Because many of you asked what I thought about Molly Ringwald’s recent essay in The New Yorker.
1. Ms. Ringwald is absolutely right. Movies endure not just b/c they meant something to us way back then but b/c they should allow for rigorous re-examination as our culture evolves. Great movies hold up to that examination, not by seeming contemporary (which is impossible) but by constantly engaging us as we change, even though they don’t.
2. It is not “political correctness” to re-evaluate a work of art in contemporary context. It is perhaps myopic to say it shouldn’t ever be seen again because of what it said when it was made and how it isn’t cool to say that now. But Ms. Ringwald isn’t arguing for censorship. She’s arguing for not letting nostalgia gum up the rigor of our intellect.
3. Nostalgia is, by definition, a failed enterprise: A wish for what is no longer presumes a) we can turn back time and b) nothing should have changed between then and now. Both are impossible. There’s nothing wrong with looking back fondly on things from the past. Bear in mind that the best of those things (like, for example, The Breakfast Club) are still remembered not just because of what they were then but how they continue to speak to us now.
4. John Hughes made great movies not in spite of being a flawed person but because he was a flawed person. The remarkable thing about genius is that it happens in human beings who are by definition good at some things and not others. If they are in fact, geniuses and the things they create are too, then they invite that rigor of examination not shy away from it. Dude, Where’s My Car deflates like a leaky balloon upon examination. Huck Finn, The Age of Innocence, James Brown Live at the Apollo and The Breakfast Club are so good and complicated and magnificent and frustrating in so many ways that they are gifts that keep on giving. And we look away from the full extant of those gifts, if we ignore that Mark Twain was a genius but a terrible businessman which probably hurt how much we know of is work, that Edith Wharton was a genius but an unapologetic snob that probably made her output less rangy than the true scope of her genius, that James Brown was a genius who was a terrible boss and lost a young Bootsy Collins as a bassist because of it and imagine what Mr. Brown’s music COULD have been like and that John Hughes was a genius who had great difficulty emotionally reaching beyond whom he was as a teenager and examine what could have been had he been able to write and direct movies not about the suburban midwest?
5. “Imagine if” always comes with examination of genius. Bad movies/books/songs/tv shows you cannot even summon the energy to do that.
6. I promise you, no one, not Molly Ringwald or Criterion or I or anyone else who wishes to have lively conversation about your favorite movie from childhood, is trying to ruin your childhood. We are in fact trying to acknowledge that we all grow up and change and we STILL have the opportunity to have ongoing evolved, long term relationships with the pop culture of the past. That, in fact the needlessly linear narrative of pop culture as new–>passe–>forgotten–>kitsch–>reboot is a diet of junk food and culture is meant to be a feast.
7. The evening I read this Molly Ringwald essay, I also saw Night Ranger in concert. And 35 years after their heyday, they were fantastic. Which led me to watch a ton of concert footage of theirs and to the one, every video had at least a dozen comments talking about what Night Ranger does is over, musically and will never be again, despite what I had seen with my own eyes the night before, they fact that I could watch 35 years of the band’s history for free, the fact that armed with a Spotify subscription and a web browser, I could summon Night Ranger and 25 bands like them across four decades of popular music with a few keystrokes and search terms.
I submit if you spend a bunch of your time talking about how “over” something is, you are really not talking about “it” being over but you. You’re sad because that band/movie/book reminds you a special time in life from long ago. Fine. If you want to be done having special times with art and pop culture, be my guest. That strikes me as an entirely avoidable self-inflicted cloud of depression you have decided to stand under without an umbrella. Show a little backbone, take two steps to the left and come out in the sunshine where the rest of us live.
8. I am deeply thankful to Ms. Ringwald for saying from her unique point of view better than what I tried to say in Brat Pack America that nostalgia often keeps us from further discussion, further engagement, from having marriages instead of flings with art and culture we love That living there is a wasteful and potentially dangerous enterprise. And we owe to our kids and nieces and nephews and our mentees and our young friends who we wish to share it wish to keep talking.