Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Lost in the middle of nowhen OR: It's hard to be nostalgic after eBay destroyed the space time continuum

I used to frequent a comic book store back in 1996 before I got on eBay. The store manager and I would reminisce about Transfomers because at the time there was really no market for them and I would enjoy bitching that it was hard for me to revisit the days of my youth when I couldn't surround myself in toy robots. It seemed like they all just dissappeared and took my childhood with them. The store manager told me that in terms of toys, nothing made after 1983 was as hopelessly lost as I thought. He said that after '83, people who ran mom and pop stores began stockpiling cases of every post Star Wars toyline. He told me that Transformers may not seem popular (at the time they weren't) but I shouldn't think nobody collects them or that huge lots of stock aren't out there. He said it may not be easy to find, but there was an assload of toy robots waiting to be bought if you knew where to look. Until someone could break open the buyer/seller barriers separating the old toys from the people who want them, there would be no revisiting the bygone eras of my roboplastico childhood. He seemed quite wise to me even though he was an ex-army helicopter pilot that fell out of his helicopter.

Fast forward to yesterday when I was driving out here in the Black Hills of South Dakota and I hit a long stretch of nothing but road. There were no signs of civilization-no other cars, no buildings. It was just me, my truck and miles and miles of dormant yellow grass on flat hills. I thought that at that moment I could have been anywhere in time. It could have been any year. The scenery was probably just the same then as it was back in 1974. Then it hit me that I had no proof of what year it currently was-no newspaper or watch or nothing. If Marty McFly exploded his DeLorean in front of me and asked what year it was I'd be screwed. I had no proof that I was in 2007. The featureless land gave no hint as to how much mankind had progressed beyond the crappy road I was driving on. I decided why should Marty McFly have all the fun? I wanted to believe it was decades earlier and with the lack of chronological proof saying otherwise, I took South Dakota with me all the way back to the year 1986. The only thing that fucked it up was that I know my truck is a '99 model and that kept jerking me back forward into at least '98. I had made my own retarded version of a time machine but in order for it to work I needed an older car.

As I was stuck in 1986 or something that looked a lot like it, I wondered to myself what really anchors me in the present day and how do I really know I haven't slipped back a couple of decades? Then it hit me that the measure of what generation I live in is what the pop culture is like. Why else would they come up with phrases like 'the MTV generation' or 'children of the eighties'? We are anchored in time by what's on TV and what's on the shelves at Wal-Mart. If you asked me what 1985 was like I couldn't tell you anything about the socio-political events of the time but I could tell you all about the year I got the Constructicons and the Dinobots. We may as well forget the number designations and just call them 'The Cosby Decade' or 'The Iron Maiden Era' or 'The year McDonalds did those Dukes of Hazzard Happy Meals in the shape of the General Lee'. That's how I remember them.

The great thing about when I was little was that if you didn't buy one of whatever was the popular toy when they came out, once they sold out that was it. You got no more chances to participate in that shared pop culture experience. Consumption of specific consumer goods and Toys R Us toy aisle resets marked the years for me and defined the stakes in the game I called living in the eighties. There were no second chances to go back and experience a Coleco handheld Pac Man game or a Go-Bots model kit. So I came up with these sort of pop culture generational boundaries that marked the passage of time by events and merchandise unique to that era. I knew who I was and where I had been and my experiences differentiated me from mister Joe Pokemon five year old guy.

But then eBay hit me in 1998 and nothing was the same anymore. Whatever chunk of the human experience I grew up with that defined my life-all the tv shows and toys that made it up-it's all on ebay right now. Any era of the past can be participated in by Buying-It-Now. There are no more pop culture generational boundaries anymore. Thanks to TV on DVD I can have a kinship with everyone who grew up watching anything from Welcome Back Kotter to Sopranos. Much of my identity as a person was erased by eBay, the only thing keeping my sense of self intact is that I can't afford some of the crazy prices for old stuff. In a way, high ebay prices are the only thing protecting me from my childhood totally coming back. My generation may once have been referred to as children of the eighties and we are forever marked by the handful of popular cartoons of the day. But today's kids have access to multiple generations of cartoons and aren't at the mercy of what's on TV right now to entertain them in their childhood years. They cannot be as easily defined by what common entertainment they watched a in a specific era. They are probably better described as the Best Buy Bourgeois or Citizens of Circuit City.

Back in the nineties I used to live in a state of constant nostalgia, wishing for the old days. But ever since eBay and Best Buy erased the buyer/seller boundaries between the old days and now, nostalgia had its balls cut off. The past is all around and it can be bought if you want it more than the other guy bidding against you on eBay. You don't even have to go that far, though. The internet has all sorts of time warp sites just waiting to take me back for free. I can even go to the library and relive the old news of the day and virtual shop through the old ads. In fact, the reason I sat down to write just now was that I wanted to announce I updated the Vintage Space Toaster Palace with ads for Transformers 1986 and Transformers 1987. So let's hear it for the secondary market and open up a fresh can of 1986 because nothing takes me back to when I was 12 like a good ad for Galvatron pajamas.


Shawn Robare said...

It's funny, the last time I bought a toy that I remembered from childhood from someone else (a practice I don;t do very often) was in '97 at my local comic shop. This weird guy came strolling in with a tub full of He-Man figures and was trying to sell them to the owner who had no interest. I snapped 'em up at about $.25 a figure and was so happy to have a bit of my childhood back. Then eBay hit and I've never wanted to buy anything else 'cause it just seemed sad at that point. Sad and expensive.

Anonymous said...

I remember going to the local swap meet in the early nineties while in-between jobs and buying Getaway for, like, $5 or so. I went back a few years later and that seller was no longer there and I was sad because she had a lot of good stuff.

Then, I saw someone else with a Sixshot and his foam insert for $30 and I baulked, "That's way too high." Now, well, it's even higher. But, I no longer want to own one.

I do owe eBay a favor since it was the only place I could find a number of G1 Jazz stuffs for my collection.

6FingeredJake said...

Great post. I have often thought about creating a room in my house (if I ever buy one) that is like a time warp. Basically everything in it is from the 80's. The carpet, the furniture the tv, everything.

There is no cable, no cellphones allowed, you have to wear clothing that is provided to u if you want to enter (80's clothing), if you want to watch tv, i will have homemade dvds to watch of 80's tv shows or 80's cartoons complete with commercial breaks with real commercials from the eighties etc.

The room should look like a normal room, not a giant display case. It is okay to have a few loose Transformers or GI Joes lying around, but no walls of mint on card figures. It should feel like a typical room in a typical house in say 1986, a few magazines, books etc.

To me, that is the only way I can imagine being able to feel like I am once again in the eighties.

Evil King Macrocranios said...

I have always been tripped out by your stance on owning second hand opened toys, Shawn. I've always seen it as saving them from the trash while you've said it feels like owning someone else's memories. I've never met anyone else with that perspective. I miss the podcast and your freeform thoughts on old toys and stuff.

Yeah Richard I don't know where this Transformers market came from. Even back in the mid nineties I could pick and choose and haggle at swapmeets because I was usually the only 'Transformers guy' in my area buying stuff. Strange how all of a sudden this enormous secondary market popped up.

And Jake, I remember a guy who used to sell VHS copies of old Transformers cartoons online with commercials intact. But once DVD came along he pulled his online catalog because the demand for the true off the air shows dried up. It's a travesty because the Rhino DVD Transformers sets are so far removed from what actually aired that it's almost a totally different experience.

Were those glittery Star Wars shirts seventies or eighties?

Weasel said...

'The year McDonalds did those Dukes of Hazzard Happy Meals in the shape of the General Lee'.

Dear Gods, you made a bell go off in my head. I think I had one of those. o.O

I both love and hate eBay. I love it because I've gotten some things from there that I would probably never find, but I hate the way it drives up prices and demand. If it weren't for eBay, I wouldn't have a Bumblebee Attatix proto or a couple of the St Louis Happy Meal Bumblebees. But, then again, if it weren't for eBay, we wouldn't have $1000 TFs. Damn these double-edged swords. =/

Evil King Macrocranios said...

At first I thought you wrote "Bumblebee Attacktix potato". And since they've put Transformers on everything from lollipops to gummi bears I didn't think potatoes were all that odd.


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