Sunday, March 30, 2014

Cleaning Out The Trash

Buckle up, motherfuckers. This is going to be a long and meandering ride.

Woke up this morning, chasing the last shreds of a dream. As is usually the case, the fragments didn't make much sense: perambulations and coffee, quirky friends and drum-heavy world music. What little I remembered, as I sipped my morning cup of awesome-sauce blacker-than-black joe, reminded me an awful lot of Northern Exposure, probably one of my favorite television shows of all time.

Northern Exposure was a case of right show at the right time for teenaged-Mike. At the time it began to air, I was wrapping up high school. I was a bundle of nerves about life in general, unsure of what I wanted to do in life, unsure that I could even survive outside the protection of my parents. Northern Exposure was adult and quirky in the way that I so desperately wanted to be. I have fond memories of it. Oddball characters, offbeat humor. Everything about it was cool in that way that the 90's could be cool sometimes. It was the 90's in the way that the 90's wanted to see itself.

I still think of it as hip and up-to-date, an example of what television should be. Edgy, current and HOLY SHIT, that was twenty-five years ago!

It led me down a trail of weird math.

For example. Woodstock was in 1969. The first Lollapalooza was 1991. It's now 2014. The time between the first Lollapalooza and Woodstock was 22 years. The time between now and the first Lollapalooza? 23 years. I have a hard time making the mental jump between the two cultural periods.

After all, the 60's? We're talking Martin Luther King, women's suffrage, moon landings, the Vietnam War, the first televised kiss between a white man and a black woman on TV, all that stuff.

Between now and the early 90's? Not much seems to have changed. The Internet, maybe. Certainly not as extreme a jump as going from 1991 to 1969.

And yet, it HAS. Times have very much changed since then. All kinds of cultural progress has happened. Computers have drastically restructured society. I can, right now, call a friend on the other side of the planet asking what the weather's like. He'll tell me, then text me a photo. And that's not even the tenth most futuristic (from 1991's perspective) thing I've done this morning. Shit, I'd need at least ten minutes to explain to teen-Mike what I even do for a living ("Uh, I'm a computer programmer. Kind of").

In spite of all sorts of moaning and bitching and disclaimers and arguments that we're still as culturally backwards as we were back in, say, 1955, we have a black President. Gay marriage is legal in many states, all sorts of barriers have been knocked down since then. Hell, you can buy weed legally in a lot of places. Nobody really bats an eye at mixed-race relationships anymore. Try all of that in 1991.

And yet, at the same time, I think of 1991 as pretty much the same as now. Maybe it is.

The thing is, life is FULL of these situations where you'll stop and realize how far you've gone.

You have to update your mental baggage every once in a while.

If you don't, reality is going to whack you in the head with a fucking shovel. You can't afford to be lazy about anything: humor, social assumptions, whatever.

If you don't believe me, head over to Youtube and pull up a stand-up comic routine from, say, 1989. Go ahead, do it. The edgier the comic the better.

You're going to see a lot of jokes that just aren't funny anymore. Do you remember wife-beating jokes? They used to be awesome. You'd ask a friend, "Have you stopped beating your wife yet, Ray?" as an icebreaker, a kind of ridiculous question playing off how Ray is probably a pretty nice guy with a pleasant wife. Not the sort of guy who'd beat his wife. Nope.

Or you'd have jokes about queer stereotypes. Eddie Murphy, for example. About a quarter of "Raw" tends to go over like a lead boat anchor these days. A lot of it is still pretty genius, though.

The list goes on. Culture drifts, gets better in some ways, gets worse in others.

But if you don't recognize that, reset your brain every once in a while, you're going to get in trouble, you're going to be the guy in 2014 who's making clueless jokes about trans-folks or writing fiction where characters still use cigarette-smoking as a placeholder action (unironically). And that's not particularly cool.

I've changed a lot since 1991. I can still enjoy the things I enjoyed then, but I'm a different person living in different times. Nostalgia's a great thing, so long as you recognize it for what it is and clean out the closets every once in awhile.

And holy shit, this is one of the posts I never thought I'd get to. It kind of snuck up on me, honestly. Three paragraphs in and I'm like "hey, this sounds kinda familiar."

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