Nostalgia is a tricky thing. We can, of course, feel nostalgic for something from our childhood. Douglas Coupland’s ‘legislated nostalgia’ enables us to feel nostalgic for a time when we weren’t even alive.
But is it possible to have anti-legislated nostalgia – to not only not feel any desire to see something again from our childhood but to feel it for something we never even saw?
Because I think there is. Because this week I discovered the existence of Rubik, the Amazing Cube.
Now, back in the 80s, the UK did import an awful lot of US cartoons tied into all kinds of commercial properties. Naturally, the creative quality of these “flog toys to kids” shows varied, ranging from the top end with the likes of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Thundercats and Centurions all the way through to the unholy likes of the bottom end: Visionaries and Bravestarr.
Fortunately, there was at least a quality control on these imports – the acquisition managers at the BBC and ITV. These brave souls would plough through all the shows available for purchase, decide which were the best and buy only those. Sure, Visionaries and Bravestarr got through. But look at what didn’t.
Rubik, the Amazing Cube is perhaps the best example of what happens when you try to take a commercial product singularly unsuited to dramatic storytelling – the Rubik’s Cube – and then try to use it for dramatic storytelling. For those of you who were apparently born on other worlds or are barely more than children, the Rubik’s Cube was a 1980s toy puzzle composed of smaller cubes that you could rotate around a central hub. It started with each face of the big cube the same colour, you’d jumble them all up and then try to get them back to the same state again. Here’s a Rubik’s Cube being solved – bear in mind it has about 43 quintillion possible permutations.
That’s it. No sound effects, flashing lights, computer-powered voices or anything else. Just cubes that have to be rotated.
So spare a thought for the writers of the Ruby-Spears cartoon series Rubik, the Amazing Cube, hired to devise no fewer than 18 half-hour episodes aimed at flogging Rubik's Cubes to children across the US. These mighty heroes did the best they could, but ultimately what else could they produce but garbage?
In fact, the strategy they chose was probably the optimal solution, baring in mind they had only a 1 in about 43 quintillion chance of coming up with anything decent – have as little to do with the actual puzzle as possible. So the plot of the show gave us Rubik, the Amazing Cube. He was magic and could talk, being able to fly through air among other things. He’d been abducted by an evil magician and after three children Carlos, Lisa and Reynaldo Rodriguez rescue him and help him to evade the magician, he chooses to help them with their various problems. As it was the early 80s, this included burning social problems such as school bullies and to the writers’ credit, they did make the heroes of the piece Latinos – not just one token one in an ethnically diverse group, but a whole family and just that family, a rarity to this day.
The only catch? Rubik can only come alive when all the cubes on each of his faces match up and wouldn’t you know it, he’d get jumbled up a lot, when he got dropped or attacked by dogs, for example. That meant the three Rodriguez kids had to unjumble him or else they’d be in so much trouble.
Now you might think I’m making this up, but I’m not. Because here’s a full episode you can watch. Let me know if you feel anti-legislated nostalgia.