Wednesday, July 9, 2014

It's Morphin Time!

I decided to take a week off from the Blog last week, what with 4th of July and editing the podcast (which you can find here...ahem...plug...cough...) and just being generally busy in LOLrealzlyfe.

I always try very hard when I write nostalgia pieces, to not just make a bunch of references to things. When you see something titled, "10 Toys You Remember from the 90s", that's all they are, and there's no insight to them. "Oh, look! Remember this? Ah... Nostalgia. ...Number 9!" Whenever I do a nostalgia piece, I try to come at it in a unique way, something that speaks to my own experience with whatever I'm talking about, but could possibly spark memories and feelings for other people as well. After all, nostalgia's not just about the references you make, it's about the memories that are associated with those things. And I'm all about the human experience. Because, you know, we'll be dead soon.

My nostalgia post today concerns six plucky teenagers from Angel Grove.


In case you were confused, I meant these six.
I always thought it would suck to be the Green Ranger, you're just standing there, in the center sure, but just directing traffic apparently.

The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was what some people would call "weird." But the amount of success, the amount of merchandise it generated, how it caught on and led to some, shall we say, interesting rip-offs, leads me to believe that somewhere in all its weirdness was some sort of interesting idea in there somewhere that worked, because it caught on with us, and it kept us hook for a while.

I know I held on well past my childhood's expiration date. But I've never been one to let things go. You're talking to the guy who still got up early his first couple years of high school to get in at least one episode of the original Pokemon series before rushing off to school to talk his way out of turning in the homework he didn't do.

The Power Rangers were fun, simple good vs. evil, with a familiar, formulaic episode format. Teenagers must deal with a problem typical teenagers have, are interrupted by a monster terrorizing....well, either the desert or an industrial factory, they go to fight it, not all together, and can't defeat it, until they are all together, and they defeat it. But then Rita would super-size the monster, so the Rangers call the Dinozords, battle the giant monster, and eventually defeat it. Sometimes, other Rangers or more special Zords have to be called in. Sometimes there's another superfluous plot twist masquerading as raised stakes. Then the Rangers return to real life and we seem them overcome their problem. Or no, wait, we don't. They just do.

Of course, I didn't think of all these things back then. Back then, I just thought it was awesome!
First of all, everyone on the show kicked ass. Even Billy, the Blue Ranger, allegedly the nerd (because glasses) was a class-A badass.
Nothing says badass like glasses that make you look like the face of a friend of Thomas the Tank Engine.
But seriously, Billy, like Donatello, could be kinda clumsy and socially awkward, but ultimately, no worse off than Jason or Tommy or Zach. The other guys weren't dumb though, certainly. I believe the only thing separating them from Billy was Billy boy's ability to read the panels in the command center that were only lights.

The show was bright and colorful, fast and flashy. Anything like lack of plot, character development, lack of continuity, terrible dubbing, formulaic episodes, all these nuances are lost on a child looking for a fun after school show. Some may have seen the show as nothing more than a huge merchandising ploy (I mean, the Zords were played by the toys that kids bought) and those people are pretty dead on, but the essential point is it worked.

Holidays made it especially apparent.
For Halloween in Kindergarten, (at least, I think it was Kindergarten. It could have been second grade. See, in first grade, I know I was definitely Aladdin. I feel like a second grade obsession with the Power Rangers, while not out of character for me, is something I might be in denial about) I was the Red Ranger. Despite the tv show featuring a diverse cast dressed in their most racially profiled colors, there was no Brown Ranger for the Filipino to play but it didn't matter because being the loudest of my friends, I was clearly the leader. Which made me Jason the Red Ranger.
I also had a mean Tornado Kick. I had the Morpher too, and the Tyrannosaurus coin was taped in there, because fuck the other coins.
Anyway, I was Jason. My best friend was Zach (he wasn't black. I was in Kindergarten. I didn't meet a black person 'til first grade). Another friend was Billy, another good friend was Kimberly, and a girl I think I had a crush on was Trini. Later, when Tommy got added, my friend switched from being Zach to Tommy, because Kimberly had a crush on him. The final minute before recess consisted of us creating a reason for why Zach wasn't there on the team anymore.
Our episodes usually consisted of re-enactments of the previous day's episode, unless we came up with something super cool, in which case we'd just throw ideas at each other on the fly.
It was tough to do dramatic scenes, like when we killed Zordon (years before the movie did it. Jerks.) or when Kimberly lost her powers and was going to die if we couldn't find her a new Pink Ranger coin. There were smaller patches of tree-covered areas that served for these quieter scenes, but like I said, we had to split our real estate with girls sitting and gossiping or boys plotting something devious (or later, just playing POGS).
For big fights, we took to the field. That was even more challenging real estate-wise, because we had to deal with the much older kids who were busy killing each other in football and soccer and couldn't be bothered to make room for our storytelling performance art, where we were killing imaginary Putties.

The other holiday was Christmas, of course. (No other holidays ever mattered besides Christmas and Halloween, and spoiler alert, that's still true.)
I know I definitely believed in Santa Claus well beyond when I should have (and beyond when my parents should have probably allowed me to). So I saw no consequences in binge-listing my Christmas wishes, as long as I was a good boy the rest of the year. Which I was. Mostly. Mostly.
Of maybe the 10 things on any given list during that 4 or 5-year span, more than half of them were Rangers related. You couldn't just get one Zord, you needed the whole set to build the whole damn thing you saw in that one episode. Look, the Ultrazord wasn't gonna build itself.
Actually, I know I never got the Titanus the Carrierzord, and I had it in my mind that I would eventually build my own out of several Erector sets I had.
Then I remembered I am terrible at Erector sets. And my Lego sets were in service of Space Explorations so no Titanus there either.

My younger cousins had several parts of the playset that I didn't, and I think this is what drives home the idea that nostalgia is about the experience. Because the three of us each had an incomplete set, but together we had one set, then, just like the Power Rangers themselves, we were stronger together. Together, we got to form the MegaDragonZord and take on Goldar. Or whatever.
Me and my cousins had a significantly harder time doing live re-enactments. A severe lack of female cousins, plus a severe inability to interact normally with our peers, forced us into our own unique trio of Rangers who went rogue and were defending the entire galaxy from threats.
It's probably why the three of us transitioned to Pokemon a lot sooner than my peer group.

Something that is especially prevalent now which we didn't really realize back then was the fact that on one side, this world is big enough that you can have any interest in the world and you will find a niche for it of people who like it too. On the other, kids are probably the most brutal to be around when you have interests that differ from theirs, because you can and will be ridiculed for it, and there's not a damn thing anyone can do about it. Because it happens with everyone. We all basically slut-shamed each other into hiding what we liked, unless it was Rugrats and even that took a while.
Your brain forming and learning its likes and dislikes combined with your peers pressuring you and influencing to like what they like (as well as dissuading you from not liking things you like) forces you to move from one thing to another very quickly. A year before Power Rangers, for me it had been nothing but Ninja Turtles, and like I said a couple years after this, Pokemon took over.
You can look at these things as positive or negative, I just take them as it is. You don't have to listen to every voice in your ear, and you can like whatever you like. When the things you like essentially tell you to stand up for what you believe in, no matter how cheesy (or colorfully...and spandexly) it's presented, that's the message that ultimately sticks with you, regardless of what other people will tell you. And hopefully that makes you sleep easier at night.

I slept with a Dragon Dagger under my pillow for years.