Big shout out to Masters Of The Nerdiverse, with whom I had an interaction on Twitter that spawned this article! Check them out at their site, linked in their name!
There are phases I have gone through in my life, and I imagine a lot of people who have a fondness for pop culture have gone through something similar.
When I was a child, I loved–and was legitimately fascinated with–a lot of cartoons that were aimed at me. I adored He-Man, Thundercats, Silverhawks, Rainbow Brite, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. To me, at that age, these were the epitome of fine art and engaging storytelling. What could be better?
I would run the neighborhood with my friends and pretend I was Raphael or Lion-O. I bought (which is to say, my parent’s bought… except once*) an armada of toys with which to play in all my omnipresent little kid down-time. These properties were everything to me.
(*I also accidentally stole a He-Man figure from Kay Bee Toys once when I was five or so? My parents let me go off to the toy store in the mall on my own because 1980’s Parenting, and I saw a He-Man I wanted. So I took it out of the store to show them. When I found them and they were ready to drive home, they were mortified that I had left the store with it and just told me to keep it rather than go back and tell the clerk I left with it. Sorry, Battle Damage He-Man! I never earned you fair and square).
Then I entered my tweens and early teenage years, and these shows and toys mostly fell away. I was getting into the MUCH MORE MATURE hobbies of reading comic books and playing video games with my friends. My He-Men and the like were left in toy baskets in the attic and the back corners of my memories of a sillier time.
But not long after, as a college-aged person, I found out that Thundercats and Silverhawks were airing on Cartoon Network at 4:00pm every weekday. Hey, I remembered those! So I gave them a watch, and you know what? I loved them again, but this time, it was different. My affection was tainted by the edginess of being a hip and cool twenty-year old.
What I once watched and thought “Wow, this is great!” became something I enjoyed because “Wow, this is TERRIBLE”. My buddies and I would watch the syndicated cartoons–Silverhawks in particular–and compare notes on how dumb it all was. They flew through space with half of their flesh exposed! They put on tracksuits over their metal armor for “comfort”! The guitar shot laser beam music notes! Literally everything about Copper Kid! These properties brought me joy again, but it was a more perverse, corrupt joy. It was a snide laughing at how stupid I was to ever think these shows were good.
And time moved on and I left these shows behind again. But the nature of streaming and online video services means that the past is seldom more than a few clicks away, and I have since watched these shows again… honestly, mostly from a nostalgia of my COLLEGE years this time as I recalled the glee they brought me. And you know what? I still (again?) love these shows. But it’s more like the adoration I had for them when I was a little kid. Are the shows still a laugh because of how silly they are? Sure. But without the air of cool disaffection that comes with being in the first two years of college, I was able to appreciate the shows for what they are again. The ideas are wildly creative, the voice acting is mostly well done, and the animation is pretty great. Why was I laughing AT these shows when I was 19? I should have been laughing with them. For the market at which they are aimed, they are tremendous! And Copper Kid teaches you basic space facts at the end of each episode!
Not that all of my fascination with liking things because they were “beneath me” didn’t pay off for the companies behind the products. I still very much remember waking up one morning in that same age range and turning on the TV. I had left the station turned to the then-WB network, and Pokemon was on in the morning. As I half-watched Charizard battle Magmar in the Cinnabar Gym while I futzed about online, I remember one thing:
Laughing like a lunatic every time Pikachu spoke. It just said it’s name in a high-pitched squeak! How absurd is that? And just like that, it was like a gear turned in the back of my brain as I had the unconscious thought of “This show is ludicrous beyond words. Wouldn’t it be funny if I spent HUNDREDS UPON HUNDREDS of dollars on video games and game systems and toys and cards on this franchise over the next, like, twenty years?”
Oddly enough, I never did start “appreciating” comic books in that same ironic measure. Probably because they were always written “for me”. When I was a kid, comics were aimed at kids, and were just starting to really “grow up” in the mainstream. Even for the stuff that was starting to be over my head, there were reprints of older fare in X-Men Classic or Marvel Tales to balance it all out.
When I was a teenager in the 1990’s, comics were trying to biting and cool, and that was aimed at me! When I became an adult, the stories were more intense and layered… and that was STILL aimed at me. I came of age in the era that comics stopped caring about kids and just kept targeting themselves at me and people my age. So I never had a real moment of “Look at THIS idiocy!” with comics. They were always bending over backwards to keep my attention.
Oddly enough, if there was ever a time to enjoy comics ironically, it’s right now while Marvel and DC are both so damn bad. I could 100% envision twenty-something me picking up a DC book and saying “Look, they made a Jokerized Batman, and he wears a spiky metal band over his eyes! How does he even see? Haha, this is such fun trash! I hope they make a Batman who is a giant walking castle next OH MY GOD THEY DID THIS IS SO STUPID”. Don’t tell that part of my brain about Wonder Woman’s Chainsaw of Truth or the X-Men just unanimously deciding to act like dicks to everyone else on Earth so they can all fuck all the time!
I’m not sure what the moral here is. Is it that–stolen He-Man aside–I was a better person at six years old than I was at twenty? Because… yes, obviously I was. I was a better person as a little kid than I have been at any point since. Guilty! I guess I am just amazed at the fickle nature of people. We can grow “out” of things, only to eventually grow back into them. We’re always changing as a people.
I had opinions just three years ago that would seem abhorrent to me now. I’ve said and done things that I regret because I thought I had all of the information I needed when I was at that point in my life. We are always told “flip-flopping” is a sign of weakness, but… is unflinching rigidity strength?
You learn as you go, and you are constantly making decisions about who you want to be tomorrow. We are all ever figuring new ideas out and then either cultivating those ideas or discarding them as we discover new information. Who knows? Maybe ten years from now, I’ll think I was an idiot for writing this article.
But it will all be okay.
Because Copper Kid will still be there for me and trying to teach me about Jupiter or whatever.