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Americans like to joke about the Cola Wars but for a generation of Filipinos the term is quite literal. In February 1992, Pepsi launched a promotion in the Philippines called Number Fever, where random digits printed on bottle caps could lead to cash prizes. For a while, everything was perfect. Some people won a hundred Philippine pesos or a little more; about a dozen were lucky enough to win a million pesos (equivalent to $40,000). All the while, Pepsi experienced record popularity in the archipelago nation.
That all came crashing down on the evening of May 25th. That’s when news anchors announced the number 349 as the key to the next one million peso award. Depending on what you read, 349 was only supposed to be printed on one or two Pepsi bottle caps. Definitely no more than two. Alas, due to an incredible mistake Pepsi eventually blamed on “computer error,” the number had been stamped on nearly 800,000 caps.
Thrilled winners from all over the Philippines descended upon Pepsi bottling plants the next morning, eager to claim their prizes. Elation turned to fury as Pepsi locked them out and refused to pay. It didn’t take long for riots to erupt (bottles and stones were launched with venom; one protester hurled a slab of cement at a security guard). Panicked, Pepsi executives held an emergency meeting where they decided to offer 500 pesos ($20) to anyone with a 349 cap. At the time, company figureheads were under the false impression that only a few thousand people had these caps, not over half a million.
The consolation offer had its takers but overall the Number Fever scandal galvanized Filipinos in a way other national controversies hadn’t. So protests were continuous, fervent, and large. Nearly 700 lawsuits and 5,000 criminal complaints were filed. Armed anti-Pepsi coalitions formed. And the violence escalated, punctuated by Molotov cocktails and other amateur explosives. Pepsi delivery trucks were hot targets. Upwards of 30 were smashed or bombed in some way.
Yes, there were casualties. On February 13th, 1993, two innocent bystanders (a teacher and a five year old child) were killed when a grenade bounced off a Pepsi truck in a Manila suburb. A few months later, three Pepsi employees died after a grenade was tossed into a Davao-based warehouse. Strangely, in an interview with The Los Angeles Times that July, Pepsi spokesperson Kenneth Ross angrily denied that any attacks against Pepsi had ever taken place while also affirming that the company “will not be held hostage [by] extortion and terrorism.”
Police arrested several members of the anti-Pepsi “hit squad” Alliance 349 in December 1993 on charges of causing harm and possessing explosives. The case against them fell apart when the star witness who helped facilitate these arrests revealed that he was a Pepsi employee who’d been asked to infiltrate Alliance 349. Furthermore, the witness insisted that Pepsi themselves were behind the truck bombings so Alliance 349 could be smeared as illegitimate. There was also a rumor that rival beverage companies had perpetrated the deadly violence.
The bombings eventually ceased and in 1994 21 year old Jowell Roque became the first person to win a lawsuit pertaining to Pepsi’s Number Fever. A court in the Bucalan capital of Malolos ruled that the beverage maker owed Roque 1.1 million pesos plus damages. Pepsi appealed, which is what they did when even the tiniest pittance was demanded from them by a jury.
In 1996, the Department of Justice in the Philippines dismissed every fraud charge against Pepsi, reversing an earlier order calling for the arrest of the company president and a handful of other executives. Still, some Number Fever court cases lasted another ten years, until the Philippines Supreme Court declared that Pepsi had no further obligation to make payouts.
It’s my understanding that these days Pepsi has a foothold in the Philippine market but they’ve never been able to recapture what they had just before the Number Fever War. Honestly, I’m surprised they can show their logo at all. I understand Pepsi couldn’t have spent the $32 billion it would have taken to fulfill all these mistaken bottle cap promises. And yet!
To run this contest in one of the most economically disadvantaged countries in the world? And botch it? And only offer victims twenty bucks in place of the forty grand they thought they were getting? And spend decades fighting any proper justice in court? And you’re Pepsi, not Faygo or Dr. Brown’s?
Seems like someone should have gone to jail.
This review was originally published via The Classical Mess, a Substack I was doing a few years ago before I found out they gave money to bigots.
When Jeff Goldblum was making Vibes in 1987 he told a reporter visiting the set that the film was merely “a light entertainment” and that he preferred “more serious, adult movies.” Goldblum went whole hog into those waters with Twisted Obsession (1989), a retelling of the 1976 Christopher Frank book The Dream of The Mad Monkey. Twisted Obsession is virtually unknown in the U.S. and if you see it you’ll understand why.
Goldblum plays an ex-pat screenwriter in Paris named Dan who suspects something carnal is occurring between a director he knows and the director’s teenage sister. Dan himself starts lusting after the sister; they engage in a few positively graceless sexual encounters and suddenly Dan’s embroiled in a love rhombus (this guy also has an on again, off again thing going with his lit agent). For good measure, Twisted Obsession includes a subplot about vanishing cadavers and clandestine, cult-like activities.
We’re supposed to feel a modicum of sympathy for Dan because his wife abandoned him and their small child and he can’t afford nicer clothes and he’s got an egregious, take-no-prisoners mullet. There’s zero warmth in Goldblum’s performance, however, so Dan is just a creep. Moments meant to feel playful come across as bitter and mean. When Dan spikes a corn cob into his son’s face as a joke (ha, that old chestnut) you only chuckle out of shock and discomfort because the anger is so palpable.
Twisted Obsession chokes to death on its own morose and surly vapors and it’s clear no one has any idea what to do with it now. One assumes Goldlbum’s current enthusiasm for the film must be nil. It does nothing to support his 21st Century persona as benign goofball; if anything, Twisted Obsession uncomfortably mirrors recent accusations that Goldblum’s offscreen behavior is not really benign. I only saw the movie because it’s part of The Excellent Eighties, a DVD set that positions itself as an ultimate source for kitschy, fun-loving crap from the ‘80s (David Hasselhoff is prominently displayed on the cover). Jeff’s mullet must have cleared the bar.
“Look at this dad’s wacky hair as he sexes a 17-year-old! Does he have a keytar too?”
Steven Spielberg’s 2017 newsroom drama The Post signals early that it will be cliché-ridden hokum. As the production company logos vanish, we see military choppers hovering over a steamy jungle while Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Green River” takes off in the background. Pairing Creedence with footage from Vietnam was overdone 30 years ago; any first year film student would be docked a letter grade for such a boring, obvious move. Of course, by the time The Post is over the viewer has been so assaulted by the plain and the literal that they might forget there ever was a scene in Vietnam.
I’ve read that Spielberg considered The Post an act of resistance against Trumpism, a counter-attack on “fake news” that for some reason absolutely had to come out when it did. One might argue the story of Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers, and The Washington Post’s fight to print the shocking truth about the Vietnam War is more prescient now since Trump decided to cap his anti-media, fib-laden presidency by swiping classified documents. At any rate, The Post was flung together very quickly, without pulp or artistry, condemning it to die in the shadow of All The President’s Men (still the greatest film ever made about the freedom of the press).
Tom Hanks does not transform into Bill Bradlee, the gruff editor pushing to serve honesty to Washington Post readers. Meryl Streep does not transform into Katharine Graham, the beleaguered Post owner trying not to tarnish her legacy. All you see is Hanks and Streep vying for more Oscars with nothing but cold wet ham for dialogue. The Post’s supporting players fare no better. The front page story is on their faces: I’m doing this because it’s Spielberg.
Only Bob Odenkirk rises to the occasion in the lynchpin role of reporter Ben Bagdikian. A much better film could have been made out of the story threads wherein Bagdikian secures the bulk of the Pentagon Papers from Ellsberg. Odenkirk’s comedy partner David Cross is in The Post too, looking like the saddest version of Martin Balsam you can imagine.
The most laughable part of this whole cornball affair is that it concludes with a Marvel-style cliffhanger at the Watergate Hotel. Oh no! A burglary? Cue the typewriters! Even more pathetic are the final frames, which have Spielberg copying one of the most indelible shots from the start of All The President’s Men. Working on Ready Player One at the same time as this film must have given him brain damage.
At least Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman don’t cruise by in the DeLorean.
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This review was originally published a few years ago in The Classical Mess, a newsletter I was doing on Substack until I discovered they were giving money to very bad people.
Debbie Harry has always seemed remarkably well-adjusted considering her global renown. This image is not shattered by her 2019 memoir Face It. Harry unfolds the road map of her life and nothing, it seems, has driven her off sanity’s edge. Not sour business or lost love or discovering that world famous drummer Buddy Rich was one of the two 40-something creeps who followed her home at the age of 12 after making their intentions clear at a nearby lobster shack.
Harry writes about that mortifying episode and several other very traumatic incidents like they’re just wacky family stories to be told after a few drinks around the holidays. Is she too well-adjusted? Millions of people cope this way — downplaying visceral horror with a laugh or wry comment. Maybe she is truly unaffected. Either way, it doesn’t prevent Harry from coming across as a relatable, endearing human in Face It. Often it feels like the only thing separating us from her is we don’t own paintings of ourselves by Andy Warhol.
What are Face It’s revelations for the casual Deb head? Harry “made it” once with David Johansen back in the day. She admits she “was never a Muppet fan” and only went on “The Muppet Show” because Dizzy Gillespie had been a guest (Harry offers praise for Jim Henson, though, whom she labels “a big pervert, in the best possible way”). Also, Debbie Harry once enjoyed an Edgar Winter concert.
Then you have this fascinating aside about Lydia Lunch, that high priestess of the underground, and her devotion to Bret “The Hitman” Hart. Lunch, Harry, and Harry’s longtime beau Chris Stein were all wrestling fans and used to attend matches together. “Lydia Lunch was hot for Bret big time,” Harry writes, noting that “heads turned [and] eyes stared” when Lunch began screaming in her “earth-shatteringly loud” voice for Bret when he was on the card. I wonder if Bret Hart ever heard Teenage Jesus.
The back half of Face It starts to feel like a sprint to cram in every notable event from Harry’s life during the 21st Century. Now maybe you understand why Richard Hell halted his life story I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp around 1984. Harry’s work is more humane, though, and more human, so we bounce along, happily adjusting.
The first thing that comes to mind when I think about legendary Canadian punk band Teenage Head is the guitar playing of Gord Lewis. I love to hear him blaring like a siren during the opening moments of “Tearin’ Me Apart.” I love the romantic growl of his power chords across their debut LP. Everybody in Teenage Head played their asses off and the material couldn’t be written any better, but there was crazy magic in Gord’s style.
It was very upsetting to learn this week not just that Lewis had died but that he was apparently murdered by his own son Jonathan. Sounds like those in the know assumed something like this was going to happen. Gord’s brother Brian has spoken of mounting tensions between the father and son in recent weeks and that they were both “dealing with their own demons.”
Rest in peace, Gord. Thanks for the music. I crank the Head your honor.
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I wrote a book detailing the history of the Ghostbusters movies (all of them, even the ones they didn’t make). It’s called A Convenient Parallel Dimension: How Ghostbusters Slimed Us Forever and it’ll be published this November by Lyons Press. Click here to preorder it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — I thought I knew everything about this franchise…then I started work on this book. I think you’re gonna love it.
Before A Convenient Parallel Dimension, I was working on a book about the Guns N’ Roses album Chinese Democracy. You know, the album it took them 15 years to record and release. I am pleased to report that Backbeat Books has asked me to complete the Chinese Democracy book for 2025. What can I say? Take me down to Paradise City.
I’m going to blog here again on a weekly basis and that includes some posts that will only be available to JG2LAND PREMIUM subscribers. For just $2 a month (or more, if you want) you can enjoy access to it all. The first premium post went up yesterday. It’s a review of Two of a Kind, a 1983 John Travolta / Olivia Newton-John comedy no one really remembers. Click here to sign up and check it out.
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Thank you for all your love and support. Now let’s try to relax before Rob Zombie’s Munsters comes out and the discourse becomes unbearable.
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This November, Lyons Press (a division of Rowman & Littlefield) will publish A Convenient Parallel Dimension: How Ghostbusters Slimed Us Forever, a comprehensive history of the Ghostbusters film franchise authored by me, James Greene, Jr. Please scroll past the beautiful cover to learn more.
I spent four years researching this book, digging through vast library archives to paint as accurate a picture possible of the Ghostbusters films they made, the Ghostbusters films they didn’t make, and all the talent involved. I also conducted scores of firsthand interviews and curated a nice selection of pictures for the middle section.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — I thought I knew quite a bit about Ghostbusters before I started A Convenient Parallel Dimension but oh was I wrong. It is my sincere hope that this proves to be the case for many readers. I also hope people who don’t know anything at all about Ghostbusters pick this up and say, “Hey, I like learning about these wacky ghost movies!”
Don’t want to say anything else as the manuscript is still being copyedited but I can’t wait for everyone to check it out. Ask your local independent book store to put A Convenient Parallel Dimension on their list today!