Miércoles 11 de Abril de 2007, Ip nº 186

We're all '80s kids now
Por Raju Mudhar

By the Power of Grayskull!" And don't forget balding skulls, either.

With an art show devoted to He-Man and She-Ra – twin heroes of the Masters of the Universe toy/cartoon line – gracing our fair city this past week, it's more obvious than ever that '80s entertainment icons are bombarding us these days.

Two weeks ago, there was the new version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, and Michael Bay's movie version of the Transformers – the shapechanging robots from the same era – is coming in July, but beyond these big three there's plenty more wallowing in entertainment's past.

As the major video game systems flaunt their next-generation goodness, one of the major draws of their online components is retro-gaming. The Wii's Virtual console and X-box Live Arcade are basically being built with recycled games from the first generation of games like the Mario series. There's even a new version of Castlevania, a crude 1986 game that any modern teenager would scoff at, in the offing.

And does it even need to be said that music from the Me Decade will never die? While there has finally been a downturn in '80s theme nights at clubs, the hot scene is underground party rap and they are still using classics from the period – one great local example is Toronto/Montreal duo Thunderheist copping the melodic riff from the Eurhythmics "Sweet Dreams" in their jam "Suenos ."

Flash back to this past Thursday when Magic Pony, the Queen West art shop/gallery hosted savedbyart.com's MOTU: The He-Man She-Ra Art Show. The show was packed with 20- and 30-somethings enjoying new takes on the beloved characters. The work on display was also part of a silent auction to benefit the Sick Kids Foundation, so the show was about more than self-indulgence. But that was definitely in the mix.

"Masters of the Universe had a wealth of merchandise, like the action figures which you could really understand and adore when you were a kid. It was a really huge big part of our childhoods so that's why we chose it," says Lola Landevic, 25, who with Reese Hobbins curated the show and contributed pieces.

The art ran the gamut of styles from digitally inspired prints to classic oil on canvas fine art portraits of She-Ra and The Sorceress. There were gay-inspired hijinks (available on a T-shirt) between He-Man and other MOTU characters by Robin Nisho. There was even a portrait that made Orko, He-Man's elfin comic relief, seem cool – a very hard thing to pull off.

Landevic says it was easy to get people to contribute because of the warm feelings toward the brand – 13 of the 20 artists travelled from across North America to the show. As to the larger question of wallowing in the past, she's a bit split on it.

"I think it's good and bad. Even for He-Man, I mean I grew up in Serbia so I have a completely different experience than people would have with it in North America," she says. "For me, I can really appreciate the nostalgia, but I'm also kind of like, let it die a little bit. Not everything can have two lives, so I guess I'm kind of torn."

One of the obvious things driving this is that it's easier than ever to have a second childhood, or never really grow up at all. Magic Pony's entire niche is adult toy collectors. Kristen Weckworth, one of the store's owners, can understand the draw, particularly considering the technological age we live.

"I think it's pretty natural to look back and I think a lot of it comes from technology and the Internet ... it was only a few years ago, when you would think back to something from your childhood and you wouldn't be able to reference it at all, but now you can pull up the information on the Internet or even download episodes," says Weckworth. "It used to be a fuzzy memory, like did that exist? But now you can just get that information immediately and it seems like people are capitalizing on that."

Technology is providing so many tools to look back. Collectible culture is huge thanks to eBay. Facebook is another fine example. The hottest social network going excels at connecting people with schoolmates from as far back as primary school.

Some experts believe there's a 20-year cultural cycle and we're right in the middle of it.

"It's a very odd occurrence, it has this kind of relationship to the way that people think about their youth and that moment when they crave re-connection to it," says Gage Averill, who has written about barbershop quartets and other retro music genres. "You've got what used to be called a 20-year nostalgia cycle that's built into pop culture in the 20th century, in which cultural products get recycled 20 years down the line for secondary consumption.

"That's driven in part by the relationship between people consuming something that means a lot to them typically in teenage years, where impressions are really vivid," he says. "Then 20 years later, you find that people consume it again as part of the life cycle of contemporary western pop culture."

Averill, who is dean of the faculty of music at University of Toronto, has studied this in music, and he noted Disney and other corporations are putting in more effort to wring extra value out of aging characters that might not be earning the same sort of royalties they once did.

Lucian James is the founder of Agenda Inc., a brand strategy firm headquartered in Paris and San Francisco, and he agrees with the 20-year rule, but also feels current geopolitical conditions – global warming, the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan, etc. – may also have people looking back to a safer, simpler time.

"It's something that tends to happen when cultures are a little freaked out," he says.

James says the business case for retrofitted properties like Transformers and TMNT is easy to make. "The cost of launching a new product or a new franchise that people have never heard of is incredibly high. Later on this summer, in a 15-week period, 15 movies are going to be released that are going to be sequels.

"It's the same in any kind of media launch, it's easier to re-release or update something that people are familiar with, than start again fresh."

Of course, the thing is that in updating these brands, details often change, and once those mesh with the old memories, it's changed forever.

For instance, in the new TMNT movie, the traditional villain Shredder is gone. From trailers for the new Transformers, fans are already noting with surprising alarm that Megatron looks nothing like he did in the past and Bumblebee isn't a Volkswagen Beetle any more.

"I guess it depends on how close it gets to home. I was really into Strawberry Shortcake, and the dolls were really cool, because they all smelled like fruit and they had these cool costumes," says Weckworth.

"But then they remade them, and they put her in denim. And I was like, `She doesn't wear jeans. And she doesn't smell like strawberries. Lame.'"

It's bad enough when revival culture damages the original brand. Weckworth wonders if all this nostalgia is crowding out new ideas and new products.

"There's so many people around with new ideas and sometimes I think that the budget gets spent remaking stuff, instead of making new shows, new songs, or new comics, like why rehash something when there's lots of new ideas that aren't getting made," she says. "It's a tiny bit depressing."


  01/04/2007. The Star.