Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

Month: December 2021 (Page 1 of 4)

The Great Hot Wheels Famine of 2021

The PopCulteer
December 31, 2021

We’re going to end the strange year of 2021 with a rather strange story.

There is currently a Hot Wheels famine afflicting the country.

America’s best-selling toy (almost half a billion units moved each year) started  seriously disappearing from the shelves of Walmart and Target about a month ago. At first, this was isolated to specific regions, but by the week before Christmas, the nation’s two top toy-sellers were virtually uncontaminated by basic Hot Wheels cars.  Some collectors on message boards have even observed shortages going back several months.

The reasons why are probably predictable, but still complex.  Part of it has to do with the supply chain, and the backlog of cargo ships at our country’s docks.  Also Mattel had streamlined production and closed four factories due to the bankruptcy of Toys R Us, but they then got hit by an unprecedented increase in demand during the pandemic as parents bought their kids more games and toys to keep them from going crazy during the lockdown.  They were caught off guard, and shipping delays actually started happening in 2020.

However, it’s not just a case of Mattel cutting production or failing to find raw materials. What’s happened is that Hot Wheels, despite being a huge seller, go for such a low retail price (usually 94 cents to a dollar) that they aren’t terribly profitable per unit. Add to that the licensed toys that Mattel makes, which contractually have to be on store shelves by a certain time, and it makes Hot Wheels even less of a priority when it comes time to decide with boat to unload first.

Mattel also made the decision to focus on high-ticket items at the expense of their lower-priced offerings, and that pushed basic Hot Wheels even further to the back of the line.

Taken en masse, Hot Wheels bring in big money for Mattel and their retailers, but when you’re unloading stuff at the docks and you have your choice between a boatload of iPhones, or a boatload of Hot Wheels, it’s easy to figure out which product is going to get the priority treatment. Reports of basic Hot Wheels assortments showing up weeks or even months late started surfacing in May, but it didn’t really become a widespread issue until late November.

The collectors noticed the problem long before then, but probably 95% of Hot Wheels are sold to kids (or their parents). It became a real problem as Christmas neared because Hot Wheels are one of the most popular items to put in a kid’s stocking.

One interesting facet of this shortage is that it lets us get an idea just how big the Hot Wheels distribution pipeline is. Multiple reports say that Mattel has not delivered any new basic Hot Wheels to retailers since last August.  Yet it took until November for most people to really notice the dearth of new product.

I should point out that, so far, this Hot Wheels shortage is mainly hitting Walmart and Target. Locally I’ve been able to find Hot Wheels in the last week at Big Lots, Dollar Tree, Dollar General, Family Dollar and Kroger.  In particular, the Dunbar Kroger has so many Hot Wheels on hand (some dating back four years) that they have some displayed in the frozen food aisle.

Hot Wheels are still out there, if you know where to look. They aren’t the latest assortments, but they are there to be had.

The question is, how long will it take for this shortage to be allieviated? That’s not something I’ve figured out yet. There could very likely be tens of millions of Hot Wheels sitting on cargo ships at our docks now, just waiting patiently to be unloaded and whisked off to warehouses and then to retailers across the country. This is something that might be back to normal in two weeks, or in two or three months. Maybe even longer.

The backlog at the docks has been largely eliminated (thanks to our new and very competent president), but that doesn’t change the fact that Hot Wheels are not exactly a priority for the folks in charge of determining what ship gets unloaded next and which trucks get sent to which warehouses.

Yet the supply chain is not the only issue at hand here.

The Hot Wheels scalpers, one of the lowest forms of humanity to be found outside of the world of politics, got wind of the shortages early, and started buying up every Hot Wheels car they could find with the goal of gouging desperate parents during the holidays.  A lot of these folks will likely be attempting to return their unsold stock early in the new year, and if they are successful, retailers will likely be restocking their shelves with the returns, most of which will have creases or minor knicks on the cards so that they’ll be less valuable.

It’d be great if Walmart and Target refused to accept returns of more than two Hot Wheels cars per day, just to punish these evil people. Make ’em spend a small fortune in gas to return all the cars they stripped from the shelves. I have long ago given up any hope of anything like this ever happening but it’s a nice pipe dream.

What will be interesting when they do get the distribution kinks ironed out will be if Mattel takes advantage of the pent-up demand and the (largely-exaggerated by the press) inflation story to raise the price of Hot Wheels up to $1.25.  It’s not the kind of price increase that’s going to kill anyone, and it’d probably put around another dime per unit in Mattel’s coffers (which adds up when you sell half a billion units per year), so they might try to break the one-dollar barrier that keeps Hot Wheels such a “hot” seller. They can always drop the price later if consumers resist the move.

I’m just hoping that the scalpers, collectors and regular customers can ride this out without losing their cool. If “making a scene” in the Hot Wheels aisle becomes as common as it did with folks buying Pokemon and Baseball cards earlier this year, we might see Target and Walmart decide to dump Hot Wheels all together.  However, at the moment, they make much, much more money on Hot Wheels than they do on trading cards, so that isn’t terribly likely. It is not outside the realm of possibility though.

In a world where we can see a shortage of toilet paper as a reaction to a pandemic, anything can happen.

That is our big year-ending PopCulteer column. It’s a weird pop culture phenomenon that will likely be completely forgotten in six months or a year, but I felt it was worth pointing out. Thanks for making 2021 our biggest full year since we left the Gazette-Mail.  Now, it was also our first full year since leaving the Gazette-Mail, but thanks anyway. Check back for fresh content every day. We’ll see you next year.

Oh and if you like Disco music, tune in to The AIR starting at 7 PM Friday for a 29-hour marathon of Mel Larch’s MIRRORBALL!

New Year’s Eve Stuff You Might Want To Do

I’m doing this relunctantly.

There are live events happening Friday night to mark New Year’s Eve. I’m not going to any of them. We are in the middle of a surging pandemic, and I choose not to put myself in any extra danger.

However, it would really suck if folks put on a big NYE show and nobody came, so if you are properly vaccinated and boosted, and not personally fearful of a pandemic that has claimed four good friends of mine over the last two weeks, knock yourself out.

You should know the drill by now. The pandemic is still not over.  In fact, it’s been getting  way worse again, reaching new peaks in terms of case numbers. If you are fully vaccinated and ready to do your best to stay safe, you can go check this stuff out.  Remember, indoor shows leave you at the mercy of your fellow patrons, and with the all the new variants surging, don’t listen to the silly libertarians and do your best to protect yourself

If anybody gives you grief over wearing a mask…get the hell out of there. It’s not safe. Nobody wants to be the last person to die of COVID.

So use your common sense and stay safe…and support the local scene. Here are a few select shows happening in Charleston on New Year’s Eve…

What “Santa” Brought

Four days ago your PopCulteer had a lovely, quiet Christmas with his wife, and no pressures or stress. I got a lot of great gifts, mostly from Mel, and I posted photos on social media.

It seems, however, that people thought I should post them here and elaborate on what they are, So, why not? It’ll give me an easy post while we run out the year.  One little explanation may be necessary here: While Mel got me lots of cool stuff, when it comes to things like the Deluxe Let It Be Boxset, or Paul McCartney’s book of lyrics, I didn’t want to wait, and had those delivered here the day they were released.

I’m impatient that way.

Another note: Mel got me lots of cool little things for my stocking, which are not all in the photos. Some things a guy wants to keep private, you know (most of it was candy).

Here we go…

In this photo we find the Beatles book I wrote about yesterday, a really cool, minature working radio, some acrylic paints and a bizarre Geyper Man (Spanish GI Joe) space alien hero, who looks sort of like Disco Superman. That last one came from Cotswold Collectibles.

How can you go wrong with a tiny television that plays short clips from the 1966 Batman TV Show. This will eventually live in a deluxe GI Joe Adventure Team HQ that I intend to build someday. Below that is this year’s HESS Truck, which is not a truck, but is a cargo plane and a jet. Way cool! I think this may be the tenth year Mel has gotten me the the HESS Truck.

The New Yorker Encyclopedia of Cartoons was an Ollie’s find, and the Hornby HO Scale Train Cars featuring different Beatles’ albums marks the second year in a row that Mel has gotten me cool Hornby Beatles Train stuff. In the back you see a cool diecast Studebaker Golden Hawk.

The custom MEGO calendar was a gift from my friend and frequent PopCult commenter, Thomas Wheeler. The Hot Wheels were in the stocking–and they rock. The Philip Norman book on McCartney was another Ollie’s find, and the HO Scale Coca Cola truck came from Auto World.  Also note the big tube of white paint for mixing and blending.

From Blick Art, Mel snagged this basic set of acrylic paint, so I can inflict it on you in Monday Morning Art in the coming year.

We did a mini-getaway a couple of days before Christmas and I finally found the mysterious Exxon where they sell these Braxton County Monster ceramic lanterns. Turns out it’s not that mysterious. I must’ve driven past that Exxon a hundred times over the years. It’s the one in the Flatwoods Outlet Mall, not far from the Fiestaware store.

And that is what I got for Christmas. I hope you got everything you wanted. Thanks for reading. We’ll be back tomorrow with a short guide to New Year’s Eve events happening in the area, and an accompanying sermon about why you probably shouldn’t go out.

Taking A Trip Or Two With The Beatles

The PopCult Bookshelf

The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine (Beatles Album Series)
by Bruce Spizer and others
498 Productions, LLC
ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0983295785
$29.99, available from most booksellers

1978 was the year that your PopCulteer made the transition from being a comic book/animation/comedy nerd into becoming a comic book/animation/comedy/music nerd. That was the year that I discovered my previously latent love of music, beginning with The Beatles. I had been a fan of the Yellow Submarine movie since day one, and Beatles music had always played a bit part in my life, simply by being in the background for much of it. But in 1978, music become much, much more important to me.

The catalyst was All You Need Is Cash, starring The Rutles, the Neil Innes/Eric Idle parody of The Beatles that was produced by Lorne Michaels and set the record for the lowest-rated television program on a major network when it debuted on March 22, 1978. The presence of a member of the Monty Python troupe, along with the producer of Saturday Night Live, drew me in, but strangely enough, I was more turned on by the music than the comedy.  I made my way to Budget Tapes & Records and bought the soundtrack album (which was already in the cut-out bin) and started listening intently. Then I wanted more.

So I borrowed my sister’s copies of Let It Be and the “Blue” Best-of album, and within a month I was a rabid Beatles fan. I started reading every book I could get my hands on so that I could get all the jokes from All You Need Is Cash, and that started me on a path I still follow.

At the time, the big Beatles book was The Beatles: An Illustrated Record, by Roy Carr and Tony Tyler. This book had the gimmick of being printed nearly the same size as an LP, 12 inches by 12 inches, and presented a chronological trip through the history of The Beatles, together and solo, with a running timeline, contemporaneous reviews of each record and plenty of sidebars filled with extra information. It was a fun way to learn the history of the band, and despite a few major flaws, it’s always been a favorite of mine. It was updated with new editions in 1978 and 1981, but after that there were no further updates. I kept hoping that we’d get an updated edition again, but since both authors have shuffled off this plane of being, that seems rather unlikely now.

The whole reason I mention that is that The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine, is the first volume I’ve picked up of Bruce Spizer’s Beatles Album Series of books, and it manages to recapture the fun, the joy and the excitement of The Beatles: An Illustrated Record without the snarkiness and negativity that kept that book from being the definitive guide to The Beatles. This book takes me back to my early days of being obsessed by The Beatles.

Spizer manages to be even more comprehensive, quoting dozens of contemporaneous reviews of the Beatles’ albums, singles, TV shows and movies, without inserting himself into the process. By devoting an entire book to each album (or two, in this case), he has much more room to explore the differences between the releases in different countries, and does a great job of setting the scene.  A generous helping of extra chapters look at Canadian releases, unreleased projects, fan recollections, pictures sleeves, Yellow Submarine merchandise, the studio sessions and more. This is really a complete package.

With his focus on one album or period per book, he manages to keep a firm timeline without sacrificing the structure of the book. I will eventually be adding his entire series to my already overstocked library of books about The Beatles.

See, when I became a fan, I started obsessively reading everything, from the Marvel Comics unauthorized biography by David Anthony Kraft and George Perez to the 1968 authorized bio by Hunter Davies to Beatles Forever by Nicholas Shaffner, I started grabbing every book on the band that I could find. By the late 1980s, I would pick up a book in the store, flip through, find a dozen mistakes and put it back (unless it was by Mark Lewisohn or one of the other reliable Beatles scribes). Hell, I even found a glaring error in the first five minutes of Peter Jackson’s Get Back (the intro has Ringo joining the band in the wrong year). So it’s a real treat to come across a book that is so immaculately fact-checked, cross-referenced and annotated as The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine.

The fact that this volume shines the spotlight on one of my favorite eras of Beatledom, the period between Sgt. Pepper and The White Album, which is coincidently one of the most overlooked periods of the band’s history, is a bonus. Many folks tend to jump over this big chunk of 1967/68 to go from one landmark album to the next, and in doing so one of the band’s most creative and innovative periods gets overlooked.

Of course, lately folks have been immersed in the recording of the Let It Be album, but this period is when the band was free to run wild, unencumbered by artificial deadlines and inner pressures. This book covers a rich and fertile period of The Beatles’ history.

I plugged this book in The 2021 PopCult Gift Guide without reading it. Spizer’s reputation and the subject matter told me that it’d be good, so I recommended it without reading it. Mrs. PopCulteer treated me to this book as part of my Christmas haul, and I haven’t been able to put it down since. The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine, and I’m guessing the rest of Spizer’s Beatles Album Series is a must-have for any fan of The Fab Four.

Selfishly, my hope is that when Spizer is finished with The Beatles Album Series, he considers doing a year-by-year (or two) book series on the band’s solo years.

Available from any bookseller using the ISBN code, Amazon, or The Author.

The Best Of 2021 On The AIR All Week Long

All week long, PopCult’s sister radio station, The AIR, presents the best of 2021 in super-cool marathons. If you want to hear the epic sonic goodness yourself, you simply have to move your cursor over and tune in at the website, or you could just stay on this page, and  listen to the cool embedded player over at the top of the right column.

Monday on The AIR, we bring you twelve episodes of  Psychedelic Shack, from 7 AM to 7 PM, and then we throw six episodes of Prognosis at you from 7 PM to 7 AM Tuesday morning. These will be the best editions of both shows from this year, presented for your enjoyment and my slacking off. The plan is to return with all-new episodes and maybe even some new shows next week, just in time for 2022.

Tuesday a 24-hour marathon of Radio Free Charleston‘s best of 2021 will kick off at 7 AM.  Wednesday will be split between Beatles Blast, from 7 AM to 7 PM, and Curtain Call from 7 PM to 7 AM, Thursday. sees 24 hours of The Swing Shift, including every episode from this year, kicking off at 7 AM.  Friday will offer up six episodes of Sydney’s Big Electric Cat, filled with the best New Wave Music ever, at 7 AM. Then at 7 PM, Mel Larch’s Disco Showcase,  MIRRORBALL, will take us to the New Year, and beyond, counting down to Midnight and then taking over The AIR all day Saturday to kick off 2022 dancing like a force of nature run wild.

Sunday will see a midnight-to-midnight run of Radio Free Charleston, since it’s a three-hour show and we had way more than eight great episodes this year. Then next Monday we’ll begin the new normal with a slightly altered schedule.

You can listen to The AIR at the website, or on the embedded radio player at the top of the right-hand column of this blog.

Monday Morning Art: Chicago Twilight

This week we have another digital painting. The unseasonably warm weather this past week, while really nice in some regards, has reversed much of my near-remission from Myasthenia Gravis, which usually comes as a bonus with colder weather. So holding a pen or brush has been difficult.

However, I can move a mouse around like a wizard, and I’m still able to grab a Sharpie and knock out a quick skyline to scan and then paint over digitally. And that’s exactly what I did here. 2021 is the first calendar year since I married Mel Larch that we did not get a chance to return to Chicago. I do miss the place we never stay long enough to hate, so I decided to do a twilight painting of The Windy City, with an impressionistic twilight sky to say “so long and don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out” to 2021.

If you want to see this digital painting a bit bigger, just click on it.

We’ll be back with a post about The AIR‘s week-long programming stunt later this morning.

Sunday Evening Video: Ryan Does Bowie Ten Years On

Ryan Hardiman and Maddie Gourevich

Back in the pre-pandemic days, Charleston had a “Good Night” program on New Year’s Eve, where venues all over the city would have free concerts from around 6 PM to 10 PM. That doesn’t appear to be happening this year, for good reason, so I decided to jump back a decade and bring you video of one of those concerts featuring my friend, Ryan Hardiman, Mark Scarpelli and Madeline Gourevitch. It’s an evening of David Bowie standards performed at Trinity Lutheran on Kanawha Boulevard.  In addition to Ryan and Maddie on vocals and Mark on piano, there is a string quartet featuring Molly Lynn Page and Kristi Holstein (violin), Alasha Al-Qudwah (viola) and Shawn Simms (cello)

Above you see our deluxe, three-camera video of “Moonage Daydream: The Bowie Songbook.”



Happy Christmas, From PopCult

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and whatever good tidings fill your bill from PopCult and the Larch-Panucci household.

2021 has been a bizarre year, with very high highs and very low lows, and we should all have a sneaking suspicion that fate is a big fan of Lucy Van Pelt, as politics and pandemics get our hopes up, then yank away the football at the last second.

I hope that everybody can find some peace and well-being on this special day, and that the new year brings us all new happiness, joy, good health, and justice for the Democracy.

As is our tradition on Christmas Day, we bring you Melanie Larch singing “Ave Maria” from the very first Christmas episode of Radio Free Charleston.

Let’s follow that up with the 2014 Christmas treat that saw Melanie backed by Mark Scarpelli…

And we’ll continue with Mel’s 2009 Christmas song with Diablo Blues Band…

Let’s go back to Chicago, in 2019, for one more…

Wishing you and yours the best-

Rudy Panucci and Melanie Larch

Random Thoughts and Items On Christmas Eve

The PopCulteer
December 24, 2021

I want to wish everyone a happy Christmas and holiday, whichever ones you observe, or don’t. Just have a good time and enjoy your days off. We are once again facing a holiday season and new year filled with uncertainty and justifiable concern.  Melanie and I are taking the time to enjoy each other and we hope that we can get back to some sense of normalcy in the new year. We are cautiously optimistic, with the same amount of caution that we’ve had for much of this year.

To make things easy on myself, we’re just going to have a few links and items today, since most of our readers check us out at work, and a big chunk of our readership is out doing more important things today.

Next week I’m going to schedule “Best of 2021” marathons on The AIR all week, so that I can slack off and enjoy some free time to the end of the year. We’ll still have fresh content every day here in PopCult, but some of it’s going to be half-assed. Expect a photo essay of what I got for Christmas, and maybe a big year-end essay in next week’s PopCulteer.

But today, here’s what we got…

Still reeling from the death of Charlie Tee from COVID last week, this week it was another punch to the gut with the COVID-related passing of J.T. Smith, a friend of over fifteen years from IWA East Coast, Hot Topic and LiveMix Studio.  That’s J.T. at the head of this post.

J.T. was just one of those guys that everybody loved. He never failed to put a smile on my face. I feel that there are many people more qualified than I to write about his life. He loved his daughter, his horror movies and Richard Cheese, and this is going to leave another huge hole in Charleston’s creative scene.

I don’t have any details on a memorial service or anything yet. If I can find out in a timely manner, I’ll update this post.


West Virginia Native Kelsey Chapman has a great piece at The Independent UK about how it’s okay to be really pissed off at both Joe Manchin and Better Midler after this week’s BS flinging contest between the two. You can read it HERE.


I try not to cover politics here in PopCult because I usually get too angry, but I do want to take note that anybody who was surprised when Joe Manchin stabbed the Democrats in the back and went into business for himself at the expense of the people of West Virginia really must not have been paying attention in 1996 when Manchin lost the Democratic primary for governor to Charlotte Pritt, and then campaigned vigorously for geriatric Republican Cecil Underwood.  The man can only be counted on to continuously prove that sometimes the lesser of two evils is only lesser by a tiny, almost imperceptable amount.

I actually wound up trimming several minutes of me ranting about politics out of this year’s Radio Free Charleston Christmas special.


I can’t believe the idiot from those awful local KIA commercials is going to run for governor. Maybe the car dealer in the fairy outfit will run against him.


Speaking of idiots, if you’re not vaccinated against COVID for anything other than a legitimate medical reason, you’re an idiot. Please grow some freaking common sense and go protect yourself and everyone around you.  If you disagree, feel free to leave a comment, which I will then edit to say something completely different just to amuse myself.  If you don’t like that idea, start your own blog. Back to the original topic, there is some promising news about another new vaccine in the works. You can read about it HERE.


I’m starting to veer too far into politics here, so I’m just going to call it a day and jump off, wishing you the best this holiday season on the way. Thanks for reading PopCult and keep checking back for fresh content every day.

Messed Up Christmas Videos Return

For the fourth year in a row we bring you a collection of Christmas-themed short films that are, shall we say, “less traditional” than those you might normally watch to get into the holiday spirit. That makes this a new tradition! Some of these you may have seen before here in PopCult, while some are new to our readers. All of them, are pretty messed up, in their own ways. These are our olive branch to those of us who have more of a “Bah, Humbug” attitude toward the holiday on this Christmas season.

Our opening video this year is a heartwarming cartoon about ways to die at Christmas…

Returning from last year, it’s a music video by The Dollyrots, conveniently called “Messed Up Christmas,” and it was written using contest entries from their fans that asked “What messed up thing do you want for Christmas?”

We continue with a short film from 2017 called “Sleigh,” starring Matt Berry and Nigel Planer…

Next up we bring you a parody of the 30th Anniversary of “Do They Know It’s Christmas” by the comedy crew of 22 Minutes…

Finally we bring you Ken Russell’s heartwarming holiday classic, “A Kitten For Hitler”…

In the spirit of the holiday season, I say, “There, that oughtta hold the little buggers.”

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