Every week, Today in Nostalgia looks at the trends we once clung to, defended, and were ultimately betrayed by. Memberships to the Beanie Babies Official Club accepted; BYOB too-large jawbreakers. Let’s do this.
Era of cool: 1994-1995
Describe, please: For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to be a cool person. And nothing—nothing—promised you entry into the coolest, oldest, most exclusive circles like a stacked Pog deck. From late ’94 to mid ’95, Pogs were the only schoolyard currency that mattered. They guaranteed you plans at recess and lunchtime—sometimes during class itself if a teacher had checked out for the day and told you to “read.” They sparked gambling addictions. They taught skill, cunning, and most importantly, separated the children from grown-ups. Couldn’t handle losing a Poison? That’s too bad. Willing to play two Lion King special additions for four classics? Let’s do it. Tears got you nowhere. This was our wild west. And if you could live up to the pressure, you deserved every full Pog tube you earned.
There was a clearly defined Pog Hierarchy: at the lowest rung were the no-name brands that you either played to lose, or used to up your bet in hopes of acquiring “one of the good ones” from some sad sucker. If these were lost, you felt nothing—they were filler in a dynasty defined by cool graphics and name brands. Official Pog editions were a step up. They looked “vintage” in an attempt to emulate the bottle caps of yesteryear, but were slapped with slogans delivered in the spirit of Someecards. Were they invaluable? Of course not (they weren’t Disney brand), but they weren’t cheap. So if your parents were willing to buy you replacements after you lost a game, well, you were one of the rich kids who didn’t understand the consequences of a steep bet, and you deserved every hefty loss I handed you without compunction.
Next came Disney movie tie-ins and restaurant one-offs, all of which paled in comparison to Poisons; the King of Pogs, these were adorned with shiny skulls, snakes, and anything else your mom was be horrified to see you playing with (Moms: not getting it since 1994) (just kidding, luv u, Moms). To this day, I have absolutely no idea why these, out of all the available types of Pog, mattered the most. But I lost some of my best men out there to the Poison gatekeepers who somehow managed to hoard them all. And yes, absolutely, my Pogs were like people to me. …which goes some way to explain why I didn’t hang out with many real people during this particular period in my life. Homegirl was 2In2Pogs.
Why were they cool: Pre-adolescence is a difficult time. “Playing outside” is still mandatory, but games have been replaced with talking shit about other classmates round the back of the portables. Pogs offered a tantalizing taste of the adult world we were just beginning to glimpse. Now we could not only hustle our less prepared classmates, we could straight-up gamble, learning just how heartbreaking loss can be while forming the addictive personalities that explain our 20-something drinking problems. This is likely why Pogs got banned from every school in my area by the time June 1995 rolled around.
Odds of a comeback: I hope and pray. We’re all grown-ups who can legally walk into a casino and bet our hard-earned dollars on games we have slightly less control over than the Pog tournaments of the mid-‘90s, but I’d still throw down three Lion Kings for a Poison with my washer slammer in a heartbeat. Any teachers reading this? I’ll take you guys first. I’ll take all of you.