Atari game consoles were a big deal to 1980s British kids. I know that because I happened to be one of those for a brief while. While industrial relations frayed across the UK at that time, with Maggie Thatcher implementing her Iron Lady revolution, leading to demonstrations and strikes, kids held their own individual protests to their parents as to why they hadn’t yet got an Atari. Microwaves also pinged into the public consciousness around the same time. Less glamorous than an Atari and its 112 ways to destroy incoming aliens, microwaves were though considerably better at half heating up bags of cod in parsley sauce.
Unsurprisingly, as a 1980s kid, I wanted an Atari, bad. Very bad. A microwave? Not quite as much. My father, who grew up when Hitler was very real and universal health care was very not, unfortunately had alarmist preconceptions about both consumer luxuries.
Therefore, my own personal campaign to have an Atari console lavished upon me via a birthday or Christmas, came up against stiff resistance from him. Whilst he could be benevolent at times, that was generally usurped by his “fear-science.” That was his take on most things that were great and fun, and not tweed and Scotch, resulting in some pretty wild assertions based on nothing more than he had said so having read it somewhere.
Consequently, I was reliably informed by my father that an Atari would “damage the cathode ray tube in the television.” And who would I be to contest that - a mere 12 year-old armed with nothing more than the desire to shoot electronic aliens out of the skies, up against a 47 year old business-chap who drove a Volvo, wore suits and didn’t like vinegar on his chips?
Microwaves weren’t immune from my father’s fear-science either. Even though my mother didn’t want one in any event, when they came up in conversation, he offered the startling revelation that microwave use would “bring down passing overhead jet airliners.” Very worrying to me, as I was only really interested in bringing down Atari aliens, not 747s.
I realise now that terrorists were clearly missing a trick at that time. Who’d need a surface to air missile, costing tens of thousands of dollars, when a microwave oven would do the same trick at a fraction of the cost? Still, as a 12 year-old, with every faith in my father, I took it on-board that there was a real risk of bringing down a trans-Atlantic London to New York flight by de-frosting fish-fingers in the microwave.
On top of that, let’s not forget the cathode ray tube threat that an Atari, so I was told, posed to the television. Quite what that consisted of was never properly detailed – just “damaged.” My 12 year old mind therefore went into over-drive about that threat. So, imagine both playing your Atari AND microwaving something at the same time. Not only was the television at risk of exploding in an electric cloud of blue smoke and shards of screen, but a plummeting Boeing could simultaneously plunge onto the house. Man alive, that’s a lot of chores for pay-back.
Thankfully, I quickly determined that my father’s “fear-science” was unfounded and derived mainly from parts of the tabloid press who still thought Hitler was at that very second primed to strike across the Channel. In 1982. However, a way of thinking, a way of interfacing with the world, was unknowingly being sculptured within me.
My point? As youngsters, up to and including our teens, we are massively influenced by adults, especially so our parents. They are the lead roles in juvenile interaction with adult life and consequently, they can leave very real imprints on our characters and psychological make-up. The effects are often not fully known until years later. While my father helped me in so many great ways, he also primed a sense of worry and fear in me in doing or trying most new things. And that’s something that persists, to a greater or lesser extent, today.
I type this now as a 48 year-old. I’ve worked in law, trained others to help them find work, run confidence and motivation classes, secured a Masters degree and also emigrated from the UK to the USA. Despite that non-exhaustive list of confidence reliant events / activities, I still have a propensity to be fearful, or expect the worst, when faced with new events or challenges. I was hard-wired as a kid to perceive danger in pretty much everything and act in an over-cautious if not paranoid fashion. Going back to when I was 12, how can you properly take on the world if you think every day items pose a disproportionate risk?
Such is the potential influence that our adult role models have over us as children. As we become grown-ups in turn, many of us will have to come to terms with a hard-wiring problem and how we deal with that. After all, would you want to be nervously eyeing the skies as you heat up your green beans in vinegar in your 50s?
I thought not. If you do though, my suggestion to you? Go chill out and get on your Atari.