Let’s discuss some nostalgia porn, as it isn’t all created equal. First, let me mention Meddling Kids which is a novel I read last year that blew me away. A group of twenty-somethings that bear a remarkable similarity to a group of teenage detective sleuths and their snack-hungry dog have all grown up and are dealing with the PTSD of the things they saw as kids. From being faced with murder to the supernatural, they have grown-up like the kids from It have – repressing everything.
The nostalgia in Meddling Kids is biting and funny and a new take on tropes as the not-Scooby Gang bump into Lovecraftian Lore, it analyzes not simply what the characters would be like if they actually had to deal with fantastical Hanna-Barbara cartoon mysteries, but talks about the relationships of these people. Why is the book smart nerd friends with the stoner and the ‘nice guy’. It takes its premise through brutality and emotional turmoil and makes these fictional kids feel like they could fit in a real-ish world. It stunned me, and I highly recommend it.
Now, let’s discuss the other side of nostalgia porn, and the reason I picked this topic to talk about. I enjoyed Ready Player One, the book. I caught it early on the hype train and it tickles quite a few of my weird sub-sub-genre’s of stories. It hits on ‘movies as game’ like It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, Midnight Madness, and Jumanji. It features one of my particular eras of nerddom that doesn’t get a lot of notice, 1980s computer culture – and mixes it with science fiction, comics, Brat Pack pop culture, and a thousand other things that were the bread and butter of my pre-teen youth. There was one thing that stuck in my craw about it though, and that was we are watching a ‘day after the day after tomorrow’ type world and the creators of said world seem obsessed with this era of culture. Now don’t get me wrong, I do understand that this is a love letter to that era, but in a book about video games with the grand master video game makers of all time.. you would think they also liked things a bit more ambitious than NETHACK. All of that said – I enjoyed RP1. I thought it was cute and fun and itched the popcorny itches it was designed to itch, even though it is not without its flaws…. unlike its sequel….
You see, Ready Player Two is now out and it has given up on everything that even remotely made RP1 enjoyable and doubled down on the thing that made it annoying. Yes, there’s another fetch quest. Yes, the band gets back together. Yes, the stakes are raised… and it is because of those things that everything else falls off a cliff. Without delving too deeply into spoiler territory, RP2 puts lives at stake. It isn’t about an evil corporation and a young plucky hero… it’s about millions of lives in peril and our, now infinitely rich and yet somehow still remarkably naive, hero – with his encyclopedic knowledge of everything his idols have ever done, spends literal chapters spilling about movies and music. He goes into explicit detail about the life of John Hughes and into deep Tolkien ephemera. He whines about his lack of romance and realizes all of the mistakes he’s made and the missteps he’s taken (none of which that we get to see, mind you) — all while telling us about the trees on Chewbacca’s home planet. There are millions of lives depending on his journey and he can’t help but idly giggle like a schoolgirl because he sees a computer generated Juliette Lewis — a Juliette Lewis that he literally could have delivered to his virtual bedroom and programmed to ride his Natural Born Killer from Dusk Til Dawn.
Nostalgia porn has its place to make a story taste the way it’s supposed to taste, like one of my all time favorite movies, Super 8 or something as charming as La La Land… but when your narrative only serves to plate nostalgia instead of tell a good story dressed in it — all I want to do is go find a new story that doesn’t need to tell me all of the stories that it relies on.
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