The Wonder Years married the bewilderment of a child with the nostalgia of an adult; and for a generation, the TV show created by Carol Black and Neal Marlens is a time machine back to the sixties, youth and innocence. In today’s episode, we return to “The Wonder Years” with Carol Black and writer Titi Nguyen to reflect on childhood with the help of Kevin Arnold.
From the theme song to the super-eight home movies in the opening credits, The Wonder Years, is steeped in nostalgia. Through a wistful narrator, it takes the audience back inside the mind and heart of a pre-adolescent boy as he tries to make sense of how the sixties impact his family. We all live at the intersection of our personal lives and the historical events around us. We grow up focused on the personal until one day we realize how history shapes us. For Titi Nguyen, her birthplace, Vietnam, loomed in the background of her childhood, but since her parents never spoke of the place or the war they’d fled, Titi turned to the TV, specifically The Wonder Years, to make sense of her story.
“The fantasies of the past, determined by the needs of the present, have a direct impact on the realities of the future.” — Svetlana Boym
The word “nos- talgia” comes from two Greek roots, nostos meaning “return home” and algia “longing.” It’s easy to watch The Wonders Years, and see another nostalgic look back to a glorious past, except the past rendered in the show is not glorious; it’s the image of a world in turmoil.
In the foreground of the turmoil is Kevin Arnold, a bewildered hero trying to muddle his way through middle school, and I often relate to Kevin Arnold when I’m in the middle of life, connected to the present, obsessed with the personal stakes of this or that moment. It’s not until I look back, open the frame and parse through the past that I begin to understand what happened, who I’ve become and what’s the next step I want to take. But more often than not, it’s a blur, which is why the meticulous cataloguing of Kevin’s life in the suburbs is a touchstone.
“Unreflective nostalgia can breed monsters,” wrote Svetlana Boym, which is why a guide when looking back is helpful, to stay true to what the past actually was and not what you wish to recreate for your present needs. We’ve got good guides in episode 6, reflective and thoughtful and clear-eyed.
Thank to Titi Nguyen and Carol Black for participating in this episode!
Here are a few links relating to the show:
“The Wonder Years, Memory, and Mourning”: By Amanda Ann Klein
“My Wonder Years”: By Titi Nguyen
“An Oral History of The Wonder Years”: Rolling Stone
While developing Episode 6 for Memory Motel, Kerrianne Thomas, our production coordinator, discovered an essay by Amanda Ann Klein on Medium, “The Wonder Years, Memory, and Mourning.” For obvious reasons, it spoke to us. As an adult, Amanda re-discovered the series on Netflix shortly after her father’s unexpected death, and if Proust had his madeline, Amanda describes the TV series as her involuntary memory trigger. It brought her back to childhood, and it wasn’t a purposeless trip: she was mourning her father, trying to process the complicated relationship they had. Her story inspired our approach to the Wonder Years, as a vehicle for taking us back when we need something from the past to move forward. Her essay also led me to Dr. Tim Wildschut, an Associate Professor within Psychology at the University of Southampton, who researches nostalgia. His studies have recast nostalgia as a positive emotion instead of a depressive and self-indulgent practice. We recruit nostalgia, his research finds, to bolsters social bonds, increases positive self-regard, and generate positive affect. Our Extended Stay 6.5 includes both Amanda’s story and Tim’s research. Enjoy!
Executive Producer: Terence Mickey
Producer: Bart Warshaw
Research and Editing Assistance: Kerrianne Thomas, Samira Tazari, Carson Frame
Memory Motel Logo Design, Theme Song and Music Supervision: Bart Warshaw