Sunday, August 8, 2010

Ah, Nostalgia

If you think about it nostalgia is generally seen as kind of a benign thing. You reflect on your past, you look back at things and you feel wistful for what went before. If nostalgia is ever considered something bad it is only in those cases of people who let their rose-colored view of the past blind them to the fact that it wasn't perfect then and there's a lot to enjoy in the here and now.

But nostalgia is also a market. I was discussing this with someone just the other day; that earlier in the DVD market the production companies were concerned mainly with churning out DVD's of current movies and TV shows or "classic" movies which were proven sellers. The companies were ignoring TV shows of the 1970's and 1980's. Some of this was due to poor production values back then which would force extensive clean-up work to make the originals quality enough to go on the DVD but part of it was also the fact that there was not seen as a market for these shows.

They totally underestimated the nostalgia market -- 30 some-things who had grown up and gotten jobs. 30 some-things who had grown up and gotten jobs that paid them enough that they had a disposable income that they were willing to spend on DVD's.

For some it was wanting to see again the shows and cartoons they had grown up on. For others it was wanting to share their childhood cartoons with their own children. For whichever reason, the DVD production companies finally wised up and started giving people the nostalgia they asked for... and that's when nostalgia came and bit us in the behind.

Here's the thing about nostalgia -- as long as it can remain in our memories it stays this 'rose-colored perfection'. Memory often smooths over the rough patches, it ignores the annoyances and it hides the fact that in a lot of ways things were easier or better because we were kids and our parents shielded us from some of the harsher aspects of life.

People who are now in their 30's to 50's, though, are the first generation to leave a pop culture record behind them. More TV shows and movies and such survived the destructive power of time and now, thanks to technology, can be trotted out, cleaned up and put on display for us. And this is where the rubber meets the road. That kid's TV show that you remember being so magical when you were a kid? You watch it as an adult and find it laughably simple. Those cartoons from the 1970's that you used to get up and sit glued to every Saturday morning? Watching them as an adult is more an exercise in comedy than it is in excitement.

Here's my own, personal one... The Challenge of the Superfriends. LOVED that cartoon when I was a kid. Not the very first one -- even as a kid I knew that stuff with Wendy, Marvin and Wonderdog was terrible -- but this one with the "Legion of Doom" made up of some of DC's top villains. Yeah, that was the ticket! You couldn't drag me away from that when I was a kid.

A few years ago Warner Brothers finally started putting out all of the Superfriends cartoons on DVD so of course, with my rose-colored nostalgia glasses firmly in place, I couldn't resist buying the box set. I quickly found out that my memories of thrilling adventures of good vs. evil didn't measure up to inane plots, more strange and illogical stuff crammed into 20 minutes than you could shake a stick at, and mistake-riddled animation. This went beyond the usually stuff like the animators reversing the colors of Superman's 'S' shield on his costume (it going from the true red 's' on a yellow background to a yellow 's' on a red background) or reversing the colors of Batman's insignia on on his costume (the usual black bat in a yellow oval becoming a yellow bat on a black oval) no this was stuff like Hawkman's mouth moving but Green Lantern's voice speaking the dialogue. Or Green Lantern being among a group of captured heroes and Superman organizing another group to go rescue the captured heroes only to see Green Lantern among those who were coming to the rescue! And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Thankfully, what I once purchased out of a sense of nostalgia -- expecting to rediscover treasured moments of my childhood -- is still actually a source of entertainment; it's just the entertainment has become one of humor and ridicule instead of cereal-chomping excitement while wearing footie pajamas.

But here's my point -- we don't always get off so easily. The things we loved as kids -- books, movies, TV shows -- we can go back to them now and far more often than not the reality does not measure up to our memories. Nostalgia betrays us, it bites us in the backside. And yet, time and time again we go back to it. Time and time again we seek out the things of our childhood even though we know that far more often we find something that doesn't hold up to the passage of time. Once in a while though we do succeed. We do find those gems of the past which stand fast against the passage of time and remain as clever, inventive and charming today as they were years ago. And somehow that makes all the disappointments worth it.

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