Friday, June 19, 2015

Nostalgia Isn't What It Used To Be

There’s a current thing going around the internet that has some variation of this:
There’s a Bush and a Clinton running for office, Jurassic Park is at the top of the box office, and Final Fantasy VII is being made. What year is it?
This sort of thing pops up every few years. Sometimes it’s a humorous coincidence, but—given our penchant for remakes—not entirely unlikely. When you have an entire culture to pick and choose from, it’s not terribly difficult to match things up from an entire history to pull from.

Nostalgia is a funny thing. On the one hand, it’s natural—most people enjoy reminiscing about how things used to be, with the added benefit (or drawback, as it may be) of comparing it to the current state of things. And yet it can be misleading as well. Memory, context, and judgment are fickle things. We all tend to remember the good bits, dismiss and justify the bad bits, and completely forget the vast wasteland of mediocrity. We all sang along with Pocket Full of Kryptonite; none of us remember Turn It Upside Down.

Most of this is harmless, but that doesn't mean it's not frustrating. We all, at one time in our lives, pointed a crooked finger at the local gas station sign and lamented about how cheap gasoline used to be, conveniently forgetting that cars back then got maybe six miles to the gallon. We’ve all fallen into the trap of claiming that the music that came out in that magical time when we were 11 to 13 years old was objectively the single best music ever conceived by mankind, despite the fact that this cycle seems to repeat on a constant basis. Any long-running cultural program—Saturday Night Live, Doctor Who, Mad Magazine, The Simpsons, etc.—all seem to have peaked for each individual person roughly around their early-to-mid teens. This is alarmingly consistent.

Annoyingly, the internet (specifically sites like Buzzfeed and Reddit) seem to be fueled by this weird nostalgia fetish—an easy way to score plenty of page views and upvotes is to simply post a picture of a Pokemon cartridge or a can of Surge soda. Of course, the fact that we enjoy and support remakes emphasizes all this—you can count on one hand the number of hit movies lately that aren’t some sort of sequel or remake capitalizing off of former success.

I don’t want this to come across as hand-wringing dismay—in fact, I hold a contrarian opinion that we don’t engage in nostalgia enough. Ask a millennial what the best television series of all time is, and it’s doubtful they will name a show older than The Sopranos—ignoring nearly a half a century of mostly decent and critically acclaimed material that still holds up. Of course, perhaps this is consistent rather than contrary; the high-water mark is still part of nostalgia. It just doesn’t go far back enough. The Twilight Zone and the Dick Van Dyke Show aren’t nostalgia anymore; they’re history.

None of this is worth getting bent out of shape over, I suppose. There’s nothing wrong with reminiscing. A case can probably be made that misplaced nostalgia often crowds out new, original content, but I think the internet has more than made up for it. Still, it can be irritating to see people focus on stuff that honestly wasn’t nearly as good as you remember it being.

Except for the Might Orbots. Those guys were the shit.

[Title taken from a bumper sticker I saw like 20 years ago. Like back when bumper stickers were much, much better.]

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