I'm a 1970s and '80s kid, and I would bet you a mint-in-box Bionic Woman doll that the TV commercials of that era will be some of the last things my mind clings to before I die. I'll be like that "Sure, Grandma" meme, getting shuffled around by a nursing-home attendant born in 2047 while I babble, "I am stuck on Band-Aids," and "Oh yeah, Kool-Aid!" So it's no wonder that one of the funniest things I've ever -- EVER -- watched involves commercials from 1978.
A few years back, the Mystery Science Theater 3000 alums behind movie-mocking group RiffTrax took on the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special. Yeah, that special, the one George Lucas wishes didn't exist. The Riffers' jokes make the hideous show tolerable, but the absolute best part is when they make fun of the actual commercials that aired with the show in 1978.
RiffTrax sells its riffs, but the company recently made their entire riff of the Star Wars Holiday Special free to watch on YouTube. You can watch the whole thing, or just zoom ahead and stop whenever you find a commercial, or seek out the fan-edited version of just the commercials. (Here's part 1, here's part 2.) But then go to RiffTrax.com and buy something, because these guys deserve to be kept in business.
In an ad for GM, the Riffers note how the workers seem to be frosting the car.
Maybe the funniest ad (it's at 2:53 in the below video) is for the International Ladies Garment Union, and features the infamous "Union Label" song. Whether it's the guys pointing out how the garment union sure makes a lot of hideous pantsuits, or Bill Corbett wistfully noting "I miss shrill union anthems," it's a full minute of perfection.
In an ad for the Kenner Trailtracker toy van, Mike Nelson musically points out that "it'll be fun for approximately 3.7 seconds!" while Kevin Murphy freaks out about how the plastic van can follow a wavy line. ("Dear God, you're insane!")
The dad from Land of the Lost shows up in a wine ad. Products I completely forgot existed live again (Twice As Fresh, the air freshener you've supposed to wave around frantically). And yes, there are Star Wars jokes, and a classic ad for Kenner Star Wars action figures and a Star Wars laser battle game.
I'm reminded of how weird the 1970s were, such as when the Bell System tried to sell all kinds of novelty phones, because every cigar-chomping executive wants to close a deal using a plastic Snoopy and Woodstock telephone.
There's an ad for a CBS TV movie about The Bible that doesn't fail to pitch the Sodom and Gomorrah part. ("And next week, the Tibetan Book of the Dead," cracks Murphy.) There's an ad for Reggie Jackson's Reggie candy bar, which actually still looks pretty tasty. ("How come they haven't made a Pujols candy bar yet?" asks Corbett slyly.)
I co-wrote Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops?, a pop-culture encyclopedia of the 1970s and 1980s, and if that gives me any GenX cred, I'm pulling it out here. My generation, the group scarred by memories of orange shag carpet and avocado appliances, will find this as much a treat as a Marathon candy bar washed down with Pepsi Light.
I always think back on the 1970s as an ugly, earth-toned decade, but it's not like the 2020s are turning out to be much better. So when you need to escape from the latest depressing news flash, load up this RiffTrax video, and slip back to the ads of 1978. May the Force of Madison Avenue be with you.