The False Glow of Remembered Childhood

Three years ago, John Boehner was doing an interview when he lamented, perhaps with a tear peeking its way through the corner of his eye, that Democrats "are snuffing out the America that I grew up in." As Michael Tomasky noted at the time, the America Boehner grew up in (the 1950s) featured things like strong private-sector unions, a 90 percent top income-tax rate, enormous public-works projects, and a moderate Republican party, presumably all things Boehner wouldn't like, not to mention Jim Crow, terrible discrimination against women and gay people ... you get the point.

But of course, "the America that I grew up in" is a place that exists only in the imagination—everyone's imagination. This is from an interview in Salon the other day with Adam Goldberg, creator of The Goldbergs, an ABC sitcom set in the 1980s:

Why do you think audiences will be interested in a family show specifically set in the 1980s?

I think the '80s works for a TV show because it's the last time the world was simple. It was before the Internet really changed everything and made the world really small. Today the whole notion of family is a bit different: You can reach out and if you don't get any support at home, you can find a like-minded family on blogs or on Facebook. In the '80s your family was the people in your house, at your dinner table, and the people you went to school with, those were your friends. You basically couldn't find other friends. So it was really the last time where the world was still simple and small.

No, no, no. The '80s wasn't "the last time the world was simple." The '80s was the last time when your world was simple. Can you guess why? Because you were a child!

I'm not the first person to say this (see below) but when you're a child the world is simple and innocent. Your parents take care of feeding and clothing and housing you, and if you're lucky the biggest problem you have is what you're going to get for your birthday. But your world only looked like the world because children are naive. That's part of what makes childhood wonderful, but once you grow up you should come to an understanding of what it was and what it wasn't. You can use your memory of the emotions that characterized your childhood to create good art, or crappy art (although I haven't seen the show, from the reviews I gather The Goldbergs is the latter).

That isn't to say cultures don't change, and American culture changes faster than most. But any time you're tempted to say something like "The world was a more innocent place when I was a kid," try to remember that that's kind of like believing as an adult that your dog really did go to live on a farm upstate.

Here's the definitive statement on this:

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