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Childhood memories and YouTube clips make for a weird concoction.

For no particular reason, I was reminded this morning of the 1980s TV series The Equalizer, which starred Edward Woodward as retired intelligence agent Robert McCall running his own business as a detective/problem-solver.

The show was the basis for the more recent movie series starring Denzel Washington, as well as a short-lived TV remake with Queen Latifah in the title role.

My parents were big fans of the show and we watched it every week. I was thirteen at the time and was a bigger fan of The A-Team and Simon & Simon; I suspect many of the show’s nuances went over my head. What I mostly remember about _The Equalizer_are the killer theme music by Stewart Copeland, the cool Jaguar that Robert McCall drove, and that New York City (where the show was set and was filmed) seemed like a very scary place.

The series does not seem to be readily available in the US on any of the major streaming platforms but I will admit that I did not spend much time or effort trying to find it. I was able to find a bunch of clips on YouTube and that was enough for me. They confirmed that the show is more or less as I remember it—a pretty well done story-of-the-week episodic drama with all of the usual 1980s trappings, not to mention a surprisingly large number of now very recognizable actors.

As is often the case with media like this from my childhood, part of me wants to go revisit the entire run but I suspect my fascination would not last long. I find stuff like this to be a perfect example of how you can never step into the same river twice. While The Equalizer was good, I feel like it is entirely of its time and it is nearly impossible for me to see it through anything but the lens of everything I have seen since then.

It is a strange thing that my memory of the shows I watched when I was a kid is now mixed up with the clips that are available on YouTube. I don’t think any of these shows is a masterpiece crafted by an auteur based on their artistic vision. Most of them were a product; they had to crank out twenty-two episodes per season and in many cases, the seams really show. Still, people were writing scripts and putting thought into framing shots and editing scenes, but now that is all just a jumble of hazy memories and pixelated snippets.

When it comes to nostalgia, it seems like people want it both ways. We want to still be able to appreciate the stories and entertainment that we loved when we were kids, but we also want it updated to fit with contemporary sensibilities or to somehow find an argument that makes it fit with them. And those contemporary sensibilities cover everything from current expectations about special effects and editing style to the use of language and how characters are depicted and treated. The memories of childhood entertainments that live in our heads tend to get unconsciously updated over time, so when we go back and watch those shows and movies, or read those books, we are confronted with the gap between what we remember about them and how we experienced them at the time versus what they look like to us now.

That gap an be pretty uncomfortable.

A conversation I have fairly regularly with my kids is how it is okay to say “I used to like that thing but I’m not really into it anymore.” This conversation tends to come up in the context of sorting through old books or toys to decide what we are ready to give away. We come across some old Maisy books, or one of the billion toy trucks we used to have to bring anywhere, or one of the countless kid-version books of the Odysseus and the Cyclops story, and one or the other of the kids starts going on about how dumb it is and they can’t believe they used to be into it.

“Well,” I say, “that was eight years ago and you were five, so I’d be a little surprised if you still liked it. But you really loved it then and it wasn’t dumb, because that’s the kind of thing five-year-olds are into.” We talk about it a little more and maybe reminisce about watching every single TruckTunes video on YouTube and then we move on.

I think this conversation is one that it would behoove us to have more deliberately as a society. Rather than tying myself into knots about whether it’s okay to still like an artist despite some unfortunate and outdated messages their of-a-different-era work contains, or insisting that because I thought a movie was great when I was a kid I still have to defend it against all comers as an adult, I should be able to say “You know, I used to be pretty into that movie, but now… not so much” and move on.

I think maybe it’s hard to do that because I have to be able to take a step back from my direct experience of these pieces of media that I loved and examine them at a bit of a remove. I have to make a judgement about them and then be able to speak to that judgement.

More than that, though, there’s a bit of the abyss looking back into me here. I have to be able to talk about not only what it was that I liked about this art that I no longer do, but also own what that says about me—both the fact that I once liked it and that I can now see some stuff about it that I don’t like.

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