Tell me I’m not the only one who remembers these: the “Zack of All Trades” shorts. They’re the animated interstitials in which a black man who magically floated out of a radio encouraged young children to think about their careers. In one, he battles his apparent, The Future Blob, who represents the terrorizing prospect of nebulous career plans.
I’ve had the lyrics “It’s the Blob! It’s the Blob! / ‘I am the Future Blob!’” running through my head for weeks now, and it only occurred to me to check for the source on YouTube when I was nowhere near a computer. Finally, I had the means to look it up. What you’re watching above this little bit of text reached far back into my brain and pulled out memories that rightly should have been shuffled out long ago. These shorts, which I believe first ran as part of Schoolhouse Rock, were re-run with a lot of other retro shorts during ABC’s Saturday morning cartoon line-up in the late 90s, the only period in my life when by body was physically able to get up early on the weekend. Turns out Zack’s vocals were provided by the late Luther Vandross, of all people. This particular short apparently encouraged the young and aimless to look into careers in such high-paying jobs as “seamstress” and “pattern maker.” Exactly how many happy-go-lucky rolling-skaters ended up throwing their lives away in such a manner would require a lot of depressing research into unfortunate Generation Xers, I’d guess. But while “The Future Blob” was easily the most memorable entry in the “Zack of All Trades” series, YouTube offers a few others that I vaguely recall.
This one, “Jack and Jill,” which seems to rip off the basic chorus of “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover”
And this one would seem to speak solely to little white boys and little black girls, which would make sense as everybody knows that all people who aren’t white boys or black girls have no business watching Saturday morning cartoons.
Lesson learned, Zack. Little black girls can grow up to be chefs, engineers, journalists or astronomers. Little white boys, however, can get jobs like painter, “computer whiz,” carpenter or “show biz.” Again, I’d hate to think that anybody would align their career paths towards fictional jobs like “computer whiz” or “show biz” — or any other jobs they might have implemented for the sake of a rhyme. (Why force “computer whiz” and “show biz” into the song when “engineer” and “astronomer” are both real jobs and barely even rhyme?) Also, I have to admit that Zack gives a more promising future to Jenny, the little black girl, than Kenny, the little white boy.