Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How to be a kid...

I'm a sucker for nostalgia... It's a drug for me. I'd like to say something like, "I'd love to crawl back into my 5 year old body", but I'm fairly certain someone would read that and call the cops on me. So let's just say, it'd be nice to relive my childhood. Not in an old-man, "end of my life and I'm full of useless regret", kind of way... Just more of a general desire to return to simplicity. Because when you really think about childhood, it's just simple living. Sure, when you're in it you don't see it. You're stressed over bullies, bad grades, curfews, physical limitations and, of course, getting the same Happy Meal toy you got last week. Yes, I'm aware that there are children who had to deal with REAL issues... But this isn't about them, this is about me and all my upper-middle class white boy problems.

But back to nostalgia. I helped my parents gather some things out of their garage last weekend to bring to the dump and was thrown back in time 20 years. There's an overwhelming sense of familiarity every time I visit my folks... The house they live in is the only house I've ever known. They moved in back in 1981, I was then born in 83'... The greatest housewarming gift anyone could ask for. (Actually, the greatest housewarming gift was received at "La Hacienda del Rio" in Nashua, NH circa 1984... Don't feed a baby Mexican food). Since then, "HOME" for me has always been that house in Derry, NH. I drive my fiance insane calling that house "home" because to her, home is where you live. It's a concept nobody can understand unless they've lived in the same place their whole life. I walk into that place and every room, every corner, every outdoor scent brings with it a flood of memories. I look at the side of the house and remember throwing basketballs against it and teaching myself how to dribble. I look in the bathroom and remember taking baths and pitting your "Ghostbusters" action figures against the dreaded toxic water bubbles. I lie down in my old bedroom and remember sitting at my old desk drawing "Power Rangers" while my DC Talk - Free At Last cassette plays on a Christmas evening.

The point is, it makes me feel like a kid again... And I like that. It's a carefree, relaxing feeling. I then go back to my apartment, go to bed and wake up on a Saturday morning. Still feeling the effects of nostalgia, I turn on the tv to watch some Saturday Morning Cartoons, curious of what kids are watching these days. Oh... what disappointment. I don't know if anyone's already gone on a rant about this, but Kid's shows SUCK nowadays. If it isn't some generic animé CRAP involving trading cards and flashy colors, it's a culturally diverse educational show teaching kids how to speak Lithuanian. It's complete garbage! Not to sound all "Motherland-y", but since when did we start outsourcing all our animation programs to Mexico and Japan?? Yeah, it's a given that America is behind on animation, but COME ON. That was half the charm of our programming, it was just bare-bones, old fashioned entertainment... It didn't have to be GOOD... It just had to be ON!

But I'm not writing this long-winded post to complain about cartoons... I watched the commercials. When I was little, commercials weren't so bad because they were basically a sneak peak of what you were going to ask for come Christmas. Action figures, play sets, NERF weaponry, Super Soakers (I never did get the 200), and two words... CROSS. FIRE. epic. But there's none of that anymore... It's all Yu-Gi-Oh Cards, Video Games and online digital pet/dolls simulation nonsense… When did it become a favored past time to sit in front of a computer and pretend to have a doll? Personally, I love the internet… Without it, I'd be out of a job. But I am SO grateful it wasn't around when I was growing up. I never would have gone outside. Sure, the NES ruined a sunny day or two, but as a kid in the 80s/90s, there were other things to distract me. Like going outside. Or… friends (though that came to a screeching halt once the awkward Middle School years kicked in). I guess digital dolls are weird to me because I grew up in the era of "Action Figures".

My point is, I don't think kids really know how to be kids anymore. Before the internet, we had to force ourselves to be creative. If we were into something, we went outside, pretended we were in that world… We'd dress up, wrestle, explore, make goofy videos with our parents' expensive cameras (and probably break them… getting in trouble is half the fun of being a kid). I don't have kids, so maybe I'm wrong about how they spend their time… I'm just going off of what I see… Which isn't much, as I suspect you can get in trouble sitting around watching kids that aren't yours all day.

I'll touch briefly on being imaginative. Every kid wants to be a superhero, or any kind of hero for that matter. When I was little, I fantasized about hostage situations, running in and saving the day, rescuing the girl. If I was alone, that's where action figures and "Wrestling Buddies" came in. You can't punch your friend in the face, but you can practically murder a stuffed doll, rip out the stuffing and wear its head like a hat when you're done with it. Stuff a "hero" wouldn't do, but this is make-believe, have a little fun with it, be violent… You're a boy for God's sake! And if you couldn't flat out act the scenario out, that's where your action figures came in… Let me tell you, I'm one of the few kids out there who ENJOYED getting sent to their room for misbehaving. That's where my magical toy kingdom lived. I had every batman action figure known to man in there, I had all kinds of craft supplies and drawing utensils. Getting sent to my room meant it's time for mayhem! Nowadays kids just go to their room, sulk, and play XBox when they get released from their bedroom prison.

I TRIED to get in trouble when school was out for the Summer, that way my parents wouldn't get on me about not going outside or spending too much time in my room. Why would I do that in the summer? I'll explain… I loved me some Mortal Kombat when I was little. LOVED it. And every year in the summer, my room became an arena of make-believe death. I held tournaments for my toys. I built spike pits out of cardboard and toothpicks, build arenas out of my desk and a bunch of toy dinosaurs, had action figures ready to burst into pieces on command, and an assortment of visual effects that would make Pan's Labyrinth look like child's play. I had clay for creating "Clay Man", the champion of the toy tournament, I had different torn up colored cotton balls for fake blood, I would even go to those slot machine toy dispensers at the grocery store and buy tons of that rubbery goop that every mom hated because it stains everything it touches and ALWAYS ends up dried to the ceiling. Let's just say if toys could talk… They wouldn't… Because I killed them ALL.

Maybe that's just being a kid… Or maybe those are just the early stages of a sociopath. Either way, I didn't need a Sega Genesis to play with fake violence. Really, whatever games I couldn't play, I just found alternative ways of enjoying them. I didn't NEED video games, I didn't NEED movies and I didn't NEED to spend hours in front of a television. If I was grounded from the NES, I just ran around outside touching flowers, eating leaves and pretending to fly… Which explains a lot I suppose. Me and the other neighborhood kids would dig up rocks and pretend they were Dinosaur bones, we'd go exploring in the woods, we'd have water-gun fights and play in the pool. I'll tell you what we DIDN'T do though… We didn't play stupid card games and collect Pokéballs. The closest thing we had to that were POGs… And we all know how that ended… Quickly.

I know kids still do the things I did, but I just don't understand why it feels like those things have been watered down. Television cartoon violence has been replaced with educational programming, toys have been replaced with online games, and cartoons are little more than animé or animé rip-offs. I'd complain about how they're just used to sell card-games… But then, cartoons have always been used to sell something. In my time it was for action figures and play sets. But those allowed us to be creative, it was something you could actually play with, interact with… All this other stuff is little more than Dungeons & Dragons… or Go Fish. What they should be selling are playing card templates so kids can create their own whatever-mons, let them be creative, use their imagination. You know what? I'm gonna make those and sell them. Don't use that idea…

I'll sue the pants off you!
~ Mark

1 comment:

  1. Wow - last three paragraphs really bring out the "you" in you. lol. I was never that much into Mortal Kombat, though I was really attracted to Street Fighter II. But all my fantasies were about war situations, like a general, I created epic scenes of destruction where I would lead a troop out of danger and on to victory. That's prob why I love the Fallout Games. I am the master, everyone else has to do my bidding, and I'm helping the world survive another day (as long as I don't get destroyed in a wave of random radiation or get caught off guard by a troop of super mutants on patrol). Good stuff man. It is true that the nastalgia for the 80's is almost unlimited. I should blog about my own obsessions. more to post on that later.