Every now and then, I’m overcome with nostalgia for things I enjoyed when younger. Some pleasures are fleeting, but others you can rekindle. I often revisit songs, books and movies I loved once upon a time. The pleasure experienced is never exactly the same, of course. As Heraclitus said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” However, it can be similar enough and it just might be even better because of new insights brought on by it.
Unfortunately, a couple of my old favorites haven’t withstood the test of time, precisely because I have experienced new things since I last read or watched them. I have developed a more refined critical eye, especially when it comes to social and racial issues. Society itself has changed since my old favorites were popular. If they were released today, I hope they would be subject to strong critiques.
When I was younger, I adored George Selden’s Cricket in Times Square. It was such a charming story about Chester, a country cricket, who accidentally ends up in the middle of New York City via the remains of someone’s picnic lunch. This held special appeal for me, since I daydreamed about going to the city, where exciting things happened. I was such a country bumpkin and didn’t know how good I had it back then.
Luckily, Chester is rescued by young Mario Bellini who helps his parents run a struggling news stand near the subway. Chester helps Mario bring business to the newsstand by chirping melodies from operas. His talent is such that he is featured in the city paper.
“Chester’s playing filled the station. Like ripples around a stone dropped into still water, the circles of silence spread out from the newsstand. And as people listened, a change came over their faces. Eyes that looked worried grew soft and peaceful; tongues left off chattering; and ears full of the city’s rustling were rested by the cricket’s melody.”
― George Selden,
Since that was all I remembered about the book, I didn’t have any qualms about reading it to my children when they were in elementary school. That is, until I got to the scene where Sai Fong was introduced. I can’t believe the author meant to be disrespectful, since Sai Fong imparts a great deal of wisdom to both Chester and Mario, but the clumsy attempt at rendering the linguistic characteristics of a Chinese man speaking English made me cringe. I’m sure you can imagine what I’m talking about: the jumbled up syntax, replacements of L-sounds with R-sounds, etc. When I read his parts, Sai Fong ended up sounding more like Eliza Doolittle after she had recited “It rains on the plains in Spain,” enough times to satisfy Professor Higgins.
Similarly, I had fond memories of Breakfast at Tiffany’s stemming back to that long summer when all my friends were out of town and I was left on my own, swimming in the mornings and watching old movies in our family room where I went to escape the mid-afternoon heat. I was entranced by Holly Go-Lightly’s glamorous wardrobe and cosmopolitan lifestyle (again, I was fascinated with city life). Also, being the huge romantic that I am, scenes of Holly’s encounters with Paul Varjak, the novelist, ran on perpetual loop in my imagination.
Sadly, the movie has one of the most obnoxiously racist depictions of a Japanese man to be found anywhere. Mickey Rooney plays Holly’s Japanese landlord. That’s right, a white man hell bent on garnering laughs, pretends to be Japanese by wearing fake teeth, speaking in a garbled and heavily accented fashion, and just acting like a buffoon.
I don’t know if I can ever fully enjoy either one of these again. Cricket is a little easier to process because I can edit it in my mind, but the movie is so IN YOUR FACE that I ended up turning it off halfway through the last time I tried re-watching it.
Have you ever had this experience with old favorites? Can you overlook what you now see as serious problems with them?