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GenX cynical? I blame sea-monkeys.

Advertisement for sea-monkeys.

Generation X has been called angry, disaffected, sullen, and cynical. That is a blanket criticism that is not wholly true nor completely false. Some GenXers, including myself, do tend to be cynical. Why?

I blame sea-monkeys. If you are a member of Generation X, you’ll be familiar with the advertising for these “mythical” creatures found in the back pages of comic books.

Who knew that sea-monkeys were royalty?

Do you remember the ads? They featured a smiling family of humanoid creatures. The mom even had a bow in her hair (or antennae or whatever those things were on her head). The sea-monkeys hung out in front of their castle in the fishbowl. Who knew that sea-monkeys were royalty?

After claiming they appear to dance and do loop-de-loops, the ad says, “The sooner you order them, the sooner the GOOD TIMES and FUN begin in YOUR HOUSE!” Well, sign me up!

The advertiser then assures you: “No rip-off.”

We’ll come back to sea-monkeys. Let’s talk about a few of the other ads you would find in comic books. How about Texas Rattlesnake eggs? “Wait until you see them hatch; you won’t believe your eyes.” Hmm.

G.I. Dog Tags. “Like soldiers wear.” The advertiser then assures you: “No rip-off.” Double hmm.

My favorite ad was for X-ray glasses: “With these X-ray Specs, you apparently see through flesh and peek at the bones underneath!” I imagine the claim that they let you “apparently see through clothing” appealed to some friskier kids reading the comics. Notice the repetition of the word "apparently" in the ad.

Advertisement for X-ray glasses.


Other items for sale included a footlocker of toy soldiers, whoopee cushions, itching powder (a dermatologist’s nightmare), gum that dyes your mouth black, smoke bombs, and various novelties that would appeal to those of us young enough to think that Gilligan’s Island was the pinnacle of humor.

They were scams that took advantage of kids’ naïveté and ripe imagination to separate them from their dollars and cents.

So, what do these advertisements have to do with GenX cynicism? They were scams that took advantage of kids’ naïveté and ripe imagination to separate them from their dollars and cents. How many GenXers spent their allowances or paper delivery earnings on Sea-Monkeys only to discover that these trainable, “eager to please” pets were just lousy brine shrimp? Here’s what a brine shrimp looks like:

Brine Shrimp.

By © Hans Hillewaert, CC BY-SA 4.0, 

The X-Ray Specs? They were cardboard glasses with pinholes and feathers to create diffraction, an optical illusion that might give you a headache but didn’t let you see through clothes and skin to bones.

Oh, and the guy who came up with the idea of Sea-Monkeys and X-Ray Specs? According to Wikipedia, although he was of Jewish descent, he was a racist and anti-Semite who had ties to the KKK and the Aryan Nations. No wonder he had no qualms about ripping off little kids.

The Texas Rattlesnake eggs product was a tiny Manila envelope hiding a device that would simulate movement to make you think eggs were hatching inside.

Here’s a picture:

Manila envelope for "rattlesnake eggs"

Caution when might cut yourself on that washer!

The footlocker of toy soldiers was a cardboard box containing flat, plastic toy soldiers that would be difficult to maneuver in an active playtime situation.

We learned early on that people will say anything or do anything to make a buck.

Some novelty items, like the itching powder, whoopee cushion, and gum, worked. I know the sneezing powder was effective because I threw some in my mom’s face- not the most brilliant move I ever made as a kid. When she finished sneezing, she let me have it.

So, if GenX is cynical, who can blame us? We learned early on that people will say anything or do anything to make a buck. Adulthood has only made that belief stronger.

As grown-ups, we might be smart enough to recognize a blatant scam when we see it, but we’ve still fallen prey to marketing schemes. Take social media.* Tech companies are not providing a product to us. WE are the product, and they are selling everything they’ve learned about us to other companies. So, yeah, color me cynical. I’m a proud GenXer!

And yes, I’m still bitter that I don’t have the flying car my second-grade textbook promised would exist. The GenX psyche was scarred by lies and broken promises.

If you enjoyed this post, please like it, repost it, and share it with your friends. Next week: B.J., the Bandit, and the rise of C.B. radio.

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