The things that made me happy as a teenage boy

I liked watching cartoon series as a young teenage boy, as do most young teenage boys. It’s only when you grow older though, that you start feeling able to tell what was actually good and what was just the television’s equivalent of fastfood for your teenage boy brain that was still unable to distinguish empty calories from actual nourishment.

It’s kind of similar with music. As an angry fifteen year old boy, you think to yourself that System of a Down is really innovative and creative music. Then as you grow older and listen to it again, you realize it’s pseudointellectual garbled nonsense and your parents and the girls in high school were entirely right for hating it. On the other hand, I also listened to Thom Yorke back then and there I can come back and still feel as if it had some genuine substance to it. Here’s an example, a song about the death of David Kelly:

There are a lot of cartoons out there that are basically inexcusable after you have turned sixteen. As an example, when you’re fifteen you think that South Park is hilarious and has some real insight to offer. If you’re a legal adult who likes South Park, it mostly just reveals a lack of emotional maturity I’m afraid. It really has nothing clever to offer.

It’s similar with heavy metal honestly. When you’re seventeen, you look at your greasy unwashed ponytail in the mirror and you think to yourself “this is who I am”. Well, I sincerely hope for you that you’re wrong and it’s not. It’s escapism and you’re supposed to grow out of it. Songs about dragons and goblins don’t have much appeal to emotionally mature men. Some guys never stop being angry and end up listening to neofolk, which is fine, but heavy metal is really best left to angry working class teenage boys.

There’s not a lot I have to say about most of the stuff I watched as a kid. Everyone revisits old Disney cartoons when he’s an adult and realizes there was all sorts of stuff in there flying over your head. There’s also the really weird Japanese stuff like shin-chan, where you already figure out as a teenage boy that this is entirely inappropriate for children, or heck, for any human being really.

Why is a twelve year old boy (aka me) exposed to a cartoon series about a kindergartener who looks under women’s skirts with his grandfather and makes fun of his mom for having small breasts? I think you have to be Japanese to understand why this show was a thing in the first place. Japanese societal pressure is extreme, particularly on teenage boys, so shin-chan is a kind of relief, in that it displays the epitome of failing to live up to the expectations placed on teenage boys. Overall, Japan is just the least understandable nation on the planet to me.

There’s another genre of shows I watched as a twelve year old, it’s the typical genre of shows about teenage girls who have to deal with all sorts of typical teenage girl problems. For whatever reason, they don’t produce these sorts of shows for boys, about boys. We get shows about escapism instead. And that makes sense when you think about it, because teenage boys respond to every problem they face with escapism.

That’s how my teenage life looked: Endless extreme escapism. Mentally I wasn’t even really on this plane of existence. School was just some sort of strange 8 hour daily movie I had to sit through and dissociate from before I was allowed to return to my computer. I didn’t really get around to doing homework at home, I would do my homework during breaks, or even better, I would pen it down in my notebook during class from the kid next to me.

I was obviously friends with the Goth kids, my best friend was this long haired guy with glasses who would get depressed and cut himself and show off his wounds to friends. Together with him, I was going to figure out how to reach the Holy Grail. What’s the Holy Grail? For teenage boys, the holy grail is when you manage to get your hands on some cannabis. At least it was back in my days. I know that teenage boys these days probably take cannabis for granted and spend their days in search of 2C-B or ketamine, but for me and my best friend, cannabis was already an accomplishment.

My friend knew this 18 year old guy he played warhammer with and we waited for him at the local warhammer store downtown. Because he is 18, he is able to legally buy cannabis for us. Yes, I know that Americans of my age are not going to be impressed with this story, but for us this was quite an accomplishment, to find some guy who was going to buy cannabis for us. We gave him ten euro and he came back and gave us some weed. Initially we were overjoyed, but I soon became skeptical: Wait, did the weed cost exactly ten euro? That’s kind of coincidental.

Anyway, I was tasked with storing this sacred relic, because I had a good closet in my bedroom. When I first brought it home, it was a source of endless delight, without even ingesting it. When I felt like it, I would open my closet, open the bag of weed and just take extreme pleasure in smelling this magical flower that had entered my posession.

I didn’t know how to order weed online (we had no cryptocurrency back then), but I did figure out that I could order cannabis seeds online. I ordered those and I embarked on planting them in the local park behind my house whenever I would walk our dog. I would ride my bicycle and listen to System of a Down songs through my MP3 player or think about their songs in my head, as I fantasized about all the cannabis plants that were going to pop up everywhere (this never happened of course).

I was a bit of a dick, because I didn’t keep all the cannabis for the two of us. I would have another friend over and I would make us some weed tea. Making weed tea consisted of just taking warm water with some milk and pouring it over some weed in a cup of tea, because I couldn’t make proper weed tea in the kitchen with my parents present of course.

One day however, me and my best friend the long haired Goth boy were going to drink actual weed tea together. I wanted to make this perfect, so at night I boiled our flower in some milk for a few minutes while my parents were asleep and poured it into a thermos can. We went to the local park together the next day and I brought my concoction with me. It was almost a full gram, for two young boys.

Suffice to say, this was far too much. At first it was great fun, we rode our bicycles throughout the forest and over narrow bridges over the water, having great fun even as I saw the framerate of my field of vision drop, but I didn’t want to leave any of it and so I drank more of it than my friend and I definitely noticed the effects. I had to sit down and I saw the most strange visuals I have ever seen on any substance. I also thought I could see Satan’s palace in Hell and my friend was not very sympathetic to my plight, he joked that I was probably going to start a new religion when the effects wear off.

Eventually I puked and I began to feel better. My mom eventually found out about the whole episode because I left the thermoscan in my room when I headed back home and my parents were of course unconsolable. I didn’t take any cannabis anymore afterwards until I became a legal adult, because I was scared shitless of my parents finding out.

Girls, particularly the ones with good grades, happy childhoods and wealthy parents, don’t really understand how much of a teenage boy’s life really revolves around the search for cannabis. One time me and my mates were going to some Catholic convent for high school and we figured that the only real way we were going to make this whole episode bearable is if we could smoke some cannabis there together.

My friend kept me convinced for the whole journey there that he had gained access to the holy grail, but when we arrived he confessed that it was all a lie. When we arrived however, we kept searching. We would just walk around town and at some point I found a bag with a big green leaf on it. I gave it to my mate, who picked it up, held it to his nose and said “hmm smells fresh”, as if he were Sherlock Holmes and I was Watson. Suffice to say, I didn’t really get any access to good weed anymore until college, which then incidentally led to some of the happiest moments in my life.

I know some of you will say “this isn’t teenage boys, this is just you”, to that I say “congratulations on your happy childhood”. My favorite former colleague has the same sort of stories as me. He would walk around town with his mates and they would stumble upon a garden with cannabis plants growing. At night they would sneak into the garden and steal everything, because this is what a teenage boy’s life revolves around. Just like me he tried guerilla gardening and of course it didn’t work for him either.

Anyway, we were going to discuss teenage girl shows. Boys dissociate and search in garbage cans for some weed, girls have this mysterious habit of just confronting reality. There’s different shows like this, but they all push the same concept. There’s Braceface, there’s Lizzy McGuire, there’s Hannah Montana and there is the kids from room 402, but most importantly, there is as As Told by Ginger.

See what I mean?

These shows are always the same at their very basic core. You have a girl who is not a total social pariah, but definitely not one of the cool kids either. However, the people she is friends with are the pariahs, she is like Jesus in how she hangs out with the kids everyone looks down upon. Her female friends are ugly, her male friends are socially incompetent nerds.

The main character has a quite simple goal. She wants to become more “popular”. “Popular” is a strange concept, because the shows never really define it. Most of the time, it means abandoning her current loser friends and becoming really close friends with the prettiest girl in class.

That is in a summary, the whole red line through as Told by Ginger. Her friends all seem to be some sort of genetic mutants who would have died in infancy before the invention of antibiotics, with Macie Lightfoot the most prominent example. Macie Lightfoot is a miserable girl in every sense of the world. It’s clear that she is not pretty, it’s also clear that she has all sorts of other issues. She is asthmatic, she is apparently lactose intolerant (despite looking caucasian), she always talks as if she has a stuffed nose and she doesn’t really seem to have anyone who cares about her except Ginger and Dodie. This girl is so neurotic, she can be scared out of watching a movie in biology class about puberty.

It’s kind of perverse if you have a main character you’re supposed to empathize with whose grand goal in life is to ditch her current miserable friends in favor of a rich blonde girl, but let’s be honest, I can’t blame her. If you’re friends with Macie Lightfoot, you’re going to get depressed, because I’ve honestly never seen anyone on TV dealt such a shitty deck of cards in life.

There’s this pale ghostly guy everyone hates in Lizzie McGuire callled Tudgeman (who the hell is called Tudgeman?) who is completely socially incompetent, but even he gets to take Lizzie to some nerd museum on a date. With Macie Lightfoot, you just become witness to an endless stream of misery that seems to serve no purpose.

So yes, the whole thing is kind of cliche. I wouldn’t spend a whole essay writing about a show that I hate however. I did like it. They got something right that I’ve never really seen properly conveyed anywhere else, something that is extremely difficult to find in our culture. They conveyed the feeling of growing up as a working class white kid, surrounded by people who are better off than you.

Think about this one. Lizzie McGuire kind of sucked, it was the kind of timid placid show you would expect from Disney. I remember perfectly how her parents looked, I even remember the mischievous little brother she had (exactly identical to Ginger in that aspect). What I can’t remember is her parents ever serving as anything other than placeholder parents figures. A teenage girl has parents, so you have to depict her parents. They had zero personality however.

And that’s the difference with As Told By Ginger. Ginger’s mom, Lois, had a personality. This was a strong woman. Lynn Margulis used to say that Gaia is a tough bitch. Well, if that’s the case, then Lois must be modeled after Mother Nature.

Lois is not a woman you want to mess with. She is a single mother who works long shifts at a hospital as a nurse. She is afraid when driving back home at night by herself, so she made herself an inflatable guy, a blowup doll that she puts in her car next to her on the way back home. Talk about inventiveness.

Ginger’s father is the archetypal deadbeat, he shows up once every blue moon to ensure Ginger continues to miss him. At some point Lois finds a new guy and there we see the authentic working class nature of Ginger’s family background: The guy tries to prove himself as a proper mate for Lois, by making himself useful. The guy fixes their shower, to make sure it sprays more water. Now the shower sprays so much water that it becomes uncomfortable to shower for Ginger, she hates it.

But that, right there, is where I felt as if this show reached out to me. The moments I remember where my dad really seemed to shine, is whenever shit breaks down. That’s how you can tell you’re working class: If you’re middle class and something breaks down, you either buy something new or you call someone to fix it for you. If you’re working class, you’ll end up doing it yourself.

Of course there’s plenty more stuff like this in the series. I recently watched an episode where Ginger wrote a poem and everyone thought she was suicidal. But here’s what Lois had to say. Listen carefully, because these are words of wisdom, straight from the mouth of Mother Gaia herself:

“Listen kid. You don’t have to be afraid of your feelings. Ever, no matter what they are. And noone knows you better than you know yourself. So don’t let people try to convince you that you’re someone you’re not. Even if they do have a Phd.”

These right here, are words of wisdom. And honestly, they’re kind of brave. I’m part of a generation who saw this and we’re better off for it. Because this tough bitch right here just said it: Just because someone has a Phd doesn’t mean they can decide what’s good for you.

There’s a handful of degenerated guys, generally recognizable by their glasses and their video game T-shirts, who didn’t watch as told by Ginger back when they started growing pubes. Those guys now want a cabal of unelected technocrats to decide whether you’re allowed to leave your home. Me on the other hand, I listened to a cynical matriarch who taught us that we have no obligation to place our fate in the hands of guys with Phd’s.

That’s what I wanted to explain. I felt like a freak as a teenager, because I was burdened with having to go to school with the rich kids despite growing up as part of the not-working class. When kids asked me what my father does for a living I would just straight up tell them he’s on welfare, because I didn’t really give a shit about anyone.

Life to me was like some kind of ninety year long movie I was going to have to sit through regardless of anything, a shitty endless series of episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000, where my only relief is to be like Diogenes and mock people’s empty pretensions. And this was the only show I saw on TV, that managed to make me feel like I was not the only one having to live like this.

Overall, it was clear that some real thought went into this show. They made this show, constantly asking themselves along the way “how can we help kids cope with feeling alone and weird”? Again, back to this episode. Ginger writes a poem about a girl who wants to disappear, but her brother Carl actually makes a girl disappear, by spraying vanishing powder over her desk. It’s the same theme, from two different angles.

Then, he finds out that he likes her and wishes she had never disappeared. And why does he like her? Because she’s an autistic misfit who plays with her food and makes funny voices. He falls in love with her, because she’s weird and doesn’t fit in. Imagine looking at this, as a teenage girl. Having boys fall in love with them is the closest thing teenage girls can experience to the euphoria teenage boys experience when they get their hands on some cannabis buds.

Vast hordes of teenage girls feel fundamentally inadequate, that’s how we ended up with a steady supply of non-binary they/them genderqueer climate activists who have their breasts surgically amputated and wear formless oversized clothing. Yes sorry, if you thought this rant was going to be politically correct you’re reading the wrong blog. I say things as I see them.

But again, bear with me. Carl falls in love with an autistic weird girl who has no friends. And he only figures out how precious she is, after she has disappeared. I honestly think this show has saved more lives than you would if you managed to get a ban on high fructose corn syrup through congress. I’m impressed by this show, because actual thought went into this. And I’m so impressed, that I’m now watching it again, almost eighteen years later.

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