Remembering Why We Remember

Some thoughts on memory. They don't call it your memory machine for nothin'.
June 14, 2006

Everything changes...and stays the same.
For my second article at I'd like to try something a little different. Yes, I'm sure they'll hang my body high. Nevertheless, here goes.

When I first sat down to think of topics to write about I had a hundred different ideas. Cartoons, books, toys, video games, television shows, movies, and even music that I once thought only myself and a handful of friends had ever been privy to. As I browsed the site, I came to realize that these things really did overlap into millions of other people's lives. There are so many things I'd like to write about in hopes of just getting a handful of eager "Hey! I remember that!" responses. There's no denying the joy that you get when someone else completely understands something you couldn't normally explain. Especially to someone who "wasn't there" – a sort of a generational thing in that people of different age groups (no matter how old) always seem to share a certain group of these things. I don't want to rob anyone (including myself) of that warm feeling, but I still want to ask: why?

Two takes on the western childhood hero...

Nostalgia may be one of the few emotions not taught to children elementary schools. And for good reason. It is not easily depicted with a facial expression like say, anger or happiness. It’s not easily described in words either. The dictionaries I consulted left plenty to be desired. I can't remember (ironically enough) who said this, but I remember someone once declaring that "The problem with people is that we spend too much of our adult lives coming to terms with our childhoods." I’m barely in my twenties and I already find this statement to be very true. When I reflect on many things that happened to me at age twelve, they often seem just as vivid or influential as something that happened to me a week ago.

In the mood for the poor man's engagement offering?

So then, what is our nostalgia when we revisit stuff from our youth? Often we talk about these things, but not of them. Read the last sentence over – you'll get it. Is nostalgia simply a reaction to things that aren't any longer part of our everyday life? Things like certain TV shows or video games that once surrounded us, but are now non-existent in pop culture. Maybe so. But let me suggest that it's something deeper. Maybe what we feel nostalgic for is not the actual time when we experienced those things, but the experience we had at the time.

Just for example, I can watch Disney's the Little Mermaid any day of the week. As a young man comfortable with my sexuality I can even admit to having my own copy of it. I can enjoy it over and over again, but I can never feel the same way I did when I saw it for the first time on the big screen – in a packed theatre that was converted into an office supply superstore long ago. I can now play antiquated games closer to my own generation like Super Mario Kart and Zombies Ate My Neighbors as much as I want. What I can't do is casually extract the same enjoyment from them that I got when they were the staples at my first sleepovers. For me it's the same with most anything I feel nostalgic about.

They say that you've got to keep reinventing yourself if you want to stay popular as an entertainer.

I'm sure a lot of people come to this site to relive the past to a certain extent. And what I've ultimately discovered – as simple and cliché as it sounds – is that it's easy to recreate substance, but far more rewarding to recreate experience. People who say a Nintendo emulator isn't the same thing as NES hasn't S-video-cabled it onto a big screen TV held an eight man high score competition on it with their friends. Using SmartJoy type accessories - for you real purists out there. When you think that 1980's music is just for reminiscing alone in your room at this point, then you haven't actually put in your 80's mix tape at a party and been pleasantly amazed at the reaction. Whatever the category and whatever your generation – we aren't so different in the way we feel nostalgic about things, we just feel nostalgic for different things. Not because of quality, but because of the experiences we had. Other than that, we're all the same. The things you feel nostalgic for haven't lost any power just because you're older. The problem is that we don't so easily and openly share the experience with others – which is really why we grew to love most of these things in the first place. That’s why Retrojunk is so popular – it allows for sharing the experience.


In kids movies today, like the Shrek series, it has come to be expected that there will be the obligatory double entendres built in for the parents. It's widely accepted that these are things that the kids "don't get". Current cinema is just one example, but people sometimes fail to realize that there are many things adults "don't get". Walt Disney had another take on the problem with people. He said "Too many people grow up. That's the real trouble with the world, too many people grow up. They forget. They don't remember what it's like to be 12 years old. They patronize, they treat children as inferiors."

Maybe nostalgia, as silly as it sounds for grown men and women to enjoy so many things that modern society finds juvenile and dated, is our way of remembering. Then again – what the hell do I know? Time to play some more Gauntlet.

Familiar circles.

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