Star Wars is on the big screen. The Beatles have a couple new songs out. The Brady Bunch is busy filming their second full-length feature. Carol Burnett is on Mad About You. Tom Selleck is on Friends. Sixth-graders are wearing belts with "Peace" sign buckles and tie-dyed shirts. You can buy a Lava Lite for $40 in the strip mall next door. And it's all happening just three years shy of the 21st century. Whoa--what's wrong with this picture?
Now I know what you Trekkie baby booming cyber geeks are thinking: "Nothing! Nothing is wrong with this picture! I like it!"
You like surfing the Net and finding entire web pages devoted to Gilligan's Island, the Rockford Files, the Prisoner, Lost in Space. You like watching Nick at Nite and seeing your old TV buddies in The Odd Couple and The Bob Newhart Show. Just reading about it now on this web page probably fills you with a deep and gratifying nostalgia. It's a hot tub in the Arctic, a cold beer in the Sahara.
So what's the problem?
We're all trapped in the past. We're all in a time warp. We're all thinking behind. Who's thinking ahead? Bill Gates maybe? The Japanese and their friends in the Far East who are buying up the American Dream and America along with it? The world's tallest skyscraper isn't in New York, folks. It's not in Chicago. Try Kuala Lumpur.
Our fascination with the past is, well, just weird. Because memories are no longer restricted to the grey matter between our ears. Memories are now digitized, computerized, synthesized, colorized and stored forever in celluloid. In today's cyber world, the past is not only prologue, it's present and accounted for. Imagine this discussion between, say, a brother and sister:
"I saw Aunt Edna today."
"Aunt Edna--I thought she was dead."
"Yeah, well, she's in syndication. I saw her on ESPN. You know, the Extra-Sensory Perception Network."
"Oh. How is she?"
"Pretty much the same. We sang a duet together. Actually, it was a trio--Nat King Cole joined in. It was unforgettable."
You can go to the drug store and buy a picture frame for about $20 that records the sound of your voice digitally, forever. There are video tapes of entire TV shows--Mary Tyler Moore, Star Trek, Dark Shadows, The Partridge Family, to name a few. Is this our heritage? Is this our new national mythology? If so, we're not only resting on our laurels, we're fast asleep. And we're dreaming in color. Ask the typical sixth-grader what the Peace sign means and she'll say, "I don't know--it's just cool." It's cool. It's hip. And it also stands for a nation divided. Flower Power, the Establishment, the Vietnam War--remember that? Remember Walter Cronkite ending each broadcast with the number of "casualties" that day? Remember the POW and MIA bracelets? Burning draft cards, or not bothering to register for the draft? What's the draft--is that when you leave the window open and get cold?
I don't know, maybe we're just getting old. I walked in the music store the other day and asked for a "record." The salesperson looked at me in utter uncomprehension. It was as though I walked in wearing a coonskin cap asking for saltpeter.
Old people like to reminisce. There is something attractive about the past once you reach a certain age, no matter how disagreeable the past may have actually been. Once you realize that the lofty goals you set for yourself may not be achievable. Once your ideals are crushed by the realities of everyday living. As John Lennon said, "Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans."
And, once you reach a certain age, the past is all you have left, because the future means certain death--unless you come back in syndication. But by then, who can afford cable?
At the Redford Theater in Redford, Mich., people of a certain generation gather every week to see the authentic Wurlitzer organ and a full-length feature like Breakfast at Tiffany's, An Affair to Remember or My Fair Lady. Maybe we're just destined to relive our lives within the context of a generation. Which is scary news for the Gen Xers, who seem to enjoy such notable entertainment as Nine Inch Nails ("I want to f--- you like an animal") and Beavis and Butthead.
What a legacy. Beam me up Scotty, and warp nine to anywhere but here.
NOTE: Just in case it wasn't apparent, the part of Darth Vader in the photo above was played by Mike Brady aka Dad on the Brady Bunch.
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