How to Immerse Your Loved Ones in the Spoils of Pop Culture

A crass course in all things lowbrow

When you push a button—her belly button, to be exact—she sings "Baby One More Time" from speakers conveniently located just beneath her breasts. You can even adjust her volume, which, for many of us, is a dream come true. Britney Spears waits for you, and what is Christmas if not a time to indulge in all the disparate fodder that so distinctly sums up our brazenly commercial cultural landscape? There's just so much to learn, and so damn much available.

It shouldn't shock anyone to discover that young Miss Spears is available and that she's yours for only $44.99 at FAO Schwarz (FAO Schwarz, 1420 Fifth, 442-9500). What is a little more disconcerting, however, is her surprising resemblance to Laugh-In comedienne Ruth Buzzi in her wild lost years, despite the pop star's signature schoolgirl/whore outfit. ("Try Me" is printed without any irony on the box.)

Spears' closest pop competitor, the Grammy-winning Christina Aguilera (also $44.99), fares a little better in the plastic 'n' pretty department. Not that her doll manages to capture the singer's "Genie in a Bottle" distinctive dime store hoochie-ness—it's closer in style to, say, Leeza Gibbons if she were hosting Yo! MTV Raps—but you can certainly imagine Ken giving her the once-over at a Barbie mixer. One question, however: The box claims that Christina is suitable for ages 4 and up, yet how many parents want their toddler's toy moaning "you gotta make a big impression/I gotta like what you do"?

The 'N Sync boys, at least, are squeaky clean, and what could sum up the Top-40 zeitgeist better than those pop music pawns captured as Barbie-style "collectible marionettes?" You can buy the quintet individually (FAO Schwarz, $29.99), knowing that their interlocking display bases will eventually allow them all to be viewed as one. Their packaging even informs us that "marionettes cannot stand alone," which is wonderfully wise in so many unintended ways. Any discriminating fan, though, will quickly notice the nagging resemblance problem yet again: 'N Sync has been sunk. You can't go wrong depicting group members Chris Kirkpatrick or Joey Fatone (or Fat One, as his detractors have been known to say) because no one is attracted to them anyway. But J.C., the Hot, Sexy One, has been plasticized into some crystal meth addict (hollow cheeks, huge eyes, bony fingers) and Justin, the normally cuddly li'l moppet, has been reduced to what he might look like 15 years from now as a guest star on some WB sitcom. Lance Bass, the, er, "Single" One, was conspicuously missing from his post; Don't Ask, Don't Tell GI Joe was unavailable for comment.

Speaking of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, let's talk about reality programming like The Real World and Survivor—another pop-culture phenomenon that capitalizes on a shockingly artificial premise.The Real World You Never Saw (MTV home video, $12.99) is perfect for anyone who hasn't had enough of watching those obnoxious twentysomethings live out their petty little lives in a luxurious free abode. These videos feature a purportedly naughtier self-revelation than one can witness in the show's regular broadcasts. Yes, one can thrill to the combined Boston and Seattle collection, for instance, which boasts "an inside peek at David's hygiene problems." Give us an inside peek at that little gay New Orleans hottie, folks, and maybe we'll talk.

Leave it to MTV to breed the reality bit with an equally frustrating phenomenon, sophomoric humor, and come up with another signpost of the times, The Tom Green Show (MTV home video, $12.99). Mr. Green, who is currently on view making a painfully unfunny cameo in his girlfriend Drew Barrymore's hit Charlie's Angels, will fit nicely into someone's stocking (stuff him way, way down there) in his best-of compilation videos. It's a lovely seasonal greeting with only the finest examples of his poo-poo practical joking. Say what you will, but there are evidently masses of people for whom scatological joie de vivre is the Second Coming.

Dumb, if you haven't noticed, sells. Never in recent memory has this point been so succinctly driven home as it was by Big Mouth Billy Bass. In case you're not a drugstore denizen, Billy is a mounted plastic fish, who, on red-button request, flaps around on his base and, in a moment of ironic whimsy, perfectly mouths the words to "Don't Worry, Be Happy." No, I'm not kidding. I'm also not kidding that his creation caused such a commercial frenzy last year that he's inspired a whole batch of creature sequels (any Rite Aid, $19.99). There's Buford B. Bullfrog, who croaks "Joy to the World" and "Spiders and Snakes," or Max Mallard, who warbles "Rock the Boat" and "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" (get it? get it?). Cool Catfish, in addition to his version of "Bad to the Bone," will crack you up with such scintillating bon mots as "What are you lookin' at?" or "And you think you got it bad?" If these jokes seem obscure,the trademarked Jaws version ($24.99) that flaps its gums to "Mack the Knife" should be make the concept crystal clear. The clerk whose register placed him near these easily sampled offerings looked very tired.

You could, of course, just hang it all and buy your beloved a subscription to Vanity Fair, that bewitching barometer of popular culture (12 issues for $12!). December's issue, the table of contents of which is still as impossible as ever to locate in the mire of ads, features a scrumptiously sullen Jude Law twirling a feather and proclaiming "My only obligation is to keep myself and other people guessing." We're still awaiting word on what rewards, if any, result from pushing his belly button.

Steve Wiecking is a contributing writer to Seattle Weekly.

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