We are swimming in an August of nostalgia: Woodstock is being celebrated yet again during its 40th anniversary, and G.I. Joe is currently kicking the shit out of someone or blowing something up or some such at the movie theater.
Boomer Nostalgia is nothing new: this is the third go-around of Woodstock Memory Mania, after 1994's 25th anniversary celebrations and 1999's 30th anniversary celebrations, which, naturally, were destroyed by my peers, who, unlike our parents, or even our older brothers and sisters who made the trek in '94, couldn't handle sitting in the mud for three days doing psychotropic drugs without starting a bloody riot and essentially burning the place down. Our parents had Hendrix and the Who. In '94, they had . We had Limp Bizkit. So, you understand.
Anyway, Woodstock nostalgia is more than a Boomer merchandising push (though that's a great deal of it), it's a way for people to remind themselves, and younger generations, that for three days, amidst a tumultuous decade, the philosophies of the hippie generation seemed to be true and possible, if only for a moment. It's a cultural touchstone, though one wonders, after the Boomers are gone, if the every 10-15 years celebration of the event (and its apparently crappy music, according to Jim Fusilli of the Wall Street Journal) will continue. I'd say the chances are quite slim.
For those of us born in the 80s, there is no Woodstock to speak of, I suppose: there are festivals and concerts that have special relevance to certain people, and certain musical genres will be attached to us, of course, but our nostalgia, at present, comes in the form of childhood memories. As Michael Cavna of the Washington Post notes, Hollywood is scraping the bottom of the barrel, or toy chest, as far as 80s nostalgia goes, breathing new life into everything from Transformers to G.I. Joe to... Legos?
"This year, in particular, these same Los Angeles producers have purloined my toys, too. How can I leave with warm thoughts of, say, my grade-school Super Soaker when some filmmakers are surely planning to hold my memories hostage at water-gunpoint? They have my childhood and are not afraid to use it," Cavna writes, noting that it's not "just about buying the rights to old toys. The troubling aspect is that the next crop of toy-based films to swamp the multiplex and the record books might increasingly consist of sparkly-but-shallow projects."
Every time an 80s-based film project hits the news, everyone freaks out and starts writing the same thing: "They're ruining my childhood!" But the truth is, your childhood isn't going anywhere. Yes, the films are shallow (there's only so much depth I suppose one can get from a film based on plastic action figures) but that's kind of the point: they are meant to be popcorn movies, mindless, silly remixes of the doll you kept in your pocket when you were 7. Does it suck to see your beloved toys bastardized in such a way? Sometimes. Certainly I never saw Megan Fox vamping up when I had Optimus Prime coming in to Barbie's soda shoppe for a malt, but my memories of the toys and whatever happens on screen are two different things. I love nostalgia, too (obviously), but it's best to separate the originals from the remakes, if only for your own sanity.
In other words, Shia LaBeouf may weasel his way into your favorite franchises, but unless you let him (or, for some of you, unless you want him to), he's not going to make his way into your personal memories. But the consistent retread of Woodstock Mania and the exhausting list of 80s toy and cartoon related projects in the works speaks more to a desire by the audience to hold on to the past, which always seems brighter and shinier than it was, especially now, when we're all dealing with the recession and the madness that surrounds it. It's a totally natural reaction, as nostalgia is comforting, and safe, and a way to remember that things were—or at least seemed like they were—perfect for a time.
However, I agree with Cavna, that this is all part of the problem: it's more about a lack of new memories to make than the "destruction" of the old ones. We shouldn't be complaining about our childhoods being destroyed as much as we should be complaining about the lack of new ideas in the movie theater. So G.I. Joe was turned into a generic action film. Does that really ruin your summer of 1985? Probably not. But maybe it's G.I. Joe's standard blow-shit-up, America Fuck Yeah plot that's really "ruining" things, if only by making your favorite toys generic and kind of boring.
But at least now you know. And knowing is half the battle.