Saturday, March 30, 2013

I Found This Troubling

Hey, guys. "The Sandlot" was released 20 years ago this week.

Whew! Thank God that fence fell down for like no reason, am I right?

Now before I go any further with this, I know that there's nothing more trite than marveling at the simple passage of time.  (One of my favorite Tig Natarro bits revolves around breathlessly-typed emails from child-factory friends:  "Little Caitlin's starting Kindergarden!  Can you believe it?!"..."Well...what is she, like five?  Yeah, I can totally believe that.")

But there's something odd about this one. Somehow, 1993 still doesn't really seem like that long ago to folks around my age, but twenty actual human years?  That’s just objectively a pretty substantial block of time.  Moreover, when we were kids, the 31 years back to the film's 1962 So-Cal setting was just unfathomable.  The mind boggled to consider a period so vast; we had no choice but to pin this value to our newly acquired concept of infinity by default.  The fact that in the time elapsed since our childhood, we've effectively burned through 7/10th of infinity, and (remembering our 4th grade math) 7/10th of "FOR-EHHVV-EHHRR" is still forever...  

Well, at risk of belaboring the point, I found this troubling.    

Let's fucking do this.
How about this:  relatively soon (in 2015), "Back to the Future" will stand equidistant between that movie's own 1950's Oedipal fuck-fantasy and our current time.  Which means we can safely assume it will be back in theaters.  In 3-D, duh.  Perhaps it will be re-released alongside "Gone With The Wind"  which will pass its respective  tipping point in the same year.  

Or maybe it won’t.   I don't know if this chronological anomaly holds as much interest for anyone else, but I’m going to presumptuously assume that it doesn't, and refer to it hereafter as  "Jesse’s Fulcrum of Nostalgic Collapse”  or the JFNC point:
Definition:  The point in time at which a piece of fiction, partially or wholly taking place during a period earlier than the time at which the work itself was created, ages to a degree that the work’s age is equal to that of the separation between its creation and the period which said work originally sought to depict (or to Nostalgize, frankly speaking).

I must admit there doesn't seem to be a clear indication as of yet to the significance (assuming there is any) of the JFNC point. Let's look at a few examples of erstwhile fetishism and their associated numbers:

That's right, gurl.  I'm like the tortoise.

"American Graffiti"
Released in 1973
Takes place in 1962
11 year setback

JFNC exceeded in 1984

You want my advice? Give up.

Released in 1978  
Takes place in 1959 
19 year setback

JFNC exceeded in 1997

Scariest TV dad ever.
"The Wonder Years"
Released in 1988
Takes place in 1968
20 year setback

JFNC exceeded in 2008

Calm the fuck down, Kiefer Sutherland.
“Stand by Me”
Released in 1986
Takes place in 1960
26 year setback

JFNC exceeded in 2012

I can't believe the Houndmouth show sold out. 
“Paper Moon”
Released in 1973
Takes place in 1933
40 year setback

JFNC exceeded in 2013!  

That's now!  What does this mean!? Can this explain our pop charts' currently inexhaustible supply of dust-bowl fetishizing bullshit?! Are we suffering through flavor-of-the-minute, bros-with-banjos malarkey because the we've simply run the gestation period for an era's aesthetic to turn from the stuff of wistful fictioning to blatant, undergrad imitation without a hint of embarrassment?  

Well, probably not. On the whole, our culture is masturbating concurrently to too many eras past for any coherent mechanism to fully model the sadness, but I think we're getting closer.  
Also, with a 40 year jump back in time, "Paper Moon" is more historic fiction than nostalgia mining, but whatever. I should also probably also mention at this time that I'm making a convenient assumption to get a specific year for the film's setting. Although our heroes do spend a good part of the second act tooling around in a 1936 Ford Phaeton, I consider the moonshine-running subplot a bit more important for placing a "real" point in this impossible timeline, so we'll go with the last year of prohibition. And herein lies a problem.

As is the case with any truly excellent storytelling, the reality that the characters inhabit feels totally convincing, even though the smallest amount of scrutiny turns up glaring problems with that reality.  When Roger Ebert reviewed "American Graffiti," he said that no sociological treatise could duplicate the movie's success in remembering exactly how it was to be alive at that cultural instant.  Which is true for all I know, (and possibly not that impressive since it was only time traveling 11 years) but I have mixed feelings about fictional works of pure entertainment (that were from the outset distorted in the rear-view mirror) getting that kind of veneration and authority.   It seems like a great way for careless anachronism to become actual canon and nostalgic onanism to become historic record.
But maybe that's not why I'm suddenly so irritated by our obsession with the good ol' days. I think I'm deeply bothered by the fact that “The Sandlot,” is an irreplaceable, defining piece of the childhood of myself and millions of other people who have no business defining their childhoods around anything based in 1962. Wistfulness might be as certain as death and the collapse of Social Security, but it might be nice to at least have our own fucking nostalgia and not have to borrow our parents.'

Obviously, the prospects of the world we've inherited are limited to picking through its bones, but I feel that if this generation has a leg up on the boomers in any respect, maybe it's this: a well-earned aversion to rose-colored revisionism (and a smug sense of superiority). Specifically, if a movie came out today that was the chronological analogue to "American Graffiti," taking place 11 years ago, the time of my own high school graduation, there's no way I could watch it thinking, "Man, 2002 was fucking great."  Because it wasn't. And I'll wager dollars to donuts that 1962 wasn't either.

One of my all time favorite movie scenes is from John Carpenter’s 1983 adaptation of Stephen King’s “Christine.”  I don’t know if it was meant to be a brilliant visual metaphor for the impossible task of finally crushing and destroying boomer nostalgia, but it's hard for me to read it any other way these days. Because just when you think we've finally killed this post-war American age of innocence thing, Spielberg decides to do "Indiana Jones 4", or "Grease" is back on Broadway again.