G.I. Joe, Transformers, Reading Rainbow, boomboxes, Atari, and parachute pants: my generation loves nostalgia. And we should, we learned from the masters.
Throughout the retro 80s, baby boomers nursed an obsession with their own youths with shows like “The Wonder Years,” and movies like “La Bamba,” “Dirty Dancing,” “Peggy Sue got Married,” and “Back to the Future.” The pop culture of the 60s cast a dark shadow over everything, even as Michael Jackson moonwalked across its grave.
Every kid has heard some variation of the same lecture. It starts with “back in my day,” sometimes touches on walking to school uphill both ways or how much better music used to be, and definitely paints the past as admirably hardscrabble and today as bland and soft by comparison. Like most things we subject children to, it mostly serves to make us feel better about ourselves.
Far from that uphill-both-ways walk to school, I’m just trying to describe to my kids how TV was different in the “old days” (I imagine they will tell their kids how rough it was growing up before WiFi was everywhere).
First, that I watched on a small black and white Zenith, or that I turned an actual dial, somehow always landing on 2, 5, 7, or 12, or that what I ended up watching was often the lesser of four evils, not necessarily a show for kids, but maybe People’s Court or Classic Concentration.
That’s probably the biggest difference–not what we watched, but the way we watched it: passively, at the mercy of the TV schedule. Now, my kids stream Disney tween-coms or google life hacks to watch on YouTube at their leisure. Kids these days…
Even urban legends can’t get much traction on the playground thanks to the internet and sites like Snopes. I spent years as a kid believing that Mikey from the Life cereal box died tragically by consuming a lethal combination of Pop Rocks and Coke. Now, even when faced with contrary evidence, I have a hard time changing my deeply-held beliefs about Mikey’s fate, just like some people with climate change.
Anyway, lately I’ve found myself repeating the past and force-feeding them my own nostalgia, dragging them reluctantly down my memory lane. The other day I dared them to watch “Reading Rainbow” on Netflix. They did. I’ve been fixing up my old 80s BMX trick bike for my son to ride around the neighborhood. I think he gets a kick out of the novelty of it, meanwhile I’m beaming with pride for some reason. On road trips, I’ve been quizzing them to name the Ramones or Pixies when their songs come on. But the real nostalgia trip is yet to come.
On August 27, the Bangor Drive-In is showing a double feature of “E.T.” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” We are so there. These Steven Spielberg films harken back to a time when movies were accessible to the whole family, unlike today’s hyper-focused tween-coms and YouTube vids dialed for a very specific demographic. Throw in the fact that they’re showing at a drive-in and it’s a throwback of throwbacks. Put down your iPad and come watch a classic movie on a giant screen in a field.
Why do we make our kids jump through the hoops of our own childhoods? Is it because we desperately want to experience that innocence again? Or is it because, in seeing their reaction to something that resonates so deeply with us, we hope to connect and relate across the generations? The problem is, most kids want to make their own memories, not relive their parents’ (just ask Marty McFly).
In E.T., Eliot and his buddies try to escape on their BMX bikes, with scientists, parents, and grown-ups in pursuit. The bikes can go where cars can’t, but eventually they’re trapped, blocked in. Then E.T. makes the bikes fly, over the grown-ups and their rules, above everything. Eliot and his friends are silhouetted by the moon, empowered by an alien, forging a new path, free.
During that scene I’ll no doubt glance over to see my kids’ reactions. They’ll probably be messing on their phones or eating the unlimited snacks I bribed them with to come to these two awesome movies. Which is fine, as long as it’s not Pop Rocks and Coke. That stuff is dangerous.