Making the once known known again.
Recently I told some friends the entire story of my preschool experience. It didn’t take long to tell though because my experience only lasted for one month. Yes my fellow excavators, I am a preschool dropout. Even though it took place 27 years ago I remember my time at Gerber Preschool vividly. At that age I was painfully shy and no one could attest to this more than Ms. Karen and her fellow workers at Gerber. One of the walls there had a huge mirror on it. Instead of building lego castles or playing dress up with the other kids, I would just stare in that mirror for what seemed like hours. Ms. Karen did all she could to get me to be social but it was impossible to get me away from that mirror. One day as I was staring at myself she brought me a hula hoop to play with out of desperation. Instead of playing with it, I let it fall to the ground. The image of me standing in a hula hoop in front of that mirror is burned into my memory. Shortly after that I stopped going to preschool.
Back then I didn’t know that I was shy. I just knew I had no interest in being in preschool and that it made me uncomfortable. It’s only with hindsight that I see what was really happening. I should have just sucked it up and stepped out of that hula hoop. Unfortunately most of us aren’t able to have these realizations until we’re 20 or 30 years past when we needed them. If my eleven-year-old self had watched a video of my four-year-old self, lessons would have been learned and future mistakes avoided. Today’s excavation is about a group of people who were in that exact situation.
“The Up Series” is a documentary series that has followed the same group of children since they were seven-years-old in 1964. A new documentary is produced every seven years so all of the children involved have literally watched themselves grow up. Each film is named for the age of the participants at the time so “Seven Up” means the kids were seven-years-old, “Seven plus Seven” means they were fourteen-years-old, etc. The latest installment, “56 Up” premiered in May of this year. Each premiere is broadcast on the BBC (British Broadcasting Company.)
The original purpose of the series was to prove that a child’s social class would determine his future. Class structure was very strong in the UK at the time and director Michael Alsted set out to have the project be a political commentary of sorts. Over time he has switched his focus from political to personal. Alsted could not help but become attached to the participants and have a vested interest in their lives. The same holds true for the viewer. Alsted never made the participants sign contracts, so each of them could participate as much or as little as they wanted. Ten of the original fourteen kids have been in every installment, and thirteen of the fourteen appeared in the most recent “56 Up.”
The influence of “The Up Series” has spanned across the globe. Several countries including the United States, Japan and South Africa have tried to recreate the series with participants of their own. The series is also seen as a forerunner to society’s current obsession, reality television. The difference here is that there are no million dollar prizes at stake. Real life is happening.
While watching the series I kept wondering if the participants’ lives would have been different had they not had visual records. This led me to think about my own life and how it would have been different had I been more social at Gerber. Part of me wants to get into a Delorean, go back to 1985 and tell my four-year-old self to have fun with the other kids. To take a risk. To step out of that hula hoop. My life is incredible now but I sometimes wonder how many amazing watercolor creations could have been hanging on our fridge if I had stepped out of the hoop and learned to paint with the others. The subjects of “The Up Series” have had that opportunity to go back in time every seven years and tell their younger selves whatever they want.
How would you feel about taking part in a documentary like “The Up Series?” What are the pros and cons? What would you tell your younger self if you could go back in time? What was the hula hoop that you needed to step out of? Are you still in a hula hoop?
Let me know your thoughts.