By Adam Crohn
I’m the most nostalgic person you’ll ever meet. One of my 7 Instagram accounts (@mom_gave_them_away) pays homage to the common plight of so many of us 80’s kids whose moms literally gave everything great from our childhoods away. I like to post my ever-growing vintage toy collection, as well as movie and TV show musings and the memories that go with them. It’s very much a blog that stores evidence of what I recall as the best times in my life, certainly the simplest, and all the times that have most heavily influenced the person that I am today. But the best part are the comments I get on the posts. Since I started there hasn’t been a single troll or negative sentiment. Instead, it’s full of “Wow, I haven’t seen this since I was a kid” and “I totally forgot about this, thanks for sharing.”
This week that account turned 5 years old, and I had forgotten to delete from my phone the pictures I used on my very first post, so Google reminded me of the anniversary. It’s strange seeing that first post and having nostalgia for a movie that I didn’t see as a kid. It was for the 1984 Robin Williams comedy-drama, Moscow on the Hudson, that I had finally watched. The flick was pretty big when it came out. Williams was enormous having recently added the notches of The Survivors, The World According to Garp, and Popeye to his belt. Not to mention the near decade prior of building his comedy chops in the stand-up world, and iconic sitcoms Eight is Enough, Laugh-In, Happy Days, and Mork and Mindy (NANU! NANU!).
I’ve always been a Robin Williams fan; I don’t know many folks that aren’t. Before he started to make us cry and then contemplate, he spent the first third of his career virtually bending over backwards making us laugh. His physical comedy was untouchable and pioneering and helped shape entertainers from Cousins Larry and Balky of Perfect Strangers to Jim Carry to Pete Holmes. He became not only one of the most influential comedians in history, but one of the most lauded actors of our time. He was also known for his consistent philanthropy work with Comic Relief to benefit the homeless, and sat on the board of one of his oldest friend’s charities, The Christopher Reeve Foundation. You could say Williams was a Superman in his own right.
Robin Williams was great. But he didn’t hold the kind of slot in my mental library of nostalgia that would typically warrant a first post honor. But now I see that as further proving the power of nostalgia. In a very genuine way Moscow on the Hudson is its own 80’s cultural time capsule. The VHS image alone shows an immigrant holding an “I Love NY” shopping bag overflowing with digital watches, video games, and toys of the time like a Rubik’s Cube. It was the first decade of overspending, rampant consumerism, and just tons of stuff. With that as its setting, the movie used a complex narrative to share the simplest of messages, that of finding the place where you feel you belong. Something youth of the 80’s nailed. It came out during the mid 80’s when, despite America and Russia being in the last leg of the Cold War, the US was still the place where a lot of the world felt you could come to reach that simple and safe and successful life. And in a lot of ways, it was. It definitely was for Americans. Previous decades were defined by its youth basically being oppressed. In the 30’s and 40’s kids were just a placeholder in the traditional family structure. Eat your three squares, listen to your mother and do your homework. Then they were testing the waters with rebellion throughout the 50’s, realizing they wanted more than to make their parents proud and that there was fun to be had. The 60’s were experimental with that fun, and in the 70’s younger people didn’t give a shit about what their parents wanted or thought. But in the 80’s there was a mutation. You could almost see it as it unfolded and took hold in the hairstyles and wardrobes, be it the mall culture’s teased out finger-in-the-electrical-socket look, or punk culture’s chips, dips, chains, and whips. Kids were their own thing for the first time, and it was weird, and I feel like that gave 80’s kids something really solid to hold on to.
The 80’s were arguably the most influential decade in pop culture. Today, so much of toys, TV and movies, even food, are all tethered to something that was either created or solidified in the 80’s. So, when I look at my first post being of a Robin Williams movie I’d never seen as a kid, it still makes perfect sense to me why I chose it to represent such an important era in my life. Sure, I didn’t have the experiential nostalgia of having seen the picture decades earlier and reminiscing about that experience, but what I did have was the “nostalgia shrapnel”. I remember seeing the commercial for Moscow on our big, faux wood, cathode ray TV and thinking how funny Robin Williams seemed, especially when my dad yelled “NANU! NANU!” and told me that was the same guy from Mork and Mindy. I remember the house we lived in at the time, the Go-Bots I was playing with, our cat Molly, the first family pet we ever had, hiding under the couch where she spent most of her time when we were watching TV. And all that shrapnel culminates today into the nostalgia that Robin Williams and Moscow on the Hudson hold in my inner, Rubik’s Cube shaped heart. It brings rushing to the front of my chest the feeling of simplicity, finally getting the chance to be your own unique mess, and at least the hope of feeling like you’ve found the place where you belong.
Adam Crohn is the freelance writer, toy and concept designer, YouTuber, and podcast host and producer that listens to way too much Hall and Oates. You can find him all over the place at https://adamcrohn.carrd.co/