Thursday, September 15, 2011

Motion Vs. E-Motion: A Debate Not Worth Debating

There ought to be enough material in the stuff that actually made it into production in the Handful O’Landfill era that I shouldn’t have go dumpster-diving through all the products that were deemed to be even more unsalable than Fleer Stars ‘N’ Stripes, butSkyBox E-Motion hit me amidships this morning and I thought it was worth mentioning, though still not worth producing.

I know; SkyBox (Fleer/SkyBox, technically) E-Motion really did exist, and such an existence. E-Motion was the Verve Pipe of sports-card sets, leaping from high-demand hotness to Repack Central faster than Usain Bolt with a singlet full of yellowjackets. It was a mediocre-but-expensive, conceited-and-confused product, as coherent as Ochocinco on Twitter, that wandered from sport to sport and configuration to configuration looking for an audience, and when it didn’t find one it was shunted off to a cable channel where they run marathons of reality shows featuring former heavy-metal singers shooing cockroaches out of doublewides. Hypothetically, I mean. Actually, Fleer/SkyBox just stopped making the thing. It was just as well. I had seen more than I’d ever wanted of Dante Bichette’s lighter side – and let me tell you, that side is pretty damn broad.

As plopped onto the market, E-Motion meant “emotion.” It was jam-packed with players tittering, grimacing, guffawing, and screwing up their faces like Max Patkin on a G-force simulator, accompanied by appropriate (or not) adjectival phrases: “slammin’,” “kiddin’,” “the heat,” “smilin’,” “punishin’,” “flyin’.”

Showing (I feel like saying “showin’,” for some reason) mid-grade Winnipeg Jet Dave Manson not skating really but slowing down and raising his stick in preparation for heading to the bench, and accompanying that with the word “soarin’,” represents a height of surrealism in the trading-card biz – an industry less firmly grounded in reality than Michelle Bachmann’s American History 101. It makes Finnegan’s Wake seem as matter-of-fact as a dishwasher-installation manual.

However, as it was originally planned, E-Motion was going to emphasize the “motion” in E-Motion. It was going to be a motion-card set.

The phrase “those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it” was never big in the trading-card biz. It was as alien as the word “budget.”

SkyBox conveniently forgot that Sportflics, the motion card that led its market niche, was Pinnacle’s very own pair of concrete Nikes, emblazoned with "Sweatshop" down their sides.

It’s not that Sportflics were execrable. That’s why God made the Star Company Sam Horn set. Kids liked Sportflics and would buy them … if they weren’t the most expensive base-brand product on the market, which they had to be because of the technology involved.

I’m using “technology” loosely here, the way I might if I were talking about advancements in the whoopee cushion. Sportflics used a heavy plastic lens to produce either a 3-D effect (insert index finger in mouth, pop cheek, make circular motion in air with finger) or a fraction of a second of motion (repeat previous action, add monotonal “wow,” toss small amount of confetti in air).

This wasn’t that long ago, but today the idea that a trading card could enthrall the masses by performing either of these parlor tricks is as alien as the notion of people running out of movie theaters because they see a moving image of a train barreling toward them. Technology – real technology – has made these low-fi trading-card technologies obsolete as a barrel stave. They don’t generate the slightest panglet of nostalgia. They’re just sort of dusty and sad.

Regardless, SkyBox believed it had secured the rights to the motion-card technology of all motion-card technologies, a technology that would capture on a card two full seconds of action.

Today we cue the yawns. Back then it would have been news akin to Semisonic getting back together. (Right; because you can’t get enough live versions of “Closing Time.”)

There was one small problem with the SkyBox E-Motion technology: It didn’t work. The one prototype card that received semi-wide circulation – showing, fittingly, Trent Dilfer – featured about a second of blurry, double-visioned game action, or the way Monday Night Football must have looked to Don Meredith.

There was no way even SkyBox, even at the pinnacle (scratch that. “Zenith”? Scratch that. “Summit”? Taken. “Peak”? Nope. Oh, hell; we’ll stick with “pinnacle”) of the shove-it-out-there era, was going to go to market with a motion set that showed two seconds of Teletubbies through a glass, darkly.

Still, SkyBox had a multisport license to produce a set called “E-Motion,” and licenses were gold – or at  least, highly polished hematite. Furthermore, SkyBox had a product on the schedule, with presales and everything, and presales really were gold. With the motion a no-go, so to speak, SkyBox reverted to Plan B, a/k/a The Adjective Plan.

The E-Motion cards you see clogging up the commons bins are the byproducts of that executive decision. You can think all you want, “What would have happened had SkyBox actually made motion cards?”, but it’s an academic question that falls in the forest with no one to hear it. It absolutely, completely does not matter.

Except, maybe, to the guy who had to come up with the adjectives.

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