Saturday, November 26, 2011

Major Pop Culture That I Have Missed (Part I)

Today I saw The Muppets, the new film from Jason Segel (and directed by James Robin, who also directed Flight of the Conchords and Da Ali G Show). I have a confession to make though: growing up I did not watch The Muppet Show.

More acurately, I did not watch it very often. I have watched plenty of Sesame Street and Muppet Babies, and over the years I have seen a lot of footage from The Muppet Show. I do have vague memories of seeing it at my paternal Grandma's house sporatically -- but I don't remember watching it regularily. Likewise, I although I am sure I have seen some of the Muppet movies, I do not remember them very well which probably means I only saw them once or a very few times. In contrast, I remember seeing the Sesame Street film Follow That Bird (featuring Big Bird) in theatre.

It seems that for my generation (those of us born in the late 1970s and early 1980s), many elements of the pop culture that we grew up on is coming back in various forms. Transformers, one of the pop culture staples of my childhood which I was obsessive over for years, has been remade into three blockbuster films (none of which seem to be written as well as a single episode of the mid-1980s cartoon). DVD boxsets of many standouts of my childhood cartoon watching have been released in the last handful of years including The Real Ghostbusters and Transformers.

The reason for this resurgence of 1980s cartoons is clear. Those of us who grew up watching the shows are nostalgic for them and for the most part are in our 30s and are willing to buy them. Maybe with the excuse that we will show them to the next generation, or more honestly so we can see if there was really anything in what we remember so fondly.

With the deluge of all of this media and the release of The Muppets this week, I am reminded of what I have missed over the years. Some things I was aware of and purposely avoided (like G.I. Joe), others I realize in retrospect I would have loved, but wasn't exposed to (like Animaniacs in the 1990s).

Fraggle Rock (1983-1985)

Another of Jim Henson's creations that I didn't follow as avidly as others. I have thought for years that I was just a little too young for it at the time it was originally on, but there are plenty of people my age (33) who were into it. At the time though I wasn't aware of any of them, one the neighbours who was two years older than me was really into it. I was aware of the show and I probably saw at least some of the episodes, but I don't remember watching it very much.

G.I. Joe (the animated series, 1985-1986)

One of the things that Hasbro did very well with G.I. Joe and Transformers, was make characters who had very defined roles. Although I never had any G.I. Joe toys, I do remember sometimes looking at the boxes in the toy departments of department stores and being facinated by the different jobs each had -- from munitions experts to strategy to driving (I'm making these up, but they're probably accurate). For Transformers, the function, tech specs (which originally you sort of needed the clear red plastic to read because the blue line graphing out the different attributes was obscured by red lines), picture and description -- along with the comics and the cartoon -- fueled years of internal fantasy over the characters. (The toys were a bit of a disappointment in comparrison.)

I never got into G.I. Joe though and if I did watch an episode of the cartoon, it wasn't until I was an adult. It was popular at the same time as Transformers, and my heart was with Transformers.

Transformers (the animated series, seasons 2, 3 and 4; late 1985-1987)

What? you may be asking. Yes, I was a huge Transformers fan. Yes, to a degree I still am (at least of Generation One). And yes, I saw Transformers: The Movie in theatre and still remember in despair when Siskel and Ebert gave it a thumbs down review. Optimus Prime's death in the movie was one of the major cultural events of my childhood. I'm not sure exactly what happened that caused this gap, but I have an idea.

Transformers was a multi-media experience for me. I watched the cartoon, I played with the toys (well, more live action roleplayed the characters with my friends) and read the comics. The first issue of the comic that I bought was #8. It featured the Dinobots on the cover and was one of the things that made me a reader. I followed the comics for years. However, with the cartoon series, I remember the first season (1984, only sixteen episodes) and the movie (1986). However, the rest of the cartoon series, especially after the movie, I don't remember. That is, with one notable exception. At the local video rental store I found a copy of The Return of Optimus Prime. I am pretty sure that I rented it and watched it, but I didn't watch a lot of the animated series after that. Of course, having said that, at the same time I continued to read the comic (which had started pretty dark) and the UK comics (which had started to be imported by the time I was in grade 6) which went to even darker and more experimental places than the American series did at that point.

By the time I was in grade 6 (1989-90) the other factor was that the animated series was not on as much and the videos that were available were only of a handful of episodes. (I remember watching the first three episodes of season one -- especially the beginning part of the first episode when the characters are in their Cybertronian vehicle forms before being changed by the Ark to resemble Earth vehicles.)

This is no longer a concern though, with the release of the complete series, first by Rhino, then by Time Warner. The entire run of Transformers is there for my consumption, whenever I want it.

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