Memory tapes

by Steve

GIF of an old Peanuts VHS

I think there were a number of factors in me not turning into a horrible drug addict in my youth. Fear was a significant one. I was (probably still am) self-centred enough to think that if I ingested illegal substances I was bound to be the unfortunate statistic, that I’d either have that rare biological make-up that would lead to a terrible, painful death from a single Youthful Drug Experience, or I’d be given something laced with rat poison, with the inevitable consequences.

Beyond that, was actually seeing people take drugs. I think I was lucky in that my formative illegal-drug-observation experiences generally involved boring people taking drugs to become interesting, but in fact becoming even more boring from said drug-taking. I stuck to booze, and a far slower bodily decline, as while it made you just as boring as taking drugs did, it didn’t feel like the Look at me, aren’t I cool and interesting option.

Plus, druggy people used to go on about old cartoons. Now I love(d) cartoons, but had an aversion to the great, long discussions about them. Surely there was more worthwhile things to talk about than checklisting 80s cartoons?

Do you remember Jamie and the Magic Torch? How about Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds? It all felt like a bit of a crutch when you don’t really know what else to talk about. When you have nothing to say. But then perhaps I was/am just a bit of a snob, and one incapable of steering the conversation to more stimulating topics. Or maybe I just didn’t like that I’d have to admit I’d never watched The Mysterious Cities of Gold or Ulysses 31.

I guess the fact that I do like old cartoons and people like talking about them is pretty firmly rooted in nostalgia, and all that stuff about my generation’s inability to really grow up and become adult (see: the huge market of what appear at first sight to be children’s toys actually aimed at adults, as children don’t have the money and/or inclination to buy and spend time playing with, say, the more obscure Marvel action figures, plus see: more general behaviour patterns – spending longer at home, marrying later, popularity of certain computer games etc).  There is something innately soothing about them. Perhaps it is the familiarity of it all, or the innocence of the storylines, a shelter from all that nasty stuff out there in the real world. Perhaps there is something to be said for simple fun, an entertainment far removed from the bombardment of internet/billions of TV channels/computer games that actually involve you having to get off your sofa, and so on.

Or maybe it is something more subtle, or subconscious. Watching old TV shows there is that woozy, queasy glow and flicker. The colours look different, a little off, but not in a bad way. It is far removed from the slickness of HD or 3D or whatever comes next. There is a warmth to the picture, there isn’t the cold distance of super-precise widescreen-flatscreens of today. It feels more human, like I guess a vinyl record does compared to a CD.

And maybe that kind of oversaturation and blurriness (see also: popularity of Instagram et al) is a pretty close visual representation of a memory – I’m assuming my memory works like everyone elses’ here) – memory isn’t necessarily perfect or crystal clear. Add that when watching, for instance, a blurry old VHS of a 80s cartoon, there’s something weird thing going on where you’re watching something that looks like a memory, that you actually have a memory of, and they (the memory/representation of that memory) may or may not match up.

To test this a little, try watching an HD version of an old TV programme you remember and see how odd it looks. I watched an old clip of a show from 1992 that had been re-released in a cleaned up version and it was kind of unsettling. Somehow I was watching my memory sharpened up. Not soothing/comforting at all. It was no longer a memory, it was just another TV programme.

I don’t know what it all means, if it means anything at all. There is probably nothing particulary mind-bending or thought-provoking about watching old TV, be it on VHS or Blu-ray or whatever other format. I suspect I sound like a drug casualty, without the drugs. Which while good for my general wellbeing and finances, is probably less fun than just talking about old cartoons. Anyway, as usual, thoughts/comments/insults welcome.

Image from juraf