Thursday, September 22, 2011

Super 80's: An Analysis of One Awesome Decade

Our 12 year old niece said something that truly touched my soul one night recently.  We were playing a game with her, her 8 year old sister, and their parents (my brother and sister-in-law).  It was an 80's version of "Name That Tune."  I, being eternally in love and deeply obsessed with all things 80's, was of course more than happy to play a board game that revolved entirely around answering questions about bands with big hair, singers in spandex, and music with enough synthesizing to rock the sweatbands right off of you.

Somewhere in the middle of identifying songs from The Pet Shop Boys and reminiscing about how I forgot what Mr. Mister looked like, our niece said to me, "The 80's seems like it was a cool decade to live in."  As I wiped a single fallen tear from my cheek I had to refrain from squeezing her like a grandmother hugging a tiny two year old whom had just said, "I love you" for the first time.  I couldn't believe those words had just come from, not only ANYone that age, but that it came from MY niece!  Oh the heavens doth shone down upon me that evening.

I felt so very proud at that moment and replied with, "You know, I think you would have loved growing up then."  And you know, I really do think that's true.  But that's because our niece is a special kind of girl who often appreciates things in an old-soul kind of way.  Not to mention that the 80's were a very colorful decade and Nikole, like me, is a girl who appreciates a broad spectrum of hues. 

I wouldn't be surprised if people get tired or bored with my compulsion to go on and on about the decade in which I grew up.  Hopefully I'm not too annoying.  Luckily though, I married someone who has an equal compulsion and not only "gets" my love for it, but shares it in full.  I won't knock other decades or say that the 80's is the only magical time.  Afterall, I'm an old soul myself and have much love for past decades, especially wishing that I had been around in the 60's or the 30's and 40's.  But I will say that there is nothing quite like the era of neon, hairspray, and jelly shoes.  And by golly . . . it really WAS magical!

 Kevin and I talk often about how we had the best toys and cartoons growing up.  We look around us today, seeing the annoying, loud, and fame-obsessed shows all over the Disney channel, cartoons that were created solely for extreme ADD cases, and toys that assume all kids are lacking imagination and require constant technological consolation.  We see all of this and sigh . . . it's just not the same.  Everything to us seems to be too brash, too fast, too costly, and just . . . too, too much.

We had He Man, Transformers, Care Bears, the Lite-Brite, Rainbow Brite, the Spirograph, Mr. Mouth, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  We had Mad Balls, Mad Libs, The Mad Magazine Game.  Atari, Nintendo, and Sega.  Jelly shoes, slap bracelets, and scrunchies.  Okay, well maybe that last one isn't anything to brag about.  But everything else is pretty damn cool, and I haven't even begun to mention the movies and music yet!

We were very fortunate to be kids in the 80's.  We got to experience childhood with a perfect balance of innocence and awareness.  Somehow back then kids were still able to be kids, but not be completely naive either.  Now kids grow up so much more quickly, either by the pressure of society or their own desires.  Either way, it's kind of sad.  I'm sure our parents thought the same about us, and their parents the same about them.  I suppose some things never change.

But one thing that has: now just about every kid wants to be famous.  Now most of them think that they're supposed to be singers/dancers/clothing designers/night club owners/etc.  And all of this by the time they're 16.  It's not really their fault . . . this is all IV'd into their brains by pop culture at every waking moment.  I'm sorry, but the Disney channel infuriates me these days.  They glorify tweenagers, making them all pop stars who are more intelligent and more cool than their slow-minded, bumbling, lame parental counterparts.  Maybe I'm just getting old . . .

I look back at how kids came across when I was little, in movies like The Goonies, E.T., or Stand By Me.  Kids seemed to have a certain depth to them while still remaining kids.  They weren't too mature or too juvenile.  They were just right.  And movie makers didn't treat us (the kids in the audience) as too grown up for our own good nor too stupid to understand adult type things.  It's a rarity when that happens today.  And when it does, I get a good feeling deep down that maybe just a little bit of that magic we had back in the 80's is still alive and, perhaps will one day, once again flourish. 

This last summer Kevin and I went to see Super 8 in the theater.  When we first saw the trailer for it we had this instinctual feeling that it might hearken back to our wonderful movies from childhood.  And boy,  were we ever right!  We spent an hour and 52 minutes shrinking back into our 8 year old bodies, feeling like there was fun and magic swirling around us once again, this time taking the shapes of (semi spoiler alert!) magic cubes and homesick aliens.  Even though this movie was directed by J.J. Abrams it felt just like the Spielberg of the 80's; it had the same tone.  And I have a feeling that Super 8 is sort of Abrams's love letter to Spielberg as well as to the 80's.

The kids in it were remarkably deep, with plenty of humor and just the right dash of quirky edge.  It really made us feel as though we were watching one of our childhood favorite movies for the very first time.  It was sort of like a new group of Goonies.  I would have given anything to be one of the Goonies.  I wanted to be a boy so badly because of that movie . . . so badly, that if I were offered the chance today, I would consider very strongly giving up being Emily so that I could become Mikey and go on a Goonie adventure of my own.

The sad thing is, now kids want to be like the fast-talking, overly 'pop'pified, self-absorbed child-adults that they see on TV.  And the sickest thing about it all: adults are not only winking at it, but encouraging it!  Every time one of our nieces or nephews flips on the Disney channel Kevin and I look at each other mournfully, shaking our heads and rolling our eyes.  It's as if a tiny piece of our souls die.  Not to pick solely on Disney, it just happens to be the easiest way to encompass the phenomenon of this culture.  I could just as easily go on a tangent about Nickelodeon, the CG movies with talking animals, numerous reality shows, and every music TV channel ever. 

I realize that this all may make me sound really old, crabby, or possibly ridiculous . . . but I guess I still think that childhood should be inundated with magic and nonsense and colors and a degree of innocent ignorance, no matter how the world has changed over the generations.  But my generation and my predecessors have slowly become more egotistical.  We are creeping into the spectrum of loud-talking, impatient, narcissists.  And kids are being raised to think the same way, under the intention of good self-esteems and materialistic comfort.  Every parent wants to give their kids more than what they had -- more of everything, including a sense of worth in this world.  But while announcing to their kids that they are the smartest, funniest, most beautiful, most talented, most, most, most everything, they forgot to teach them the gratification of silence and solitude, the fulfillment of humility and subtlety.

I hope that when Kevin and I have children that we remember ourselves to live up to my own expectations.  I hope that our kids will have a tenderness, a simplicity in contentment, and a quirky, whimsical mind.  We've joked before that we should start a colony in the woods somewhere and raise our kids as if it is the 1980's, a la M. Night's The Village.  And every time I am forced to endure the Disney channel I am convinced that I was never joking in the first place. 

Parents, please don't try to make your kids no longer kids.  That will happen naturally on its own.  Let them enjoy a few more years where they don't have to constantly worry about wearing socially revered clothing or thinking of a snarky, clever quip for the kid taking their favorite truck in the sandbox.  Let them breathe; let them believe in the unbelievable . . . let them watch Labyrinth.