Mandan News

Brian L. Gray: Screeching back into the past

When I was a child, the Disney characters I was raised with were actually wholesome. Granted, they were cartoons, but racy photos of them taking part in racy activities never leaked out into public view.

More and more of these characters in family-friendly Disney shows keep rearing their heads in the media for negative reasons, as they get caught in the middle of all sorts of controversial and racy situations. I understand this shock comes primarily because of an expectation that comes with Disney, and the moral and ethical standards they attempt to portray. So when a character is caught in a racy act, it often comes as more of a surprise than if someone like, say, Ke$ha, is caught doing something racy. I saw this happen myself when I was young, and that’s why it’s taken so long for Pee Wee Herman to make a comeback.

I loved wholesome entertainment when I was a kid… and I reluctantly admit that I still like it. It wasn’t just Disney I enjoyed – I had all the TGIF shows on ABC, the Cartoon Express on Sunday mornings, and cartoons and the sitcom “Saved By the Bell” on Saturday mornings. All of them were both clean and entertaining – there were never complaints from parents, or questions raised by the kids that watched them.

I realize how silly it is to think that these wholesome shows reflect real life in any way, but at the least, they offer us a rose-colored view of how our world could be. Yet I know that they lie.

“Saved by the Bell” is a prime example. I learned this after reading a tell-all book from one of the characters in the show, Dustin Diamond, who played Screech Powers. I read it at a bookstore. I enjoy bookstores. Especially ones that have comfortable furniture. I’ve grown quite fond of sitting back and relaxing on them for hours with a book in my hand, sometimes even laying my head back and letting the mind-numbing elevator music lull me to sleep and eventually waking me back up to read the entire book, without actually having to pay for it.

I read all the juicy details Screech divulged about the cast from Bayside High for free at that bookstore. “Saved by the Bell” was a show that appeared clean-cut on the surface, but as Screech so unflinchingly pointed out, backstage racy things were happening. I won’t go into details, because I’m paid to attempt to be wholesome here.

This led me to think that maybe this isn’t an isolated incident, based on what we hear about child stars today. Maybe this has occurred ever since children were first introduced to entertainment. I even think about my parents’ generation, and one of their most wholesome entertainers, The Beach Boys. That happy, perpetually smiling quartet of guys that sang about surfing and hanging out in the sun with their rich harmonies had a way of making people feel better. But fans learned years later that only one of the members actually knew how to surf. One founder member also committed suicide, another was institutionalized. A few members even befriended Charles Manson, who also co-wrote some of the band’s songs. For my generation, that’s basically the equivalent of finding out that Lark Voorhies once went on a blind date with Jeffrey Dahmer.

But knowing these facts doesn’t stop me from believing that the Beach Boys made great music, or that “Saved by the Bell” is genuinely entertaining. Regardless whether I see wholesomeness on television and immediately know it’s a fabricated lie, I can’t hinder my appreciation of it.

I can watch episodes of “Saved by the Bell” today and realize that although they are ridiculously cheesy, they represent not only a time in place, but a feeling, despite what happened when the camera was off. They capture the emotions I had as a child first watching them. And those memories often come rushing back when I watch them – I can remember waking up with friends on the hide-a-bed in my parents’ basement, eating Cheetos for breakfast, drinking soda and working on perfecting our ADD, as we watched cartoons and played video games during the commercials. I can catch an episode of “Saved by the Bell” and remember what was going on in my life when I first watched it. The show is cheesy, yes, but it is autobiographical.

My eyes can still well up if I ever listen to “Goodbye to Our Friends” or “Did We Ever Have a Chance.” And I don’t like getting teary-eyed to songs that simultaneously make me want to vomit. But that doesn’t stop the fact that it conjures up the feeling I had when I first experienced it.

It’s odd to think a moment in time that defined generations are not what they seem years later. The truth of that moment may feel destroyed, but what you can’t destroy is the feeling you felt when you first experienced it. And that’s what is real.

Our truths we hold close can sometimes later be found on a foundation of lies, but that fact still can’t change how we originally felt. Because when all else falls apart, our emotions are what remain on solid ground.

But don’t quote me on that. I heard it from Mr. Belding.