I, like many people, am an ’80s kid. I grew up watching Transformers, I have fond memories of G.I. Joe, and I was a huge consumer of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles stuff. I will always treasure those childhood memories.
That said, I’m getting a little sick of the Internet nostalgia/outrage machine. Because, let’s face it, much of the stuff we watched as kids was objectively awful.
This doesn’t mean everything from every franchise is bad, mind you. Even at the time, you had, for example, Larry Hama’s beloved G.I. Joe comics informed by his own experiences in the military, and the Ninja Turtles inspired some of the greatest video games of the 16-bit era. But realistically, when we talk about these franchises, we talk about the cartoons.
And they stink. That’s as much a function as what they were (toy ads) as the budgets and total lack of supervision involved. But that said, in some cases, ouch.
Take Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, currently the subject of rage because Michael Bay has turned the subtle and elegant concept of humanoid reptiles who know karate into a crass snoutless abomination. Not that the movie looks good, but have you gone back and watched an episode of the cartoon? Any of the 193 of them? Just pick one. I started watching the show at random as the beginning of a stunt article and I had to stop. I couldn’t get through an episode.
Similarly, you don’t have to go very far into Transformers before you realize that perhaps the series is not as good if you’re not eight. That’s not to say the show doesn’t have pleasures as an adult, but that comes largely from the fact that the writing staff started seeing how far they could push the insanity rather quickly. There’s an episode called The Girl Who Loved Powerglide, for example, that’s about human-on-Transformer romance and is pretty warped even for the 1980s. Then there are the show’s painfully unfortunate adventures in Libya. Or the episode where the staff wrote the single most bizarre take on mermaid/giant robot romance this side of DeviantArt that not even the fans really want to talk about all that much.
Quality Is Earned, Not Inherent
This isn’t to say, again, that these franchises can’t yield something of quality. A good artist can take anything and give it meaning. In fact, a G.I. Joe comic was one of the best fifteen comics of 2013 in my opinion, and I’d actually argue that many of the franchises from the 1980s have been better served by comic books than any other medium. Even if the Transformers comics recently featured a self-immolating robot priest. Yeah, the franchise hasn’t gotten less weird, just better written.
And also, we should call out bad ideas when we see them. My allergic reaction to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie is largely because it just looks so generic and dull, like Bay and Jonathan Liebesman cracked open a can labeled “Generic Action Movie, Just Add IP!”
And, yeah, my sense of nostalgia is pricked. But by the same token, the movie’s not really for the kids who grew up watching the TV show. It’s for humans who are actual children right now. It’s got nothing to do with the show I grew up watching, so I set that little bit of outrage aside.
And adult nerds should take a breath and do the same. Our childhoods can’t, and shouldn’t, be preserved in amber. We don’t get to hog all the toys to ourselves, and it’s good that franchises move on. Yeah, sometimes it’s terrible, but that’s OK. Our own experiences should teach us that kids will love crap unreservedly, and carry that on for their kids to enjoy.
So, let’s trash a movie on its merits, not because we watched the cartoon as kids. Unless Michael Bay options the Silverhawks. Then, we riot.