Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Commodore 64s, Mustangs, and Norman Rockwell

No, I'm not going to start waxing poetic about the ancient computers rotting away in my closet. It's odd that I should even have them. I mean, there's not much I can do with them. I have one power supply that barely works, no monitor that will work except the TV in the living room, and the disk drive loads up disks in about an hour. Plus the fact that I have all the games I love to play on the emulator programs on my ultra-fast PC computer that cost about half what my parents bought the C64 at Service Merchandise 25 years ago.

So why do I have the things? Come to think of it, why does my mom still have her 76 Mustang rotting away at the bottom of the driveway, even though some people have offered good money to take it away to restore it to its former sexy beauty (how I used to lay in the back seat while going to the doctor, throwing up, or on hot days coloring in books, only to have the crayons melt all over the back of the fold down back seats. Or looking up at the stars in the back, without seat belts, seeing stars that most people nowadays will never see because the lights are too bright and they're all inside twittering anyway.

Obviously, these material things are tied to past memories. Ones that, yeah, we could get rid of the actual things and still have those memories, but human nature just doesn't work like that. Sure, I could be Thoreau, living at his log cabin at Walden Pound, imagining the people walking around with their stuff stacked on their backs like Indian merchants who used elephants to sell their wares. There's so much stuff that we keep because there's memories that are tied to those things. Memories just aren't permanent. We need photos or movie ticket stubs, or old computers and rusty cars, or the wedding ring stuffed inside the sock drawer to remind us of those memories, both good and bad, of older times.

And while I've talked about Nostalgia many times before, there are things that I have experienced recently that show how much we try to keep the past with us. To recollect in times of peaceful contemplation. The idea of a memory restored, in the notes of a song, in the paint strokes of a master, in the rusty carcass of some old, beloved machine, now long ceasing.

Shana, one of my Facebook friends, posted a link to a Youtube video, one that has a portion of a Sesame Street song from long ago. It's easy to find, just go to Youtube and look up Vintage Sesame Street. Any one will do. Where did those old TV shows go, anyway? Now, with these days of "Reality" TV shows and endless, nauseating examples of the back-stabbing, base, immoral ways that humans treat each other. That 3 year olds probably could tell you more about MTV than PBS. Then you go on the Internet and there are, amongst the porn sites and videos of girls beating each other senseless, videos on Youtube that bring back the joy of the TV. Sesame Street, Pinwheel, the list is endless, of shows that we watched as children. And now we can enjoy them all again from Youtube or from DVDs or, or whereever. But what is that we would watch these silly cartoons when reality is so complex? It doesn't make any sense. Except it does, as we're not watching the shows for themselves, but as a way of remembering times when those shows were new. To experience again the quiet Saturday mornings when the TV would be on, showing cartoons, and the sunshine would come through the blinds and show up as rays bouncing off of dust. It's not the TV shows themselves, but rather the memories stored with them.

People have been doing this for centuries, even before television. In the 1800's, Britian enjoyed the landscape paintings of Mallord William
Turner, who, along with Wordsworth and Colridge and others ushered in the Romantic age. The ironic thing is that, while aristocrats and art lovers gazed on at the forests and idyllic glades of Turner, the Industrial Revolution had just chopped down all of England's forests, leaving the landscape empty and barren. We only appreciate that which is being destroyed. Else, we take it for granted.

But back to TV. Recently I procured a copy of the movie Maya(1966), staring Jay North (Dennis the Menace), in an effort to get movies and shows that I had watched as a kid (and, okay, as an adult, too. :) ) I just got through watching it, and I did some research on it, as I remember seeing the TV series by the same name on TNT in the early 90's. Turns out, there were 18 episodes made of the show, filmed all in India. It enjoyed good ratings, but was canceled after only one season, because filming entirely in India was too expensive. This last chance for Jay North to continue his career was evaporated by budgeting. But anyway.... the movie is very good, one that brings out the Romance of a foreign country, wild surroundings, rogues, ruffians, snakes, tigers, elephants. It very much reminded me of the recent Secondhand Lions which was, ironically, the last movie made by Haley Joel Osment before he did his little car/pot accident thing, and succumbed to Child Actor Syndrome. Action, moral lessons, in the vein of Tom Sawyer or other adventures. But these adventures are things that children aren't experiencing anymore, since they are all inside playing their Guitar Hero, or on the Soccer field playing organized games from age 4 on up.

In this instance, childhood is very much like the landscapes that Turner made. We are destroying childhood, and so we create works of art that remind us of those days. Take the art of Norman Rockwell, or the recent flood of books, like The Dangerous Book for Boys, which teaches boys how to be boys again (there are books for girls, too, which brings up the argument of if this is all being destroyed by sexism, but that's for later). Kids are being felled by real life just as the British trees were cut down and used for mass production.

So we keep our old stuff, and watch our Youtube videos, and dream of days when things weren't so complicated, and then we go about our new-fangled lives. I guess, if keeping those old things around might get us to slow down a little, take a break, maybe it's a good thing.

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