It doesn’t do any harm every so often to reflect on yourself and why you work in the way that you work. Every therapist I’ve ever had has said I’m WELL GOOD at this, so therefore welcome to an occasional series in which I ponder this – who knows, it might (hopefully) be relevant to you as well.
I was a very solitary child. For various reasons, I’ve always felt a keen sense of outsider-dom. Did I embrace this by discovering, say, punk music or graphic novels? No, course not, I lived in Worcestershire, where such things were scarce, plus it was quite simply too cool.
I watched TV. I watched too much TV. I made my parents cross because I preferred watching TV to interacting with other kids. This made perfect sense at the time because real people were chaotic and real life was ‘hard work’ and, so I thought, gave me nothing back for how hard I tried to make people happy. When you feel like this it’s easier to engage with other people whose universes seem both more exciting and more comforting. These people don’t exist, of course. That’s the ultimate tragedy. You let yourself be thrilled by the adventures of people you can never meet, whilst at the same time making real life feel less and less like something you want to actually take part in.
And I was okay with this. And as an introvert who’s still fundamentally terrified about whether everyone secretly hates me, it actually did me a lot of good. In a world where I felt everyone was either secretly angry with me or trying to make me feel like shit, watching other ‘people’ being totally ambivalent was a serious relief. The context of ‘story’ simplified human interactions into something I could understand and digest, and the fact that many of them were also intensely fantastical and imaginative worlds made them even more appealing.
When I say ‘them’, I mean some of the best kid’s shows of the 80s and 90s. I’m talking:
Dungeons & Dragons
I cannot BELIEVE this hasn’t been made into a proper feature film yet, as much as anything because it would be an absolute piece of piss. Take, for example, ‘The Girl Who Dreamed Tomorrow’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HqjTsLR52gs, the first episode I ever saw and still one of the richest and deepest pieces of character-based drama that I’ve seen enacted from beginning to end in 20 minutes. Or ‘The Last Illusion’, where one of them spends most of the episode in screaming agony and his friends CANNOT HELP HIM. Or ‘The Dragon’s Graveyard’, which involves some teenagers overpowering their arch-enemy and having the power to kill him. This programme was criticised a lot at the time for being overly violent, but it isn’t really – it just shows you that even amazing fantasy adventures with your friends are sometimes really really fucking difficult and traumatic but that’s part of why they’re worthwhile, even if you don’t completely understand at the time. In other words, like real life.
Speaking of ‘not understanding things at the time’, I move that it is not possible to fully understand Dangermouse when you’re a child. It’s so gleefully bloated with intricate gags and meta-textual references to the fact that it IS so ridiculous, that it’s clearly made for adults to want to watch with their children. My favourites were always the longer ones, like ‘Where There’s a Well, there’s a Way’, and ‘Dangermouse on the Orient Express’, which allowed the silliness to really breathe and conveyed the really very helpful message of ‘storytelling is really quite easy, you can even fuck about with it royally if you want, as long as you keep it fun’.
The Real Ghostbusters
In a late bid for ‘most controversial thing ever said on the internet’, I declare that I prefer these to the films. Why? Well, because the core cast is smaller but has so much more character development it’s UNREAL. Winston, for instance, is properly integrated into the action and given a similar scientific background to everyone else, and Janine is a considerable badass, who gets a number of episodes all to herself. It was much like D&D in teaching about dramatic group dynamics, only it was also my first cultural reference for grown-up sass. Special mention should be given to such episodes as ‘Egon’s Ghost’ and ‘Ragnarok’, which are astonishingly moving despite (or because of) seeming to ‘forget’ the real-world function they have (i.e. as diverting entertainment for children) and just go ‘fuck it, I’m a worthwhile piece of drama, I’m going to be the best I can’.
The Scooby Doo Show
To be distinguished from ‘Scooby Doo, Where Are You?’ and every other version of the same franchise, I sort-of have to include this because it taught me about rationalism – superstition is used by bad people to manipulate others for personal gain, but can be exposed by rigourous scientific enquiry and the perpetrators brought to justice: EVIDENCE WILL ALWAYS TRIUMPH. Or, to put it another way, some sort of logic can (and should) apply to every situation. Use it well, or you’re just running away screaming from stuff that is hard. Also, if you don’t think there’s much drama in this programme, just watch a few (any really), and count the occasions when the villain tries to ACTUALLY KILL one or more of the gang. It happens a LOT.
Once you have watched all the above, see real-life people making their own real-life stories with their real-life friends, in a context that is totally fantastical but has solid internal logic and is fun. It wasn’t all that long after this that I went out to youth theatre to do just the same thing. Coincidence…?