Friday, November 16, 2012

Fuck Your Childhood: How Everything You Think Was Good Is Actually Terrible

I haven't done one yet, but one of the regular segments I have planned for this blog is a retrospective series similar to my obscure movie franchise analyses, only for TV shows, where I watch or in most cases re-watch the entire series of a show and examine the entire story from beginning to end. I just finished up Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I'm about half way through Babylon Five, and at some point the first two installments of this series covering those shows will be up soon, but that's not what today's article is about. Today's post is about the reason I haven't done this yet, and the reason why I almost gave up writing on the internet completely.

Before I had this blog, I wrote for another site, called Picture Show Pundits. Technically, I still do, or at least I will, as soon as I get off my ass and start porting over some of the relevant content from this site over to that one. A lot of my first published articles here were actually re-published from there. Anyway, if you go to that site now (it's on the side panel) and go to my column, you'll find that as of 11/17/2012, I haven't done much in a while. You'll also find THIS LINK. Go ahead and read over that bit of glorious hubris, then come back. I'll wait.

Done? Good. See, I had this idea to go back to my childhood and re-watch a show I hadn't seen since I was a kid, and see how well it held up. The choice was a no-brainer, as there was no single half hour of television I embraced more as a wee lad than Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. I was all ready to go, Netflix queued up (because they have every episode for some reason), genuinely excited at the prospects of this experiment. I got about five episodes in before I gave up.

I checked the Netflix queue to see how many episodes there were. It said only 50 or so, which seemed light, but then the Jetsons only had one short season and that seemed like it went on forever. Then I realized that the Netflix number only represented the first season. The real number is closer to 150, and even that only represents the Mighty Morphin Era. To truly embrace the spirit of the endeavor, I'd at least have to watch as far as the end of season six, which I would discover is when the show wrapped up its ongoing storyline and shifted to self contained seasons with regular cast changes. But then, I promised I'd be as completist as possible and catch up on the stuff I missed after I stopped watching as a kid. The fact that I made this promise to, like, ten people on a random website did not occur to me. This was a trial that I had obligated myself to go through.

Needless to say, despite giving myself no clear deadline to meet, I still crumbled under the completely self-imposed pressure and just decided it was better to ignore the entire enterprise, column and all, and just move on with my life. Eventually my deep overriding desire to prattle on about nonsense won out and I formed this blog as kind of a clean slate. The thing is, I was so looking forward to this project, and it never occurred to me that it would be daunting in anyway. More importantly, It got me thinking about how we view the past, and how our nostalgia often blinds us to the shittiness of our youth.

My Power Rangers experience is one that, though painful, was ultimately rewarding, because I now have the ability to admit to myself that something I loved so dearly for a large span of my life, in fact, was really fucking terrible. The thing is, a lot of people never have this moment of clarity, living on for years under the delusion that the stupid shit they loved as a kid actually was just as good as they remembered it. In the abstract, there's nothing wrong with this, but in a world where our creative industries are so bereft of ideas that they must mine the past and re-imagine entertainment (in the absence of original imagination), these nostalgic blindspots can lead to so much unnecessary emotional effort wasted.

Take, for instance, The Transformers series. The Michael Bay movie trilogy has spawned a legion of angry fan boys who rail to no end against the many various flaws of these movies. For my part, I very much dislike them, save the second one which I genuinely believe is Bay's brilliant opus of intentional self parody. But I am also circumspect in that I can step away from the whole affair and realize that the source material upon which this series is based was some of the worst fucking childrens' television in history. It confounds me that anyone would expect these movies to be good considering the complete lack of substance underpinning this property. And yet, they are fans, and they scream and cry because this massive piece of shit that was the Transformers cartoon was made into a series of movies that perfectly encapsulates said shittiness.

And it also mystifies me that for every property like the Transformers, there seems to be a genuinely good one from our collective childhood that is tragically overlooked. With Transformers, you don't even have to leave the franchise. Beast Wars was such a deep and thought provoking show with mature themes and a rich mythology that just begs to be made into a kick ass trilogy of CG enhanced action films, but that show languishes in obscurity as grown men still succumb to tears over the death of a talking semi-truck, who only died to make way for a new toy line!

In a few months, we'll be getting a new G.I. Joe movie, because apparently the last one didn't clearly say all we needed to say with G.I. Joe. Meanwhile, another show with a similar sci fi militaristic setting, Exo Squad is at best a fun few hours on Hulu. No live action adaptation, no series reboot. Nothing. One show had complicated characters and villains who you sympathized with almost as much if not more than the heroes, and the other had a guy yelling Cobra, and a corny lesson at the end of every episode.

The worst example of this nostalgic denial I can think of has to be the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Nothing about this franchise has ever been good. Ever. Even the first movie, which is better than most of the movies and shows associated with the property, is only good in relation to its franchise. In the abstract, its still a movie about fucking ninja turtles. The internet exploded for weeks when Michael Bay dared to suggest tweaking the origin just a little bit, so much so that the movie in question is now indefinitely postponed. Because we really need to passionately defend the intellectual integrity of the Teenage Fucking Ninja Turtles. We need an adaptation that stays true to the source material, where the dumb surfer dude one eats pizza and says Cowabunga every five seconds, or it just won't be worth it. And it has to have Krang in it, because...well, Krang.

We seem to get a new TMNT series every few years, either on TV or in film, but Greg Weisman's Gargoyles, one of the single greatest action cartoons ever made, can't even sustain a comic book continuation to cover the massive Straczynskian arc he had planned for that show. A masterpiece of storytelling killed before it had a chance to come to fruition, but we've gotten like five iterations of a story about radical 90's stereotypes that had their heyday in the age of Corey Feldman.

My point is, if we're not gonna get anything new to nerd out about and we're just gonna keep regurgitating the same crap from our childhood in new packaging, we can at least demand the good stuff from that time, and not pretend the shit we didn't know any better than to love was actually good and worthy of re-examination. I don't want to hear anybody talk about how Michael Bay raped their childhood, because quite frankly, your childhood was asking for this. Maybe it shouldn't have been whoring it up with all those corporate marketing types and walking around in that skimpy lack of creative substance. Okay, maybe that was a bad metaphor from the start, but you get what I'm saying right? Demand better things, and don't accept shit just because its what you're given.

Also War Planets kicked ass. Somebody's gotta make that show again.


  1. Not to drift from your point and meander around a certain jumping point of your argument, but well, I'm going to anyway. And forgive me if my words don't flow (or make sense)...I am writing after awakening to a crying baby who seems to want a bottle that we just 'broke' her of a couple days ago...awoken after chowing down a tylenol PM about 2 hours ago, none the less. Now that she settled, I was able to read this and now respond.

    So you hurried home to watch Power Rangers (Mighy Morphin!). I only seem to remember focusing on Animaniacs...I am sure there were other shows from my childhood but I can remember going to my room, waiting for 3:30 and singing the opening sequence (as well as every other goofy song in the show) pretty well. We began rewatching this series after buying the entire series from FYE...we bought them as a gift for my brother in law- but we have the big tv, so it stayed at our house. My point: Animaniacs is another exception to your blog. In fact, I am not sure children should have been watching that show. I am sure I didn't understand half of what I watched as a child, even as an adult I had to question "Does that mean what I think it means?"

    So anyway, you know, don't forget about those crazy Warner Bros, and the Warner Sister...they have superior intellect in the children's television program realm.

  2. While I can't dispute the quality of the writing in Animaniacs, I never liked the show personally. I always thought it had the same problem as Tiny Toons, and its exactly that adult humor. Not the "is this too dirty for kids" stuff, but more the references that kids wouldn't get. I'm an eight year old and I'm watching a show with jokes about Hillary Clinton and Jerry Lewis. Do I even know who these people are at this point? It's a hard line to walk appealing to both kids and adults, but I think its always better to try to hit both groups simultaneously if you can, rather than have some jokes kids wont get that adults would like, and vice versa. I was always mad at those Spielberg shows for appealing to a different audience.


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