“Nos-tal-gic,’ Akira said, as though it were a word he had been struggling to find. Then he said a word in Japanese, perhaps the Japanese for ‘nostalgic.’ ‘Nos-tal-gic. It is good to be nos-tal-gic. Very important.’
‘Really, old fellow?’
‘Important. Very important. Nostalgic. When we nostalgic, we remember. A world better than this world we discover when we grow. We remember and wish good world come back again. So very important.”
-Kazuo Ishiguro, from the novel When We Were Orphans
Nostalgia will always be the double-edged blade of geek culture. With it, we are able to keep our favorite passions alive. Yet, when they do return, it is always in new forms and we long for the way we remembered it.
Take, for instance, one of my personal favorites.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Growing up, these “radical dudes” were a large part of my life. I owned tons of toys, too many VHS tapes, and dreamed of learning ninjutsu, just so I could be like them. I was in the heart of “turtle-mania,” and when the cartoon ended in 1996, I was heartbroken.
What happened the next year may have been described by “lil’ Jonny” as a miracle. A new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles show was coming on the air; and not only that, it was going to be a sequel to the live action movies. Few of you may remember the abomination that was “Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation,” but suffice it to say I wasn’t the only kid disappointed in it.
This was my first lesson in nostalgia. Sequels and relaunches are hardly ever are as good at the first one.
The Turtles have had success since that initial relaunch. They went dormant for a while after The Next Mutation flopped hard, but came back for a six year run in 2003; and three years after that series had ended the current version of the show started. Each series attracts new fans and gives the world another take on the Ninja Turtles, garnering some level of success along the way….
…and each time I am there watching at least that first episode, trying to recapture that small happy moment I had when I was a kid.
In that was my second lesson in nostalgia – You can never recapture that original magic.
This rings true throughout all of geek culture. Whether you are talking about Star Wars, the new Hobbit films, Transformers, Star Trek, Indiana Jones…the conversation always remains the same.
The version of the cartoon, the movie, or the comic that you experienced first will always be the best. It will always be our first love, and we will fight to the death to defend it; because nothing has ever been able to recreate that sense of wonder that the original experience gave you.
There was still one thing left that I had to learn about nostalgia, and it was one I had to learn the hard way. After watching one of the newer incarnations of the Transformers, and being left indignant as to why it would sully the original cartoon that I held in such high regard, I decided to re-watch said original Transformers cartoon.
Luckily, the whole series was on Netflix, and I set aside an evening to watch the first handful of episodes. Before the first episode had finished, I was questioning my entire belief structure. The animation was poor, voices would be matched up to the wrong characters, and what little plot there was made less sense than the stories I had made up for my figures as a kid. Not to mention that it became painfully clear that the show existed to sell me those very same toys that I played with.
This was my last lesson in nostalgia: sometimes it is most definitely not as good as you remember it.
This brings me back to geek culture, because sometimes we seem to forget that last lesson. We can get so wrapped up defending our version, our take on the characters, that we drive others away. We have an uncanny ability to love something so much that we drive others away from sharing in it.
Does it really matter that much if someone’s first experience with Star Wars was the prequel trilogy, or that they actually LIKE Jar Jar Binks? Maybe what really matters is that they like Star Wars; that there is one more person in the world who enjoys something the same way you do, even if it isn’t the EXACT same way.
Does it matter if someone’s first experience with the Turtles wasn’t the Eastman and Laird comic by Mirage, that their first Star Trek was Enterprise, or that their first take on the Transformers was the Michael Bay movie?
What matters is that we all love our little part of geek culture. Our nostalgia for our past creates an opportunity for others to experience something similar in the future. We may never be able to recreate and recapture that magic for ourselves, but we have the opportunity to create that experience for those after us.
It will always be someone’s first Star Wars movie.
It will always be someone’s first Turtle story.
This is the joy and heartache of geek culture; and of nostalgia itself.
Enjoy the fact that there is more of it, and smile that there are others who are revelling with you.
Criticism because it is not how you remember it only serves to hurt those experiencing it for the first time.
We will never have that magic moment again; but we can always make sure that someone else can.
(You can find me this summer in line for Transformers: Age of Extinction and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at your local cineplex).