It’s weird when you come to the realization that you’re getting older, especially when you’re a kid at heart. Sure, we all tick off each year with a birthday and we watch the holidays and seasons fly by, but as we run through our twenties and thirties, it’s hard not to continuously feel like a teenager. I make plenty of jokes about being the grump out on the stoop shaking a toy lightsaber at the “youngins” barking at them to get off my lawn, but it wasn’t until the past few years when I really started to feel older. It started with generally losing track of the music scene and who the comedians were on the cast of Saturday Night Live, but the next thing I knew I was walking out of the movie theater bitching about all the teens texting and how loud and ridiculously disorienting the film was. Then at work I found myself explaining to my younger co-workers what 8-Trac and cassette tapes are, as well as describing what playing the original Nintendo Entertainment System was so much fun. They couldn’t get past the fact that most games didn’t have save points or that you couldn’t respawn where your character bit the dust and that you’d have to play the whole level over again from scratch. Long story short, I really began to start feeling old, like I was officially part of a generation removed that is no longer driving pop culture at all.
I can totally accept that, but there are aspects to this shift in generation that bug me, and it’s not just feeling like I have to defend my pop culture to a younger generation, what really bothers me is having to defend it to my own. I get why the younger generation mocks the TV shows and cartoons that I grew up on, I mean I did the same thing to a certain extent with my parent’s pop culture. It’s just a symptom of the changing of the guard. But what really kills me is when folks my age look back to our shared pop culture experiences and they sneer and inevitably say the four words that really burrow under my skin in the worst way, “It Doesn’t Hold Up.” This typically comes after I’ve been chatting with someone and I mention that I collect 80s era ephemera and cartoons on DVD. I’ll bring up a series like the Silverhawks or Jem and they’re get really excited as they remember something that’s long been buried in their psyche. “Oh, I used to love that show!” is what they say, followed by a promise to look it up on Netflix or Hulu. Then, about a week or so later I’ll run into them again and there will be a weird hostility in their voice as they inform me that they watched a few episodes of that long forgotten cartoon and they were “sooooo disappointed…” because “It Didn’t Hold Up.”
This always makes me wonder what exactly folks are expecting out of revisiting the pop culture of their youth. Are they expecting the shows to feel like they were written today, with current day ethics and attention spans taken into consideration? Are they expecting there to be a layer of adult innuendo that they missed as a kid? Or are they simply hoping that what made them excited, laugh or smile as a kid would still be the thing that hit them in the same place as an adult? Honestly, it’s probably all three, and after realizing that the first two expectations didn’t pan out they’re disappointed (sometimes angrily so.) This typically also leads to the ranking game, the “what were the best (fill in the blank) back in the day”, that also usually raises my hackles a little. Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with folks ranking their favorite shows or movies, but it inevitably becomes a competition (well a perceived one at least) where I’m asked to make my list for comparison. I hate being put in that position as it makes me feel defensive and weird if the other person has already decided something on my list “doesn’t hold up.” Nostalgia is a celebration and an acknowledgement of the shared pop culture experience, it’s not a competition or a dick measuring contest.
I think this also brings me back to an ideal that I try very hard to adhere to when writing for Branded, the idea that every cartoon, comic book, toy, live action show, sitcom, band, song and movie is someone’s favorite thing in the world. Even the Mon Chi Chi’s Rubix the Amazing Cube, or the seasons of Diff’rent Strokes with Danny Cooksey.
I always try my best to invoke this perspective when I approach a subject, to put myself in the shoes of a superfan so that I can get to the heart of why something works or is cool. In this online era of negativity with all the snark, butt-hurt expectations and angry backlash from fandom at the mere mention of re-launching a dormant brand for a new generation, I truly believe that I have to take the optimistic perspective and earn the right to bag on something. I know it’s not popular to continuously play the optimist, but I’d rather sacrifice pageviews, comments, likes and followers for a more fun and upbeat nostalgia experience. It’s not simply just a matter of “If you don’t have nothing nice to say…”, because I think there is a very important place for dissent, criticism, and anger. But I do think that that perspective has to be earned or else it rings hollow, argumentative or baiting.
I guess this all leads me to a few questions. Am I weird for not caring if a show or movie from my childhood “holds up” or not? Does anyone think that today’s pop culture will hold up twenty years from now? Have you ever been in a situation where you felt weird for loving a TV show or movie that everyone around you thought was stupid because it didn’t hold up for them? If there is a show that doesn’t hold up for you, have you still been able to find any enjoyment revisiting it, or does it sort of become something that you divorce yourself from?