Nostalgia, it turns out, has a dark side
To make ?A Very Brady Renovation?, HGTV bought the 1959 house used for the exterior shots, gutted the interior, and renovated it to look exactly like the Brady home. Photo courtesy of, and picturing, the author.
That?s me on the right, with two other Brady superfans.
Left: Brian Balthazar, sometime HGTV producer and host, shows me some pretty depressing art that hangs in the Brady den. Right: Barry Williams (right, Greg Brady) and I at the premiere party for A Very Brady Renovation.
As I walked into each room, my anxiety-filled child brain started to stress out over the Bradys? problems as though they were my own. Of course you?re going to play ball in the house even though you?re not supposed to, because days as a kid are long and there are only three things to do and one is to play ball in the house. I played ball in the house. And breaking my mom?s favorite vase would have been disastrous. Peter had the same existential crisis I did, fearing he had no personality. Bobby was named a safety patrol, just like I was, and the power went to his head, as someone said mine had. Jan invented a fake boyfriend. I was going to hit puberty and apparently my voice was going to crack embarrassingly and then I?d turn into such an asshole I might start a band and call myself Johnny Bravo. Each of the children had a parent who died in some manner so horrific that none of them were able to speak of the tragedy ever again.
Why had I spent all this time fetishizing this past? Why had all of us?
The 1970s were sadder than I remembered. I stared at the sad clown paintings in the boys? tiny bedroom, at first wondering why boys would want paintings of sad clowns and then wondering why my parents had a painting of a sad clown. The living room had a piece of art, presumably made by the kids, which was a framed wad of clay with keys pressed into it. This was somehow sadder than a clown painting. This family was rich enough to have a live-in housekeeper. The dad was an architect. This was their dream house. And they shoved three kids to a room? He attached stones to dry wall in the entrance to make it look like a faux castle? The backyard was Astroturf and had a small wooden stage, which I suppose was meant to encourage creative performances and seems like the kind of thing a stage parent would force on their kids. And it was so insular. This was a family so white that, even though they lived in Southern California, they hired a white maid. Stagflation was so bad that a man hit on her by giving her free meat.
Why had I spent all this time fetishizing this past? Why had all of us? This desire to make America Brady Again was not healthy.
Barry Williams, the actor who played Greg, went to the Brady house the same day I had the tour. I asked him if he felt melancholy when he saw the house.
This is not how he felt.
?This was my turn at the nostalgia. At dissolving into my teenage years. It was like jumping into my teenage home movies,? he said. And it was joyous. Which makes sense, since when he was a teenager he was Johnny Bravo.
I asked if wallowing in nostalgia was a way of avoiding the complications of the present. If forcing him to be a child forever was a way of the United States being a child forever.
?I?ve got to paddle the canoe in the direction the river is flowing,? he said, like a groovy Matthew McConnaughey. ?I?m fine with it. I?m on the surfboard and dropping in on a great bottom turn for a great ride with a good luck tiki around my neck.?
I?m so glad they built this house. And so glad I got to see it. But I?m going to paddle against the river. I?m going to recognize the past for what it was. Even if it was never real.