Why nostalgia is better when it’s not happy
Topanga Lawrence and Cory Matthews. The perfect couple. Elementary school sweethearts that weathered every storm seven seasons of network television could throw at them. They had lived the perfect relationship we all wanted to have with our first loves. I used to idolize them, wishing on day I could find a partnership like there’s. Today, I say FUCK TOPANGA AND CORY.
While their story is cute; it’s a story of unrealistic sacrifice. Consider this, Topanga declined an offer to Yale University and decided to go to a school with such low standards that it accepted Eric Matthews, ERIC MATTHEWS! She made this huge sacrifice while Cory conceded nothing. Do you understand how crazy that is?
While I’m happy that Topanga and Cory have wonderful marriage with two kids and a coffee shop on the side, that model is not applicable for the other 99% of us. What relationship advice can they give to the people whose teenage relationships never made it past high school graduation or, like me, never had a high school relationship at all?
Fortunately, the show also had Sean Hunter and Angela Moore. These two were everything that Topanga and Cory were not. They didn’t have the same background, their relationship wasn’t built on the strongest foundation, and they were both broken people. Sean’s mothers (both biological and “adopted”) both left him. Angela’s mother did the same to her family. They were both looking at the relationship to fill a much deeper pain they both were experiencing and ultimately, it didn’t work out. While it’s not as happy as Topanga and Corey, this relationship is one that is way more relatable to the average person.
But this article isn’t about what happened during their relationship. I want to focus on what happen to them AFTER they broke up. After looking at their fallout, you could say that it’s actually Angela and Sean, not Topanga and Cory. that had the relationship we can all learn from.
The Big Business of Nostalgia
I am super nostalgic. It you look at this website, it’s easy to tell that I have many fond memories of my childhood that still influence me today. If you look at today’s pop culture landscape, it is clear that I am not the only one that shares in that love of the past. In fact, it seems like today, most of the TV shows and movies developed are reboots and remakes of existing material. Studios bank on the hope that nostalgia can guarantee profit. And despite my love for nostalgia, I find that incredibly disappointing. If you can bring a show back because a story wasn’t finished being told (Arrested Development) or because the characters can tell interesting new stories in today’s setting (Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies) then reboots are great. But too often, the cash grab is so evident.
When I first heard about the Girl Meets World, I feared that this was the case. Disney was just strategically creating a show that both parents and kids could watch together. When the show premiered, I was pleasantly surprised that it went, for the most part, in its own direction but it still had plenty of call backs and cameos in order to hit the adults “nostalgia button.” As characters like Corey’s parents, Mr. Feeney, Minkus and Eric came back, it was usually pretty standard surprise guest appearance stuff. They’d pop in to a huge audience cheer and update us on what’s happened to them with a couple of laughs and then exit stage left leaving a warm feeling in all our hearts.
This was pretty much the formula for the show until season 2 when Angela came back
Why Did You Leave?
By this point, Shawn had come back and was now a series regular. He was beginning to fall in love with another character when shockingly “Angel Eyes” came out of nowhere. Take some time to view the whole exchange here. Starting at 15:15.
I love this scene.
It’s so unlike the cameos that we are used to seeing in rebooted TV shows. Who knew that nostalgic cameos could be (gasp!) unhappy. Sometimes we need to remember the pain of the past because your bad memories can be just as influential as your good ones.
I Wasn’t Ready
This cameo by Angela is melancholic. There are no huge punchlines or call backs to old catchphrases. This is a quiet conversation between two people whose presence in the same room unfortunately adds more complexity to their already complex relationship. Each new line of dialogue is another barrier to any hope of seeing Angela and Shawn get back together again. First, it was them talking to each other about their dead fathers. Then, it was Sean asking, “Why did you leave me” and Angela saying, “I wasn’t ready.” And of course, the devastating reveal that Angela had already been married for three years.
But with every heartache comes a new lesson and that’s what made this somber cameo my favorite of the series and one of my favorite of all time. While it is clear there is no happy ending for Sean and Angela, that doesn’t mean that they can’t be happy. The tumultuous relationship that Sean and Angela experienced made them better people and allowed them to find their own Topanga and Cory relationship. Sean helped Angela come to a decision about having children with her husband and Angela helped Shawn get over his fear of commitment with his latest love interest. The whole scene is summed up perfectly by Angela when she said, “Well life goes on Sean. You know, I think life puts people in front of us so that we can be prepared for what comes next. I was ready because of you.”
Let what we had make you ready for something
Memory/Nostalgia is a powerful tool, but it is useless unless you apply the lesson learned from back then to your life today. That’s why the motto of this blog is “Using pop culture to draw conclusions about society” Life doesn’t always end up how we want so I think that more of our nostalgia should reflect that reality. Hopefully going forward, we can use nostalgia to comment on and inform our lives today rather than using it as an escape to a whitewashed past. Hopefully we can see some more thought provoking melancholy nostalgia instead of looking at everything with Angel Eyes.