02 June 2010

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here

In the usual reflective mood, I will be unusually reflective and open here.
First, when people complain about the 90s or now being a weird or terrible time, I remember being a child in the 80s. Aside from a few decent movies, I'm not sure what the hell was so great about that decade. The music was, well it was mostly terrible. Marketed to video performances rather than actual musical innovations. Hip-hop or the rap scene was not yet a mainstream thing, so you had Michael Jackson and Madonna and their various clones making these really expensive music videos and complicated dance steps. And then everybody was using a damn sound machine anyway instead of playing instruments. Books, well, my usual disdain for modern books, especially fiction tends to mean I couldn't tell you what I missed there anyway. I'm assuming not much. Then you had the Cold War, Tank Man, the Olympics still being all in the same year, Bill Buckner and Steve Garvey, terrible and tight sports uniforms (especially those short shorts for basketball, thank you Michael Jordan and the Fab Five for saving civilization from this scourge in the 90s), coked out athletes and entertainers, and other than Bill Cosby in his prime I don't remember there being anything good on TV (I guess Cheers and reruns of MASH were about it that I remember watching and feeling amused). And holy shit the hair and clothes should just be written out of human history (much like the interior decor from the 70s).

So in other words I'm not quite sure what I missed here by skipping past the childhood anyway. I can always just watch the movies on DVD.

Here's what I remember:

I remember asking questions. I remember being treated as clever. I assume somewhere in there I was a normal kid doing normal annoying kid things, in particular I think I remember this happening whenever some random unknown adult decided to treat me like a "normal" child and get all authoritarian. I stopped the Halloween and Santa gravy trains really early on, didn't care for churches, didn't care for colouring, drawing, singing, and many forms of playing (outside of I think sports, which, like high-end scientific pursuits I think, often attracts grown men who are permitted to be boys in our society, drawing as it does from the classical model of ancient Greece), I don't remember any version besides the adult version of Trivial Pursuit or Monopoly or Scrabble and having to play my way up by taking history/geography/sports questions as much as possible (I also remember when this stopped mattering as much). I remember pouring over baseball statistics and maps, both current and historical, of different parts of the world and knowing what "homo sapiens" meant when nobody else in the class did (and appeared horrified that I did, when all it did was get me in the lunch line first) or that Uranus was rotating sideways. I remember Pluto being a planet, but I don't remember it making sense to call a tiny floating ball of icy rock a "planet". I remember being annoyed at trips to museums because the dinosaurs were still depicted as the Victorian era's lazy lizards with drooping tails. I remember being annoyed that Joe Jackson was reversed in Field of Dreams (bats left, throws right, in the film, throws left, bats right). I remember being aggravated over having to draw a distinction between being supportive of the Revolutionary war and opposing the 1st Iraq War during those lovely indoctrination classes that pass(ed) for history and social studies in elementary schools teaching us mythological powers of our founding fathers, building them up instead of asking us what they did that was so wonderful that we should revere them (which leads to a lot of jokes about Jefferson and Franklin in particular in adulthood rather than an examination of the times and their often trans-formative actions in them). I remember pissing off a kindergarten teacher by colouring a self-portrait first with brown and then with a lighter brown on the grounds that that's what skin looked like to me. I remember also moving a lot more than was the case later on.

Things that didn't exist then:
The internet, facebook, google. If you wanted to play Pac-Man, it wasn't in the Google logo and you probably had to blow on it. There were these horribly heavy things called an encyclopaedia, and their cousins, the dictionary, that you had to look things up in, by alphabetical order rather than simply flipping right to what you needed. And forget about keeping in touch with people when you moved. I think we had a PC prior to the end of the 80s but other than playing text-based games and typing things it wasn't much use for some years (the first SimCity and Civilization games were yet to come along, both of which required upgrading a computer to use them, which back then was a tremendous expense). AC in cars wasn't as common, and I seem to remember car seats being a lot hotter to sit on back then. No GPS or mapquest means vacations were an adventure in navigation, meaning they were really an adventure conducted through arguments over what exit was just missed. Cell phones at best looked like a gigantic military radio set from WW2 (and in any case, I was a late adopter on this one). No DVDs, if you were lucky your favourite movies were on TV once in a while and you recorded them. There was as yet no concept of being too lazy to put your copy in while TV showed you the edited or condensed version of something. Speaking of which, you were extremely lucky if you had more than a couple dozen channels even with cable. No MP3s, music that you could carry in your pocket was at best something called a tape. Which had all this magnetic spaghetti in it that could come out and maybe had an hour or 10 songs on them, with a sort of involved process for making a mix tape that wouldn't have 8 or 9 that sucked. Airlines were still deregulating so there wasn't a whole lot of that jetting around to see the world. AT&T had just broken up, so long-distance calling plans and services just for calling relatives (or people just outside of town for that matter) were still a big deal. There was no calling someone on the other side of the world, much less having a ported cell phone number with an area code from a whole other state that nobody would worry about calling you on locally. Tobacco and cigarettes could still advertise on billboards and in these things called "magazines" that apparently people read by looking at lots of pictures. Supposedly there was this camel that was really cool and this meant that kids should aspire to smoke right alongside their friends and folks in restaurants and such, but somehow cooking eggs was supposed to make us not aspire to smoke other things right alongside others.

All together I probably had way too many "serious" pursuits to look back on the childhood or the 80s as a wonderful time. So it doesn't surprise me that I somehow have this intense cynical attitude about people and yet have this perception that things are, somehow, better than they used to be and maybe even that they'll keep getting better at points in the future. Simply because my view of the past is so bad that it's practically impossible for the present or future to be any worse. It's sort of like the passage in Dante's Inferno where everything inverts once you passed through the deepest section of hell at the center of the Earth.
Post a Comment