Today begins a multi-part series of entries about How Can I Tell If I'm Really In Love, a Public Service Announcement that dates back to 1986. After finding this gem hidden deep within the $3 bin at the hole-in-the-wall video store at which I worked throughout high school, life began to look different, smell different, feel different. At first I thought it was Lupus, but it totally wasn't. How Can I Tell taught me to be grateful for attending high school in a time when, unlike in the video, adults had more or less given up on the concept that reaching kids meant putting a spin on the stale, black and white verbiage of yesteryear and preaching in a "funky, cool" way that included graphics! and TV stars! and other kids talkin' about kids!
How Can I Tell If I'm Really In Love hearkens to a time when, as far as I can tell (I was but three years old at the time), irony was entirely absent. Otherwise, how would one explain the cast members introduced in this opening clip?
Justine and Jason Bateman, both undeniably adorable, are seated in the first of many "laid back" positions in what appears to be the waiting room of their family orthodontist. If you find their proximity to one another while prepared to discuss sex slightly skeevy, you won't believe the pregnant pauses and momentarily elongated eye contact to come. To be honest, it almost steers off road into Arrested Development territory.
Some of my favorite cast members include:
Elizabeth: Foreign exchange student? Substitute teacher? Retarded?
Dina: Man-hating closet case, ready to stain the first vulnerable vagina with her fire engine red lipstick. Also, Vice President of Drama Club (she was the breakout in Pippin).
Alysa: Dear, sweet Alysa. I'm not sure if you had recently moved to LA from Staten Island or if you merely suffer from a severe speech impediment. Maybe a quarter of your brain is made of blueberry jam and styrofoam, I really don't know. But that of which I'm sure is that you, Alysa, are a gem. In a clip that repeats over and over and over throughout How Can I Tell (repetition, you will learn through this video, is a great tool of proselytizing), Alyse's come-ons never get old. With hair and make-up that says "$150 for two hours or the butt," Alyse might be my favorite part of the video.
Whoops, I spoke too soon.
Ted Danson is the resident "Cool Adult" here, illustrated by his unusual sitting position, legs dangled over the side of an armchair. Wanna talk sex? Start with Sam Malone.
Karen and Cassandra: Who split Loretta Devine in two and sent her back in time??
Don't bet on seeing Marshall again. He's one of a few Black guys who show up in the opening credits, never to be seen again. Whether or not The Disappearing Black Male Students actually attended University High School (or "Uni High," as spray-painted on screen) remains a mystery. Even if they did, they were probably too busy stealing or rapping for the shoot, another reason we're thankful to have Alyse in their place ("'Scuse me, could I have your num-buh?").
John and Steve: These fellas are How Can I Tell's resident douchebags, guys who equate love to "fun sex" and "ecstacy" when it's clear that the closest they've come to either involved stained tube socks and reruns of Logan's Run.
I understand that it's completely inappropriate to say so, but is it just me or does Sharon somehow encapsulate every mediated representation of an Asian girl in high school between 1970 and 1990, be it in a textbook, TV show, or film? Yes, I'm admittedly crazy and, indeed, my psyche is comprised almost exclusively of barnyard imagery and Talbots catalogs, but I really can't back down from this one. Perhaps it's the haircut or the vaguely resentful sneer, but, to me, it looks like Sharon knows she swaps her "L's" with her "R's" and doesn't need you to tell her!
Vu: Now that Williamsburg is riding the Ironic Mustache bandwagon into the ground, Vu could quite possibly be crowned King of MisShapes. Seriously, Vu would get so much hipster ass, it's ridic.
One of How Can I Tell's more perfect moments comes in this lightning-quick introduction of Christina, who not only can't hear the clear question of what love means to her (why would they include that?), but upon understanding, shoots back with, "Oh, happiness" like there's no possible alternative. The gal's a pistol.
Donovan: The producers had to correct him after his first answer to what love means was "Going to a Thompson Twins concert with my boy-toy, Henrik (he totally pays, of course) before scoring some sweetass blow and getting reamed in the back of my dad's pick-up. Then shaving Henrik's neck so that no one at his office gets 'offended.' And then doing some more sweet blow. That's love."
Barely five minutes in, and we've already covered Staten Island whores, Ted Danson, and incest. By the time you're done seeing the whole video, I'll have written a fucking encyclopedia.
And it will have been completely appropriate.