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.
I’m not really a video game guy.
Sure, I played some Nintendo when I was in elementary school, but it was always at a friend’s house. I didn’t own one myself until I was a pre-teen and had earned enough delivering the weekly Pennysaver once a week for the tidy sum of $8 a week to buy one myself. And at that point most people had moved on to Super Nintendo.
But I’ll say that one of the games that was a childhood favorite for me at many a friend’s and was the first that I went out to buy when I had my own NES system was Disney’s DuckTales.
And I am all about the nostalgia of my youth, especially when it comes to DuckTales. Any quotes and notations you find hereon in come from the book Mediated Nostalgia by Ryan Lizardi. Check it out if you want to take a look at what drives you or folks like me to cherish things from our past like Disney ducks so much.
The graphics in retrospect were not the best. You knew who the characters were, but compared to their animated counterparts, seen daily on the Disney afternoon cartoon block, it was the limits of 8 bit gaming graphics in 1989. The storyline didn’t explain much other than that Scrooge had to travel the world, collect treasure, and win. That was it, really. Why these places, why these enemies? The purpose? It was a bit thin, but it was okay. Because the gameplay, its music, and its sheer relationship to a favorite hit cartoon series was fantastic enough to get one hooked that it became one of the most fun games on the system and a part of many collective memories of both cartoons and gaming in the late 80s/early 90s.
For years I remember the mere mention of classic Nintendo with folks often led to one of the conversations – Mario and DuckTales.
My original DuckTales game went, along with any other NES games I had, when I sold my NES system shortly after I got married and we moved into our house. There just wasn’t room for a lot of things, and many of the things that had been sitting in boxes for a lengthy period of time hit the bricks via ebay. NES was one of them. That lack of access certainly added to my desire to play again.
So it’s no wonder that when I got a smartphone with enough memory to do so last year, the only game I ever spent money on was a revisit of that now classic game under the title DuckTales Remastered.
“The economic concern derives from a desire on the part of a film remake producer to construct a maximum audience base consisting of those who are already familiar with the original text and those that are not.” (Lizardi 2015, 118)
Released in 2013, just a bit shy of 25 years since the original game’s release, this is a nostalgic fan’s dream. Because it’s evident from the get-go that, while anyone could play it, this is truly aimed at fans who grew up with the original and now as adults have the chance to revisit not just the game, but a fully improved-upon visual game that taps into your longing for the characters, situations, shows associated with it by adding even more characters, layers, and story to it.
“Considering the specific time period from which many remakes derive their source material, constructing those whose childhoods occurred in the 1970s and 1980s as perpetual nostalgics means economically targeting consumers who are currently somewhere between twenty and forty years old.” (Lizardi 2015, 124)
The gameplay, levels, music, and worlds are virtually the same as it was in 1989 with the exception of enhanced, better looking 3 dimensional backgrounds and two-dimensional characters that are almost identical to their onscreen counterparts in the original animated series.
If that weren’t enough to make me feel nine years old again, the game developers gathered together all of the surviving cast members of the animated series to provide the voices of their characters in the game, which is quite the feat in itself. Alan Young, who voiced Scrooge McDuck was around 93 at the time he provided vocals for the game and he still wasn’t the senior cast member on deck. That goes to June Foray, voicing villainous sorceress Magica DeSpell just as she did in the cartoon series, and doing so at the age of 95. For characters whose voice actor had since passed on, the developers of the game were keen enough to hire very good vocal impersonators who were able to emulate the original voices from the cartoon series.
The voice cast was utilized not just to provide vocals as characters moved through gameplay, grunting if they got hurt or exclaiming as they located treasure. One of the greatest additions to the Remastered version of the game were full animated sequences featuring the characters to provide backstory, segue, and make sense of what otherwise made none for the show’s continuity back in the day of the original game. (How can Scrooge breathe in space? What the heck is GizmoDuck doing on the moon in the first place?)
“These re-imaginings prove time and time again that they are not only aimed at establishing a new audience base for rebooted properties, but are speaking primarily to the already established nostalgic base.” (Lizardi 2015, 130)
With a new DuckTales cartoon series headed to Disney this summer with an updated look, story, and voice cast, I’m sure there’s bound to be another, brand new game of some sort coming. And if it has as much care as has been put into this, it’ll be great.
But, for me, I just want that feeling of being nine years old again at a sleepover at a friend’s house hopping Scrooge through the Amazon, across the Moon, and finding treasure wherever it lay, reliving the adventure not just of a game, but of childhood. Isn’t that what nostalgia’s all about?
It is, and the game developers counted on it.
The other night, I was standing in our dining room, leaning up against a piece of furniture, chiming into conversation but primarily scrolling through my phone, looking at the latest news going on in the outside world (no lack of those lately), what friends were up to, and checking in to see if any emails I had been waiting for popped up.
The family was going about various evening norms – unpacking the array of bags that seem like we’re boarding an airplane but really just make up our collective day, sorting through the mail, looking at what’s in the fridge and at recipes for dinner possibilities. A one year old little girl wandering about with that cute little waddle, babbling away with sounds that we think we understand but can never be sure, and a 4 year old little boy bouncing around the house with more energy than any of us could hope to muster at any given point of day, let alone the exhausting post work, kid-pick-up, drive home, kid unload, baggage unload, figure out dinner part of the day.
I was there, completely exhausted and mindlessly moving my hand across the screen, when that little voice chimed in “Wanna play with me daddy?”
And, tiredly, I looked at him, smiled…and gave him some reason of how I really wasn’t up for playing and was really very tired. He walked away, a little bummed, and sat down to see what was on PBS Kids as I continued moving my finger across the phone, taking in all of the outside world in its digitally relayed form, and completely ignoring the physical one right in front of me.
Meg leaned nearby, and quietly said “He’s not going to be asking for much longer.”
I stopped for a moment, looking up from my phone and over at that little boy watching television. How big he’s gotten already. How fast he’s growing. How quickly he’s changing. From the little baby I held in my arms in the hospital to the little toddler who learned to walk to talk, to count, the alphabet, using the potty, spelling his name. It all happened in the span of four years now, but it seems like it went by in the blink of an eye. A cliche? Sure. But the reason they have cliches is because they’re true for so many.
In the blink of an eye all that time was gone. He’ll never be discovering those same things again. New things, sure. But never those firsts we’ve already crossed over. He’s already in Pre-k, making friends, telling us about his days in the car and over dinner. Heck, we have kindergarten registration next week. Before I know it, he’ll be there, every day, all day in school.
In that same blink of an eye, we’ll be through grade school, dealing with the junior high years, high school, whatever comes beyond. It will happen so quickly and I will wish, beg, pray for the chance to play with my little boy again. And I won’t have it. That time will have passed.
I couldn’t escape the sounds of Cat’s in the Cradle playing through my head as I looked at him in that moment.
All of this swirled through my mind in a matter of seconds after Meg spoke the words. How right she was.
I closed the phone, walked over to him and sat down next to him, asking about what he was watching, then asking if he still wanted to play. He wanted to play something different, but it was still something.