Nostalgia has its limits

Andrew Sullivan spotlights this bottled water ad that uses Brains, the engineer from the Sixties-vintage puppet show Thunderbirds:

Sullivan also has a clip of the opening sequence from the original show, and confesses to feeling a certain . . . affinity with Brains, and Lady Penelope, “but what are you going to do? I was eight, gay and living in East Grinstead.”

When I was eight, straight and living in Hasbrouck Heights, Thunderbirds and the other Gerry and Sylvia Anderson puppet shows were a staple of my viewing diet. Their appeal lay in the Andersons’ lovingly detailed models and even more lovingly detailed destruction of same, which my friend and I emulated by putting our GI Joes into Tonka trucks and rolling them off the cliffs behind his Terrace Avenue apartment. Anyone watching us shout in delight as GI Joe — the full-sized one, not the diminutive later model — flew through the air and hit the ground just in time to be crushed beneath the tumbling dump truck, probably would have concluded that we would end up as demolition experts, or mass murderers.

Incidentally, I was also pretty keen on an earlier Anderson show, Fireball XL5:   

A couple of years ago, when Dances With Mermaids became fond of Wallace and Gromit, I found myself explaining that the intricate methods by which the pair descended from their kitchen to their garage were in fact joking references to Thunderbirds, in which the Tracy family’s swimming pool and living room would roll back to permit hidden aircraft to roll out and perform that week’s mission. (For some reason, the likelihood of  tire tracks across deep-pile carpet was never an issue on Tracy Island.) The release of the live-action Thunderbirds finally made her interested in seeing the original show.

Let’s just say the old show didn’t go over too well. In the Sixties, live-action science fiction TV shows and movies didn’t look much better than Thunderbirds, and sometimes they looked a lot worse. For a young boy deep into imaginative play with toy soldiers and equipment, the Anderson shows might have been piped directly from his subconscious. But for a child of the 21st century, the shows just look weird.

“They had shows like this on TV back then?” Dances With Mermaids asked, in the same tone of voice you would use when asking “What, you didn’t have indoor plumbing back then?”

“Well, yeah,” I said, and we sent the DVD back to Netflix. Dances is also a Star Wars fan, and she likes hearing me describe the excitement the original movie generated in 1977. But in the case of Thunderbirds, I’m afraid, nostalgia definitely has its limits.

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