still a kid at heart

April 2, 2010

pop-culture friday! this week: childhood entertainment you still love. given my frequent rhapsodizing over the muppets, it should be fairly obvious what i still adore. but i think it’s interesting to explore the cultural artifacts of childhood that i’ve held on to all these years. some things just haven’t held up (i loved highlander: the series when i was 16, and it’s so cheesy even i can barely watch it now), some have become guilty pleasures (newsies), but some have held up.

on reflection, i’m always a little amazed at how early i was drawn to stories of the west. i read the laura ingalls wilder books about a million times over. i loved young guns. i watched the young riders in repeats for years – and this is a show that does not stand the test of adulthood, incidentally, but is hilarious for the casting. on sunday nights, the country station would have an old time country show, and i would always call in and request “big iron.”

these are not the only cultural pieces that i still love, but they’re the only ones that really hold together as a cohesive unit, instead of just “things i saw as a child.” and more importantly, these aren’t just things i enjoyed reading or watching or hearing. these are the artifacts that primarily informed my imagination. when i daydreamed or playacted, i frequently placed myself in the kind of fictionalized west that these books and programs showed me. i crossed the plains in a wagon train; i masqueraded as a man and became a pony express rider; i became a famous female bandit (19th century ideas about women’s roles never impressed me much).

when i was in eighth grade, i had a kick ass US history course. my teacher, Mr. Lynch, remains probably the 2nd greatest teacher of my life. in his class, i learned the wave theory of the frontier (which i would not study again until my final year of undergrad). for the first time, the history of the west wasn’t portrayed to me as something fictionalized and glamorized, and it wasn’t taught to me through playing oregon trail (i always hated that game for some reason). for the first time, i saw that this time and place i was fascinated with wasn’t just pop culture fodder but could be studied analytically and seriously.

now, admittedly, i didn’t think things out in this specific manner. i was 13. but i do know that i loved that unit on the frontier like i loved nothing else in my academic life to that point. and i know that four years later, when i was browsing the UC Berkeley catalog and trying to decide what i should study, i read the listings for the history courses and got excited, despite my two years of terrible high school history class. and when i flipped a few more pages and found the NAS department, and realized that there were a multitude of ways to study the west and its people, that was it for me.

and although academia didn’t really work out for me, i never stopped loving history in general and the history of the west in particular. in some ways, i’m still daydreaming, still trying to be a part of the past, but instead of pretending to be a bold explorer, i think about cultural interactions and definitions of the frontier.



  1. I need to figure out a way to pay to you write about culture — pop, historical, and otherwise. Seriously. Your project? Not that you need one? Should be to write a series of essays on this blog. After a time, you should start submitting them to your favorite websites and publications. Then maybe THEY will pay you to be a contributor.

    Don’t laugh. I’m dead serious.

  2. that’s kind of what this blog was originally supposed to be – working on keeping my writing skills sharp and sometimes just hashing out the white noise of my various personal crises. and i slacked on that, because it’s hard. with no overlord and no due date, i just ignored things. i have great ideas that i wanted to do last summer and still haven’t gotten around to. basically, i need to just force myself to pay more attention to my writing, because no one else is going to do it for me. i need to conceive of myself as a writer, and i need to work on my writing like its a skill and not just the side effect of what i really care about.

    and hey, thanks for always being supportive. i personally think you’re far better at writing and blogging than i am, and your good opinion means a lot to me.

    • oops, that was supposed to be a direct reply to you, lynner, not a second comment. i’m lame, sorry.

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