10 Moments in Pop Culture that Shaped My Youth

10 moments, tons of memories
November 03, 2014
I was born in 1977, so I mainly grew up in the mid 80s to early 90s. I thought with this article, I would look at some major pop culture events that not only were important to me as a child, but still have some relevance or connection to me as an adult.

These 10 moments are more or less going to be in the order that they occurred in my life. And so, without further delay let's start with my earliest significant pop culture memory...

THE MUPPETS - Jim Henson's creations were my first form of "Must See TV". It didn't matter if it was Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, or his entry into the fantasy genre with The Dark Crystal. If Muppets were involved, I had to see it. I think what appealed to me so much about the characters is how they looked like nothing else out there. They could be funny, friendly, weird or even scary, but they were always fascinating to me. Still a big fan to this day, and it really makes me sad to see the characters mainly reduced to shilling Toyotas and ice tea these days. There's no denying, however, that the endearing and memorable characters that he created will last forever.

DONKEY KONG - Some of my earliest childhood memories revolve around my mom taking me to the arcade at the mall after she was done shopping. She would let me play, or sometimes let me watch someone else play, a game. Some of my favorites back then were Pac-Man, Frogger and of course Dragon's Lair, which was too hard for me to play back then, but I loved to watch because it was a cartoon. But my absolute favorite at the time was Donkey Kong. It was simple enough for someone as young as me to understand, yet challenging enough for anyone to spend a good deal of time playing it. It's not just the classic video game that stands out in my memory, either. When I was very young, I had a speech impediment, and had a hard time saying certain words like "cup". The "p" sound was hard for me to pronounce. One day, my mom found a Donkey Kong cup at a grocery store, and used it as a visual aid to help me learn how to talk, as she liked to use visuals with the words she tried to teach me. I remember when I finally was able to pronounce the word clearly, we celebrated by filling the cup with my favorite drink at the time, Kool Aid. Nintendo's big ape played a big part in my very young life, as I remember not only having a plush toy of the guy, but also watching the short-lived Saturday Morning cartoon, and eating the equally short-lived breakfast cereal.

GHOSTBUSTERS - The summer of 1984 is the year I became a fan of movies, and most likely led me to my current side profession as an adult (an Internet film critic). I really trace my love for movies back to the day when my two older brothers took me to see Ghostbusters that year. What can I say, the combination of humor, special effects and mild horror elements really grabbed my 7-year-old mind, and drew me in. This was not the first movie I had seen at the theater, but it really is the first movie that truly made me fall in love with filmmaking. It introduced me to the wonderful talents of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and the late Harold Ramis, all of whom became instant heroes to me because of this film. Of course, after seeing this movie, I had to be a Ghostbuster for Halloween that year, and I remember my family and I making a really cool costume, which unfortunately got ruined, because it rained while I was out Trick-or-Treating. But, it's because of this film that really turned my attention onto movies.

BORN IN THE U.S.A. - Bruce Springsteen's 1984 studio album was the first "real" album (meaning it wasn't a kid's album) that I ever owned. Up until then, my favorite album had probably been the infamous Pac-Man Fever album. Man, did this thing blow that away. I was instantly in love from the moment the stirring title track started to play from my tape player. Sure, I didn't realize what a critical and angry song it actually was (few people did, and still don't to this day), but I didn't care. The music on this entire album really just stirred me. Each track was wonderful, and I of course had to learn every word to every one. I remember I listened to the tape so much, I eventually wore it out, and had to get another one. I still listen to this album from time to time, and think it's one of the better ones to be released in the 80s.

POLTERGEIST - This movie came out in 1982, when I was five years old, but I didn't actually watch it until I was 10. The reason it's on this list is that it was the first horror movie my parents ever allowed me to watch, and it really started a love within me for the paranormal and horror films that still resides within me to this day. What can I say? This movie was just awesome in so many ways - The special effects, the truly creepy moments (That damn clown doll!), Jerry Goldsmith's iconic music score, and the moments of humor throughout the film. Seeing this for the first time, I was frightened, but also mesmerized. I remember two things happening after I finished watching it. The first was going to bed that night, staring at the TV in the corner of my room, waiting for it to turn on by itself, and knowing it would happen as soon as I closed my eyes. The other thing was talking to my friends on the school playground about it the next day, and sharing my favorite moments about the film. It remains one of my favorite horror films, not just for nostalgia value, but because it truly reaches a level of fear, sympathetic characters and playful humor that few films can achieve.

THE SIMPSONS - Let's jump ahead to December of 1989, when the Simpsons Christmas Special aired on Fox, and everyone instantly became a fan of the characters overnight. I remember it was the talk of my 6th grade class the day after it aired, and how we couldn't wait for the series to start up. You can say whatever you want about the show, and how it has gone downhill over the years. But you cannot take away the cultural impact it had, and how the classic episodes still remain some of the best comedy writing that was ever achieved back in the 90s. The characters, the instant catchphrases, the jokes that people still remember and recount years after we've first heard them - This truly was a show unlike anything that had been attempted at the time. As a life-long fan of animation, I remember it showed me what could be done when a cartoon took a more adult look at its humor and situations. Let's face it, this is one of those shows that's going to go on living in reruns long after most of us here are gone.

SUPER NINTENDO - I received a Super Nintendo for Christmas of 1991, and while I had long been a fan of video games and owned an NES before then, this system stands out in my mind as something truly special. When I got the system, I got Super Castlevania IV to go along with it. I remember the first time I turned on that particular game, it was when I fell in love, and knew I had received something special. Sure, Super Mario World (the game the system came with) was fun, but Castlevania had these beautifully dark graphics, and some of the greatest music I had ever heard in a video game at the time. The Super Nintendo truly felt like something special the moment you turned it on. I had played Sega Genesis at a friend's house, and would eventually own one, but it never quite grabbed me the way Nintendo's 16 bit system did at the time. As the years passed, the system would go on to hold some games that I still cherish today, such as Final Fantasy II and III (Iv and VI in Japan), Super Metroid, and Secret of Mana just to name a small few. Today, I consider the Super Nintendo the best system ever made (with the original Playstation a very close second), and have recently started collecting some of the titles, as the stuff coming out on recent consoles like the PS4, Xbox One and WiiU just don't excite me that much. To this day, the SNES still sticks in my mind as creating some of the best video game experiences and memories I've ever had.

JUNE 11, 1993 - The reason why I'm picking this date is that it was a particularly great day built around the launch of one of the biggest summer movies ever at that time, Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park. One of my older brothers and I went to see the film on opening night, and quite honestly, it remains my best experience at a movie ever. I still remember the audience, and how into the film they were. Everybody was here for a great time. I remember before the film, there was a teaser trailer for the upcoming live action Flintstones movie, which was nothing more than the theme song with the lyrics on the screen, followed by our first look at John Goodman as Fred. As the lyrics to the song played, I remember the whole theater singing along and cheering at the end. And then the movie started...My theater had installed a new digital sound system just for the movie, and I remember they had it cranked up so high that you could almost feel the seats shaking when the dinosaurs roared. I remember marveling at the special effects, and how I thought they could never be topped. But most of all, I remember my brother (who was 20 years old at the time) being so scared during the scene when the raptors have the two kids trapped in the kitchen, that he had to run out of the theater. He was so excited and shooken up by the film, he couldn't stop talking during the drive home.

At the time the movie came out, I was kind of depressed, as I was having problems at school, my parents had recently divorced, and we were temporarily living at my grandma's old house (which had no air conditioning that summer) while our new house was being built. I had been in a bad mood, but as soon as I walked in that theater, my mood lifted, and I had the best experience I had ever had at a movie.

LUNAR: THE SILVER STAR - Yes, I owned the infamous Sega CD, and while the system never quite lived up to its full potential, it did have its wonderful rare gems, one of which was Game Arts' Lunar: The Silver Star. Not only was this my first video game RPG, but it was the first time a game's story and characters had hooked me so much, that I just couldn't wait to see what would happen next. When I got this game for my birthday in the summer of 1994, it pretty much dominated my time until I beat it, which is something that had never really happened to me before. Once it was done, I obviously needed more, so my friend let me borrow his copy of Final Fantasy II for the SNES, and again, I was hooked. Shortly after that, I purchased Secret of Mana, and I became a fan of Japanese RPG video games for life. Still am to this day. Naturally, when Lunar's sequel, Eternal Blue, came out in the fall of 1995, I grabbed that as soon as I can. The Lunar games will always have a special place in my fan heart, as the artwork, characters and storylines (especially Eternal Blue's) just grabbed me completely. I was such a huge fan of the series, that I even imported the Japanese version of the Lunar remakes for the Sega Saturn while I was waiting for the English release for the Playstation, and actually played through the games, even though I knew no Japanese. (I used walkthroughs I found on line.) And while the 32 bit remakes were great, it's the original Sega CD versions that I mainly remember to this day.

SATURDAY ANIME - The last major pop culture moment that occurred in my youth was my introduction to Japanese anime, which was thanks to a show that was on the Sci-Fi Channel called Saturday Anime. Every Saturday morning, they would show a different movie, and it was through this program that I found an appreciation for the artform. I remember they showed a wide variety of films, largely from the 80s, such as Project A-Ko, New Dominion Tank Police, 8 Man After, Lily C.A.T., and of course the poster child of 80s "edgy" anime, Akira. Sure, some of these movies weren't exactly that great. And the English dubs that were used for network TV were often laughably bad. But I just remember being so excited by the art style and animation. It really struck a chord with me, and it led me to going out and seeking out more titles. It's what shaped me into the anime and manga fan that I still am today.

So, these are the 10 pop culture moments that shaped my youth, or still stand out in my mind as an adult. I hope you will share some moments from your childhood in the comments section.
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