Our David Baldwin warned against too much nostalgia in his film column this week. He decries all the remakes and reboots, and asks that we leave the past in the past. My opponent in this debate advises the same thing.
I disagree. I have always enjoyed returning to familiar and favored fictional haunts. As a child, I reread every Enid Blyton book on my shelf until the bindings nearly gave out; I watched my preferred movies — Pete’s Dragon, Robin Hood, The Boy Who Could Fly and Xanadu — over and over and over, to the point of wearing out the fragile video tapes on which they then reposed; and I absorbed rerun after rerun of Astro Boy, Danger Mouse and She-Ra with not only forbearance but delight. Isn’t that how we all spent our time as kids? In finding cool stuff and then OD’ing on it until, almost out of nowhere, our one-time all-consuming obsession became nothing more than that thing we used to like.
This makes sense when you’re growing up, of course. Your view of the world changes inexorably as you learn more about it, and yourself. Others shape your opinions as they deem things hot, or not, and you encounter a wider array of options that you’d ever dreamed possible once the magical lands of PG-13, M and/or R rated movies are opened up to you. All too soon, it seems, it comes time to put away childish things and suddenly there is an expectation of maturity, of rectitude. You get caught watching Rocky and Bullwinkle at four in the morning, and you receive funny looks from your housemates. You sigh over a mint condition — ruinously expensive — Silver Age comic book, and you get told to act your age. You watch Twilight: Eclipse at the theater several times in a row, and you have your sanity called into question.
(Uh. I’ve heard.)
No. I will not be ashamed. I will confess it proudly! For I am still a rewatcher. A rereader. A redoer. If I merely like something, perhaps not so much. But if I love something? Oh, yeah… once is never enough. I’ve read Ender’s Game and On Basilisk Station upwards of a hundred times each; I’ve seen The Matrix and The Fifth Element at least fifty; and I have been through all ten seasons of Stargate SG-1 enough times that I can probably name the title of every episode in the series and tell you on which numbered disc it can be found. (Ditto: Buffy, La Femme Nikita and, in non-genre news, Queer as Folk.) It doesn’t matter that it was years, if not decades, ago that I first fell in love with these books, or movies, or TV shows. I revisit them now like old friends, and whenever I do, it’s like coming home.
Is it quite the same when I return, as I inevitably do, to the TV shows, books and movies of my younger years? No, of course not. Returning to childhood realms in adulthood, and complete with adult sensibility, cynicism and discernment, can indeed be problematic, and I’ll not deny it. Looking at a show like Pokemon or Thomas the Tank Engine with educated eyes, you can’t help but come away with the impression that the moral of those series was: “Hey, kids! Slavery is cool!” French scholar Antoine Buéno’s sociological treatise Le Petit Livre Bleu (Little Blue Book) calls The Smurfs racist, misogynistic and virulently anti-Semitic, wherein he also maintains that their society was “an archetype of a totalitarian utopia”… and, yeah, okay. Read Narnia now and all the religion parable stuff hits you on the head in very disturbing, indoctrinating ways, and dear God, has anyone seen the original Tron lately? The lightcycles looked way cooler than that… didn’t they?
But just because we, as children, were oblivious to the sinisterly didactic themes of our entertainment, or were blinded by then-amazing technology that now looks laughably quaint, it does not necessarily follow that those shows we once loved have nothing to offer us now. Not at all.
Think of it like this. You’re a child of say, five or six, and you watch an episode of The Simpsons with your family. You laugh at Bart’s cheekiness and Barney’s bodily functions and are entranced by all the pretty the colors. You think Itchy and Scratchy is a really cool show. Then, you watch that same episode again at, say, sixteen. And now, you get the sight-gags. You understand the double entendre and the metaphor and you realize that Itchy and Scratchy was, in fact, a damning indictment of the mindlessly violent, allegedly kid-friendly cartoons that had come before it.
Revisiting all childhood fare is like that. There’s always something new to discover. (Although, admittedly, most of it isn’t quite as multi-layered as The Simpsons.)
My opposition in this debate would have you fear a return to that simpler, happier time. He warns direfully of the disappointment you’ll feel when you discover that — shock and horror! — your preferred Saturday morning cartoon followed a predictable formula. But of course all of those shows adhered to formulae. Guess what? So do the most of the shows we watch now! The X-Files was basically just Scully going: “Silly Mulder, this strange tale of mutants/aliens/magic can’t possibly true… wait, this autopsy makes no sense!… man, it’s dark in here… okay, I admit it, you were right about the mutants/aliens/magic… am I in hospital again?” Hell, even Firefly — much beloved of yours truly as well as my formidable opponent — followed a very definite pattern:
MAL: Let’s do crime.
ZOE: Yes, sir.
WASH: I’m a way better pilot than him.
MAL: You’re a slut, Inara.
INARA: You know you want me.
KAYLEE: He does! And I want Simon. Oh, no, the engine’s on fire!
SIMON: I have an awkward romantic chemistry with my sister.
JAYNE: What is the most inappropriate thing I can say right now? I am compelled to say it.
MAL: Damn, double-crossed again! Killed a man. Whatevs.
BOOK: You rascal.
RIVER: The stars sound like purple. I might kill you all tomorrow.
MAL: Isn’t my ship beautiful?
Are you saying no one should ever go back and watch Firefly again, dude? Like… never?
I will concede, here, that the antics of former idols of mine, like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Fraggles and even Roger Ramjet, are not quite the thrill ride they once were (unlike the adventures of the crew of Serenity, which is always a good time). Going back and rewatching those Disney movies about the kids from Witch Mountain recently, I had to wonder at my hopeless devotion to them as an impassioned eight-year old. But I am not sorry that I gave them another go, and I will never stop looking backwards to where I, in my thorough-going geekhood, came from — even as I eternally look forward to the next big thing. I will continue to discover anew the wonders of Prydain and Eternia, of Care-a-Lot and Fantasia (The NeverEnding Story one, not the Disney one; the latter is just Fucked. Up.), and in the process I will happily take off the rose-colored glasses that my opponent fears to shed and appreciate these beloved works for what they truly are — even as I remember them fondly for what they once were to me.