This week’s question comes from contributor Jesse Hassenger:
I was talking to my wife Marisa last week about her total lack of interest in the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, and she mentioned that not only did she not want to see any new Ninja Turtle adventures, she held very little nostalgia for the first Ninja Turtles movie, even though she liked it as a kid. In fact, she had been feeling remorse upon remembering that her mom took her to see that movie back in 1990. This got us thinking about what other movies we subjected our loving parents to when we were younger. So our question is this: What piece of pop culture or entertainment do you feel most guilty about inflicting on your parents? It could be in retrospect, when they were indulging your childhood whims—or it could be more recent, for entirely different reasons.
At some point in the mid-’90s, my parents, my maternal grandparents, my brother, and I embarked on a road trip from southeastern Michigan to the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. I say “mid-’90s,” but it had to have been 1994 or 1995, judging by the three VHS cassettes we kids brought along to watch on Grandma and Grandpa’s conversion-van VCR: A Nightmare Before Christmas, Muppet Classic Theater, and In Search Of Dr. Seuss—three tapes, two kids, an estimated 22-hour round trip. And we watched each of those tapes over and over and over again. The first two are innocuous (Nightmare is great fun; the Muppets have done better), but the third—a bizarre, star-studded, all-singing, some-dancing tribute to the late Theodor Geisel—is a bit to bear. Who would’ve thought the pleasant meter and inventive rhymes of Dr. Seuss would transform a Ford Econoline into a rolling pressure cooker? Certainly not this former child, who thought the grown-ups’ adoption of one Seussian refrain—“And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street”—was a sign of their delight with In Search Of Dr. Seuss, not a sarcastic release valve. Remarkably, the tape wasn’t abandoned on the side of I-75 mid-trip.
In high school, because I spent a lot of time reading Entertainment Weekly and crushing on Johnny Depp, I often followed the run-up to the Oscars with a lot of enthusiasm, as it was my window into the pop-culture world. Over Christmas break in 2002, I was following the contenders with interest and trying to catch them in theaters. So because it was family vacation and we were bonding, I dragged my entire family out to a screening of Gangs Of New York, Martin Scorsese’s pet project years in the making. It’s a sprawling epic about New York a century ago that is visually fantastic and interesting, if you’re into film, for the backstory behind it. But the story is absolutely pointless—the scriptwriters were frantically rewriting the film during production. My mom said she was bored half an hour into the film and suggested leaving; my sister fell asleep, and my dad kept rubbing his eyes like he was trying to keep himself from spacing out. I spent the time trying to understand why I hadn’t chosen something more family friendly. The last movie I saw with my family was Despicable Me 2, so at least I learned something.
Of all the polarizing, relationship-destroying games out there, Monopoly was the one the adults in my life suffered through the most. With a twin and a brother 18 months our junior, the three of us could mostly keep ourselves occupied without adults. But that was absolutely not the case with Monopoly—games of which would stretch into multiple-hour, summer-long sagas replete with melodramatic trades, sensational back-stabbing, and my siblings and I being exposed for the sore losers we are. Despite the hurt feelings that inevitably resulted, we loved Monopoly, but only if our grandmother agreed to join us (and be the banker). In retrospect, it’s clear why she was so reticent to play: The game is incredibly mean-spirited. Yet after much cajoling, Grandma would spend hours acting not only as banker, but as referee, mediator, and peace-broker. Considering how competitive my siblings and I are as twentysomethings, I can’t imagine the misery we forced on that patient woman as we fought to the monetary death. She is a saint for indulging both our childish gameplay and the worse-than-usual sibling altercations Monopoly brought out in her grandchildren.
In many ways, I owe my mother as many apologies as I do thanks. After all, she’d take me to terrible punk shows and stand in the back, seemingly undaunted by whatever was transpiring in front of her while I gleefully absorbed whatever was in front of me. But perhaps my biggest transgression was the time I spent in the early-’90s inexplicably obsessed with Kevin Costner’s film adaptation of Dances With Wolves. At the peak of my interest in the epic, three-hour long Western—which as of this writing, I can’t remember a single moment of—I had just finished a viewing of the film early one Saturday morning. If memory serves, I was sick, so sitting on the couch or laying in bed was about all I could muster. As soon as the film’s credits started to roll I requested that my mom rewind the tape and we watch it again. Her appropriate response should have been, “Fuck you, dude. You’re 4 years old. Why do you even like this?” But, instead, she relented. Sometime during that second viewing she took to occupying herself with other things around the house and occasionally checking on me to make sure I hadn’t died from a fever, one I surely contracted from my very own passage along this cinematic Oregon Trail. Like some sort of demented gunslinger, I challenged my mother to a third viewing, a duel she accepted and obliged, making this—at minimum—a solid nine hours of Dances With Wolves. I don’t know if the fever was to blame for these requests or my own strange interests, but either way, I made my mom endure a marathon session of Kevin Costner, and she’s a saint for not disowning me midway through it.
My dad is a grin-and-bear-it sort generally, and sometimes it’s difficult to tell if he’s actually having a good time or just doesn’t want to spoil the party. Case in point: Christmas 2012, the year Django Unchained was released in theaters. I had been obsessively following news about it for a book I was working on, and as far as I was concerned, presents and Christmas dinner could wait. But we ended up spending Christmas Day at my grandma’s house anyway (she’s in her 90s, so I dared not complain), so the next day I was up and ready in time for the first matinee. However, the weather decided not to cooperate, and the snow was coming down. Hard. But my dad, determined not to disappoint me, took us out in the storm, driving at a crawl with the brights on so he could see through the blowing snow. The first theater we went to was closed due to weather, so my dad then drove us across town to another theater so I could finally see this movie I had been talking about for months. We did, it was great, the snow stopped while we were in the theater, and my dad and I had a great conversation about his teenaged love for the Dollars trilogy afterward. My mom told me later he thought it was “too violent.”
I personally never cared for the Ninja Turtles, even as a child, but there are still plenty of candidates for parental torture from my childhood. I believe my mom would point to the endless parade of Oz books I insisted she read me when I was young, but I know she liked reading to me in general, even if she found the Oz series increasingly inane. I feel worse, though, about the time she dutifully took me to see Another Stakeout in summer 1993. I must have been sufficiently intrigued by the idea of Another Stakeout in various summer movie previews, because I distinctly remember renting the 1987 film that inspired this sequel, Stakeout—a half-forgotten and mildly smutty (if somewhat well-received) action comedy with Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez—and watching it by myself. That is to say, I didn’t have a lot of friends in 1993. So when the time came to catch Another Stakeout in its original theatrical engagement (or at least its run in the local $2 theater), I quickly exhausted the very short list of other 13-year-olds who might want to go with me. My mom took pity and off we went. I remember one sequence that made us both laugh, where Dreyfuss, Estevez, and new cohort Rosie O’Donnell throw together a hasty, low-rent dessert to extend some kind of undercover dinner party. The rest of the movie was recognizably terrible, even for my undemanding 13-year-old self, and probably more so for someone who hadn’t even seen the original Stakeout. Sorry, mom! But at least the time she took me to see The Crow for similar reasons worked out much better.
My answer to this question isn’t terribly amusing, but it underlines somewhat the reason why I didn’t feel particularly outraged by Henry Rollins’ reaction to Robin Williams’ suicide. Not long after I discovered The Smiths, I listened to “Asleep,” from their Louder Than Bombs compilation, and I was profoundly moved by the sad but lovely song. So much so, in fact, that I played it for my mother and sister. What never occurred to me, however, was that the decision to play the song for my mom might possibly be viewed as a couched cry for help. It was not. As miserable as I’ve been in my life—and in my pre-marriage and pre-parent days, there were some times when I was pretty fucking miserable—I’ve never found my mind drifting in any remotely serious way toward the possibility that suicide might be a legitimate solution. I have never understood why anyone would choose that path, and I don’t suppose I ever will. Unfortunately, my mother did not know I felt this way, and now that I’m a parent myself, I’m still horrified at what thoughts I might have caused to cross my mother’s mind when I played “Asleep” and kept looking at her, waiting for her reaction to what I thought was a lyrically depressing but musically beautiful song, never imagining that it would be to fear the worst about where her eldest child’s mind was drifting at the time. Is it any wonder I immediately got a teary-eyed hug from her upon its conclusion?
Nothing ever made me suspect that I was secretly adopted more than my mom’s attitude toward games. As an obsessive video and computer gamer, as well as a massive improv nerd, gameplay is my primary way of passing the time and overcoming anxiety, so her consistent refusal to stress herself out by subjecting herself to a two-player game of Mario or a word game during a long drive was a constant source of friction when I was growing up. Still, every once in a while, she’d relent, with the most notable example being the time she bought me a copy of Milton Bradley’s Dungeons & Dragons-esque board game HeroQuest for what must have been my eighth or ninth birthday. The game was a massive affair, with tray after tray of plastic figurines needing to be freed from their bindings and set up before it could begin. Eventually we got everything put together and all the little plastic bits in place and played through the first quest of the campaign that came with the box. I led a party of four adventurers (including my favorite, the barbarian, whose figurine had a little plastic sword taller than he was), and she took the role of the nefarious wizard Zargon and maneuvered her army of orcs, goblins, and skeletons to stop me. I’m pretty sure she hated every second of it, and HeroQuest didn’t get a lot of use after that, but I’ve always appreciated her overcoming her distaste for the whole thing long enough to give me one kickass afternoon of adventure. Thanks, Mom!
I don’t have cable, so whenever I get a chance to zone out in front of the dredges of Bravo, Travel Channel, or the Food Network, I take it. Last time, though, I was thrilled when I stumbled across a marathon of the hit Melissa Joan Hart vehicle Sabrina, The Teenage Witch. Surely it would hold up! Surely I wouldn’t have hung out with Sabrina Spellman and her aunts every single day after school if it were a bad show! Reader, I was wrong. I was so wrong. Sabrina (/Melissa Joan Hart) was flat and shrill, and I can’t believe my patient parents sat through so much of it. In fact, the only aspect of the show I didn’t hate during my brief rewatch was Sabrina’s cat Salem Saberhagen, whose power-hungry and/or pathetic moments suddenly speak to me in a big way. I’m not going to think too hard about that one.
Growing up, I watched a lot of movies with my parents, whose impeccable taste ensured I was introduced to the greats, classic and modern, from a young age. One of the many directors I became a fan of in my teen years was Kevin Smith. We watched Clerks and Chasing Amy, among others, as a family, glossing over the inappropriate content and focusing on the comedy and heart, and I had particular success when I pushed to watch Dogma, a film the entire family enjoyed and which made my eventual fall all the greater. See, as a goody-two-shoes as well as a budding cinephile, seeing certain films became problematic—I wasn’t comfortable sneaking in to see R-rated movies. So when Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back came out, as a Smith fan and someone who completes what I start, I dragged my parents to go see it, knowing it was the only way I’d get to. My parents enjoy many things, but crude comedy is not one of them. Needless to say, they hated the film. I didn’t particularly care for it either, but not only did I make them stay through the entire picture, I made them sit through the credits to see Alanis Morissette’s post-credits cameo. They were not pleased, and I think I may never live it down.
Like Kate, my mom was really great about shaping my taste early on by essentially letting me watch whatever I wanted, regardless of content. Her motto was as long as she wanted to see it, I was allowed to watch it. My poor dad, on the other hand, got caught up in this mess, as well. My dad couldn’t bond with me over sports, as he could my other siblings, so he was nice enough to take me to whatever movie I wanted to go see. While my mom had a “fuck you, this is culture” attitude about the whole thing (which explains how Beavis And Butthead Do America became a family outing), my dad has a modicum of shame. Let’s just say I still feel bad for the stares we got while he trotted his far-too-young daughter out of various movies. Quills, the graphic movie about the Marquis De Sade, and Margaret Cho’s I’m The One That I Want easily come to mind as two movies he should have probably vetoed in favor of renting them at home.
My dad and I rented a lot of movies together when I was a kid; Most of them were goofy action pictures that we both enjoyed, or legitimate classics like Aliens or Die Hard that helped to give me a basic bottom line for my taste in cinema. But as I got older, I started to push for weirder stuff, and Dad, good sport that he was, tried to oblige. Which is how we ended up watching Natural Born Killers together one Friday night over pizza and soda (he had a beer), when my mother and sister were out of town. It didn’t go well. Dad lasted as long as he could, but Oliver Stone’s aggressive, jittery, ultra-violent take on serial killers and What’s Wrong With America left him bored, angry, and baffled by turns. About halfway through, he suggested we might want to turn it off. I was loving it; it was loud and weird and batshit crazy, and I remember feeling weirdly smug about “getting it” even as my father didn’t, like I was more cultured than him or something. Anyway, we stopped watching, and I finished the movie after Dad went to bed. I haven’t seen it since, but I’m sure if I tried to watch it now, my reaction would be the same as my father’s once was: a lot of “the hell?” followed by some very pointed sighing.