Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Nostalgia Overload

I've been mired in nostalgia these past few days. Actually, I've been swimming in it. The nostalgia trip started this past weekend while Joy and I were beginning our own. My brother recently gave me a copy of No More Kings's debut album, and I finally got around to listening to it in the car. At first, Joy and I looked at each other, unsure of what we were hearing. Then we realized that, yes, we shared the same childhood with No More Kings. There is the song riffing on Knight Rider, a song that celebrates that we all had to read Gulliver's Travels in high school, and even a song and video that images Karate Kid from Johnny's point of view. While not musically groundbreaking, this is clever stuff and you should definitely check it out.

If that album were all pushing me back to my childhood, the trip would have been over before we returned home on Sunday, but when we went to see Ratatouille on Saturday, a fresh tidal wave of nostalgia hit. Plastered all over the theater lobby were images of my favorite childhood toys.

The Transformers are back!

I know, I've been living under a rock and hadn't really let it sink in that another Transformers movie had been made. Actually, I blame it all on Sam, but that's another story. But when I saw the posters, I suddenly remembered going to the local theater to watch the original movie with my best friend and being horrified when Optimus Prime actually cursed in the movie. I remembered staging epic battles between the Autobots and Decepticons that stretched from my bedroom, through the kitchen and den, and even into the backyard. I was firmly back in my childhood.

Then, today, I open the paper and see this:That's right, a front and back spread on Transformers as well as five articles, a timeline, descriptions of the robots, and a review of the movie. The saddest thing to me? Not only has Bumblebee been changed from a VW Bug to a Camero (how can a camero be called "Bumblebee?"), but Megatron is no longer a gun (complete with cool scope that becomes his own blaster - he's the one pictured on the left). He is now an "alien spaceship," which evidently means he has lots of random parts sticking out his robot body (he's the one on your right). *sigh* I suppose a robot/gun isn't acceptable anymore.

All of this prompted a discussion at my house about how wedded to our childhood loves my generation seems to be. Now that we are all parents, the toys from our childhood have reappeared on shelves. Everything from My Little Pony to He-Man (yes, they are making a He-Man movie) is back, and I've heard many friends mention how they can't wait to introduce their children to the toys they used to love. George Lucas has probably ridden this trend the furthest as the prequels were timed to come out when the children of the original Star Wars generation were the right age to enjoy them.

Why do we have such an intense attachment to these created, manufactured, and marketed things? I have a hunch it is related to that fact that we were the first generation to endure the perfect storm of tie-ins. Every hit toy had a hit show and usually a hit movie. We could play with the toys, wear the Underoos, watch the TV show, collect the comics. Our entire lives could be subsumed by our favorite toys. Add to the amount of stuff an older generation that was generally wealthier than their parents and willing to spend on their children and you get a generation consumed by their toys. And when they reached adulthood and had children of their own, they wanted to share the enjoyment and immersion they had experienced.

Or it could be a Peter Pan complex. We reached adulthood, didn't like what we saw, and have been trying to recapture our childhood ever since. The only difference now is that we have so many concrete artifacts from our younger years to hold on to.

In any case, it strikes me as an interesting defining feature of our generation. Other thoughts?


Anonymous said...

Yours isn't the 1st generation to suffer nostalgia; the toys after which you lust are just different. The generation before me had toys tied to matinee (movie) idols or "precursor" toys, ones meant to prepare them for adulthood. For them, there were knives (Barlow or Old Timer) and the trappings of cowboy culture (men wore Stetson hats because their heroes had done so, even if the Stetson wasn't broad-brimmed). My generation had toys as well, and its toys resembled those of our fathers. We had Lincoln Logs, Erector Sets, Lionel trains, and of course the cowboy culture of boots, spurs and guns. Where we inherited the kinds of toys our fathers enjoyed and added a few of our own, the Vietnam era produced a disconnect between our childhood and that of our children. "War toys" were no longer acceptable in many households and certainly became less popular. More importantly, our childhood medium was radio, which encouraged imagination (magazines didn't count); our children's medium was first TV, then additionally the computer, which quickly became marketing media. Another aspect is that the objects of nostalgia for previous generations are just as concrete as for yours. In many cases they're just not as small or ephimeral. Lastly, my generation (and the one before me) had little time or money to spend on nostalgia, certainly in the rural setting in which I grew up. My generation did have, however, disposable income it was willing to spend on your generation. We though in terms of what would last; our children learned to think (much more than did we) of disposables. But as we discover that life is finite and we want to recapture some of it, nostalgia sets in. Or as we think of what is and what might have been, nostalgia sets in. Nostalgia isn't new. Only the "toys" have changed. And sometimes one can't even make that distinction. Rosebud.


Etta said...

Don't forget Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. A few years after us, more from my younger brothers' era, but still they have come back.

Andrew said...

I think our parents' income and how disposable our society has become is key in our sense of nostalgia. And our so-called "slacker" generation has not embraced the trappings that used to be considered adult. As a rule, we don't dress up for work, we don't give up our toys as we get older, etc.