We’ve watched Ducktales, Batman ‘66, we’ve read Mr. Men and Little Miss books before bed. We own The Great Mouse Detective and Mickey’s Christmas Carol. We laugh to Inspector Gadget. A pair of Ninja Turtle figures showed up at Christmas.
Wait a second. Is this my son’s childhood or my own?
Sometimes I feel guilty that it might be hard to tell, as like many parents, it becomes all-too easy to want to show your kids “the good stuff,” the stuff we grew up with, the stuff we loved, and hope that we can find or create a mutual interest to bond over, while at the same time, feeling the excitement and joy of when we first experienced it as kids. That reliving of our own youth alongside them is essentially nostalgia. Second-hand nostalgia that we pass down to our kids.
I didn’t just make that up. Honest. The concept of second-hand nostalgia is a real thing. Nostalgia scholar and author Dr. Ryan Lizardi writes about it in Nostalgic Generations and Media: Perception of Time and Available Meaning, noting “As older generations of people are encouraged to revisit media and products they loved as children by hyper-nostalgic media companies, through remakes, reimaginings, and re-releases, it leads to a reduction in available meanings for current and subsequent generations who are then all encouraged to attach to the same nostalgia-soaked objects.”
I’ve talked about it a lot, even if at the time I didn’t realize exactly what I was doing. But I’m guilty of it. Totally.
There’s an emotional connection to our past. Sometimes good. Sometimes not so good. And for many of us, those emotions, connected to different parts of our lives, are represented by the media we consumed at the time. When I was a teenager, Friends was the new, big thing on television. When I was in my mid-to-late twenties, How I Met Your Mother was just beginning to tell its tale of friends finding their place in the world through the lookback of a nostalgic narrator talking to us from the future. And as a kid? I had a pretty happy and carefree childhood, and so when I look back on the cartoons of the Disney Afternoon, or the sitcoms of TGIF, I look back with a smile, as it brings about the same happy and carefree feelings that went along with the times I was first watching.
Referring to KI Batcho’s 1998 research on Personal Nostalgia, Sergio Davalos, Altaf Merchant, Gregory M. Rose, Brenton Lessley, and Ankur M. Teredesai note upon the emotional connection to our media in their article The Good Old Days’: An examination of nostalgia in Facebook posts, saying “Batcho (1998) posits that nostalgia prone people have a high capacity for emotion, which increases the likelihood of experiencing both ‘sweet’ and ‘bitter’ emotions. Individuals in the high nostalgia group, moreover, were found to perceive the past as more favorable than those in the low nostalgia group (Batcho 1998).”
But it’s had me thinking a lot about what that means as my kids, or other kids whose parents may be handing-down their own nostalgia, grow up. If my childhood pop culture was dominated by Scrooge McDuck, Batman, Ghostbusters, what will theirs be made up of?
Whereas I look back nostalgically on these things, will they be growing up looking back nostalgically on pop culture that was handed down to them to begin with rather than their own, new experiences and media to attach to?
There is, at least so far, been a cycle to nostalgia, typically 40 years with a 20 year microcycle within it. By that, I mean that the producers of the media we consume are often around that age and the products they make find many of their roots in the time from which they were born or growing up.
In a 2012 The New Yorker article called The Forty-Year Itch, Adam Gopnik notes “Though pop culture is most often performed by the young, the directors and programmers and gatekeepers – the suits who control and create its conditions, who make the calls and choose the players – are, and always have been, largely forty-somethings, and the four-decade interval brings us to a period just before the forty-something was born. Forty years past is the potently fascinating time just as we arrived, when our parents were youthful and in love, the Edenic period preceding the fallen state recorded in our actual memories.”
Sometimes, we get a 20 year microcycle when those same producers of media are creating products that remind them of their teen years/young adulthood. But it keeps the cycle going. It’s why we saw things like Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, American Graffiti, and so much of the 1950s in the 70s (20 year cycle), The Roaring 20’s and Winchester Cathedral in the 60s (40 year cycle), even nostalgia for the turn of the century in films like The Magnificent Ambersons and Take Me Out to the Ballgame by producers of the 1940s.
So, if we’re to look at the 20th century in terms of decade-chunks, each certainly had its moments of originality. It’s why we think of bell bottom jeans, disco, hippies, grunge when we associate with the 70s, 60s, and 90s respectively. But at the same time, living in that decade and producing within that decade were people nostalgic for something that had come before.
Still in the dawn of the 21st century, though, it almost feels like we’re constantly in a state of looking backward. And with the technology that we have at our fingertips it’s never been easier to constantly be re-living the past for whatever we become nostalgic for at any given time. If I want to watch You Can’t Take it With You or Cary Grant in Holiday, I’ll just pop in a DVD. If I want to try and recapture the feeling of laying on the floor of my childhood home, perhaps I get online and find an episode of Count Duckula or Danger Mouse.
Not that remakes are anything new. Heck, The Awful Truth, a 1937 film starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunn was a remake of a 1922 silent film of the same name that was in itself a remake of a theatrical production. But there’s no doubt that we’re living in an era that’s often stuck on the past.
So if many of us (including the producers of media remakes and reboots) are so often looking backward, where does that leave the future? I have to wonder if it’s inevitable that we’re going to hit a point where the decades we look back on were a regurgitation of lookbacks/nostalgia for decades prior to that, versus being their own particular thing.
More importantly, technology has taken away (or at least made it start to fade) the cultural nostalgia we’ve had for the most part up to this point. It’s rare and will get rarer, I think, to have the moments of people clamoring around the series finale of M*A*S*H or spending all summer talking about Who Shot J.R Ewing.
Because when these cultural events happened, choices were much more limited. You went to the movies to see a film. You watched what was on the small number of channels on television. There was no home video market. That didn’t come along until the 1980s (I remember what a thrill it was when my parents, for a birthday party, rented a VCR and Mary Poppins for all us kids in attendance to watch). So many more people shared those media moments together, as a culture.
Today, though, we can hop on Amazon and order a DVD to be here in a matter of days. We can click on Netflix or Hulu, or Amazon Video and with a subscription watch films or TV shows from a back catalog that spans generations. Still not finding your cup of tea? Hop over to YouTube and check out a web series like the new ThirtyNothing and find a new personal favorite.
Our options are almost limitless. We’re no longer bound by just what the major media companies produce as in the past. So what we will become nostalgic for will vary so greatly from the larger, en masse nostalgia of yesteryear.
“Nostalgia used to depend on the denial of access to the subject, on its unreachable presence. Now there is an effective formula to encourage nostalgia,” writes Gil Bartholeyns in The Instant Past: Nostalgia and Digital Retro Photography.
I can’t help but think that technology has made the experiences so individualized now that nostalgia is going to start becoming increasingly less cultural and more individual going forward.
Brian Raferty asked a similar question recently in Wired talking about ‘00s Nostalgia Wave – It Might Be the last Revival, saying “Years from now, when we finally gaze back at the pop highlights of this modern age, will any of us even be looking in the same direction?…My guess is that future waves of nostalgia will focus less on specific pop-cultural explosions and more on the technologies that allowed them to spread. That’s partly because it’s never been easier to tune out the mass culture, making shared moments all the more rare.”
So where does that leave our kids and their childhood of second-generation nostalgia? I don’t know. Even if I were to curb their exposure through my own preferred cartoons, toys, etc, it’s still out there – in remade or rebooted, or sometimes just plain rerun form. What will they look back on when they wax nostalgic about the cartoons and films of their day?
It might be about the technology they watched it on, like how I remember the VHS/Mary Poppins rental above. They could be looking back at what might be considered quaint technology of streaming services where we watched Disney movies from before I was even born.
Or perhaps, for them, they’ll look back on the items they were fond of or associate with their childhood and not care where or when they came from, simply that they existed, and were there for them to enjoy.
I can pontificate forever. But I think, truly, only time will tell.
You would think the media giants were reading this blog (or my mind) with the pop culture news coming out this week, tailor-made for those of us who grew up watching cartoons in the era of John Hughes movies and Balki Bartokomous.
Some time ago, I wrote about my disappointment when childhood favorite Inspector Gadget disappeared off of Netflix‘s streaming service.
Even more recently, I wrote a bit of a public rally for Disney to jump on the wave of nostalgia as my generation becomes parents with kids of their own, to revive such great animated shows as DuckTales or Darkwing Duck.
Well, this week, word came out that Disney IS in fact working on a revival of DuckTales.
“An all-new DuckTales series is coming to Disney XD in 2017! The Emmy Award-winning series from the late ‘80s/early ‘90s is absolutely treasured by our generation, and we are so excited that “every day they’re out there making DuckTales” again,” stated the announcement on Oh My Disney.
“DuckTales has a special place in Disney’s TV animation history, it drew its inspiration from Disney Legend Carl Barks’ comic books and through its storytelling and artistic showmanship, set an enduring standard for animated entertainment that connects with both kids and adults,” said Marc Buhaj, Senior Vice President, Programming and General Manager of Disney XD. “Our new series will bring that same energy and adventurous spirit to a new generation.”
The announcement went on to say that all the familiar faces would be there – Scrooge McDuck, Huey, Dewey, Louie, Launchpad McQuack, Donald Duck, Duckworth, Gyro Gearloose, Flintheart Glomgold, Magica DeSpell, Poe, Ma Beagle, the Beagle Boys, Mrs. Beakley, and Webbigail Vanderquack.
Not sure who is more excited – me or my son, who has taken quite a liking to some classic DuckTales I have at home. Who am I kidding. It’s me who’s more excited. I just hope he’ll watch them with me when 2017 rolls around.
There’s no word yet on the voice cast or format (traditional animation or CGI), but I would be lying if I didn’t say I had a selfish dream that at some point the mucky-mucks at Disney were wise enough to lock Alan Young in a soundbooth for a day to record every phrase and word known to man so it can be plugged into a computer and he can remain the voice of Scrooge McDuck for all time. 🙂 While we’re at it, let’s get June Foray (Magica DeSpell and Ma Beagle) to do the same thing.
Young is 95. Foray is 97. Now would certainly be the time.
Who else but Terence McGovern can voice Launchpad McQuack? I say get McGovern on the horn, pronto! (And maybe get him prepped for a Darkwing Duck revival while we’re at it. 🙂
Hamilton Camp (Fenton Crackshell and Gizmoduck) and Hal Smith (Gyro Gearloose and Flintheart Glomgold), are, sadly, no longer around. Side note – Hal Smith, who also voiced Owl in Winnie the Pooh, and Pooh himself at times, was once a DJ at a radio station in my hometown.
If that morning hadn’t blown up Twitter and Facebook, the additional news in the afternoon that very same day was likely to break the internet, as they say. Netflix announced that Inspector Gadget AND another childhood favorite, Danger Mouse, would be getting revived series via their streaming service.
The new Danger Mouse is slated to appear in Spring 2016 and Inspector Gadget much sooner, in March 2015.
The plot of the new Inspector Gadget show is said to revolve around the villainous Dr. Claw reactivating M.A.D., his global crime syndicate, and Inspector Gadget is tasked with coming out of retirement to stop him.
There is sadly no more Don Adams with us, but I’m hoping that someone did their due diligence and found someone who can like him for this new series. After all, Adams made that character what he is, and you really can’t ‘go in a different direction’ when the entire character’s existence has been formed from that performance.
So, as they say, what’s old is new again. The characters and adventures I grew up loving are back, and I really, really look forward watching them with my own little guy.
Needless to say, I’m excited. Very excited.
The great Inspector Gadget – hi-tech scourge of the underworld, has met his match, apparently. It was not at the hands of M.A.D. Agents like Presto Chango, Greenfinger, or even through the machinations of his arch enemy, Dr. Claw.
No, this time Inspector Gadget was finally done in by the villainous Netflix.
This past year I had relished the chance to relive a very vivid part of my childhood, courtesy of Netflix streaming the complete original series of Inspector Gadget. The complete series is not even available on DVD, yet here it was, readily available for my viewing pleasure at the click of a button.
The moment that simplistic, yet catchy theme song began and the voice of Don Adams hit the air, I was like a kid again, and I could not wait to sit down with my kid and enjoy the adventure.
I was around pre-school age or slightly younger when Gadget was originally on the air, and I remember how much a part of my daily routine he became. My naps were scheduled around him, and if I didn’t take those naps, you know for darn sure I wasn’t allowed to watch Gadget – something that little kid was not going to let happen.
I had the Inspector Gadget toy with extendable limbs, and a helicopter you could place in his hat. I used to run around the neighborhood with other kids, re-enacting the characters we watched on TV that afternoon. I was all over it.
So, imagine my disappointment when I say down with my son yesterday to introduce his open mind and imagination to the wild world of Gadget, Penny and Brain, only to find that Netflix has removed Inspector Gadget from its streaming. A quick search online revealed I was not the only one suddenly caught by surprise, with the series’ page on Netflix flooded with messages from like-minded viewers just wondering “wha’ happen?”
So, I picked up the phone and gave Netflix Customer Service a call. The gentleman I spoke with was great, and mentioned that he had just been watching the original series himself. A quick check and what he surmised is that Netflix’s contract with whomever holds the rights to the show likely expired. He said while that does mean it’s gone for now, it doesn’t mean it’s gone for good, and was nice enough to make a note and log the call as “wanting Inspector Gadget original series” returned to streaming, for what it’s worth.
Hey, cartoons are not what they used to be, so somebody’s got to make sure this next generation gets exposed to the “classics” of animation and preserve these animation greats. 🙂
And, just as Gadget says, “I’m always on duty.”