Yesterday the new trailer for the Michael Bay produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles dropped. The movie is actually directed by Jonathan Liebesman. He was responsible for the sequel to the reimagined (I am so sick of that word now) Clash Of The Titans called Wrath Of The Titans as well as remaking The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Those are the only movies I’m even aware of. The writers’ credits are also in the high-action genre and don’t feel right for a ninja movie. The trailer also brought upon a bunch of nitpicks, like that ridiculous Shredder costume or bringing in two characters from the original series and getting them both wrong. Just make original characters. April’s not even a reporter in anything except the original series.
But you know what? I’m tired of this nonsense. I’m tired of watching things I grew up with get ruined by Hollywood and comic while video games screw up their own nostalgia, all by darkening stuff and “growing up” kids stuff and things kids grew up with. (At least TMNT has an excuse in that only the shows and previous movies were ever made with kids in mind, with the exception of the Archie comics and maybe the Dreamwave but both of those started as tie-ins to TV shows.)
Instead I want to talk about nostalgia and it’s strengths and weaknesses through the eyes of myself and Badass Digest contributor Devin Faraci. In a post that also came out yesterday, Faraci took issue with what he feels is an overdose of nostalgia. Now there were a few points I agree with him on but since this is a versus article you can guess there are parts where I also disagree with him. Check that link and read the article first, if only because it is a well written piece, then come back and find out what points we agree on, and which we don’t.
Faraci begins by discussing the triggers of nostalgia by comparing it to an author dipping a Madeline into his tea cup.
The cover to the original 1939 Madeline children’s book. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This joke would have worked better if Zemanta could have found me an image of the actual character. Anyway, he goes on.
Walking streets we knew as children, hearing a song that recalls a specific time and place, seeing a movie that imprinted itself on us when we were young – these are powerful things. In small doses. And privately.
We are drowning in nostalgia today, and every time I think it can’t get any worse the movie geek internet convulses with oral histories and lists to commemorate the anniversary of yet another mediocre film from 10, 15, 20 years ago. And through it all the same properties keep rearing their ugly, boring heads, properties that weren’t good in the first place and whose continued popularity seems to be largely due to audiences having a Pavlovian reaction to what they used to like. Look at how many adults are legitimately invested in the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie to get a sense of this.
Considering the origin that’s a hard complaint considering the original comics (or current non-show tie-in) were never meant for kids. And I didn’t think the 1989 Batman was mediocre. I have my issues with it but it’s in my movie library of my own free will. And my favorite Bat-Film was Mask Of The Phantasm and I was already out of high school when that came out. There’s no core memory for me just as there isn’t for the Ninja Turtles. I’m only now really reading the old comics thanks to the IDW reprints and while i liked the show I can’t say it made a huge impact on me. The second series from 4Kids did a better job of that.
Nostalgia, when over-indulged, really sucks, but it sucks these days in two very particular ways. First, nostalgia is a conversation killer. When you like a work of art for nostalgic reasons – you saw it as a kid, your sick dad showed it to you before he died, it evokes memories of a magical time in your life – you’re not actually talking about that art anymore. You’ve left the art behind, just as Proust has left the madeleine behind. That quote makes for a shitty review of a cake, but it makes for a good discussion of the writer’s childhood, and that’s what you’re doing. You’ve taken the conversation away from the art and made it squarely about you.
The big truth here is that nobody cares. Nobody cares what age you were when you first saw The Goonies, they want to talk to you about why it’s good or bad. And when your appreciation for a work of art is tied almost exclusively into your personal experience, any attack on that art becomes an attack on you, which is also a conversation killer. If I say here that The Goonies is a horrible piece of shit movie, I guarantee there will be people who get their feathers ruffled and feel like this is a personal attack because their nostalgia has internalized the movie to an unhealthy extent.
That’s not completely true. If you find enough fans of The Goonies, especially someone you never bet before you DO talk about how good the movie was to you and the parts you liked. Yes, a personal experience may come out but usually you’re talking about the characters, the action, or the Cindi Lauper song that had Captain Lou Albano in it and was actually a two-part story with, if I recall correctly, the same song–which is kind of lame. Growing up with it may blind you more to its flaws if it had an impact on your childhood (whether or not you have a personal experience with it) but there is no difference than there is anime fans discussing Attack On Titan. Or maybe you don’t like a movie BECAUSE of the childhood memory.
When I saw the trailer for The Ice Pirates as a kid I thought I wanted to see it. The TV ads made it look better (and didn’t lie to us about how great the effects actually weren’t). One day my dad and I dropped my mom off at my grandmother’s for a baby shower or Tupperware party or whatever it was moms did in the 80’s. Rather than go all the way to our town and then back here we went to a nearby theater and saw The Ice Pirates. it’s not even the worst movie I ever saw, but going to something that disappointing during a rare chance to go to the movies with my dad kills the experience for me. There are only two possible bad reviews I would ever do in video form and that would be one of them.
Can nostalgia go to far? Yes, like the friend we had who quoted Spaceballs (the movie Ice Pirates wishes it was) constantly.
This doesn’t mean everything you liked as a kid is unworthy, although I imagine an awful lot of it is. If there’s something you liked as a kid that you still like today and you can articulate why you still like that thing in ways that go beyond “I saw it when I was eight,” that’s a sure sign you’re operating on a higher level. A level on which you want to be operating, one where you’re actually thinking about the stuff you consume, and one that allows you to actually have conversations with people about art. I grew up loving the Planet of the Apes movies, and I still do, and I think I can make a pretty convincing argument why these films are great – arguments that extend beyond the circumstances in which I first saw them, at the very least.
For your sake, don’t read the book. It’s less action and more pretentious commentary as I recall.
There’s a second, and more insidious, way that nostalgia sucks. It’s a very modern way of sucking, and it’s a kind of sucking that the internet has perfected – overkill. The sheer amount of nostalgia in which we traffic has absolutely devalued nostalgia in general. Let’s put it this way – if Proust was chowing down on those madeleines every single day, all day long, their evocative power would fade. The connection between that sensory experience and his childhood would become diluted by repetition; eventually they would just become some pretty good madeleines he’s eating a bunch.
Now this I do agree with. I’m not nostalgic for Transformers because I’ve always continued paying attention to the story, whether re-reading the comics, re-watching the show, watching the new shows, reading the new comics, collecting the toys, or the time I spent in a Transformers newsgroup it’s been a part of my life, as my bloated toy collection can attest to. On the other hand, I do love Godzilla as well but I spent more time apart from it and any nostalgia I have now that movies and comics are readily available are for stories like the ones I grew up in, where Godzilla grew to be a protector of humanity from evil monsters alongside allies like Rodan and Anguirus. However….
That’s what the constant nostalgia cycle is doing for us online. I write this at the tail end of the 25th anniversary of the release of Tim Burton’s Batman, and I’m shocked by all the nostalgia I see for the movie. Not just because the film is pretty mediocre and largely interesting as a historical oddity, but because the film feels @#$#%$ omnipresent to me. Nostalgia works best when it’s a rare, when the feeling is bringing back memories and emotions that aren’t always at the forefront. A guy who never moves out of his childhood home has a very different response to walking in that front door than a guy who left home at 18 and hasn’t been back in 20 years.
Really? I review movies AND comics and take part in fandoms for both and other media. I’ve seen stronger draws to the Bruce Timm produced animated series more than the first Burton movie. When Bat-Fans I know discuss the Joker they discuss Mark Hamill or (because he was recent and the tragic death before the movie came out) Heath Ledger portrayal. I grew up with Ceasar Romero and the guy from the Filmation show and Scooby-Doo guest appearances and I’ll still point to Mark Hamill as my favorite Joker. If anything I see the Joel Schumacher movies brought up more often, if only to make fun of them or a clip of Val Kilmer going “it raises too many questions” used as a running gag in video reviews. Sure the first Burton movie comes up but even with all the online communities I’m linked to and the conventions I’ve gone to I rarely hear about the Burton Batman.
Our obsession with nostalgia and anniversaries and living in the past hasn’t gone unnoticed. We all complain about reboot/remake culture, but it’s a direct reaction to the endlessly simmering nostalgia. We bring it on ourselves. Proust was writing almost exactly a hundred years ago, so modern audiences didn’t invent nostalgia, but we have perfected it.
Done right, done sparingly, nostalgia is a wonder. There’s an endorphin rush that happens when you see a trading card or a TV commercial that you haven’t thought about in decades, a thrilling firing of the synapses as your brain dusts off old memories and begins reconnecting dots you forgot were even there. Events and people come rushing back, and you feel like you have jumped over canyons of years to return to a place long gone, like you’ve been granted a brief view of the machinery of the world.
Forget Ron Moore. THIS was the worst thing to happen to BSG nostalgia.
But we really aren’t getting nostalgia. Bay/Liebesman’s Turtles aren’t nostalgic and neither were Underdog or (yes I’m picking on them again) the recent Battlestar Galactica remake. Land Of The Lost and 21(22) Jump Street are parodies of the classic shows (or as “classic” as 21 Jump Street is going to get), not even a re-imagining. I could really go on with that because the list is so very long.
I wonder if he isn’t confusing nostalgia with fandom. For example, my generation grew up on Transformers but most of them moved away even though the toys, comics, and TV shows didn’t There wasn’t one point in time that someplace in the world the Transformers multiverse didn’t continue to grow but these adults pushed them aside as part of their childhood while geeks like me still paid attention to the toys, comics, television shows, and video games. As far as these other adults knew, however, Transformers stopped being produced, like Care Bears or He-Man. Nostalgia may have fed their recent comeback but the Transformers never really went away.
Then they see a live-action, big-budget movie coming out and they remember they grew up with it and would like to see it again. Perhaps they wanted to show their kids what they grew up with…and were disappointed that it was neither true to their nostalgia or kid-friendly, while others wanted to see it adultified and got their wish. These were the people who were nostalgic for Transformers and this market, not us fans, that Dreamworks targeted.
I don’t begrudge anyone their nostalgia, just as I don’t begrudge anyone their fetishes. But like fetishes, nostalgia works best when it’s personal, when it’s private and when it’s practiced with those who you love and trust. I feel the same way when you tell me you like to spooge on feet as I do when you tell me why seeing Return of the Jedi in your local theater at age 7 was such a seminal event – good for you, please keep it to yourself.
Maybe the feet thing. But then how do find others nostalgic for Star Wars and possibly learn about all the novels, games, and comics that came out? Or how do you as a fan find your fellow fans when a convention isn’t available? I don’t think you should bog down non-fans with the things your into, but that’s as much true for James Bond or Batman as a whole, since the comics have been coming out for around 75 years (the movie came out during the 50th anniversary), or even General Hospital. For that matter die-hard fans can annoy casual fans, like our friend that kept quoting Dark Helmet and Lone Star even when there was no conversation to go with it. There is a time and place for nostalgia and fandom, but being nostalgic and being a fan are two different things. What we have this week with the Batman 25th or the false nostalgia movie/show/comic (the recent Voltron or Masters Of The Universe comics for example) backlash, especially the ones that aren’t even good stories, are also source material for new stories to be told (when done right) to find a new generation of fans. Maybe they’ll be nostalgic and maybe they’ll stick with the franchise through all of their adventures and recreations, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.
I’ve been nostalgic for Goldie Gold & Action Jack and Filmation’s Flash Gordon. I didn’t get in people’s faces. I started a blog for all the stuff that interested me and influenced my writing desires and style, then waited to see who joined me, both the nostalgic and the people who never left long enough to become nostalgic. There’s nothing wrong with finding people with the same interests, no matter when the property started.