I was recently involved in a brief Twitter conversation on the topic of things that you used to like, but now you can’t believe how shit they are. My contribution was Empire Records* – a film that’s not without its merits, but I was surprised at how much I hated all the main characters when I re-watched it recently – Liv Tyler’s an idiot, Renee Zellweger and Robin Tunney are annoying and Ethan Embry’s character who, at the time, was probably meant to embody the sort of slacker/stoner stereotype of the day, now seems to be genuinely mentally damaged – watch him gurn and struggle to remember his own name in this clip:
Christ, this is close to embarrassing
I’ve found similar things happen with music, usually when a more recent album makes you go back and re-evaluate the earlier ones you fell in love with. As a child (well, teenager) of the 90s I remember thinking “wow, this new Counting Crows album is really whiny – not like August and Everything After. Think I’ll listen to it now. Oh.” Turns out that, next to the backdrop of the inherent whinyness of my late-teens/early-twenties, that album just blended in – the added perspective of an extra decade doesn’t do it any favours. Similarly, because I was alive in the 90s and owned ears, “Stay” by Lisa Loeb was a big favourite. It still is, but again, I can remember listening to her later work and thinking “Christ, this is close to embarrassing – these lyrics sound like something a fourteen-year-old girl would write in her diary, dotting the i’s with little hearts and smiley faces. Think I’ll listen to all of Tails. Oh.”
And, tying in with the “shit I watch because my kids watch it” theme of previous posts, the boy has developed a taste for the original 80s Transformers cartoon movie, which I first watched on VCR at the age of ten. I don’t know if I ever thought it was that great, and I wouldn’t say that I actually hate it now, but it sure does look different through an adult’s pair of eyes. Quite aside from the cynical observation that it is easily the most blatant bit of toy marketing in a franchise that is entirely about toy marketing – beloved characters are slaughtered in the first act so that a new line of toys can be front and centre – I was surprised to find how dated it appears. This movie is the 1980s, crystallised into a tangible artifact – the visuals, the bombast, the hair-metal-heavy soundtrack (which also features Weird Al Yankovic because of reasons). And it was also Orson Welles’ last performance – I don’t even know where to go with that.
I guess all this is the flipside of the kind of nostalgia that I talked about here – that was about liking stuff that is otherwise objectively shit because of the fond memories they engender; this is having fond memories of stuff because I used to like it (stuff that turns out to be objectively shit). There’s bound to be some sort of ratio of actual quality vs. fondness of memories that determines whether a thing transcends its inherent shitness to become something you love in spite of itself, or ends up as a source of internal cringing and self-repudiation. These concepts are probably too nebulous to come up with any sort of exact measures, but I do feel compelled to start experimenting on the boys now to see if I can artificially mould their future nostalgia – make them watch and listen to stuff I know to be crap, but let them do all their favourite things afterwards, in the hope of building lasting positive memories to associate with them:
“OK, let’s watch the The Phantom Menace and eat all your favourite lollies! After that, we’ll listen to this entire Creed album then go to the water park!”
Childhood’s loss will be Science’s gain – I’ll let you know how it turns out in twenty years or so.
*The works of Kevin Smith came up as well. If I’m honest with myself, I haven’t really enjoyed one of his films since Mallrats.