Saturday, April 11, 2015

IS NOSTALGIA GOOD?



Since I’ve been looking to try and expand my blog lately, with what little time I’ve had online lately, (I know, I keep talking about it, but, UGGGGGGGGGGGGH!) much of it, I’ve been looking around at some of my more popular competitors in the online film reviewer world, in particular, Nostalgia Critic, and some of his other Channel Awesome reviewers and critics. I’ve been known for actually not particularly appreciating or liking some of the other fellow bloggers and critics in the past, unfairly so in most cases, but I have been critical of some of my fellow online critic brethrens. (Yeah, there’s still some tension between me and Nick Powell from The Cinematic Katzenjammer, but it’s hardly the cold war that was between us. I seriously doubt Rex Reed has ever heard of me or written what I’ve said about him, but I also doubt that it’s anything he hasn’t heard before though) However I generally like most of Doug Walker’s clan of critics however. Cinema Snob, Lindsay Ellis, Linkara, Todd in the Shadows, alright, I don’t care for Chris Stuckmann, well, even then, that’s more his fans than him, per se. I certainly don’t always agree with them, or with Wilson, or even they’re style of film reviewing, which does seem a bit nitpicky to me, which he admits, but he’s always funny and entertaining. Actually though the reason I always liked him was not because of any of that, it was because he’s an actual critic.

Most of these other popular bloggers and critics, and I’m sure some of you know the ones I’m talking about, they often seem, not only aren’t they really critics, they’re almost gleeful about expressing the fact that they’re not critics. They prefer to be fans or reviewers is the most they’ll say they are, and usually that is what they are and that annoys the shit of me to be honest. Yeah, Walker, plays to a similar sensibility, but he is a good critic underneath all that. Now, he does expand and talk about other things now, and I think he’s definitely going out of his way to evolve out of this Nostalgia Critic character he created, but it is sorta interesting that he focuses his criticism on nostalgia.

Nostalgia does go hand-in-hand with that fanboy sensibility that frankly, I find myself getting more and more appalled by as I find myself constantly beat down by it. Maybe that’s part of why Nostalgia Critic appeals to me, ‘cause he isn’t blindly accepting the fact that, just because we remember something fondly that that means it’s automatically good. In “Midnight in Paris” Michael Sheen’s character makes a point about how nostalgia is delusion, the romanticism of the past as a way to deal with the realities of the present, that things were always better in the past. The rest of that movie, seems to prove him right, although I gotta say, I’m not particularly crazy about anybody who claims the present is particularly better either. Like when people talk constantly about how now’s the golden age of television, especially for drama series? Uh, yeah, you never hear someone say that who’s talking about “Criminal Minds”, “NCIS” or “Blue Bloods or “The Mysteries of Laura” do you? (And those  are some of the highest-rated shows on TV btw.) This is where fanboyism loses me, it’s really obsession to me, they get so fascinated by something they like, maybe something that’s also very good or even great, but they focus-in on these things on the overall and just hang on to it until it becomes a part of them. It’s like a calling card, people constantly ask, “What do you like?” like, that’s what makes people similar, and I find that disturbing. Not only the fact that, you’re only looking for things that are similar, which, frankly you should be seeking out to expand your worldview and mindset as much as possible, but what would that matter? This is how that conversation goes with me:

PERSON: So you’re a movie blogger?

ME: Yes, I write an entertainment blog on film and television including movie reviews; I’m also a screenwriter-

PERSON: What kind of movies do you like?

ME: (Brief pause) Good movies.

PERSON: Yeah, but what kind?

ME:I-eh, good movies.

PERSON: I mean, what genres?

ME: If it’s good, I like it.

PERSON: Well, what do you think is good?

Okay, this is where my forehead falls into my hands, ‘cause I don’t think quality is something that’s opinion, a fact that I can’t believe most fans and critics don’t agree with me on, but that’s another topic. Still, it’s this grouping and labeling of everybody, even grouping within groups because of these preferences. (Frustrating sighs)

Alright, I’m reading “Life Itself” right now, Roger Ebert’s autobiography right now and yes, he’s often talked about how the critic shouldn’t be floating above the audience and fans in the crowd, he should be a part of them. How a critic shouldn’t act or seem like this all-knowing, no feeling presence, and he did say that, and I know a lot of these critics, myself included were influenced by words like that including a lot of them that lean towards this fanboy mentality, and hold this up as a sign, that they’re emotional perspectives and attachments towards their favorite pieces of art or whatever are just as valid as everyone else’s. In theory, I don’t disagree with the sentiment. However, what if you weren’t part of that crowd? That’s not taken into consideration, the fact that maybe you aren’t a part of that crowd, or any crowd for that matter. What if your real position is to be above the audience so that you can have your own perspective away from everyone else? I mean, if you’re watching a comedy with a bunch of people and everyone thinks it’s funny but you don’t and you’re not laughing, does that make you wrong? I don’t think so necessarily. I distinctly remember the moment I realized I was a critic at least in my mind, this happened when I was four-year-old, but it might have been later, but I remember waking up early one morning and seeing the end of “Scooby-Doo” on TBS one day, back when all that channel’s shows started at five past the half-hour, and I remember thinking, “That is too stupid for me.” 4-years-old. Maybe I was 5 or 6, but even still, this was my clear recall and I don’t think I was wrong either by-the-way. (And I was shocked when I found out that people older than 4 were not only watching Scooby-Doo, but we’re obsessed with it, all the way through high school and college and beyond. Maybe I should’ve gotten high, I don’t know, but that seems like a bit too much work for me to understand why a cartoon is good. Never had to be in altered state to tell “Ren & Stimpy” was innovative.) I’ve always not been in that crowd, I don’t like these crowds. I don’t like that they exist really, based on things we like?

In fact, when it comes to those nostalgic things that we recall fondly, especially since I am so proud of being able to distinguish good from bad at so young, when I go back and seek those things out only to find that they’re not as good as I thought they were, I feel embarrassed. Truly embarrassed, that I was so unknowing and naïve. I don’t care how old I was, it was a part of me and now I don’t have a defense. I mean, I was young, but should that be our best defense?  I saw that they’re remaking “Popples” on Netflix, among other shows, and I really was into “Popples” when I really, really young. I still probably have a VHS copy of them somewhere but I went back and found an episode or two recently and now that I see it, they weren’t really that well-thought out. They basically just made a bunch of mischief now that I look at it. There might have been one or two good episodes, but I was watching them pretty regularly, long after the very short-lived show was off-the-air and sometimes the lack just story and structure…, “I was young at the time, I didn’t know any better?” Eh, I don’t know. Feels like I was just gullible to seeing bright colors and characters, and I just blindly liked them. That’s how those things make me feel, gullible. That I could just see something and then, boom, I like it. I didn’t feel special or like I was in the know or insight; I just felt sad that I could be so easily manipulated.

That’s not to say that everything that we’re nostalgic for was bad, in fact some of it is great and does hold up well, and sometimes I missed those things because I am so against this culture of  groupthink fandom. I hated “Animaniacs” when I was young, because everybody else loved them so much, as though they were the greatest thing ever. No, actually, that wasn’t even it; I’ll tell you exactly what it was, other kids told me they were better than Bugs Bunny, multiple kids, and that drew the line for me. Nothing is better than Bugs Bunny and that’s not a fandom thing, that’s just fucking logical. Alright, some of us disagree on certain things, even disagree about the qualities of things, but I still don’t accept that kind of talk. They’re Looney Tunes, c’mon?! They’re the standard line you just don’t cross. Well, I still won’t go that far to say that they’re better than the Looney Tunes, but now that I look back on “Animaniacs”, you know what, I was wrong to not listen to the fandemonium on them. You gotta realize that’s the effect though; if enough things are that popular and it’s not good, you’re setting someone up for massive failure of missing out on things because you’re so over-the-moon on them. You gotta careful of that kind of hyperbole.

I know I’m talking a lot about how we were when we were younger, but that’s the mentality I see when I think about fanboyism. This notion that god forbid somebody doesn’t like the same things you do than you should be wary of them, ‘cause they aren’t like you. That’s the perspective I see, that of the nine-year-olds who made fun of me for watching “Barney & Friends” instead of “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” at 4: 30 in the afternoon. (I figured they both sucked, but at least one’s educational, I’ll leave that on, apparently that was the 2nd worst decision I ever made, after talking about it, apparently, thinking everybody else would come to the same natural conclusion.) That’s why I’m wary of nostalgia, why I question its validity, and probably why somebody willing to criticize it appeals to me. Cause I was criticizing it at the time, when I was supposedly supposed to be a part of the crowd. It doesn’t mean to bash or to praise, criticize means to think, to look at something thoroughly. Could it have been better, could it have achieve its objective some other way, could it have been more entertaining or more thought out? Nostalgia is that single element that makes somebody a fan as oppose to a critic, or even just a member of the audience. It’s the reason for all these damn reboots and multiple universes and whatnot are ruling Hollywood. It’s why no matter how bad something is, or how good it might’ve actually been, people keep trying to bring back that feeling of when they just liked it because they-, we’re kids! Children! Didn’t KNOW ANY BETTER! DE-LUS-IONAL!!!

You gotta be smarter, a little more thoughtful than that. I know Hollywood’s shoving it down our throats and everything gets remade, but I mean, c’mon. Don’t just be sucked up by the trends, or even just blindly ride against them Like,- I have a Roger Rabbit doll, I still have. Okay. I don’t talk about it or make a big deal about it, but it’s 25-odd years I kept that doll, it’s a favorite toy, a favorite doll (And I’m not ashamed of calling it a doll either, I didn’t have “action figures”, I didn’t buy into boys and girls toys either, but there’s nothing wrong with dolls, especially a Roger Rabbit one.) And it’s a movie I love, sure. Once upon a time, he slept in my bed and played with all the time, until I was like, 20, okay 25, but now he’s on the top of my closet. A good spot, I still see him every day, but I moved on. And even then, I don’t, like throw my being into these other things.

Well, actually I do. Myself, as the critic I always have been. Whether I like or dislike something doesn’t represent who I am entirely and it shouldn’t for anybody else. We are so much more complicated and there’s so much out there in the world. Even in just movies or television, if you narrow or limit yourself to what you’re fascinated with personally, you’re never gonna know if there’s anything else you like out there. Or worst than that, you’re gonna put up that guard that protects you from seeing greatness, like I did with “Animaniacs”. That’s true no matter what you’re focus of fandom is on; I’ve been yelled at by people for being too anti-comic book movies and also by people who thought I was too mainstream and popular, either way, I was chastised for not doing what everyone else in their little world was doing, not appreciating to their entirety the focus of their little world. It’s the same effect, it doesn’t matter the focus.

So whether you’re pro-nostalgia or anti-nostalgia, just placing all those beans in your baskets, it’s not good. All it does it forces one’s world view to become narrower, and worst than that, you’re narrowing it because of your own biases, and taking pride in it. This is why I usually don’t focus on what I like, or whether I do like something. What I or anyone “likes” it has little interest to me, and it sticks you in that bubble, stuck in that crowd that’s below me, that one I’m floating above, but at least I can see all of you. I look, I pay attention, I observe, and when I do, it makes me want to stay up here more. Yeah, I know how fun it can be, I can see all of you enjoying yourselves, but you’re still just in that group, and from inside that box it can easy to get caught up in it. From up here, I see all sides of it, the good and the bad and trust me, from up here, the bad especially, makes it look a lot worse than you realize.

Nostalgia is nice, for a moment or two of reflection, whether it holds up, why it’s good or why it’s bad, debating, analysis, whether it helped at all or not. Or study, why these things get so ingrained, just because it was bad doesn't mean it’s not worth knowing, so many things have poured into the cultural stratosphere that weren't that good that you should definitely have even an understanding of why they hold up. Having an opinion or a bias, sure that’s understandable, but a critical opinion, that’s much more valuable. Everything else just feels so hollow to me, ‘cause it is. It’s a delusional a nostalgic recall, not of whether anything was good about it, but about a time period where it played an important part of your life. Doesn’t matter if that comes when you’re five or fifty, it’s still nostalgic in your mind, it’s still a delusion.

That’s why I like Doug Walker a lot, he’s fascinated by nostalgia and how it does play a part in formulating us, but he’s asking us to look and think critically about it. Don’t go blindly into that good night and let yourselves stew in the pop of whatever your culture or counterculture preferences are. How did it formulate us, why does it affect us, how can it make us better? How can we look outside of ourselves and expand beyond that, and what can we take from these pieces of nostalgia that are ingrained in our past and all the biases that we prefer and love and really use those things to better ourselves as we still seek out more and more other things to admire, love and obsess over.  

In closing, nostalgia, like anything else, can be good, but also like anything else, you gotta know how to put it in the appropriate context in order to appreciate it, and frankly, there isn’t enough of that and instead, there’s way, way, way too much emphasis is placed on the childlike embrace of nostalgia as though it’s more pure than taking a more critical outlook on it, and not just from Hollywood, it’s the people who persuaded Hollywood in this direction as well. As much as I like Nostalgia Critic and others, they do play to those who have been sucked in by nostalgia, they don’t admonish it, they perpetuate it the delusion and I know he doesn’t mean any harm by doing that but you know, the more I think about nostalgia, the more I think it should be. Just because they’re called our formative years, doesn’t mean we have to be relegated to be formed by them. You shouldn’t just like or hate something because you like or hate it, it’s not that simple, whatever it is, and if it, then either you haven’t look at it closely enough or you’re just refusing to, ‘cause you’d rather live with those delusions than face the realities of them. It’s not what it is you grew up with and embraced as your own, but you should be able to think through how and why those things affected you. When I see people take those nostalgic aspects of themselves and become more thoughtful about them and create amazing things like Nostalgia Critic or numerous other artists do, then I become impressed and that it’s used correctly. But that’s not what I see, it’s usually just another way people separate themselves into groups to make them seem like they’re special than they are, because they really, really like something, and some people don’t, and you know what, we have enough of that in society. Some of it is a necessary evil but this isn’t one of them, it’s just arbitrary. When nostalgia takes over to that extent it becomes too much and you lose all perspective. Sure, the opposite’s true as well, without too little nostalgia you don’t get any perspective, but more importantly, question it, be critical. Of yourselves, of others, of me even. But consider why you like certain things and why you don’t. Critically think about it.

If you realize that maybe one of these obsessions might be a passion irrelevant of nostalgia value, then maybe we can talk and then you should looking more into that passion as a study as a career even, but if that’s not it, then it’s time to grow up and start to distinguish the good from the like and don’t just let the things you like, or hate, be a way to representing yourself or determining the value of others.

I’m David Baruffi and I criticize it, ‘cause somebody friggin’ has to.

(I get up and walk away from my computer. Mumbles to self.)

Huh, “I criticize it, ‘cause somebody friggin’ has to”, that could be a good catchphrase for me.”
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