One of my best friends, Will West, wrote a scathing piece on retro nostalgia pop culture blogging today over at his site, WilliamBruceWest.com. It’s a hell of a read, well worth your time. Also, you should really read that before reading my response to it below.
So head over to Will’s first and I’ll be right here. LINK TO WILL.
Back? Good. Yes, there’s some talk of Gumball and movie trailers later. But we’re talking about the first part of the column. There is a lot to unpack in what Will said, especially for me. I see the problem, I’m part of it, I try to do some things different, but I also contribute to it.
Will says, “things are so bad now that you’d rather retreat back to a simpler time when things didn’t seem so bad.” There’s a video I watched awhile back (and if I remembered I would link it here) about nostalgia. The video finished with, to paraphrase, it’s not nostalgia – it’s gratitude. Being a kid sucks. Whether grade school age with so much uncertainty and no autonomy. Or high school when pressures from every part of life are squeezed into your growing form but don’t you dare explode. At these ages we latch on to certain things that make us feel happy, safe, and content. Toys, cartoons, syndicated shows, movies. Even cereal. Then as an adult when things feel awful and stressful we reflect back on those same things. These are the items that got me through that difficult time, perhaps they can get me through another. To pick the biggest most recent “difficult time”. The Christmas season of 2001, months after 9/11, saw huge sales for the debuting Nintendo Game Cube, X-Box, and the previous year’s Playstation 2. Plus the return of Shrinky Dinks. That classic toy sold out and the company said they could have sold hundreds of thousands more. So… a tragic day happens and people buy video games and one of the simplest toys from their childhood. Simpler times at home, either by yourself or with family. Away from the outside world. People and the outside world suck. I’m going to stay inside with my stuff.
I would argue this coping technique if I didn’t do it myself. I’m not going out, being sociable, or any of that. I’m coming back here to read comics and watch old stuff. Thus I will be interested in sites and posts also about old stuff. Hey I remember that too and that memory makes me feel better than 8 hours of work did. So I’m going to stay here in my happy place with the shades drawn and my head in the sand.
Now that’s a bit extreme. Slightly true, but not actual reality. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the things that are retro as long as it’s not an obsession. I remember my parents were nervous about Dungeons & Dragons when I was younger. This was during the Satanic Panic and that Tom Hanks TV movie where he is sucked into the world. Yes, there were some people who latched onto D&D and lost touch with reality. As people have done with open world video games. Or now with Retro. Staying within a “safe” fantasy world very quickly becomes no longer safe or healthy. Streaming media, next day delivery, and pick up your groceries at the curb isn’t going to help this detachment from reality at all.
So I try to use this Retro world for the better. To make myself better, to use as example, to push towards the future. I write for another site with Retro in the title so clearly I have a stake in this. But when I write I try to come at things with some knowledge and history. If I wanted to do a post called “Here’s 10 Cool Things from 1983. Number one: this. Number two: that” I would change the name of the site to Buzzfeed. Instead, just based on feedback I’ve received, readers say they learned something from my posts. I was talking to a comic creator on Twitter last night about a comic from 1983. An insightful, deep conversation and I’m excited to continue the talk after I read more of the book. These meant more than the click bait “hey kids, remember Topps baseball cards? Whatever happened to them?” posts on other sites with zero substance.
Other factors to this are finality and excess. There is a finality to anything from the past. The toy line, the cartoon series, the comic, the movie – whatever it is – has ended. That tale is over. We have a finite amount to watch or consume and that’s it. That ending eliminates questions and the property can be enjoyed for what it is, period. Current pop culture articles predict the fall of Marvel or the Star Wars franchise. Because we don’t know what’s coming next. However, the original Star Wars trilogy can be discussed as a whole. The 90’s Batman movies stand on their own. They can be remembered, even beloved, because fans aren’t constantly questioning what will come next. Then disappointed that what they wanted is not what happened. Game of Thrones for example. Most fans hated the ending, but in a couple years when it is revisited knowing the end point the entire series will regain some love. This is horribly commonplace in pro wrestling. Even going back five years there are fans saying that was a golden age with great matches. Yet those same fans also have posts from five years ago complaining about the product. Because they didn’t know what was coming next. They wanted this person as champion, that person to lose. Now that the results are in the history books they can enjoy the content for what it is and not what they want it to be.
Excess. It’s also more tempting to watch a movie you’ve seen a hundred times already than try to keep up with everything new. I’m a geek. I love the comic, sci-fi, horror, retro, and more shows and movies. I don’t do sports other than wrestling. Yet I am not up to date/have not watched: Arrow, Flash, Swamp Thing, Titans, Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, Black Lightning, Constantine, Big Bang Theory, Stranger Things, Black Mirror, Orville, Preacher, Good Omens, the last 3 DC movies, the last 2 Star Wars movies, Rick and Morty, Adventure Time, Steven Universe, and that’s off the top of my head. I know there’s so much more. There is just too much great content right now. And that’s what’s obvious and overt and has good publicity. There’s even more cool new content just under the surface that all of us have to try a little harder to discover. I’m paralyzed by too many choices so let me throw on an episode of G.I. Joe from 1984 instead.
Will makes a good point that all of this ignores great new stuff coming out today, and he’s right. But the cause of that ignorance is not geek bloggers like him or me getting hits here and there. It’s the focus of bigger outlets like Entertainment Weekly, radio, whatever the hell MTV is now. Last December I read a stack of Entertainment Weekly magazines that were tipping over in my ‘to read’ pile. Only after a marathon read did I understand their mission. You will like what we tell you to like and nothing else exists. Yes, sometimes these are things I like. There’s cover articles on the MCU for every new movie. Yet in months of these magazines I saw nothing on rock music, wrestling, comics, genre films other than the huge hundreds of millions big budget ones. You will like Taylor Swift, and you will watch This is Us, and you will love it and nothing else! If you do like these things because you have decided that you like them, cool. But don’t bow down to a machine that pays money for their product to be thrown in your face until you begrudgingly accept it. Until next week when they tell you the next thing to like.
So I try to be original with what I look at, new or retro. No one is breaking down social political interpretations of a comic from the early 1980’s. I’m writing this while listening to the new Overkill album from February of this year. “Who’s Overkill?” A thrash metal band that’s been around since 1980 and this is their 19th album. And 90% of everyone reading this has never heard of it. I will bet money there’s not another site with my same interests or a similar voice. Or I can take a picture of a can of New Coke and leave it at that.
Ultimately, I think that’s the difference. What we do with the content – new or retro. It comes down to passion. It comes down to do something with this to make it interesting. Make me care. Drinking a can of New Coke that hasn’t touched your lips in 35 years with your kids who are completely unaware of what this thing was. That’s a different take, I’m down with it and clicking the subscribe button. Hunting down retro stuff as an epic road trip movie complete with tales of danger and interesting people met along the way? Let me get my popcorn. But to just throw a picture up of something with zero context or reason to care? Move along. We all want hits and attention to our blogs but I’m only reading the ones who have earned it. Hashtag and influence the hell out of your single picture of the next new old thing and I’ll forget about you and your site five seconds later. Put something into it though and I’ll come back, I’ll share, I’ll subscribe, we’ll both grow. No one gets hits a week later for things they put no passion into. Yet I still get attention for a 7 year old Otter Pops article.
I’m going to try to join Will with some more love towards new stuff. And still write or talk about retro with some passion. “Some do it better than others,” and that some are the ones with longevity. I have some ideas to draw attention to new stuff as a new weekly column.
Finally, don’t give up loving retro content. Keep producing content about it. But follow two rules. One, make me care. Talk about it with such passion I want to dig through boxes to see if I still have mine. Two, don’t hide in it. Come out and enjoy something new too. Come up with a ratio of new to old content that works for you. Then find that new thing you can be equally passionate about. And tell us all about it so we can enjoy your discoveries as well!