A Return Visit to Toronto of the 1980s Inspires Nausea and Nostalgia

As someone who went through his formative years during the 1980s, I must admit that I'm still profoundly influenced by this time period. Perhaps a kernel of my childhood naivety has somehow been preserved over the years, such that I tend to greet 80s memories in a less complicated and carefree way than I do those of the 90s, during which time, I, like so many others, experienced the awkwardness and alienation that seems to unavoidably accompany the attendance of high school.

So, perhaps problematically, I often find myself cruising the web for recollections and souvenirs from the 80s, hoping somehow to reengage with a certain feeling or attitude that's now (mostly) faded. I used to accomplish this by searching out old episodes of Degrassi Junior High or listening to the Smiths and Tears for Fears with startling frequency, but my new habit is searching YouTube for depictions of Toronto during my own personal wonder years.

So, when I recently came across a series of 80s eras commercials featuring snippets of this lost Toronto, I thought I'd revel in the memories they conjured up. As it turns out, my response to the collection of these videos was actually a little more complicated. Take the above commercial, for example. Unlike the enjoyment I get from the lead video (Bowlerama has and will always be ghetto-fabuluous in some way), watching this Ontario Ministry of Health ad makes me palpably uncomfortable. Not only did I own the very same car the kid is trying to get his dad to fix, but I distinctly recall seeing the commercial as a child and not being able to understand why the father becomes harsh (seemingly) out of the blue.

This shouldn't come as a surprise. When I think critically about my (re)visits to the 80's, I often experience a strange co-mingling of pleasure and dread that wells up and leaves me feeling embarrassed for myself in some way. Indeed, I often end up posing the following question: was reality itself actually low budget back then? When I watch the commercials below, it certainly seems that way.

Where can I buy workout clothes like that?

I wonder how many dudes fell for the calculator/ruler offer? And is the chick spraying the men's fragrances all over herself? Nasty.

I suppose some things don't really change. Pizza Pizza certainly looks the same. Is that cardboard subbing in for cheese?

Is it possible that people just weren't as intelligent 25 years ago? "Intriguing classroom courses?"

But it is, of course, all relative. The past -- at least when it comes to fashion trends and video quality -- always seems shitty and humorous when compared to the present. But, to the same extent that this is true, it's also guaranteed that present trends and technology are bound to suffer the very same judgment down the line. So despite any discomfort that I may sometimes feel on these trips down memory lane, I also take delight in the oddity of videos like this one.

Now that's star power. Too bad they got rid of the name.

The problem with nostalgia is that it tends to produce an uncomplicated and pure version of past that never in fact existed in the first place. And, in this sense, it's easy to view it as a sort of naive idealism. But, when I come across a gem like the one below -- the video that City TV signed off the air with in the late 70s and early 80s -- it's not altogether difficult to shake off my critical inclination and lose myself in "people city."

That's not say, however, that I can make it the whole way through without cringing at least a couple times...


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