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As It Was: Childhood Remixed

Book banning, Bjork, Beatles, E.T., and the Drew Barrymore TikTok that sent me into a spiral.



"In this world, it's just us / You know it's not the same as it was." - Harry Styles


Gertie got me...

1975's The Girl Who Owned a City was my favorite paperback in elementary school. In the novel, a mysterious virus killed everyone over the age of 12, and children were forced to scramble for canned goods and form alliances to survive. From then on, I gravitated toward any storyline that put kids in charge. Kids could do anything.


In the days before Home Alone, Harry Potter, and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, childhood independence looked like the bus riders in ABC Afterschool Specials, Fat Albert's Philadelphia streets, Lance Kerwin falling asleep in a department store in The Loneliest Runner, or the episode of Little House on the Prairie when Half-Pint ran away and Melissa Gilbert ended up on a mountaintop talking to God. There were Meatballs, Goonies, and of course, Steven Spielberg's suburban bicycle fantasy, E.T.


A regular bike was a ticket to the next street, the next neighborhood. A magic bike went to the sky. The line, "E.T. phone home" and the image of a shriveled finger pointing to the Milky Way are ingrained in my psyche along with the taste of Reese's Pieces. Still, I was surprised this week at my emotional reaction to a nostalgic TikTok video posted by one of E.T.'s stars, Drew Barrymore.


In the 8-second clip set to Harry Styles's new single "As It Was," a still photograph from the film (featuring Barrymore and her character Gertie's on-screen single mom, played by Dee Wallace) dissolves into a recent video of the actresses reuniting on Barrymore's talk show. After viewing Barrymore's post on Tuesday, I shared the video on Instagram and got some DMs that proved I wasn't the only one whose eyes filled with tears when the mother-daughter pair embraced at the end of the clip. (Who hugged their mom after watching this? Or at least wished they could?)


The song "As It Was" has been played in TikTok videos more than 1.1 billion times since April 1, often as the musical backdrop to visuals contrasting pre-pandemic times with 2022's apocalyptic vibe. Yet, Barrymore's usage of the song went a step further: It reminded us how lucky we were to have free-range childhoods and no limits on our imaginations. It also confirmed that we grown-ups never stop being children in our hearts.


Speaking of childhood limits ...

I am exhausted by the book banning and school board shenanigans across the country that purport to "protect" children from learning about any part of the world that doesn't look like their tiny slice of earth. Here's a Barnes and Noble list of 217 book titles currently banned or challenged in the U.S.


In The Washington Post, Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, said, “We see these efforts to narrow what is available to young people in an effect to preserve a status quo that valorizes the Founding Fathers and that is theoretically colorblind, but that seems not to include the actual voices of the people who have been impacted by racism or discrimination in our society." WaPo also interviewed the author and illustrator of Everywhere Babies, a now-banned 2001 picture book that depicts a variety of families, including two men walking together who could be perceived as a same-sex couple.


All parents struggle with moderating their children's media consumption, but how many of those parents want innocuous books banned from libraries and schools yet are fine with their kids playing violent video games and frequenting gaming chat rooms? The Atlantic recently reported "nearly one in 10 multiplayer gamers ages 13 to 17 had been exposed to white-supremacist ideology, and an estimated 2.3 million teens each year are exposed to white-supremacist ideology in chats for multiplayer games like World of Warcraft, Fortnite, Apex Legends, League of Legends, Madden, Overwatch, and Call of Duty."



And a child shall lead them...

I leave you with another song that got my attention this week: a cover of the Beatles tune, "The Fool on the Hill," as recorded in 1977 at age 11 by Icelandic singer Bjork. The version has made the rounds over the years, but I did not dig its peculiarity and melancholy until I heard it in my car on the Beatles Channel on Sirius XM. This song provides an odd yet fitting soundtrack to the week's politics roundup, from Marjorie Taylor Greene's hearing to the war on Disney.


Being a child will never be the same.