Nostalgia is a funny thing

Time can do funny things to memories.  Think back to some of your favorite cartoons and shows from when you were a kid.  You remember them as being pretty good, I would imagine.  Especially if you haven’t watched them recently, but odds are, they’re not nearly as good as you remember them.

Now calm down, there are some shows that have held up over time.  Batman The Animated Series comes to mind.  That is something I can watch now, and enjoy it as much as I did when it first aired.  I’m not talking about shows like that.  I’m talking about stuff like He-man, Transformers, and Voltron, to name a few.

Seriously, have you tried watching those shows recently?  I have, and it was brutal.  Several years ago, I saw that Voltron was being released on DVD, and “awesome, I love Voltron.”  My purchasing stopped at volume 1.  It was brutal.  It wasn’t at all like I remember it being.  It’s not that show had changed, it was that I had changed.  I was 20 years older.  I could no longer be entertained by the simple thought of a giant robot fighting giant monsters. 

The same thing happened with Transformers.  Netflix has Gen 1 streaming, and I tried watching some episodes.  It was rough.  You notice how poor the animation is, you notice how terrible the writing is.  The best part about it is making fun of how bad it truly is.  Years ago, my parents got me a “best” of He-man DVD that I still haven’t watched because I prefer my memories to the reality of the show. 

Nostalgia also makes discussing and debating long-running programming difficult.  Think about Saturday Night Live.  Regardless of who you talk to, odds are the phrase “it’s not as good as it used to be” is going to come up in the conversation.  If you’re in my parents’ generation, they’re thinking about the original cast.  With myself, I think about the mid-90s cast. 

The same thing goes for pro wrestling.  Myself, I’ve been watching since the mid-80s.  I was a Hulkamaniac.  Young me lived and died with every thing that happened to Hulk Hogan.  When Ultimate Warrior beat him at WrestleMania 6, I was pissed.  After Earthquake broke Hogan’s ribs, and Hogan said “hell no I’m not retiring,” I was talking about it for days.  I remember those days quite fondly.  For others, they didn’t start watching until the mid to late 90s with the Attitude era.  So, everything gets compared to their memories of that time.

It’s all a matter of when you were introduced it.  That’s the group that you first fall in love with.  That’s the group that did no wrong in your memory.  But here’s the catch.  They were far from perfect.  Nostalgia has a way washing away all of the crap so that you remember the best that generation had to offer.  You remember individual skits or moments, and your opinion is shaped by them.  It’s ignored that there were hours and hours of programming they had to fill that wasn’t great.  Sometimes just downright terrible. 

But nostalgia has another interesting effect, which is actually what inspired me to write this article, and makes it halfway relevant to this blog.  Nostalgia has the ability to create double standards in how we judge things. 

While on call for work, I found some episodes of the ’60s Batman show on IFC.  And yes, we all know and love the show.  I’m enjoying the episodes I’ve been watching now (Green Hornet crossover, King Tut, Black Widow).  But while watching them, I realized something.  There are really stupid things in this show that I don’t think twice about.  However, if this same thing was in another show, a different Batman incarnation, I would criticize it.

Here’s what stuck out to me.  There was an episode in which someone left a message in alphabet soup by removing certain letters.  To take this back to the Batcave, Batman pulls out the Bat-alphabet soup container.  This was a container, and a funnel to help pour the alphabet soup into it.  It is completely ridiculous that Batman had this container and funnel on him.  Where the hell was he carrying these things?  Does the utility belt have the same magically powers as whatever the hell Link uses to store all of his gadgets?  Regardless of those questions, I was okay with it.  I was used to it.

And that made me think of the movie Batman & Robin.  A while back, I wrote an entry as I was watching the movie.  There’s an early scene where they first encounter Mr. Freeze, and conveniently have ice skates in their boots, even though they’ve never had a reason to have ice skates before.  In that article, I was pretty critical of the absurdity of it all.

But really, what’s the difference between the two instances?  Both are pretty absurd, and require a pretty high suspension of disbelief.  Both are going for a pretty high level of campiness.  But we think highly of the Adam West Batman, while ridiculing Batman & Robin.  Why is that?

Nostalgia is the easiest answer.  Most of us grew up watching it, in syndication for us younger people.  We grew up accepting it as a classic, so we continue to view it as a classic.  But why did it become a “classic?”  At the time, Batman was not represented outside of the comic books, so there was no other pre-conceived notions of what Batman should be.  There were a couple serials made around World War 2, and these were seen as being pretty campy.  (Side note, I read somewhere that viewings of these serials in the ’60s may have led to the creation of the show.)  When Batman & Robin came out, Batman was not campy.  For years prior, we had seen, and enjoyed a non-campy version of Batman.  So, when Batman & Robin came out, we weren’t interested in seeing a campy version of the character, so the flaws in that version were more pronounced than they are when we watch the tv show.

Well, I think it’s time to wrap up my ramblings.  So yeah, nostalgia can be a fun thing.  Do you have any examples of re-vising childhood enjoyments only to be disappointed?  Are you aware of any instances where you judge things differently because of nostalgia?


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