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Sunday, 28 October 2018

The Good Old Days

The Goonies was a formative movie of my childhood.

I mean, why wouldn't it be? Adventure! Mystery! Kids having fun! A fat kid that still gets to join in despite everyone treating him like shit! (Okay it hasn't necessarily aged well.) It's my Sean Astin movie - Lord Of The Rings just borrowed him.

What it leaves, though - the thing it left with me, that it has always left with me, ever since I first saw it - was this sense of nostalgia that it immediately provoked in me. A yearning for specific elements of a childhood that also included a bunch of really shitty elements - to just be running through the woods, chatting nonsense with people I know and trust, or going off and doing whatever for a whole day and having nothing to care about in the intervening hours.

What movies like The Goonies and its peers really do is sell us a childhood we really wish we had, by framing itself in terms and tropes that we actually experienced.

That's not a criticism. It's the nature of fantasy/adventure films of a certain age aimed at kids. Because they were shot when we were kids, they were made back then, so everything is redolent of the era. Using bikes to get everywhere and needing to come up with creative ways to stay in touch because, hey, we didn't have mobile phones.

It calls back to the time when that was the concern. When the biggest worry of any kind was managing to get the crew together to do some stupid stuff, like ride around on bikes for hours arguing about if Tommy from Power Rangers was rubbish or brilliant.

It was before we went through the awkward phases of partial knowledge of world events, where we sought for simple answers as to why things were hard for certain people but not for others. Before we started realising how things really work.

Wanting to be back in that space, wanting to be in a position wherein the primary concerns are small ones, is hardly a sin. It says more about the world as it stands right now than it does about us as people and what we want out of life. That there are so many things today - anxiety-inducing things which are made difficult for no reason other than to change them would be just slightly more difficult and would disadvantage those more important than us - which we accept as just being normal, and never seem to question.

"That's just the way it is," is the answer you get given. Which is dangerously close to "That's just the way it has always been," which echoes the warning from the (fictional) five monkeys experiment. I'm sure you know of that one: five monkeys in a cage with a ladder leading up to food, and whenever one monkey goes up the ladder all the rest got soaked in cold water, so they start beating up any monkey that goes for the ladder. Then when they substitute out one of the monkeys for a new one, the new one immediately goes for the ladder, and gets beaten up for it, and without even knowing the original reason why, is encouraged to not go up the ladder by societal pressure.

(As an aside, the actual experiment is kind of more interesting. Monkeys, when manipulating an object that had previously appealed to them, were punished with several blasts of pressurised air - enough to alarm but not harm. After a while they stopped manipulating the object when by themselves, but upon mixing with other monkeys who did manipulate the object, they themselves did it too. Thus, the actual experiment proves the complete opposite of what the ladder bullshit tries to tell us: that we can be encouraged by others in positive ways rather than just negative.)

I don't think it is a contentious statement to say that there is a lot of nostalgia media around right now. Old video games becoming fashionable again, the iconography of an entire decade becoming people's standard aesthetic, neon and grid lines and synthwave and fake VHS lines. Stranger Things and stuff like it. Awesome musical acts like Robots With Rayguns literally evoking the era with their imagery, their samples and their songwriting. Tim Capello - the sexy sax man from Lost Boys, Tina Turner's tour saxophonist, the man that taught me I was bisexual - has an album out, and is recording synthwave music with other bands. This guy.

The people who grew up with The Goonies are now the people consuming most of the media - and the people making a lot of it, too. There's still a lot of influence from the older folks, because hey, there's money in the industry and they want it. The nostalgia train is loaded with cash. We just hanker for that time - that time back when things were simpler, and not necessarily for good reasons. Like, things still sucked back then for a lot of people - living standards by several metrics were objectively worse.

On a personal scale - that is where things were better. Less existential dread. Less worry. Less fear of the future. Life wasn't better because the world was better, life was better because we were kids and we didn't know any better.

We must take care to pay attention to that - and it is perhaps something we might mention to those who talk about the past as a mythical better place. Like everything back in the seventies, sixties, fifties, forties, thirties, was better than things are today.

Our childhood wasn't better because it was the past. It was better because we were children.

Be kind to yourself. Life is hard enough.

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