If there is a reason I don’t finish the-Great-American-Novel it is because I live in a world where I can track down lost sit-coms from my childhood. The kind like this episode of Square Pegs, wherein Bill Murray plays a substitute teacher who tells his student, “OK chocolate lady, do your thing to me.”
This whole Square Pegs thing came up because my sweetie had a childhood crush on Jami Gertz, who plays a supporting role as the prissy gossip (yeah, I’m his type). I’m all, “oh, yeah, I do remember a show where Sarah Jessica Parker plays a nerd.” How could I resist looking that up?
The acting is terrible (except Bill Murray here, but he’s a guest) but the writing is good enough to pull you through. The music is terrific and terrifically eighties. But the true joy is the sheer nostalgia.
The clothing alone is a nostalgia trip. You can’t believe how awful their outfits are. Women in the eighties always seem to wear clothing that’s too big for them. These people have professional costume designers and they all stand around wearing brightly colored sacks and grandpa’s vests. The eighties have already come back in fashion and I still think Molly Ringwald’s character butchered that dress in Pretty and Pink.
But don’t let me digress. Or let me, and let me be grand about it: one of the greatest joys of hitting the big 3-0 is the constant influx of nostalgia (see video above) and the joy of sharing it with the next generation.
There is a greater influx because the people with creative vision and the means to express it are the same age as me. They had the same favorite childhood TV shows, clap songs, MTV videos, arcade games, etc. They will create forums in their honor and upload them onto YouTube and decide, as current network employees, to release them on DVD. Of course, the internet increases the ubiquity of damn near everything, but it’s more than that. Thirty-somethings are the DJs choosing obscure samples, the artists popping up in galleries, the scriptwriters getting gigs, the novelists getting signed. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen to younger folks but for most people success takes time. Thus it now seems possible to see a cultural reference to Nintendo, or even Super Mario, on a weekly basis. Some day when I’m old it’ll be Dora the Explorer. But it’s not their time yet.
That’s only the first joy. The truly gratifying thing is watching the younger generation discover it for the first time. Because all over the place are teenagers just figuring out that the electro bands they love (stock full of thirty-somethings, remember) are just recreating the new wave the latter grew up listening to. They are hearing that new wave for the first time. They embrace the fashion of bold colors and jagged edges I vowed to never wear again, so that I finally get to say, “I just don’t get what the kids these days are wearing.” I’ve lived long enough to watch the trends come full circle, to see the ebb and flow of the generation gap, to watch them pick up the things I picked up, tossed aside, and now turn to like scraps in album. But for them it is fresh and exciting.
Try as I might, it is impossible to explain until you are old enough to experience it. My mother rolled her eyes when I quoted witticisms she’d heard heard from the actors, singers, and poets of her youth. “Wait til you’re my age,” she said. But I could never have predicted how vast the nostalgia would be, and how it would strike most with the ephemera of life. It’s not the big personal moments, the mythical football wins or first kisses. It’s in the things we all shared, even commonly loathed. I couldn’t have predicted that the crappy graphics on Atari screens would create an artistic trend in favor of all things pixelated. Moreover, I never would have expected to get sucked onto the pixel bandwagon myself. Because at the time we knew the graphics were crap and we didn’t look back when they got better. It wasn’t time yet for looking back.
I think of the old-fashioned radios (take old-fashioned to imagine whatever you please) that filled me with mystique and whimsy. Or the Golden Oldies I listened to as a child, spinning in circles and fantasizing about poodle skirts and bobbie socks. That wasn’t nostalgia. I It was a fantasy entirely divorced from what the 1950s actually were. But imagine what it must have been like for my grandmother to watch my fifties-obsession flower.
And the cycle continues. I get to watch this happen for the rest of my life. I get to really appreciate how it was for all the generations before me.My mother was terrifically excited when bell-bottoms came back in style. Naturally this nadir of my mother’s generation disgusted me but it wasn’t long after Dazed and Confused came out that I had a pair of my own. When I saw hot pink baggie shirts and other varied fashion atrocities of my youth were returning I bought as many pairs of tights as I could get my hands on because I have been waiting my whole life for legwarmers to come back in style. Yes, tweens, I will be your gauntlet and legwarmer role-model (a coworker called me Like-A-Prayer-Madonna the other day and I took it as a compliment). This process of nostalgia passing to fresh young minds is how culture is built. It’s why I love bands like Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head (They are the eighties. They were never the eighties. They are a parody of the eighties, built out of respect and reverence for something they can never understand because, well, they’re just a little too young).
In the apparently immortal words Johnny Slash says in this return-from-the-vault tv show (yes, I’m back to Square Pegs), “Marriage lasts forever, like reruns.” He’s talking about the arranged marraiges that are the subject of this episode but it’s the last part that has a haunting quality. The reruns last forever. So long that the show is forgotten and rediscovered anew, like the abandoned Gods of Borges’s “The Circular Ruins.” “The reruns last forever,” he says, the line pulling me back to the present, reminding me just how old this video is, just how old I am, and how much there is to be nostalgic about. So many episodes of the Smurfs and Reading Rainbow and painter Bob’s “happy trees.” Square Pegs: Did I watch it and forget it? Or is my sweetheart, two years my senior, offering me a generational gift? How many other TV shows have I forgotten? Our lives are lush with details. There’s beauty in the diversity of our memories and attachments, even if it is the diversity of the mundane. The diversity of even such things as sit-coms. Reruns really do last forever, or at least long enough for me to say to the kid on the show, “Kid, you don’t know forever. You don’t even know nostalgia. I’m old enough to have forgotten nostalgia.” Heck, the actor could say it to his own rerunning image if he hadn’t been lost to the AIDs epidemic: I’m old enough to have forgotten more parties than you’ve ever been to, Johnny Slash.
Now I say to my reflection: go find a young whippersnapper, buy them a pair of jellies (young toes won’t notice their discomfort). Play them Blondie and the Clash. And by all means watch this video. But don’t forget to write The-Great-American-Novel. There’s too much nostalgia to keep to yourself.