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Pop Culture Incorporated: Sea-Monkeys, Schoolhouse Rock! and Shakey’s Pizza

Some anniver­saries are worth for­get­ting. Like how it’s now been 15 months since we shut­tered our PR agency’s office and went vir­tu­al, as though we were all sucked into a game of Tron. Hooray..?

But for oth­er anniver­saries, you’ve got to par­ty like it’s 1999. Or, more accu­rate­ly, 2011. Ten years ago today, the first book I co-wrote with long­time friend Gael Fash­ing­bauer Coop­er hit store shelves. What­ev­er Hap­pened to Pud­ding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the ‘70s and ‘80s, is a pop-cul­ture ency­clo­pe­dia that let us focus on a lot of the things from our child­hoods we missed, but still remembered.

The day of the launch was a cul­mi­na­tion of two years of work, begin­ning with our pro­pos­al and mar­ket­ing plan, then find­ing an agent, land­ing a deal with Pen­guin Perigee (now part of Pen­guin Ran­dom House), start­ing and feed­ing a reg­u­lar blog, inter­view­ing the peo­ple behind icon­ic toys, food, TV shows and appar­el, sourc­ing images and prod­ucts for a pho­to shoot, then writ­ing and edit­ing the thing. We each took about 100 top­ics and wrote first and sec­ond drafts, then passed them over to the oth­er per­son for editing.

In the end, we cov­ered more than 200 items, from After School Spe­cials to ZOOM. It was a lot of work, but was a phe­nom­e­nal ride, both because of our col­lab­o­ra­tion and the sub­ject mat­ter. How do you have a bad day when you’re writ­ing about the Six Mil­lion Dol­lar Man, Love’s Baby Soft, Sea-Mon­keys, Quisp cere­al or the Evel Kniev­el Stunt Cycle? Spoil­er alert: you don’t.

Pop cul­ture has always been a tremen­dous part of my life. (Don’t tell my mom and dad, but I once skipped serv­ing at Sat­ur­day-evening mass so I could stay home to watch “KISS Meets the Phan­tom of the Park” on TV.) And writ­ing and pro­mot­ing “Pud­ding Pops” has been a high point. I remem­ber it all, in vivid detail: when we signed the deal, when we got our advanced read­er copies and when the first box of hon­est-and-for-true books arrived on my doorstep. Or when we zipped to New York the week after the book launched to appear on the TODAY show. That was a buck­et-list moment, for sure. You know that pinch-me-is-this-real? feel­ing you get walk­ing down the steps at Rock­e­feller Cen­ter head­ing into hair and make-up, while the cast of the Glee Project is rehears­ing their ver­sion of Katy Perry’s “Fire­work” in the stair­well? Or was that just us?

On the sur­re­al scale, noth­ing beat when we met hosts Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gif­ford before our seg­ment, and Kathie Lee shook our hands and apol­o­gized for using hand san­i­tiz­er. “I was just pet­ting a lemur,” she explained, as if that was a rea­son we’d relate to. “You’re try­ing to remem­ber the ‘70s and ‘80s?” she dead­panned. “I’m try­ing to for­get them.”

Gael and I were indeed try­ing to remem­ber the ‘70s and ‘80s. And now, 10 years lat­er, we’re try­ing to remem­ber writ­ing about the ‘70s and ‘80s. But those mem­o­ries come eas­i­ly and col­or­ful­ly, in ‘70s autumn gold and avo­ca­do hues. In the end, we did close to 90 inter­views or fea­tures, includ­ing the Wash­ing­ton Post, Salon and NPR, while also meet­ing so many peo­ple at book sign­ings who were just as pas­sion­ate about those bygone decades as we are. And we got to do it togeth­er, along with our spous­es, kids and co-workers.

In fact, this jour­ney down mem­o­ry lane has inspired me to launch a new blog series, called Pop Cul­ture Incor­po­rat­ed, which takes a look at the inter­sec­tion of pop cul­ture and cor­po­rate cul­ture. What can we learn from Ted Lasso’s man­age­ment style? How can busi­ness­es apply prof­it-boost­ing advice from South Park’s Under­pants Gnomes? Despite (or maybe because of) her many flaws, is Leslie Knope from Parks & Rec actu­al­ly one of the best co-work­ers in TV history?

“Life moves pret­ty fast,” opined ‘80s philoso­pher Fer­ris Bueller. “If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” There’s a huge cache of use­ful busi­ness wis­dom to be mined from pop cul­ture, if we fol­low Ferris’s advice and take the time to look around. Hope­ful­ly, we’ll uncov­er some applic­a­ble, action­able and enter­tain­ing ideas along the way.

Stay tuned!

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