One of the joys of having around someone who wasn’t raised with American popular culture is that they are frequently baffled by it. For example, a lot of animated TV shows today — “Family Guy” and “South Park” foremost among them — reference the popular culture of the past thirty years at the rate of approximately one per every six frames of animation. Go ahead. Check yourself.
That being said, Spencer and I were watching an episode of “Drawn Together” a while back. (And don’t knock it — it’s funnier than you think and now available for download on iTunes at the reasonable price of $1.99 per episode.) Anyhow, they episode involved the housemates starting a suicide hotline. When the phone rings for the first time, the shot goes to a close-up of the phone surrounded by the housemates’ faces, each contorted into wide-mouth versions of their normal selves. The housemates jabber nonsensically and imitate the sound of the ringing phone.
Here’s a screengrab in case my description doesn’t do the scene justice:
(Why they’re all wearing lingerie is another story entirely. Ask later.)
Spencer was baffled, but to anybody weaned on PBS as a child, this is an obvious parody of the Yip-Yips, those weird, floppy alien characters from “Sesame Street.” If you’ll remember, each skit featuring the Yip-Yips concerned them sniffing around some common household object — a telephone, a grandfather clock, whatever — and being initially frightened by it. They speak very little, occasionally saying the name of the thing they’re encountering, and filling the rest of their dialogue with “yip-yip-yip-yip-yip-yip-yip-yip.” (Hence the name.) I almost didn’t remember the Yip-Yips, actually. My memory was jogged shortly, of course, but I had almost forgotten these odd characters.
We went, of course, to the Wikipedia to investigate. Sure enough, the site offers a healthy profile on these pop culture footnotes, including a full list of the various objects the Yip-Yips have encountered. (I could have sworn there was one where they meet a dog, but I guess I could be wrong about that.)
Most helpfully, the Wikipedia page offers an image of the Yip-Yips, in all their glorious weirdness. Funny that I almost forgot these alien characters existed, because seeing their misshapen mouths and raggy bodies, I realize that I used to be terrified of these things and would run out of the room whenever I saw them while watching one of the various Beta taps that my mom had recorded “Sesame Street” on for me. (Of course, the episodes with the Yip-Yips were the ones that got recorded.) They’re truly frightening creatures, even for Muppets. Whoever thought they’d be appropriate aides in the education of young children was certainly a sick, sick person
The Wikipedia page also reminded me that the aliens had a tendency to cover their eyes with their bottom lips when frightened. And that, even when done by a horrifying monster, is a little cute, I have to admit.