Date: Mon, 13 Jul 1998 00:33:15 -0400
From: Kafka Dreams 
To: void
Subject: thanks for the memories

Nostalgia ain't what it used to be.

Lost In Space: The Movie has been and gone. While it was around, those of us in touch with the media saw the commercials, walked past the billboards, perhaps read an interview article or two. When it finally came out, I actually managed to go and see it. It was panned, but I enjoyed it, though it evoked few of the memories of the original.

But before I actually went to the movie, while there it was still a coming attraction, I was reminded of something my Mom told me - that I used to watch the original series from behind my father's chair. I only remember bits - fragments of scenes - nothing concrete, nothing about the chair. But I'm not surprised (by the chair part). I was a timid kid.

One morning a while ago, someone was sleeping near where I usually shower so I didn't play the cd I brought in with me (I didn't want the music to disturb him). But I'm a singin'-in-the-shower kinda gal, so I was humming and tunelessly noodling to whatever wandered through my skull. And because I'm also a Security Lady, I was thinking about the net and the government and the new laws being made and I found my brain singing "I'm just a bill, yes I'm only a bill" and my lips followed... we segued into "Conjunction Junction, what's your function?" cuz I was remembering Bob Dorough's voice with great fondness.

And then I remembered the fifteen-second intro song:

As your body grows bigger
Your mind will flower
It's great to learn
'Cause knowledge is power!

It's Schoolhouse Rocky
That chip off the block
of your favorite schoolhouse
Schoolhouse Rock!

...and suddenly a particular feeling slid through me, originating somewhere in my heart and fluttering up to my brain. I suppose it was more of an echo, a remembrance of a rare and goofily wonderful feeling that I had as a kid watching cartoons on Saturday morning.

Those of you who've seen me in morningtime may not believe it, but I used to get up for cartoons when I was a kid. I have very distant memories of getting up around 6 or 7am and being very bored because there was nothing on but the Patchwork Family (or Davy & Goliath, as Cecilia reminded me) and they sucked. On Saturdays later in life I was rarely up before 8am... then 9am... then 10am... these days it's more like 2pm. But I'm not talking about now. I'm talking about the 1970's.

So I'd get up maybe start off with a particular cartoon I really liked...

Scooby-Dooby-Doo, Where Are You?
We got some work to do now
Scooby-Dooby-Doo, Where Are You?
We need some help from you now

It's no wonder X-Files appeals to me. The flying saucer episode had this REALLY creepy music - that episode scared me the most as a kid.

AFTER these messAGES
We'll be riiiiight back!

During a commercial I'd get a bowl of cereal (I seem to remember Honeycombs being popular with me back then) and then scoot back in to watch more.

At the end of the episode we'd get a Schoolhouse Rock tune (if I was on the right channel). Sometimes it was one I'd seen so often that I'd memorized most of the images as well as the song ("A Noun is a person, place or thing... Or an idea!" - cue rainbow & blinking lights). Sometimes it was one they didn't show as often or that I didn't remember as clearly ("Electricity, e-lec-TRI-ci-ty").

Then the tough part - THE NEXT CARTOON! What to watch? If I was lucky, the TV Guide part of the newspaper would be sitting near my father's chair and I could plan my morning accordingly, waiting to make the toughest choices until the last moment.

If I was unlucky, I had to channel surf, turning the knob between CBS (across channel 3, which was dead) NBC (across channel 5 which was dead or local stuff) and ABC, unwilling to miss a moment but unsure what was next. A week's worth of school would drive the cartoon schedule out of my head.

      "Wonder Twin powers! Activate!"

      "FORM OF..."

      (A bucket of water)

      "...A BUCKET OF WATER!"

       "FORM OF..."

      (An eagle to carry the bucket of water)

      "...AN EAGLE!"


(And when was Wonder Woman gonna acknowledge her attraction for the handsome blond Aquaman? Remembering this, I find myself enlightened about the origin of some of my attraction "types". And while pondering that, I am reminded that over the past year I've figured out that my "perfect type" has elements of Adam Cartwright (played by Pernell Roberts) from Bonanza and Hawkeye from MASH and Robin from the goofy 60's Batman series, among others.)

Cartoons usually ended at 11am or noon, depending upon the channel. While one station would finish off with boring cartoons, another might show an episode of The Black Sheep Squadron (originally Baa Baa Black Sheep... a *sigh* for Robert Ginty) or MASH or one of several science fiction series. All very cool.

But the best, the crown jewel, was ABC's movie pick. Generally way more fun than the other channel's offerings (although they'd sometimes have a "movie cartoon" - interpreting a classic or something - that would have coolness potential and won out over the occasional war documentary or sports EXTRAVAGANZA).

But usually, I caught ABC's movie. On the rare perfect Saturday run, I'd get to see a Danny Kaye flick like Wonder Man or The Court Jester

  Hawkins: I've got it! I've got it! The pellet with the poison's in
           the vessel with the pestle; the chalice from the palace has
           the brew that is true! Right?
  Griselda: Right. But there's been a change: they broke the chalice
            from the palace!
  Hawkins: They *broke* the chalice from the palace?
  Griselda: And replaced it with a flagon.
  Hawkins: A flagon...?
  Griselda: With the figure of a dragon.
  Hawkins: Flagon with a dragon.
  Griselda: Right.
  Hawkins: But did you put the pellet with the poison in the vessel
           with the pestle?
  Griselda: No!!! The pellet with the poison's in the flagon with the
            dragon! The vessel with the pestle has the brew that is
  Hawkins: The pellet with the poison's in the flagon with the dragon;
           the vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true.
  Griselda: Just remember that.

Or The Bowery Boys Meet The Monster with grumpy Slip Mahoney & goofy Satch. (Y'know, there were 30 or 40 Bowery Boys movies... why did they always show the same 3 or 4?)

Or The Diry Dozen. Or a Jimmy Stewart western. Or The Prince And The Pauper (or some variation thereon - new version, modernized version, or cartoon). Or some kick-butt big-production musical (big for forty or fifty or sixty years ago now that is) - with Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly if fate was smiling upon me. Or a Cary Grant screwball romantic comedy like Bringing Up Baby (well, actually, anything directed by Howard Hawks) or Charade. Stories like Sinbad, Alladin, Ali Baba - anything vaguely 1001-Nights-like in garish 1950 & '60 colors. Or any of the Burt Lancaster & Nick Cravat movies: The Crimson Pirate & The Flame and the Arrow being my favorites.

Then, inevitably, programming would dissolve into a jibbering mass of crud and sports and I would lose interest and go outside or get a book and read for the rest of the day. Or even convince Mom to go to the library (wasn't difficult) and just spend hours in the stacks, picking and choosing the right book, finding the sequel or the prequel or the next mystery chronologically written or the latest author to try.

Oh I'd hold on for a little while of course, checking the PBS broadcasting on Channel 13 or local stuff on Channels 5 & 9. Usually no luck. And often the woods around the house were in definite need of exploration.

A little while after I hit double digits (early 80's) we got cable. Mom hated (and still, to some extent, hates) cable. My brother and I loved it. We memorized the words to Stripes, The Beast Master, Strange Brew, Scavenger Hunt and countless others by seeing them every other day for months at a time. I got used to seeing half a movie then catching the beginning at some point in the future. After cartoons were over, we had even MORE choices for what to watch - HBO or Showtime!

The downside of course was that, by this point, my brother was beginning to develop opinions of his own about what he wanted to watch, so we bickered a lot.

But (skipping way the hell back up near the top) I was actually talking about a feeling that all of this evoked, primarily before puberty and cable but still lingering a little while after. And that feeling was a weird combination of lots of different things, but three elements in particular that I can kinda quantify:

Potential - All the things that could happen on a Saturday, the whole weekend stretching ahead, and (to a less conscious extent) all the things that could happen in life were still distant and mysterious. Plus, the ideas that the cartoons and movies evoked set my imagination off to come up with stories of my own.

Magic - Impossiblity was an idea but it hadn't fully sunk in yet. This is like the inspiration of potential but with a more specific topic - the fantastic. We might still figure out how to talk to dolphins or make regular trips to space or discover telepathy or have to deal with an alien invasion. (I literally remember a feeling of vast disappointment - sometime well past puberty - when I realized that, in all likelihood, aliens would never invade & force us underground where we would have to get into shape and learn to fight and be challenged to survive.) Magic was on tv but no where in my life.

Escape - I'm painting a blissful picture here, but Saturdays were such a refuge because the rest of life was fairly lonely and rotten. And, as I got older, it was a rare Saturday that I escaped the aggravation and irritation of my younger brother.

In my more miserable moments I wished I was an adult. I think that I figured I would then know what was going on and what to do about it. I thought being a grown-up would make it all easier - that I would turn into someone who was strong and brave and true and I wouldn't have to be scared or bullied anymore. And I'd be able to reach high shelves and see over more things.

Pretty much the only thing that's really worked out is that I can reach high shelves and see over more things.

But I don't really miss my childhood. I think I can remember it more comfortably now because, although it was very painful then, sustaining those extreme feelings is not really feasible over such long periods of time. (I know people do it, I'm just not one of them). And I can remember Saturdays with some happiness because they were fun.

So now we have thousands of channels and kids don't know why they call the remote a "clicker" because they never had to use one of those push-button cable boxes (Dad got ours with a LONG cable so it could go anywhere in the room).

We (me and my peers, and even the next generation) have enough disposable income that getting an album (in whatever medium you chose), or a whole pile of music, isn't such a big deal. No more listening to the one new record/cd until it was practically committed to memory and it was time (because you'd saved up or gotten paid) to carefully choose the next one. We can buy hundreds of books that we'll never have time to read rather than make the mighty difficult choice of which ONE "new release" we were allowed to take from the library.

I guess this is going to qualify me for geezer shoes but I think instant gratification leaves something to be desired. It's not like I'd wish poverty or having to save up for anything and everything that you want ON anyone. But, as a culture, I think we're starting to miss out on anticipation and appreciation. And I think it's part of what skews the sympathy and understanding of those who have less.

But these are not things we can go back to - you can't make anticipation happen (although you can help teach appreciation if you know how). So people opt for nostalgia instead. Either turning the originals into a cult - there are dozens of web pages devoted to Scooby Doo - or re-doing them in our own image, ala The Addams Family and Lost in Space.

An interesting choice, to revisit and re-interpret the visuals and stories we grew up watching and reading. Not new by any means - people have been re-working Shakespeare for centuries now, and other classics for much longer. In this century, Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell both asked their readers to consider these themes in the context of our psychological history, possibly as a species rather than any one civilization.

And the cycle doesn't hold only to classics. I suspect that one of the reasons that I and my peers revile toy clowns and ventriloquist dummies is that they were toys (signs of innocence) for the generations ahead of us. So, when they got old enough, they did what any good horror-film-makers would do and turned those things into their own dark shadows. But they did it before we were born, so few of us grew up with the positivie images - only the negative ones.

But now we have a much MUCH larger base of material from which to choose. With so many choices, we get meta-perspectives like the latest cover of "Come On Eileen" by the band Save Ferris. The Dexy's Midnight Runners' original was a nostalgic recollection by its lyricist of childhood memories from the 50's. Save Ferris' is a cover of a favorite pop tune from the 70's.

And the revamping of the Beetle (with "Reverse Engineer[ing] from UFOs" to tie it into the 90's) is appealing to the nostalgia craving directly, telling us that even though we missed out on the 60's, we can still get there in this little car.

Some days I can feel my brain stretching - like when I was a kid with a palette widener and a little wheel to crank. I could feel the plates in my skull shifting, just a tiny painful bit each day. It's a subtle sense of pressure and expansion, of growth in unfamiliar ways. How will the information and entertainment glut change us?

I believe that humans do things in cycles, but I wonder if any cycle has handled so much expansion before. Every generation wants to believe itself unique and I am no exception when it comes to the present we occupy. But sometimes I think historians will look back and just lump the 1500s through 2000 together as a general time of constant change in tiny increments, barely noticeable from within.

Then I wonder, in the nearer term, what kids being born today will be nostalgic for in 2028 - three-D-eo games? Or free oxygen?

Kelly J. Cooper
13 July 1998