Can "The Wonder Years" shatter the white noise of nostalgia?

Only whites, pop culture vanity going, may be excited to time travel. For other people, the past usually looks like less like a vacati...


Only whites, pop culture vanity going, may be excited to time travel. For other people, the past usually looks like less like a vacation.

This idea appeared in the movies and TV shows of the “Hot Tub Time Machine” franchise for the British comedy “Timewasters” to NBC’s “Timeless”, in which Rufus, a black crew member using an experimental time machine, says, “There is literally no place in American history that will be great for me.”

Nostalgia itself is sort of a time machine, and television has typically let white characters drive it. “Freaks and Geeks”, “That ’70s Show”, “Happy Days”, “Brooklyn Bridge”, “American Dreams”, “The Goldbergs” – those unfortunate family history of fashions and fashion choices, with occasional exceptions (“Everyone Hates Chris”), haven’t made for the most diverse genres.

Boomer’s TV source recalls – When’s “The Wonder Years,” the rosy-eyed look on 1968 since 1988, when the pilot introduced Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage) entering college in a generic suburb, his hormones coming boiling in sync with society as a whole.

While “The Wonder Years” might be pat and heavy (unpopular TV opinion alert), it wasn’t Pollyannish about the good old days. Towards the end of the first episode, Kevin learns that his neighbor – the older brother of his longtime crush, Winnie Cooper – has been killed in Vietnam.

But the running theme, underscored by Daniel Stern’s voiceover, is that Kevin learns about the bigger world just as the bigger world learns nasty things about himself. To an audience who shared Kevin’s experience, it is said: Sure, a lot of things started to go wrong at that point, but we were just kids, figuring it all out. We did not light the fire!

Childhood memories, of course, are not unique to any demographic – you find them in the works of black artists from Spike Lee’s. “Crooklyn” at Stevie Wonder “I wish that.” But it takes some kind of privilege to suggest that the bigger world ever had an innocence to lose – that things were simpler and sweeter, once, before they got bitter and complicated.

Your relationship to history has a lot to do with the side of the story of your ancestors. And how easily you revisit the past depends on whether you assume the past is friendly territory for someone like you.

You don’t have to watch sitcoms to see this. The rhetoric of political culture and the war of nostalgia – appealing to the public’s sense that the past was better for people like them, before their childhood favorites were recast or canceled – was also central to the story. Conservative Trumpist campaign than any political plan. The “Again” in “Make America Great Again” does a lot of work. Great for who?

All of this gives ABC’s new take on ‘The Wonder Years’, which is centered on a black family, an immediate goal: to integrate TV Memory Lane, to complicate our idea of ​​what nostalgia means, to show us what it looks like when. someone else is climbing the time machine.

The focus is on Dean Williams (Elisha Williams), a goofy 12-year-old boy growing up in Montgomery, Alabama. If this “Year of Wonders” had set the clock back by the same amount as the original, it would take place in 2001. Instead. , it also begins in 1968, which the narrator (Don Cheadle, as adult dean) describes as a year when there was a pandemic, black parents gave their children “the police talk” and “a presidential election that created a racial divide. “

The sweetly funny pilot, written by Saladin K. Patterson, insists this is not a story of the bad old days. Dean, his adult self tells us, grew up in a safe, self-sufficient, middle-class black neighborhood that set him up for success. It’s like part of the show’s mission is to say that kids like Dean have happy, sometimes scary childhood memories just like anyone else, and just as much have a right to be. fog up than the white baby boomers of the suburbs of 1988.

But these memories are complicated. Dean remembers his musician father, Bill (Hill of DulĂ©), like a suave charmer (unlike Kevin’s distant bubbling volcano from a father). Bill’s watchword is “Be cool,” a phrase he applied to all situations, including being pulled over by the police in the family car.

Race is not a special episode topic here. It’s part of life. It’s in Dean’s sister’s Black Panthers T-shirt; in the taunts of the bully who lashes out at Dean for carrying a lunchbox “like you’re white” (the insult “still confuses me today,” says the adult Dean); and in a key scene, when news of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination breaks out as Dean is playing baseball against a white school friend’s team.

The original “Wonder Years” pilot takes place months after King’s assassination, at the start of the school year (when Kevin’s school is renamed for Robert F. Kennedy, also recently killed). King is featured in a story from Season 2, when Kevin is portrayed as RFK in a didactic play about Recent Problems.

But the episode is mostly about Kevin’s doomed crush on the young professor who wrote the play; the only black character with a voice is a student who recites the “I Have a Dream” speech on stage. For Kevin, King’s murder is one of the many sad things in the world that echo his personal melancholy.

Dean, like Kevin, is a kid who doesn’t keep a close eye on the news. He has a crush too, and it wasn’t until he saw her kissing another boy that, he says, “the anger I was seeing on the news made a little more sense.” Still, “The Wonder Years” makes it clear that Dean can’t live the story as background noise to the extent that Kevin did.

Sometimes the pilot seems hesitant to involve his white characters too heavily (and, perhaps, alienate today’s white viewers). Dean’s family learn of King’s death, for example, from a sympathetic and distraught white couple during a soccer game. Presumably, there was less white charity backlash too in Alabama from 1968 – the year former segregationist Governor George Wallace ran for president on his own message of racial nostalgia – but we don’t hear them. not at the moment.

There was a more complex reflection earlier, when the white teacher at Dean’s integrated school berates a black student for saying “Yo ‘mama”. “It’s something black students do and white students don’t,” she says. Her prejudices are not lost on Dean, but, her voiceover notes, she also singles out some promising black students, including him, for praise and extra attention. “Which was perhaps still racist,” he adds. “I do not know.”

In a short pilot, the new “Wonder Years” tries a lot: to address and complicate racial issues, while not defining its characters purely in terms of them or allowing the 2021 audience an easy sense of superiority over the generations. past.

Everything goes smoothly, with an ironic nostalgia that won’t surprise anyone who has watched the original series. Indeed, sometimes the new “Wonder Years” seems as much about nostalgia for the comfy sitcoms of the ’80s as it is about nostalgia for the’ 60s.

But maybe that’s also part of the show’s project. We usually talk about progress, on television and elsewhere, as a matter of moving forward into the future. But it can also be about who is allowed to marvel at the past.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Can "The Wonder Years" shatter the white noise of nostalgia?
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