Enjoying old stuff

Podcast Where Eagles Dare has returned to their loving, detailed coverage of 1980s British kids adventure comic Eagle with the dramatic moment of its merger with the long-lived Tiger. I remember it well from the first time around. I was 9 years old when this landed in NZ, and listening to the podcast describing these stories (and pulling out the issues from a box in the shed) brings me right back. I remember walking to the local newsagents where I had each issue put aside for me, I remember the shocking panels of death and destruction, and I remember the taste of the muesli bars with the little pieces of dried apricot that I’d eat while I flipped the pages.

I’m closing in on 50 now, so I’m the perfect age for nostalgia; indeed, it sometimes seems that the entire entertainment industry is tilted towards monetizing my generation’s hazy-fond memories of a simpler time. (Mostly I find that trend frustrating. The exceptions are, I think, instructive: Doctor Who never stopped (even when it was off TV) and has always operated on a healthy disrespect for its own past; Twin Peaks The Return delighted in thwarting any nostalgic impulse a viewer might have sought, resolving its past in a more profound way; Slayers operated as an act of redemption and penance for the failings of Buffy The Vampire Slayer; the Dungeons & Dragons movie was an honourable return to the deeper themes of the final episode of Freaks & Geeks.) Mostly, I’m not interesting in reboots and reimaginings and returns, but in the original material itself.

So, returning to the Eagle comic, and also enjoying dipping into old Doctor Who episodes, and The Twilight Zone and The Prisoner and classic Star Trek and more.

I suspect that my renewed interest in old stuff is partly due to the age of cultural overload in which we live. There is simply too much content these days. I long ago stopped trying to keep up. (In fact, I stopped trying to keep up in the 90s, I still haven’t seen Star Trek Deep Space Nine or The Sopranos.) But it’s not just that: there’s also something pleasant in the pace of this old material.

Old TV was created to a different plan, serving a different social need. It’s distant enough from the present, and I’m old enough now that I can disentangle it sufficiently from my own direct experience, so that I find part of the pleasure of old stuff is seeing the implied world created by what’s on screen.

When I watch old TV, it almost feels like I get to sit alongside a family gathered around their giant television at teatime, tuning in for the latest episode of a show they like. The old episodes invoke their own perfect audience. I get to experience the past, reflected on the screen.

There’s just so much there there, packed into the cultural products of the past. You can unfold so much from them (TV show as an unfolding text, one might even say). And when I watch or read things of which I have personal memories, like those comics, that historical moment is overlaid with personal sense memory. It’s a rich sensation. There’s an appeal to it, a kind of seeing-clearly, holding the weight of the past in a different way. It makes me more kindly disposed to the past, and to its denizens. They tried, we all tried, and they all just wanted to be scared by the slimy monsters Under The Mountain and laugh when Billy T James showed up for an incoherent cameo.

The golden age of science fiction is 12, and the golden age of music is 17, and there’s no mystery to me why we keep returning to these things as we age, why I go back to them now: we’re not done with them yet. The worlds and emotions and sensations created by art go deep, unfathomably deep. We’ll never touch bottom. I can return forever to Nirvana’s In Utero and Stephen King’s The Long Walk and Jim Cameron’s The Abyss and I’ll never scrape bottom. Other generations have their own touchstones that go just as deep, and I’ve been enjoying watching them, imagining the way they burrowed into the hearts of their era’s audience, but these are mine, and I’ll treasure them.

In Eagle & Tiger there’s a story about an alien who manufactured a plague to destroy humanity and was defeated but escapes death and sets about murdering everyone he meets. There’s also a story about an alien who comes to earth to ride a BMX because BMXs are cool. And that’s just the way it should be.

2 thoughts on “Enjoying old stuff”

  1. We know we’ve made it when we’ve, made it onto Morgue’s blog! Thank you, sir – and 50-something me fully concurs as he (and his 17 year old self) goes to see an old favourite band he never thought he’d EVER see live tomorrow night!

    I love the apricot chunks – a reminder that memory and experience can be Proustian. So for me, Doomlord is probably… ice blue mint lollies?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *