'Whole Pop Catalog' condenses schlock culture of America into 608 pages, 117 chapters

November 18, 1991|By Knight-Ridder News Service

It's all in here. Look and you shall find: Mr. Peanut, Mr. Potato Head and Pee-wee Herman, Slinkies, ant farms, jukeboxes and pinball, Elvis and Sinatra, hot dogs and peanut butter, Yogi Berra and Yogi Bear, Burma Shave and propeller beanies, not to mention Rocky and Bullwinkle, hippies and beatniks.

"The Whole Pop Catalog" (Avon Books, $20), just published and ready for you to peruse for Christmas shopping, is a one-source mail-order catalog for almost every imaginable vestment of America's TV-obsessed, throwaway culture of the last few decades.

If you buy it, you will learn the factoid histories of shrunken moose-head trophies, hot tubs, pet cemeteries and Annette Funicello. The book is 608 pages long, weighs 3 pounds and was put together over the last 18 months by 40-odd editors, writers and designers who call themselves "The Berkeley Pop Culture Project."

These champions of pop-schlock have divided their opus into 117 chapters covering everything from baseball to monsters, from UFOs to yo-yos. And in each chapter there are things to buy! Open your wallets and retrieve the trivial possessions of your past! One caveat -- you won't be able to order a Hula-Hoop. Pat Katzmann, 34, one of the book's two principal writers, explains this is "because there are no circular mailing tubes" to do the job.

It's fun, this compendium of pop trivia. It's significant.

But it's not too significant.

"The culture that we consider high culture is the popular culture of the past," says Jack Mingo, the book's editor-in-chief. He tries to explain the book's raison d'etre: "Shakespeare in his time wasn't highbrow culture. . . . I think Americans have an inferiority complex. They think if it comes from Europe it's superior. But this is our culture," he says, jabbing a finger at the catalog.

Mr. Mingo, 39, wrote "The Couch Potato Handbook" and "The Couch Potato Guide to Life." He can't stand the way academics over-interpret schlock culture: "They're always trying to find the hidden meanings of things, really stretching it."

Ms. Katzman's husband Barry, 40, the catalog's other main writer,breaks in to explain the power of pop: "When the fire in the Oakland hills broke out, Pat was going to grab the clothes. And I said, 'Clothes?' I was going to take my baseball cards and my Beatles memorabilia."

The reaction so far, they say, has been -- well, predictable: "I got the first three letters reacting to the book," Mr. Mingo tells his friends, "and one of them was the standard, very small, cramped handwriting, saying, 'Here's a lot of things you should've included.' We forgot to mention the Easy-Bake oven. Some guy in Illinois."


Here are a few products available in "The Whole Pop Catalog." (Prices may change and may not include shipping costs.)

Abbie Hoffman clothes: American flag shorts and T-shirts sold by the Daily Planet, P.O. Box 1313, Canal Street Station, New York, N.Y. 10013; shorts, $36; shirt, $15. (212) 334-0006.

For reel: A full line of 3-D View-Master reels available from Worldwide Slides, View-Master Division, 7427 Washburn Ave. S., Minneapolis, Minn. 55423; catalog, $1. (612) 869-6482.

Putter around: Plant 'N Putt Backyard Golf Course Green sold by Clyde Robin Seed Co., 3670 Enterprise Ave., Hayward 94545; $49.95. (510) 785-0425.

Filet of sole: Trout socks from Taylor Gifts, 355 E. Conestoga Road, P.O. Box 206, Wayne, Pa. 19087-0206; $9.98. (215) 789-7007.

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