malls have been displaced by newer, bigger malls, while others are in areas that have yet to recover economically.

The online magazine Vox.com (see https://www.vox.com/videos/2018/4/11/17220528/american-shopping-malls-death-third-place for the article) had an interesting article (and video, see below) entitled "What the decline of American shopping malls means for social space" which discusses how enclosed, suburban shopping malls occupied a "third place" used for social activity to hang out with friends or meet neighbors which was completely lacking in many newer suburbs.  The video can be watched below, or by visiting https://youtu.be/oooVC3zfDc8.

But Vox notes that malls filled a need for social spaces in vacant or new suburbs, and although social media in the online world fills some of that need today, a need for face-to-face interactions with other human beings suggests that technology including social media will never truly be able to fill that void completely.

The NPR program State of the Re:Union had an interesting discussion about internet (virtual) communities and noted that while those are seldom completely positive or completely negative, they do lack some of what make face-to-face interactions a unique part of the human experience.  And no, virtual face-to-face interactions on Apple Facetime, Google Duo or Google Hangouts, video interactions are not quite the same.  To listen to that, visit http://stateofthereunion.com/internet-communities-virtual-reality/ for more details.

While the era of continued growth in retail shopping malls is likely over, the idea that we will ever succumb to ordering everything from our computers or phones and having or orders shipped to us days later is unlikely to ever completely replace more traditional retailing.  Indeed, while Amazon's purchase of Whole Foods Market is sometimes cited as an example, the reality of food retailing is the need for local distribution.  While Amazon will tinker with how to use its purchase of Whole Foods, big chains like Kroger, Publix, Safeway or Stop & Shop aren't worried that their proverbial "bread and butter business" model faces an imminent extinction threat from Amazon anytime soon.  One could say the same for drugstore chains Walgreens and CVS.  Although mail-order pharmacies operated by pharmacy benefits managers do command a big share of sales for maintenance medicines, the imminent need for something like antibiotics or cold medicines does not enable a time-consuming week-long order and delivery cycle necessitated by mail order pharmacies.

Also, clothing buyers will often find a need to physically try outfits on to see how well a pair of pants, a shirt, blouse or pair of shoes fits before they are willing to buy those items.  Hence, Amazon has not solved that not-so-little problem with digital technology.

So, while the 1950's era of suburban shopping malls is no longer the vision of American retailing's future, it will likely remain with us for some time to come.

For reference, I have listed several relevant articles (in no particular order) on this topic below which may be of interest.