Day Sixty-Seven: "Spatula City" from UHF – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack and Other Stuff
I don’t remember much about the various books of Malcolm Gladwell, the prolific author who has become extraordinarily popular and successful due to his peerless ability to make ordinary Americans feel smart, and even vaguely intellectual, without taxing them too much intellectually, or at all.
But I do very vividly remember Gladwell’s concept of “stickiness.” “Stickiness” refers to something’s seemingly ineffable ability to endure, to last, to stick around in the minds and hearts of the public long after seemingly more popular and important and substantive art has been forgotten. The concept of "stickiness" itself possesses the quality of stickiness, which is either deeply ironic, or perfect, or maybe nobody actually understands the true nature of irony anymore except, ironically enough, Alanis Morrissette.
The Big Lebowski, for example, is a great illustration of stickiness. The Coen Brothers’ stoner masterpiece was initially greeted largely with a shrug, as a weird, intentionally silly and ephemeral goof following the Oscar-winning triumph of Fargo. But instead of receding in the cultural imagination, The Big Lebowski has only gotten bigger and bigger and bigger. That’s because the grand gestalt of the smart-ass comedy exudes stickiness, but so do countless individual elements, from the Dude’s White Russians to his wardrobe to his endlessly quoted catchphrases.
UHF similarly embodies Gladwell’s concept of stickiness. Like all beloved cult movies, it has endured and grown in stature but not all of its elements are as beloved or as sticky as the others. I’ve been writing about Al for six years now and I’m not sure I have ever encountered an Al fan who gushed about Victoria Jackson’s performance in UHF. But I’ve seen lots of super-fans for whom the film and album’s fake commercial for a kitchenware emporium called Spatula City is damn near sacred.
The idea of Spatula City, a somewhat guided commercial enterprise that’s able to cut out the middle-man by dealing only in spatulas, didn’t take hold in the psyches of “Weird Al” Yankovic fans despite being such a silly, goofball, ephemeral joke. No, it lodged itself in the minds of All super-fans specifically because it’s such a silly, goofball, ephemeral joke. Sometimes those are the best ones.
“Spatula City” is only the second skit in Al’s oeuvre, but if the form was novel the content and subject are quintessentially Al. The ineffable Alness of the song begins with a title that luxuriates in Al’s deep-seated love of words and wordplay in general and specific words and conceits in particular. In this case, that word is of course “Spatula”, an intriguingly Italian-sounding name for an appealingly random item.
Spatulas are useful of course but they’re useful in a limited way. They’re consummate supporting players of the kitchen universe so part of the absurdist humor in “Spatula City” comes from Al and his collaborators dramatically elevating the lowly spatula to a starring role in both a commercial and a very misguided, obsessive commercial enterprise. In Al and UHF’s spatula-crazed world, you pretty much only need spatulas. It’s not just the core of every well-stocked kitchen: it's the entirety of a well-stocked kitchen.
Sonically, “Spatula City” is completely deadpan. It’s narrated with a whiz-bam, “Get a load of this miracle product!” over-enthusiasm worthy of Al’s previous muse Ron Popeil. A confidently strolling baseline and jazzy drums (heavy on the hi-hat!) form a groovy musical bed for a hilariously over-the-top spiel for a uniquely useless business that takes specialization to comic extremes. In just over sixty-five seconds, the faux-commercial makes a number of dubious appeals for the titular business, depicting a “present” no one could possibly want as perfect both for Christmas (what child wouldn’t beam upon seeing a spatula-shaped wrapped package under the Christmas tree?) and as an expression of love.
Late in the beloved skit, “Sy Greenblatz” comes on and, in an exquisitely awkward, stilted tone of voice drones, “Hello, this is Sy Greenblatz, President of Spatula City. I liked the spatulas so much I bought the company.” Greenblatz is a parody of two iconically ridiculous figures ubiquitous on the airwaves of the late 1970s and 1980s.
Greenblatz is a parody of the Remington ad pitchman who famously crowed, “I liked the razor so much I bought the company.” But he also spoofs Sy Sperling, who rose to camp fame for wonderfully stilted commercials where he humble-bragged that he wasn’t just the President of Hair Club for Men, but also a client.
So there’s an element of pointed satire here to go along with the wonderful, wonderfully sticky weirdness of a giant store devoted solely to spatulas. In another context, it’d be just another random bit of silliness from a movie and a soundtrack with more than its share. Here, it’s a goddamned delight and a refreshing reminder that Al isn’t just funny and smart and semi-secretly satirical: he’s also weird in a most wonderful way.
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