(This is a post from September 18, 2007. I think that it is as true now as it was then.)
When you’re living out your childhood, everything you experience is like a big-budget movie: every television show, cartoon, video game, water park and amusement park ride is epic, the best thing ever.
When you are so innocent and pure, it is easy to be wowed by what you experience; the cynicism of adulthood, the wealth of life experience, the defeat suffered in the teen years has not been beaten into you yet. So when watching a Saturday morning cartoon, going to the movies and witnessing life’s events take on that sense of whimsy and adventure that few things now, short of a global trip or real-life Jurassic Park scare-cation, could tickle your delights.
That is exactly the type of thing that “rose-colored glasses” can signify, as looking back at these cartoons, movies and events years later will tell. Have you ever tried watching that Saturday morning cartoon now after 10+ years, or that children’s movie with the McDonald’s tie-in that you wanted to see so bad? Unless you want to permanently punch yourself in the face repeatedly for a lack of foresight, it’s best not to revisit your childhood memories to see how they age. But if you do, it might be good for a laugh.
Here are a few that I have/thought of revisiting:
Like most boys growing up in the ’80s, I loved the He-Man and Masters of the Universe line of toys and cartoon. The adventures of Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde-like Prince Adam of Planet Eternia, becoming the all-powerful He-Man with a lightning strike of his valiant sword, was a magical, testosterone-charged fantasy world that kids could escape into. He-Man and his cast of unique characters — the cowardly green tiger Cringer that turns into the brave Battle Cat alongside He-Man, bony baddie Skeletor, super-hottie bodyguard Teela, brainy inventor Man-At-Arms, and all of the inventive bad and good guys — romped along Eternia in toy and television form, spawning a movie and additional television shows as well as a wake of nostalgia that few ’80s properties have seen.
That’s where the fawning ends. Have you TRIED watching the ’80s cartoon now? Even bother to look at the movie — featuring steroid-popping Dolph Lundgren as He-Man, veteran actor and Whoopi Goldberg-loving Frank Langella (?!) as Skeletor, and a young Courtney Cox — without an agenda to make fun of it? Aside from the serious cartoon re-imagining of the Masters of the Universe storyline a few years ago, He-Man was more homoerotic than a Broadway play version of Top Gun. It would take a strong prescription for tri-focal rose-colored glasses to enjoy He-Man in a genuine way. Not surprising, considering that the cartoons and movie were a front to sell action figures (DON’T call them dolls, dammit!).
Perhaps the cynicism for the about-face seeing He-Man for what it really represented, a cash cow milking kids and adults of their money, affected me as much as the other examples below. Sad, but hey, it made me who I am.
The Jackson 5ive cartoon
The Jackson 5, five young kids from Gary, Indiana, were pivotal in my life, as their bubble-gum soul were my gateway into living and loving music. By the time I was 12, I had most of their albums on vinyl (NOT CD or cassette — those rectangular things that your parents played music on). 10 years later, I purchased all the re-released albums on compact disc. I displayed several album covers as art in my house, along with a newspaper advertisement from a 1972 edition of music newspaper New Music Express. I even bought the HORRIFIC miniseries, The Jacksons: An American Dream (replayed every weekend on VH1, it seems) on DVD. To say I am a fan is an understatement.
So as a kid, I would seek out whatever J5 entertainment I could find. And that included reruns of their ’70s cartoon, The Jackson 5ive. The series originally aired on ABC for two seasons, and was shown in the ’80s and early ’90s on local television channels and BET (Black Entertainment Television, or lifelong enemy of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). Even as a kid, part of me knew that the J5 cartoon wasn’t of the best quality; the sparse backgrounds, lackluster animation, terrible plots, non-J5 voice actors and annoyingly cheesy laugh track couldn’t even beat Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, and that show was a bigger setback for Blacks than 50 Cent shucking and jiving (sorry, rapping) his gangsta ways (shtick).
Negatives aside, the J5 cartoon did offer some the best music the group and Michael (with his early solo Motown offerings) put out. And for that, I could ignore their cheap-looking adventures with little payoff. Heck, even now I can look back fondly on it. Because that’s what love is, son.
Nintendo Entertainment System
The system that cultivated my love of video games: The Nintendo Entertainment System introduced me to some of my favorite intellectual properties of all time. Mario, Mega Man, Castlevania, Ninja Gaiden, Bases Loaded, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; the list is endless.
It is no secret that the 8-bit NES is one of the most popular and successful game consoles of all time, puling videogames out of a grave that Atari dug with their glut of terrible Atari 2600 games — with the nail in the coffin being the millions of E.T. game cartridges that were buried in New Mexico. And growing up in the ’80s, you either had an NES, or a lesser-known system that you didn’t talk about with friends. Hell, The Wizard, featuring tween heartthrob Fred Savage, was a glorified NES commercial/coming-out party for Super Mario Bros. 3, one of the best-selling games of all-time.
And it is no secret that the NES had its share of problems. The main fault was the console’s design, in which you slid the cartridges into a drawer system and pushed the game down. This not only let in a lot of dust but also wore out the cartridge connectors inside the system. Thus, blinking-light malfunctions, homegrown ways of blowing on cartridges (EVERYONE had their own recipe for blowing on the cartridge — “No, no, blow on it twice and one long blow across it!”) and common costly repairs. But it was all worth it to play the coolest games on the planet.
The “First Family” of television animation, The Simpsons will forever remain close to my heart for introducing me to well-written comedy with a touch of heart, sarcasm, cynicism, and timely jabs at everything in societal establishment. I remember as a grade-school kid, watching the original shorts on The Tracy Ullman Show, giggling at the antics of 10-year-old Bart Simpson outwitting his clod-like father, Homer. And when the shorts earned the family a Fox television show, my brother and I were glued to the television for its premiere.
After all these years, not only is the show still on the air, but the yellow-pigmented family have spawned CDs, comics, video games, toys, t-shirts (I had several), food products, posters, and even a movie. For a show that at its onset was criticized by parental watchdog groups for the child characters disrespecting family and authority figures, its mainstream following is amazing for what was once considered a counterculture series.
Now almost 20 years later, its intelligence and humor resonate even more now, as I can understand the subtle jabs at society and government that I overlooked as a kid, blinded by the physical gags and catchphrases of “Don’t have a cow, man!” and “D’oh!” And for that, The Simpsons can be enjoyed without rose-colored glasses.
There are hundreds of other things I could mention that are worthy of blurbs — cartoons like The Gummi Bears, Shirt Tales and The Snorks, movies like Iron Eagle and The Last Dragon, my BMX bicycle and riding bikes with friends all day on the weekends — but all of these have shaped me into who I am today for various reasons. And I would not deny any of them, even if I had to wear my special glasses to enjoy them.