My friends and I have this habit of telling each other, “Shelby, drink your juice,” when we think someone is too wound up or too upset about something for their own good.
If you’re Southern or ever watch the movies on CMT, you probably know this is a reference to the movie Steel Magnolias, a movie all Southern belles quote with frequency thanks to the immense wisdom the movie espouses. I mean, these are all truly, truly gems:
“The only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize.”
“Honey, time marches
on and eventually you realize it is marchin’ across your face.”
“Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”
“A dirty mind is a terrible thing to waste.”
“Miss Truvy, I promise that my personal tragedy will not interfere with my ability to do good hair.”
“I don’t like her. I don’t trust anyone who does their own hair. I don’t think it’s natural.”
The movie is basically a cinematic version of a Georgian living room full of samplers, but the line we quote the most isn’t the wisdom, it is a comment made by Sally Field’s character when her adult daughter Shelby, played by Julia Roberts, has a diabetic seizure. As Shelby shakes and yells, her mother tries to calm her down and get some sugar in her system, so she coaxes a cup of orange juice in her mouth as she coos, “Shelby, drink your juice,” at her.
If you Google this line, there are over 93,000 results. This wasn’t just us, a large group of people embraced this line so much it made it into Urban Dictionary. I know the script, which started as a play had to include several lines like the one I quoted above that the writer thought might pick up and be quoted after the movie’s release. I would be so curious to hear what the reaction was when screenwriter Robert Harling realized the drink your juice line was on par in popularity with any other zinger in the movie. Did he feel proud? Annoyed? Amused?
Today people are always talking about how to make viral content, as if there is some recipe to predict which ridiculous family home video will become the next “Charlie Bit Me”. Hate to break it you, but that isn’t something you can predict, nor is viral a good metaphor to describe how it is shared, as it makes it seem like it is the content that is pushing itself out to millions. Henry Jenkins has a much better word to describe it, and that word is “spreadable”, like peanut butter. It may start in one place, but it can easily spread out to others if people see something in it that they connect with or enjoys enough to pass along to others.
When I was perusing the list of movies that were popular in 1989, you can see the unpredictability of the population in action. Long before Pitch Perfect and The Help, Steel Magnolias was the 14th most popular movie. Another movie based on a play, Driving Miss Daisy, was eighth, and the Robin Williams drama Dead Poets Society came in at tenth. Half of the top ten were original films, ie not sequels or franchises.
This is not just me being nostalgic for another time, this is the simple truth of the economics behind movie-making. My favorite genres like family or courtroom dramas, romantic comedies, and prestige pictures are the types of film whose returns rarely merit the financial risk anymore, so very few pictures like Dead Poets Society, Field of Dreams, or When Harry Met Sally get made in a given year. Now granted, last year, prestige picture American Sniper was the top grossing film of the year, but it was also the only non-franchise movie in the top ten besides Big Hero 6. We don’t experience phenomenon like Steel Magnolias anymore because studios are too afraid to gamble on anything that isn’t a pre-established franchise. Even Steel Magnolias fell victim to this trend when Lifetime reimagined the story with an all African American cast.
Lifetime also has cornered the market on “unauthorized” stories of the behind-the-scenes tales of popular TV shows. Last year, it was Saved By the Bell. This year it is going to be a dramatization of the making of Full House.
Tell me if this sounds familiar:
It’s Friday night…
And the mood is right…
Gonna have some fun, show you how it’s done:
My family ate up the TGIF on ABC concept up hook, line, and sinker. We watched all of them. Perfect Strangers, Family Matters, Step By Step, Dinosaurs, Baby Talk. But my favorite was Full House. I was approximately the same age as Stephanie Tanner and her snarky tude and dance abilities lead to me identifying with her completely. Really though, the breakout stars of that show were those twins, which is something it sounds like the Lifetime biopic is going to dig into.
Like Steel Magnolias, I don’t think anyone could’ve predicted the Olsen twins coming. Sure, America loves cute kids, but do they love them enough to buy every item in their tiny empire? Really, when you think about Full House, it is hard to really pin point why this show connected the way it did. It certainly rivals Steel Magnolias in the quotes department with “You’ve got it dude”, “Have mercy”, “Cut it out”, and “How rude”, to name a few. Like the juice line, there is nothing particularly compelling about these lines at first glance, that I wonder who really saw that a bratty blonde exclaiming “how rude” would rival some of the highly developed jokes on Seinfeld in the quotability department. It was only after little Stephanie Tanner got a bigger than usual laugh one time that the writers started plugging it in to more episodes and developing it into something catchy, like this Jesse and the Rippers single:
In this YouTube day and age, we think these funny ideas pop up with ease, transforming people like the Bed Intruder into celebrities in a couple of days. Really though, Auto-Tune the News, the organization behind the song, had been doing what they were doing for quite a while, picking up steam with each video, both fine and auto-tuning things as they went along. Just because we are in an age of instant content doesn’t mean all things can be an instant success. They are on the same trajectory as Full House jokes or Steel Magnolias developing as an off Broadway play then working its way up to a major motion picture, that trajectory just isn’t as public anymore.
While much of Madonna’s sensationalism in her early career made it relatively unsurprising when songs such as Like a Virgin took off, but if someone told you a music video involving a murder of a child by White supremacists, religious iconography, a girl in a nightie, and the star of Cool Runnings was going to add up to one of the most popular videos of 1989.
But if Madonna was a master of anything, it was publicity and marketing. She knew how to sell something and was willing to take the risk of composing a song, Like a Prayer, which combines sexual innuendo and religious themes into one salaciously catchy song. When the video came on MTV, one of us would yell that it was on and the other sibling would come sprinting down our ranch-style home to watch attentively in front of the TV. Another video would captivate us like this one did in 1992, but we’ll get to that in a few years. This song was sung with passion, was catchy as can be, and was just obscure enough that my six year old brain didn’t connect that Madonna was using the New Testament to describe an orgasm.
When you look at other songs in the Madonna oeuvre, there are more obvious hits, like the glamorous Vogue, the provocative Like A Virgin, a popular dance hit like Ray of Light, and the self confidence anthem Express Yourself, but Billboard will tell you differently. It says Like a Prayer is the most successful Madonna single of all time.
This is not a song that could have been cranked out of a pop hit production house following some formula, though it seems like everyone these days is trying to turn content into a formula, an algorithm, a plug and play of popular concepts and catchphrases that will churn out a surefire hit. And yeah, reliability and known entities are great, but for me, the reason 1989 sticks out as a particularly great year for pop culture is because no one expected these unexpected vehicles to become classics.