Thursday, August 2, 2012

Cult favorites

I'm not a big TV show or movie connoisseur.

Not counting the couple reality-type shows I watch (like Storage Wars or Pawn Stars), there's only a couple TV series that I tune in for week in and week out.

You can count the number of movies I've wanted to see in the last few years on one hand.

However, there's one particular aspect of each industry that has always captivated me.

The so-called "cult" hits.

I was recently reading a magazine article that listed the Top 25 Cult TV Shows of all-time. I'd only seen three of them, but they're easily among my top ten or fifteen favorite shows: Arrested Development (which lasted three seasons), Party Down (two seasons), and Undeclared (one season).

On a brief side note, I'll never know how Freaks and Geeks didn't make the list. Next to Seinfeld, it's probably my all-time favorite series, despite the fact that it lasted just a single season.

But I digress.

That's the beauty of "cult" shows, though. If everyone had seen all 25 of the series that were on the list, they wouldn't carry that label.

In a way, you can draw the "cult" comparison to the world of baseball cards.

If every single card release was popular and widely acclaimed, this hobby wouldn't be a whole lot of fun.

Not every set is going to be well-received. It's just how it is.

Sometimes, it takes a while to recognize just how great a set is. A lot of the time, it's after the set is a distant memory. If you're lucky, you can find another group of collectors who share your opinion.

Perhaps the one set that paints the very idea of that is Topps Total.

Although it was around for four years, I don't recall it getting a ton of respect amongst card collectors. In the current memorabilia craze that the hobby is in these days, it's easy to see why a 10-card pack with almost no inserts and a 99-cent price tag was overlooked.

People just weren't interested in it.

These days, I still rank them among my favorite cards of all-time. Personally, I like the design better than a few of the higher-end sets out there. There's some great shots as well, judging from the above "broken bat" issue of Pablo Ozuna.

I've talked to a few other collectors who feel the same way, and I've already seen a ton of love for the gigantic yet budget-friendly Topps Total during my time in the blogosphere.

Much like the highly-anticipated return of Arrested Development next year, I'd love to see Topps resurrect the Total brand for the everyday collector.

Unlike most "cult" items, Upper Deck was around for a while.

However, due to the infamous "Topps monopoly", they couldn't use MLB team logos or names for their final release in 2010, which made it infinitely different and perhaps more interesting than any of UD's past sets.

Due to the licensing issues, Upper Deck's final release was barely a footnote in the first year of the Topps-controlled hobby. UD was dissolved just months after the set hit the shelves.

In recent days, I'm starting to notice a slight bit of nostalgia for the days when more than one company held property on the displays of Targets and Wal-Marts. (I'm one of them.)

Perhaps it's just my view, but people seem to be lightening up towards 2010 Upper Deck, a set that represented "the end of an era".

All things considered, it's actually not that bad. Upper Deck still managed to churn out quite a few fantastic cards, finding creative ways around the whole "no logos" thing.

Take this Jered Weaver card, for instance. Look at that beautiful backdrop behind the "ace" in-action. (Not to mention the "Vegas" ad.)

But is it too early to grant 2010 Upper Deck "cult" status? Perhaps.

I'll leave that for you to decide.

Perhaps the arena where I'm most drawn to "cult" styles is in music.

I don't see a lot of promising work in that area these days, as it seems like a lot of that kind of stuff is contrived most of the time, which is pretty much the opposite of what it's trying to accomplish.

While the term itself is tough to define, I'd place a few of my favorite bands in the "cult" category.

Oddly enough, my chemistry teacher got me into an 80's band called the Dead Milkmen during my sophomore year of high school. While they had one minor hit, some of their best work has gone unnoticed, save for a small group of devoted fans. 

They're easily in my list of top ten favorite bands. (For some reason, I enjoy making lists like that.)

A lot of their stuff is, for lack of a better term, quirky. But that's a lot of what I like about it.

In fact, I'd use that same word to describe the short-lived 1995 E-motion set. Quirky.

Each card has a different "emotion" listed on the front. Soon-to-be-superstar Luis Gonzalez was characterized as "smooth" during his time with the Cubs, at least from the people at "E-motion" headquarters.

While the "emotion" part of it might be a bit tacky, there's just something about it that you have to like. The framed border was a major innovation for its time, something we've seen a lot of in recent years.

The brand has to have some sort of following, because there's a blog dedicated to its honor. (The blog itself is for the '95 Emotion set, while the above "Gonzo" is from the '96 Emotion-XL issue. I couldn't find any from '95.)

I'd say it's a "cult favorite".

In dealing with "cult" status, I think there's one set that stands above all.

1996 Pinnacle Aficionado.

It's the first one I thought of after I came up with the idea for this post.

I can't imagine that the set received too much spotlight when it was first released. Pinnacle wasn't one of the major brands at the time, and this wasn't even their biggest offering of the year.

Because of that, it's easy to see why it lasted for just one season.

While I know of at least one blogger who thinks the set is a disaster, I've seen a few others who have nothing but praise for it. 

I have to admit, I didn't like Aficionado much at first. The gigantic head peeking out from the left of the card kind of freaked me out.

But then a funny thing happened. It started to grow on me. 

I came to like the neat little "raised dots" that make up the freaky face portion on the left. (Anyone who's held one of these cards in their hand knows what I'm talking about.)

The little woodgrain nameplate is a nice, unique addition as well. Anything from Pinnacle Aficionado stands out from the rest when I'm going through my binders.

While LaTroy Hawkins is still around these days, the same cannot be said for Aficionado. As I mentioned before, '96 was its only year of existence.

Personally, I wouldn't put it on the same level of a Topps Total or a couple other "cult" favorites. Yet I can't help but be enthralled by these cards every time I see them.

They're definitely not your typical baseball card set, but that's what makes them great. 

What's wrong with going a little outside the box every once in a while?

I bet there's a couple "cult" sets out there that I haven't come across yet. Perhaps other bloggers have already sung praises for a few of them.

Finding a "cult" movie, TV show, band, or whatever is a great thing, something which is hard to describe. In a way, it feels like you can claim whatever it is as "your own".

It's a special feeling.

That's especially true when it comes to baseball cards.


night owl said...

I think oddballs are your definite "cult cards." Not appreciated by all, not seen by all, but beloved by some. Kellogg's, Hostess, department store brands, gas station cards -- all cult favorites. And a lot better than that Aficianado -- I can't even spell it -- self-important thing.

Also, Freaks and Geeks was one of the best shows of all-time.


If none of these cult cards pay off there's always money in the banana stand.

Zayden said...

A very thought provoking read! I have often been apart of some of these cult followings.

I'm a fan and collector of The Simpson's stuff. It's a main stream show now but it wasn't always that way and yet even though being main stream now, it still has it's die hard fans that have been with it from the beginning or a cult following so to speak. Futurama also has more of a cult following as it is far less main stream.

Glowsticking is another hobby of mine that has it's small core group of people that are very passionate about it. It started out as a sub-genre of the Rave culture but quickly has become it's own genre and hobby away from the drug-induced scene.

I'm going to skimmer through my collection to see if I own any of those Topps Totals. You have me intrigued by them now.

I have just one of those emotion cards of Robbie Alomar that I've always loved.

Again great post...I'm glad I have the time to make a thorough comment, as I read it last night and I was like man I just gotta get my comment in on this one lol.

Chubby Amigo said...

I wasn't to impressed with the new arrested development stuff, it made me sad. Then again anything with Buster or Tobias made me laugh.

I personally live the dead milkmen song about Stewart. He was a daredevil like his old man!

Good share!

Jim Jones said...

Baseball card fanatic = Freaks & Geek Fan.

Try finding one that doesn't fit that equation.