Nostalgia is a Luxury
Posted on October 5, 2020 Posted by John Scalzi 103 Comments
The image above was posted on Facebook today, and I had an immediate reaction to it, which I posted on Twitter: “The problem with this picture is, having grown up in the 80s, I assumed they are looking at the end result of a US-Soviet nuclear exchange, and this is the very instant before their terrifying death.”
Moreover, assuming that the two people (and the dog) in the picture are looking at a sunrise or sunset rather than atomic annihilation, their dress codes to the rural 1930s, i.e., Great Depression times, which you may recall were not actually a great time for rural Americans, or indeed the nation generally. I don’t suspect most of the people still alive who lived through it miss it all that much. No matter how you slice it, this attempt at nostalgia plumping misses the mark.
But it does remind me of my own relationship with nostalgia, which is that I don’t have all that much of it. In fact I don’t miss the America I grew up in — the America I grew up in, aside from being saddled with the strong possibility of nuclear war, had leaded gasoline and smog, it had stagflation and an oil crisis, it was a place where people smoked everywhere, including on airplanes, and people were still comfortable tossing out racial epithets in casual public conversation. It was a place where gay and lesbians and trans people couldn’t get married but could get arrested for existing in public. In my lifetime banks were not obliged to give women credit cards or loans without a male cosigner, women didn’t have the right to control their own bodies, and in the America I grew up in sexual harassment was an expected part of the cultural landscape.
So, yeah, the America I grew up was kinda terrible! And the parts of today that aren’t great are a direct result of what was terrible back then — you may have noticed we haven’t quite gotten rid of racial, sexual or gender issues, and if the GOP gets its way we’ll be saddled with them longer, because that’s how white supremacy do, and the GOP is now a white supremacist party, from the top on down. We also have the largest income and social mobility disparity in over a century, and again, that’s a direct result of policies that got their start in the era in which I grew up.
Part of the reason people have nostalgia is because they yearn for a simpler time — which for most people means a time when they were young, and didn’t know or didn’t care about the rest of the world. This presumes, of course, that one’s youth was simple, which is another reason I don’t have nostalgia; my childhood was not. It had long stretches of poverty and domestic uncertainty and I spent a lot of my time not knowing what was going to happen next — and even if I did know, I had no control over it. To be clear I also had good times and good friends and people who loved and cared for me; I’m not gunning for a “worst childhood” award here. But neither am I nostalgic for my childhood, nor for the era in which it existed.
The America I grew up in was just as troubled as the America I’m in now — differently troubled, perhaps, but no less so. The America my parents grew up in was just as troubled as well, as was the America my grandparents grew up in, and my great-grandparents, and so on and so forth. Hell, some of my ancestors actively created American trouble, which I am not proud of but which is also a fact. Nostalgia is a lazy fallacy of the comfortable, or perhaps more accurately of the people who were once more comfortable than they are now, and wish they could be as comfortable again, without confronting their own complicity in how the world “suddenly” became less comfortable in the interim.
Let me tell you of the moment I feel the closest thing to nostalgia for: it’s 1999. Krissy and I had our first house. Our daughter was newly born. I had gotten my first book contract, or was about to, and was successfully freelancing as a writer. On the evening of one of those days, Krissy was bathing our infant daughter while I talked to her about the day. Our dog Kodi napped contentedly in a corner, and a song was playing in the background.
It was a simple, ordinary and absolutely unremarkable moment in my daily life, and yet in the moment I had the presence of mind to recognize that in that simple, ordinary and absolutely unremarkable moment, I was absolutely and transplendently happy with my life and the people in it. I was happy. We were happy. We were all happy together. It was a clarity of joy that one gets only a few times in one’s life, and here it was, while my wife was bathing my daughter and talking to me about nothing in particular. It was at the time, and remains in my memory, a perfect moment.
It was a perfect moment, I will note, in a troubled world, because 1999 very definitely had its troubles. There were troubles behind it and troubles ahead of it. The world was not better then than it is now. I just got to have that moment of peace in it. And then the moment was gone, but that’s not a bad thing. I’ve had other moments of near-perfect joy since, each of them in a world that was troubled in its way.
Maybe that’s another reason why I don’t have nostalgia: Because in every time and in every era, there are chances for those moments, with people you love. Nostalgia won’t bring old moments back, and old ways won’t work the same in new times.
I don’t miss the America I grew up in. I want to make the America I live in now better, so that everyone has a chance to have the moments of joy that I have been privileged to have.
PS: Here is the song that was playing in that moment I’m talking about above. Interestingly, the song is, in its way, about nostalgia and the impossibility of either living in the past, or returning to it. Now is what we have. Live it and make the future better.
100% agree. The only nostalgia I have are for a few moments at different ages of my kids and for similar reasons. We were being silly or starting a new adventure. But I do not trust people who yearn for their ‘glory days’ of high school or some mythical time that did not exist.
Thank you for the clarity and expressing it so well!
Childhood innocence and blissful unawareness? Not in my childhood. One of my first memories is watching JFK’s funeral. I was in 5th grade when RFK and MLK, Jr. were assassinated and a couple of years older for Kent State. My childhood was protests against the Vietnam War (and worries my older cousin would be drafted), Civil Rights marches and protests, the Chicago Democratic Convention, students taking over campus administration buildings, with high school during the Watergate era. College graduation was quickly followed by the AIDS epidemic. No thanks.
You write that nostalgia “for most people means a time when they were young, and didn’t know or didn’t care about the rest of the world,” and I was thinking that in your youth you were probably not particularly aware of a lot of the sexism or other problems you describe of that era, or that if you were you weren’t aware of anything that could be done about them. (In that category from that era I’d put the ubiquitous smoking. To have that banned in public places would have delighted me, but I couldn’t have imagined that happening.)
It is possible, I’d note, to be nostalgic for things you didn’t like very much. If you have fond memories of that song you were listening to in 1999, I bet you could also find songs you don’t like very much that are also associated with good memories of the past: I certainly can.
Nostalgia also depends, often, on a child’s awareness of the world. I have nostalgia for summers with my grandparents, spent playing on the beach, when I didn’t have bills to pay or laundry to do or any grasp of the difficulties of real life.
You may be interested in listening to a recent episode of the podcast Sawbones, which goes into the history of nostalgia and its original conception as an actual medical diagnosis: https://maximumfun.org/episodes/sawbones/nostalgia/
I grew up in the late 70’s/early 80’s in McLean Virginia. By the time I was 12 my friends and I knew that whether we grew up or not (never mind what we would do if we grew up) was dependent on which world leader was least stable. Don’t miss that.
I am nostalgic for the America before Trump. I am nostalgic for an America where Truth and Justice were important.
Feminist philosopher Carol J. Adams says always look for the “absent referent,” meaning who or what is essential to the picture but is left out.
Women are absent. Presumably the meme creator thinks they’re all back happily in the kitchen, but I don’t actually think he even cares that much. To him, women aren’t really a part of the human family.
Of course, people of color are missing.
The indigenous people whose land those settlers stole – also missing.
The indigenous nonhumans, ditto. (Not to mention, the domesticated ones who provided most of the actual labor for sod busting.)
And *community* is missing. This image is all about the primacy of individuals and the family unit. Margaret Thatcher, who famously said, “And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families,” would approve.
This is myth-making, pure and simple. There is a simplicity and innocence to this picture that is so compelling. (The matching dad-and-son back-pocket handkerchiefs, or whatever they’re called, are a nice touch.) But, as John envisions them standing in a nuclear holocaust, I envision them standing on a bloody field of bones. And lies.
I have a cousin who a while back posted a similar thing, saying something like “What has happened to my beautiful and safe country.” It was in response to some crime or other that had just occurred. I pointed out that violent crime had actually been declining or decades.
She said that I was ignorant (sadly, like a lot of my off the wall relatives, I no longer have contact with her). When I pointed out that these were just statistics from the Department of Justice, she said that they were lying.
You write: “Nostalgia is a lazy fallacy of the comfortable, or perhaps more accurately of the people who were once more comfortable than they are now, and wish they could be as comfortable again … .”
Can a person currently uncomfortable also be nostalgic? Or is it something else? If, in one’s past, things were going well, but now are decidedly not, what is that feeling? I’m thinking of my gravely-disabled father-in-law. He misses the days when he could eat on his own, speak, and walk, but it doesn’t exactly seem like nostalgia. An incarcerated person wouldn’t exactly be “nostalgic” for his pre-incarcerated time. It does seem that nostalgia presupposes a current degree of comfort.
I think this is a remarkably insightful post. It helps me put this sort of “Once Upon a Time…” nonsense in its accurate context.
My mom grew up on a farm in South Dakota during the Great Depression (I suspect we’ll be calling that ‘Great Depression I’ before long). No electricity but batteries. No indoor plumbing. She had absolutely no nostalgia for it.
One of the things I got from–I think–King’s 11/22/63–is that it’s also easy to be nostalgic for times before yours, or for your own childhood/adolescence because *you* know what’s going to turn out OK. We know that the Depression ended and we beat Hitler and the world didn’t end with the Cuban Missile Crisis, but at the time, all of that was uncertain and threatening.
Child of 70’s and 80’s Mississippi here.
Yeah, it was pretty idyllic in many senses, but my peers were shits who made my life miserable, and a modicum of awareness of what was happening (hello history project on the Citizen’s Councils) kind of stripped it away as I got older.
Add in that I was pretty aware of what nuclear war meant, and that living in a state capitol I was 30 minutes away from annihilation, and no, I don’t miss it one little bit.
I like the present: The books are better – they’ve got characters like the people I work with and live around, I like to think I’m a better person, things actually cause outrage instead of being papered over, and maybe we can fix some of the big problems before they get too big.
As another child of the 80s, my very first thought seeing that picture was also nuclear war. I still refuse to watch the movie The Day After.
Overall, I’m 0% nostalgic about anything other than, similar to your memory, some of the early moments with daughter when she was a baby, but she’s also awesome now, nine years later, and I certainly don’t want her to have stayed forever a newborn. That’s what bothers me about how most people and pretty much all memes portray nostalgia. Being nostalgic in those instances seems to presuppose that everything now sucks and has to be undone to get back to the “good old times.” Maybe, maybe (although it’s difficult to think of tons of examples) some things might have been better in the past, but it would be better to figure out what those things were, why they were better, and how to incorporate them into today rather than a blanket, “oh, we should just be in 1950 (1970, 1890, whatever your choice is).”
The Free Range Parenting movement has tried to bring back some of the freedoms for kids that a lot of adults grew up with, which for the most part probably was better in the 80s. But even there – in the 80s a lot of us were free range because we were latch key kids, and I certainly didn’t enjoy having to keep my younger brothers from killing each other every afternoon when I was 12. So, helicopter parenting bad, but just leaving your kids to fend for themselves, also not great. Even if we can find examples from the past where things were better, we can still iterate and make it better.
Tom Streeter – yeah, my maternal grandmother grew up on a farm in rural Mississippi.
She always said you can have your good old days. Loved FDR for one reason – rural electrification project.
My grandfather grew up on a farm and tried to join the army for WWII. He liked the idea of a life that didn’t involve staring at the southern end of a north bound mule. Sadly, he was 4F. But got a job in the oilfields and never looked back.
Nostalgia is not what it used to be.
Seriously, I don’t miss the Canada, specifically southern Ontario, that I grew up in the 1950s and early 60s. It was a conformist, narrow-minded place, where teachers assigned demerits to Grade Five kids who hadn’t gone to church on Sunday. Pregnant girls were shipped off to homes for unwed mothers, where their babies were taken from them and given away, without their consent. It was an almost all-white country where homosexuals were beaten up and jailed, and young women schoolteachers who got married had to quit their careers, because they would soon be pregnant. We still had judges who sentenced recidivists to be flogged.
And then it got better, slowly at first, then at increasing speed. We’re still no utopia, especially for indigenous people. But we’re getting there. What would have been unthinkable in the 1950s, when a “mixed marriage” was a Protestant wedding a Catholic, is now commonplace.
So on we go.
Funny thing about that picture is that it’s somewhat representative of my life when I was the young boy’s age. My father who was a farmer often wore overalls and had a big hankerchief on him at all times. Of course, his hat would have been some seed corn gimmie cap, I would have been in jeans and a t-shirt not overalls and my dog was a black lab but still pretty close.
Also, this was around the time when non-corporate farmers were really struggling. My dad went bankrupt and had to give up farming. The memory of the bankruptcy auction is very clear in my mind.
So, nope. Not really a moment of great nostalgia for me either.
I was not terribly aware of racism/sexism/LGBTQ+ issues at the time and had little understanding of bills so I would agree to that sort of ignorance feeding into people’s nostalgia.
I can remember going to see James Bond movies as a family… I tried to watch a couple of them recently and found them unsettlingly rape-y. I can remember enjoying the ‘sexy’ scenes from these movies and now see them with Bond in the role as a sexual predator. He would slap/grab/force a kiss and the woman would resist briefly and then submit. It gave the movies a really creepy vibe.
It feels like we have come a long way but at the same time I think for every improvement we have wandered into new swampy issues. ie Surveillance state, trading smoking for vaping
I just read With a Lantern in Her Hand, which is a fictionalized bio of the author’s grandmother, a Nebraska pioneer. Her favorite memory was very close to yours: after they’d moved from a sod house to a bigger frame house, but while the children were young, making dinner and knowing they’d all come in for it in just a minute. They didn’t have a lot and life was still uncertain, but they had enough and the family was together.
But even there, in that mythic happy pioneer America, they had tragedy behind and before them, and it was utterly clear that every detail of the woman’s life, economic and work and social, depended utterly on who she married. (There is no woman in that picture above this blog entry. She probably didn’t have enough time to stop working and watch that sunset.)
I grew up in the 60’s in a small mostly-white-protestant Midwestern town. My dad worked in an office, my (college-educated) mom stayed home with the 4 kids. We owned (a mortgage on) a house and a car and had lots of family nearby. We went to church on Sundays, and all of us kids were active in church youth activities. We were middle-class (probably upper-middle-class, but the parents always told us “middle-class”), and my parents never told us we couldn’t afford to participate in school activities or pretty much anything we really wanted to do. All four kids attended good colleges, with some scholarship help. Most of my close friends were from families very similar to mine.
So when I’ve seen some of my school acquaintances post memes like the one above, I know exactly what they are talking about. I commented once, that those good old days were only good for *some* of us, and that some of the folks who went to school with us had a very different experience — unable to join the band because they couldn’t afford to rent an instrument, unable to do after-school activities because they had to work every day after school and on weekends, unable to walk into a high-end store without being followed around by the salesperson because their skin was the “wrong” color, unable to show affection for the person they liked because they were the “wrong” gender, etc. I was oblivious to all of that throughout my school years, but now I am very aware, and I can’t tolerate the blind nostalgia for a time that was only pleasant for a small fraction of the people in this country.
You have to wonder who is nostalgic for long days of back-breaking farm labor. Dam’ sure ain’t farmers!
If I’m nostalgic for anything, it’s for a time when there were fewer ways to do something stupid. If I’d had access to wireless internet in a dorm room in the 1970s, instead of preparing for classes and writing papers, I’d probably have been an online addict, watching someone else play a game, etc. Or think of all the drivers using smartphones who might have been paying attention to the road before such devices became ubiquitous, or (even longer ago) might have been more likely to drive a manual-shift car and have both hands busy operating it.
Oh yeah. I already went long on this post, when a friend posted it, last week. Thanks for having the same reaction. She didn’t get it.
Much the same – nostalgic for moments and/or brief periods of time. I vividly remember being in my mid-20s walking my dog through our neighborhood, as we did every day that weather permitted, and thinking how lucky I was to know that I was genuinely happy right where I was. It was a funny little interior conversation, because I was in a relationship that wasn’t great and had some other things going on in my life, but I also recognized the problem areas as temporary, and understood the broader picture of youth, health, work/life balance, friends, and love for the city and the area. I get nostalgic for that contentment.
This reminds me a bit of a poem by Jeff Coomer entitled “History Lesson.” At the end of the poem, the author asks his grandfather how he liked working in the steel mills during WWII. “Like,” he said,“didn’t have a thing to do with it.” https://allpoetry.com/contest/2694689-Jeff-Coomer-Poem-Prompt?fbclid=IwAR2ue8WZbmccY-o27zTh5RKSiXKp3_PgD7A__4dVgJNQWhuih01NvjYXkvs
I am nostalgic for the GOOD parts of America when I was growing up. JFK (until he was murdered). LBJ’s Great Society–my first summer job was with one of his programs, in which I learned about doing a day’s honest work. MLK and the Civil Rights movement. Along with my fears of nuclear destruction (the Cuban Missile Crisis happened when I was in 6th grade) was the faint hope that we’d someday win the Cold War.
And then the big, important things to me. The Race to the Moon. The Heinlein juveniles. Frederik Pohl, who edited my favorite magazines: If, Galaxy, and Worlds of Tomorrow. Willy Ley. In the mid-60s, I was sure that we’d build a wheel-shaped space station, and we’d fly crewed expeditions to Mars before the century was out.
What has happened since has been more bad than good. We won the Cold War–only, we fumbled the aftermath, unlike what we did after World War II. Frederik Pohl and all his magazines are dead. Heinlein’s memory and legacy are under siege by the critics and by too many modern readers. We have yet to return to the Moon, never mind fly to Mars. MLK’s legacy is under fire, too, from the same rotten Grungy Old Party that opposed him in life (and quite possibly murdered him).
I understand everything you say, and I agree with it. But I still feel nostalgic.
I’ve recently been scanning more old family pictures to add to the tens of thousands I already had. I found some slides of my mother embracing a man I don’t know, and my father embracing a woman I don’t know, all in the same hotel room. They were all fully clothed, so I’m sure there is an innocent explanation…
Anyway. I was a kid during the watergate era. And the Viet Nam era. I was mostly unaware of them. The headlines I saw were the ones I saw in the supermarket checkout lines. So I knew about Liz & Dick, and Sonny & Cher. The real news was so boring to me that I assumed that it played all night on TV while we were sleeping.
I think part of my nostalgia is the desire to see the world of my childhood the way it really was, rather than the way I saw it as a five year old, or a ten year old, or a fifteen year old.
And I wouldn’t say I want any of that world back.
Brendan and Dichroic – do you remember that PBS reality show where modern families replicated pioneer life? The men rather enjoyed the outdoor life, but for the women it was nonstop kitchen drudgery, and they did NOT enjoy it.
Dichroic – do you work with glass? I’m a huge glass art fan.
Everyone – if you haven’t already read it, check out Caroline Fraser’s Prairie Fires, a biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and an exploder of the whole Little House mythos. It won the Pulitzer Prize, and is super interesting (and maddening). tl;dr – Wilder lied about pretty much everything, and – eco and indigenous concerns aside – the whole “yeoman farmer” business model was a sham and totally unsustainable. btw Ingall’s daughter, Rose Lane Wilder, participated in a pioneer caravan for about two months while she was an infant, and then dined off that experience the rest of her life as an arch- arch right winger. (Friend of Ayn Rand.)
Or think of all the drivers using smartphones who might have been paying attention to the road before such devices became ubiquitous
@gottacook — on the other hand, the bartender pouring the drunk man into his car and waving him off down the road used to literally be the stuff of comedy. I’m not sure how large the window was between deciding that drunk driving wasn’t funny and drivers getting smartphones, but it isn’t all that large . . .
I totally agree sir. We are about the same age and there were moments of pure happiness. However if I logically look back there were dark moments during the same time.
I always liked moving forward, partially because of the hell of a childhood I had, where the only real hope was when I was older, when time had changed things. I probably got used to that outlook so for me the future is always brighter, even with how things are now (I am trans so things are getting better in the social acceptance, but they are getting worse as well with the violence on trans people).
Nostalgia is a foggy mirror that doesn’t reflect reality, just us cherry picking moments out of a specific time and ignoring everything else.
Ok, that was sort of rambling, sorry.
I do miss being able to stop and swim in any creek I happened upon.
And when I grew old enough for hiking, being able to use a ‘Sierra Club cup” to dip water from any spring or trickle.
Hmm – I think JS’ perspective on this one is a bit – personal.
I don’t really have that much nostalgia either but, while I can sort of see what JS is referring to in some areas, in others, we’ve also LOST a lot of good things, which is what the meme is trying to state.
First though – JS doesn’t quite get the dress code right. Yeah, those clothes were common in the ’30s and ’40s in rural areas, but that lasted well up into the ’60s. The kid in ‘Lassie’ dressed just like the kid in the meme, for example. So too Ron Howard’s character in Mayberry in the ’50s. A lot of Conservatives (and not just them) see the ’50s as a bit of a ‘golden age’ for the United States – and they aren’t wrong. While it’s true that the US of that era was by no means perfect (but then no time EVER is) a single worker could keep a family happy, healthy and well looked after on just their one income with funds left over for investment, retirement and the like. Companies did not see their employees as expendable cogs, but often as part of a corporate family. Healthcare, despite being ‘private’ actually worked back then. In the era just post WWII, there was a lot to look at and say, ‘things are pretty good’.
Of course, there were also racial problems etc. too. But in many parts of the US, as there was a lower percentage of minorities, those were things that were ‘elsewhere’.
While JS looks at those issues and sees, rightly, that they were problems, I think what he misses is that society – for the majority – had a lot going for it. Some of it was, quite simply, that there was a ‘place’ or ‘role’ for most people and, unlike today, most folks were pretty happy to accept it. While that limits options, too many options aren’t always a good thing.
Basically, there is a lot more disruption today, societally. While disruption in any sense presents opportunities and advancement, it also is very damaging to overall happiness. Change is stressful and we live in a period of change. The era shown in the meme had markedly less disruption, albeit it was taking place just after an era of great disruption – which is probably why it was so calm
Personally – I get both sides, but unlike JS, I find the current level of disruption exceedingly negative. John doesn’t and – as he would say – that’s okay. We need different perspectives. But I do think that the meme represents a somewhat simpler LESS DISRUPTIVE and more stable time. And for a great many people – less disruption and more stability = happiness.
It’s happiness that’s missing for many people today. I think that is worth noting – a lot of our ‘progress’ is not making society happier – and maybe, just maybe, we need to consider that aspect if we don’t want more Donald Trump.
…and we’re waiting here in Allentown…
Geez, I was in college when Dean Martin and Foster Brooks were both playing “lovable lush”es! (I was the latter then, but not the former.) I gave up drinking in the early Eighties, but smoked until 14-15 years ago. The first time Tammy and I flew to Australia, I had to buy nicotine patches to make it across the Pacific without a cigarette….
I remember getting really pissed off at American Graffiti and HAPPY DAYS, but at the time couldn’t really articulate why. Even then I knew they were selling us a bill of goods — America in the Fifties/Kennedy Sixties was great…if you were White, Male, Straight, and had a well-paying job. My Dad didn’t have the last (he had every talent for being a salesman except Closing the Deal, and he was creative in an environment where the tendency was to beat that out of you!), so he joined the Army and spent the next sixteen years cooking in a mess hall, largely. He turned into a kind of hateful person, thanks to that — so no, I don’t have a lot of nostalgia for those times.
I have a certain fondness for the Seventies, but that’s because I can remember it as when I was in college, and the world seemed open to possibilities for me. I wouldn’t call that “Nostalgia”, though….
10,000 years of human civilization and human progress, and nostalgic people invariably say the peak time of civilization is when they were 10 years old, plus or minus a decade?
Socrates complained how kids when he was an adult suck compared to when he was a boy? And no one notices the pattern?
Nostalgia has nothing to to with the year and everything to do with age.
society – for the majority – had a lot going for it. Some of it was, quite simply, that there was a ‘place’ or ‘role’ for most people and, unlike today, most folks were pretty happy to accept it.
I think there are rather a lot of women who would disagree with that. When you take them, the queer people, the ethnic minorities, the religious minorities, and the people with disabilities, you’re pretty much down to straight able-bodied white Christian men who weren’t facing significant barriers and prejudice — and they have never been a majority of the U.S. population.
Now, noting that isn’t the same thing as saying that EVERYTHING SUCKED BACK THEN BAH, nor that everything is better now (and I actually disagree with Scalzi that our current moment isn’t any more troubled than past ones). There were some genuinely better things, like a healthcare system that wasn’t as broken as it is now. But “back then people knew their roles and were mostly happy with them” is grade-A rose-tinted glass.
“Things that were ‘elsewhere'”? I grew up in San Diego county in the 60’s. In (around) 1964, the County built a new, much needed hospital. They found and hired an experienced lady to be chief of nursing. She had to turn down the job. Why? She could not find ANYWHERE within 20 miles of the job site where she could rent an apartment or house! THAT’s the sort of ‘elsewhere’ that I am most definitely NOT nostalgic for. A year or two later, several of the largest real estate companies in the area were charged with refusing to show properties to minorities. This was allegedly progressive Southern California. Your ‘elsewhere’ was EVERYWHERE You just choose not to see it
“A lot of Conservatives (and not just them) see the ’50s as a bit of a ‘golden age’ for the United States – and they aren’t wrong.”
Because WW2 had literally wiped modern manufacturing from the face of the earth in almost every nation, except the United States.
It was a great time because of a completely unnatural monolopoly that american corporations held over the world. And within a decade or two, most of those nations had rebuilt their manufacturing capacity and the US monopoly was gone.
the only people who can be nostalgic about the 50’s are americans who didnt think about how the rest of the world was a smoldering ruin.
But the nostalgic think the boom of the 50’s was something earned as an outcome of our way of life, or some such nonsense, and the only reason we dont still have the boom of the 50’s is because we somehow “fell from the grace” of that way of life. At which point, factual history no longer applies, and they start inserting their beliefs as opinions, such as arguing that we declined in the 60’s because of loose sex, integration, or “teh gays”. But the reality was simpler than that, we didnt ‘earn’ the boom of the 50’s in the first place. We were simply too far for the war to ravage our soil like it did everyone else. Everyone else saw their infrastructure reduced to rubble in the 40’s. They rebuilt in the 50’s and by the 60 and 70’s they could finally compete on even footing with us, and we lost the manufacturing monopoly.
“Some of it was, quite simply, that there was a ‘place’ or ‘role’ for most people and, unlike today, most folks were pretty happy to accept it. While that limits options, too many options aren’t always a good thing.”
Which is nothint more than arguing that we lost the “boom” of the 50’s because of something we lost in our character. But packed with that is the notion that we gained the boom of the 50’s by our character, when in fact it was mostly a matter of luck, and the lack of range of enemy bombers.
At the root of a lot of nostalgia is the notion of a meritocracy that never actually was.
I miss the America I grew up in, but not due to nostalgia. Partly it was that I was just growing up in it and things looked different to a kid with dreams of better futures, who was ignorant and naive to all the dangers still being perpetrated.
The America I grew up in had defeated Nazis, passed a civil rights bill, ousted a corrupt President by rule of law, went to the Moon repeatedly, had rock and roll hitting its stride, school teachers who challenged us to think rather than repeat what we were told, and everything seemed so…full of hope and wonder. Sure there were problems. But hope and wonder are powerful and I miss that so few have them anymore.
Fascists are back, civil rights have been rescinded, corrupt politicians are the rule, law is flouted, the Moon and Mars are unachievable, rock and roll is controlled by bureaucrats, and teachers now teach by rote. Hope and wonder are dust covered and moldy.
The America I grew up in aspired to something better. When this one tries to, it is squashed by apathy, or bought with money. That’s just sad. I still have hope and wonder in my heart, so I don’t need to feel nostalgia for them, but do wish the world would get on board with all the promise of better futures it used to give.
Nostalgia is absolutely a luxury. It is also laziness. Nobody wants to look too closely at their own mythologies – too much potential to discover terrible things and have to process or answer for them.
Recently I learned that actual Nazis picnicked in a park very near where my grandparents lived in Southern California – a park I played in as a kid and knew very well. They didn’t just picnic there – they took it over and made it theirs for a time back in the 50s/60s for their rallies and get togethers. These are not punk Nazis – I’m talking about “German American Bund” clubs – “nice while folks from the burbs” who just happen to believe in racial superiority and that maybe Hitler wasn’t wrong.
The good news is The Teens pretty much have a natural ability to skewer nostalgia on sight, so if you have one of them around, you’re not going to feel it for long.
In regards to one facet of nostalgia, there may be three types of people:
1. those who, knowing that Soylent Green Is People, cannot be nostalgic for a time in which they did not know that but it was still true
2. those who, knowing that Soylent Green Is People, are still nostalgic for a time in which they did not know that but it was still true, and
3. those who think that probably *back then* Soylent Green wasn’t made out of people and back then sure was a lot more comfortable
I suppose, possibly, also #4, who do not care that Soylent Green Is People and who are annoyed at people making a big deal out of it now.
I do have some nostalgia for when I thought that most people mostly agreed with Mr. Rogers and wanted to do the right thing by other people, and therefore if someone was mean or not sharing, then all that would need to be done is explain to them that their actions are hurting people and they’ll work on doing better. Somewhere between 1. and 2, I guess. I have zero nostalgia for all action/inaction based on that assumption about the world, though; yes, briefly comfortable at the time, but I wish I’d known then so I’d have made better choices then in a wide variety of ways.
(also, for a women’s perspective on a hobby-farming male author romanticizing farming, see the entertaining book Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley.)
@Robin, 3:42 pm
And before Brown vs.Board of Education, Mexican-American kids were having to sue to get non-segregated education here as well. (I did not learn that in school- about 10 years ahead of John- in Southern California, but in the obituary of one of the plaintiffs)
I remember being a kid and wondering why the world just seemed to work so well. Answer: it did not. This was an illusion based on the fact that I grew up in an upper middle class bubble and knew next to nothing about inequality. I’d heard of it and felt bad about it, sure. At school in the ’90s there was occasionally brief discussions about sexism and racism, and I also read a ton of YA books from the United States – enough that I thought I understood. Not quite. I knew there was abstract suffering happening, but that was about it (there was a medium-sized amount of racial diversity in the people around me, but only a tiny, completely ridiculous slice of the socioeconomic spectrum). So catching on to how big and how real the disparities were/are is something that took me a very long time. History class occasionally mentioned Indigenous peoples but only in passing, and I didn’t hear a word about the human rights abuses happening basically next door to Indigenous kids even as I was growing up. There were a few parts of my life that were not awesome, but what I went through wasn’t a small fraction of that horror. And I was so insulated from it that I’m pretty sure the first time I even met an Indigenous person wasn’t until I was into my twenties. Wouldn’t the colonial powers have been absolutely delighted by that. I am grateful to have had a stable childhood, but I appreciate being a lot less unaware and foolish. My comfortable childhood came at the expense of other humans, and while I don’t feel guilt over something I couldn’t have helped, I do very much want to help undo ongoing harm. In adulthood, I do my bit to help work towards a world that actually looks more like what I thought it was (minus the utter cluelessness) for larger proportions of the population. This includes a lot of thinking and reading and listening and refining my own understanding as time goes by.
OldFart, you make great points.
Lord Commander – There’s a difference between consumer options, and personal options. Agreed, too many consumer options aren’t good, for many reasons, including eco. But personal options = empowerment = freedom. We need a society with as many niches as possible, and that fully supports people in finding their niche and thriving in it.
The fifties had a limited # of “acceptable” niches and if you weren’t lucky enough to fit in one, you suffered. (And so did society.) And, in different ways, even if you did fit in – or thought you did – you suffered.
Having been born in 1951, I lived through three assassinations, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam and Civil Rights protests, the dawn of feminism, landing on the moon, Kent State, Nixon, the Iranian hostage crisis, the AIDS crisis, 9/11 and countless other tragedies and triumphs. I am grateful to those historical touchstones, as they somewhat prepared me for the chaos of Trump and a global pandemic. Having looked forward to a peaceful old age of enjoying my eight grandchildren, I do look back to the past with a certain fondness these days. But those past memories are fleeting moments of wonder in a world filled with turmoil. I would not go back, but prefer to look forward and hope for a better world in the future.
(for “the 50’s were magical!” people: consider the alcohol, nicotine, and muscle relaxant consumption levels in the white-picket-fence suburbs. A population who are Really Happy, Peaceful, And Content doesn’t need – and therefore, usually, doesn’t *use* – that level of pharmacological coping mechanism. You had vets with serious PTSD, incredibly depressed women who were supposed to present as perpetually cheerful and visually perfect while feeling that they lacked meaningful work/purpose [look at the studies processed-food companies did at the time: cake mix ended up having you add an egg not because they didn’t have powdered egg, but because they found that women weren’t as happy with a just-add-water cake that they didn’t feel they had *made*], and altogether, even though it was an artificially created boom economy, it *wasn’t all that happy* for the adults, judged by various statistical measures. I’ll grant that the picket-fence kids who did not have actively abusive households were probably good with it, though.)
Speaking as one who grew up in American Graffiti-land (George Lucas was a classmate in high school), I believe the movie was a fairly accurate romanticizing of what whites experienced, simply by ignoring the Latinxs (mostly called Chicanos at the time)–there weren’t many non-Caucasians in Modesto at the toe, Nostalgic for it? Not a chance. Nostalgic for the Good Old days? Even less so. I’m nostalgic for 2011 or so, when we had a real president, really were trying to lower pollution and really seemed to be on the way to a more just society. But hey, I’m only 75, maybe I’ll get to be nostalgic again some day.
Rationality often kills nostalgia, but no one is rational all the time and many people are almost never rational, especially about large issues. And don’t underestimate how pleasant nostalgia is. One of the greatest causes of stress is uncertainty. The future is always uncertain. The past isn’t. That’s something populists understand and weaponize.
I was chatting with my 94 year-old aunt, as I do every Sunday, and she was telling me about moving from Pennsylvania to New Jersey in the middle of the night. I asked “why did you move so much, and why always in the middle of the night?” I could year the scorn in her voice: “It was the Depression, and we didn’t have the rent money.” Duh. It was hard times and then WWII came to make it harder.
My mother told us how they got laundry done in the early 1900s in Fort Worth. A family would come with their mule hauling a cart with a big metal tank on it. They would unload the tank and build a wood fire under it and heat water, then wash my mother’s family’s clothes, run everything through the wringer and hang them out to air dry.
That was the high end service provided, for a banker’s family with a handful of daughters.
a single worker could keep a family happy, healthy and well looked after on just their one income with funds left over for investment, retirement and the like
Those jobs existed because because of unions, which conservatives despise, and didn’t work so well for a “single worker” who was a woman, or wasn’t white.
But you’re tipping your hand a bit with the part about there being a ‘role’ for people; that’s a tarted-up way of saying that people knew their place and were happy with it. That’s been a line since we were under a monarchy, and came up again and again in response to the CIvil Rights era and women’s activism.
I grew up in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, when segregation, either legally, or implied, was the law of the land.
Now if you’re Trump’s base, you think that was a good thing.
If you’re Trump’s base, there wasn’t a nuclear war, so no problem.
If you’re Trump’s base, you got all your shots, because that was prior to the anti-vaxers.
Back then, the US economy was on a tear because we’d bombed industrial centers around the world, so anything that required advanced manufacturing anywhere in the world came from the US. Essentially, there were jobs for all who wanted them. Cry all you want, that situation will never happen again.
Nostalgia is not a luxury. It is a necessary thing. It should also be a personal and private thing, not a public and political thing.
Nostalgia might be the only thing to keep disillusionment from overwhelming a lot more. My younger life wasn’t the greatest, Dad was old school on the idea of punishment and my high school senior year was under a cloud of the military draft lottery. My number was 4, I was two weeks away from learning how to speak Canadian before it was declared illegal.
There are few other things that happened, things that can put the halt to a conversation, but there are also bright spots, nostalgic spots, that I would rather have float through. The things that make dreams, not the nightmares of reality.
This is timely, John; nostalgia is hitting toxic levels society-wide. We need to focus on tomorrow, or else end up getting sucked up into our own spime-holes, while the proud boogaloo right across our necks in their shiny white boots. Or whatever…you know.
I don’t know, we humans tend to remember the good stuff, and forget the bad things. That is until we start thinking about it. I do sometimes miss the pre-mobile times, until I remember that it was also before email and web browsers and wikipedia. But I miss that we were slightly more open to people coming by, just to say hi.
I guess we had the same kind of bigotry and racism as today, just in a different way, but still the same, we didn’t think about it; we were not as exposed as we are today, having gay friends exposed me somewhat to it …
What the Internet have given us; is a clear picture of how many people, are able to hide behind an avatar – who have opinions which, profoundly, would shock most people 20 or 30 years, that is what the internet have given us, it has also given us the opportunity to lookup information in minutes … sadly many people don’t do that. I still miss going to the library combing through dictionaries and encyclopedia to find something of interest, I could still do that, but wikipedia is easier, but not always as accurate or as for filling.
Do I miss the world 40 years ago … no, am I nostalgic; oh yes.
Having grown up at pretty much exactly the same time as you (I’m 53 as of July), and in a USAF family, twice living on nuclear SAC bases (B-52 units), my first thoughts were exactly yours. “Oh well, I guess it doesn’t matter any more, we are all dead.” was my thought about that picture. One of those bases was in Georgia, so you can imagine what we saw in peanut-county in 1981-3 when it came to race “relations”. We had just moved from CA, and it was truly a dumpster-fire from my perspective. But I was young and “uninvolved” at that time, and I was totally committed to my soccer experiences (and a white male) so it just didn’t touch me. But even a few months later I had grown (and my Dad been transferred North) so I remembered some of the things my black friends said vs. what some of my white, off-base friends said, and I became more and more upset. Yeah, as much as I hate Trumpism and all that he stands for, I’d rather be here than sweeping it under the rug. Time to clean house. Time to stand up and take what’s coming. White people need to have the courage to decide that equity, equality, and fairness come at a cost, but it is not too high to pay. We either believe in freedom for all, or it is not freedom for any.
“To the privileged, equality feels like oppression” is true, and painful to those of us privileged, but real courage is doing the right thing, not the expedient thing. If it doesn’t hurt for us (white people, privileged people, …), we aren’t doing it right. It needs to stop hurting for the less-privileged.
Speaking as someone who is the same age as you, I agree with everything you say here. Bravo.
Also, “Nostalgia is a lazy fallacy of the comfortable” is quite possibly the smartest thing I’ve read all week. Okay, it’s only Monday, so the competition ain’t fierce, but still, very very very very very well said…….
—Keith R.A. DeCandido
For high school, yes the popular kids were the ones with an allowance who never have to tend Aunt May. If Buffy had not had to patrol she would have joined Cordelia as a popular cheerleader.
For economics, under the last 40 years of Reaganomics wages have been decoupled from a company’s rising profit and the rising GDP. ‘Twas not always so. The last 40 years of tax cuts—even during wartime (war on terror)—did not happen during the 40 years between the war and Reaganomics.
I saw an old silent Charlie Chaplain movie where people in those “innocent” times nevertheless knew that gays, as “pansies,” existed. But I like your phrase “could get arrested for existing.” Partly (dear trolls: I said “partly”) what changed was fighting for “freedom of assembly” where gays (the non-stigma replacement word for homosexuals and lesbians) by assembling could see with their own eyes that good gays did not have to be what the culture said they were.
In Stephen King’s book the time traveler tells the good “going by social mores” football player that he does not have to be dumb and uncultured like society says he should. He leaves it to the boy to look up “mores.”
In the literature novel Revolutionary Road (later a Leonardo DiCaprio movie) the hero’s friend tries to be a regular guy, like his buddies during the war, and he destroys his character in doing so.
Unlike literature, popular culture, I guess by definition, has a glossed over view of their present (when they wrote it) and our past (reading it today). As a poor boy, I could only afford old pop culture books. So now I have a double vision, seeing two cultures. Like Katniss going to Capital and seeing affluence while also remembering her old district.
I found myself thinking I missed being a kid recently, then I quite literally and actually slapped myself for being such a stupid fool. I’d remembered one or two good moments, and managed to make myself forget the bits that literally left me with suicide attempt scars. How could I forget, when I have the real and actual scars to prove my childhood was a near unending nightmare, how rotten things had been? And if even I can, even for a moment, how much more addictive and toxic can nostalgia be for people who were mostly fine or sitting pretty during childhood?
I don’t miss the way things used to be at all.
Adding to the above, what I like about Heinlein’s Revolt in 2100 was how the hero gets liberated regarding his government, sin, and “pariahs,” which I presume meant Jews. Of course “I’m proud to be a member of society,” but part of my life has been getting liberated from my own culture.
I grew up in he 60s.
I remember my parents looking at a map in the realtor’s office that had literal red lines on it.
Sure, it was great for them. But that’s not a world I want to live in now.
I get nostalgic mostly for my younger, able body, and the things it could do. I miss the times when my extended family got together for summer picnics and holiday meals. Chasing the cousins around the pool, eating great midwestern cooking, watching fireflies in the dusk. I miss those things, while recognizing that they can never come again. I would never wish other people into a past that may have been hell for them. I just treasure the memories of my own little slices of heaven.
I initially misread that line as “Nostalgia is a fairy tale for the comfortable”, which I suppose it is, too.
“Of course, there were also racial problems etc. too. But in many parts of the US, as there was a lower percentage of minorities, those were things that were ‘elsewhere’.”
Wow. That’s some damn privileged hand waving there.
Nostalgic for the 50s? Not bloody likely! I remember the school air raid drills that we had because nuclear war might happen at any time. Or as we used to say “Get under your desk, put your head between your knees, and kiss your ass goodbye.”
My first-grade, first black teacher, Fannie Beckley, taught me that had I been born a century and a half before then, I’d have been property.
I remember child-friendly documentaries about underground railroads, lessons about the Klan and picture books on segregation and black literacy.
I’ll never forget the image of the ghostly white face glaring balefully through a window at the black children assembled in a circle around the kind-faced white woman with a book in her hand.
It was then that I learned that a term of endearment, one I wasn’t allowed to use because “profanity,” began its life as a slur, something to slap us with when we needed reminding that we weren’t human.
I was seven when Rodney King got jumped by the LAPD and eight when a Simi Valley jury reminded African American Angelinos that their lives didn’t matter.
I remember what Black rage did to the corner stores, markets and neighborhood restaurants I and my grandmother haunted.
I remember my second-grade teacher angrily pontificating to a class primarily comprised of black and brown children about hoodlums and savages who ought to have been grateful to white folks for tolerance.
His favorite admonition was “If your parents tell you to take or break things, yell no and call the police.”
I remember hearing NWA’s Fuck Da Police and relaxing in the knowledge that there were famous, crazy, gun toting uncles and cousins who’d keep me safe from the glorified Klansmen in the blue uniforms.
I remember being scared to death of OJ Simpson, so much so that I had nightmares of waking at 3 in the morning to find him standing at my bedside with a knife.
I also remember feeling vindicated in ways I couldn’t understand when he was acquitted of the murders he committed.
I was 13 when I decided that my uncle’s hotep friend was an irredeemable RSHD whose assessment of my white friends and teachers said more about him than about them.
I was 14 when regularly scheduled programs were interrupted with news of a massacre in Middleton Colorado.
Then the red and white “Threats Are No Joke” signs went up all around our school, and one friend after another fell prey to the “zero tolerance policy”; people were being expelled for wearing the wrong shirt, making the wrong joke or singing aloud to the wrong song lyrics.
Meanwhile, there were doctor visits, surgeries, fights, disciplinary action and other apocalyptic moments unique to adolescence. Cut to age 17 and there’s a TV in the room during first period. Everyone in English is stunned and frightened at the sight of plains plowing into the Twin Towers.
Cut to Daniel Pearl’s execution and an assembly to honor him and comfort his parents.
Nightmares about biological weapons, black eyes from fundamentalist thugs, dead soldiers and the steady uptick of white supremacist and Islamophobic rhetoric issuing from Bush fans at school brought my grades down and kept me confined to home and room for months at a time.
My president back then was an idiot who espoused shitty views, but never did I worry that his voters were going to launch a race war or work actively to infect scores of the population with a deadly virus because… politics/culture/faith/tribalism.
Don’t get me wrong, there were vacations, night swims, birthday parties, movie knights, bountiful Thanksgivings and Christmases, magical Halloweens, amusement parks, cooking/baking lessons, card games, choir competitions, fireworks, park days, beach days, sleepovers, bike rides, pizza parties, cartoons, hugs, prank calls, proud smiles, academic awards, graduation parties and rewards for good behavior.
Even then, these were just lovely moments stringing moments of sociopolitical turds together.
And still, none of those wreak as badly as the ones that’ve been dropped onto 2020.
I do, however, miss my eye sight and the independence that came with it.
Grew up in the 50’s, definitely not nostalgic about duck and cover drills at school, wondering what an atomic bomb attack was going to feel like, and if it would be worse to be dead or alive afterwards.
I studied a lot of Adrienne Rich when I was in college (I was at Miami of Ohio in the late 80s) and one phrase of hers stuck with me: “Nostalgia is just amnesia turned around”. The United States in particular has a romanticized picture of small town and rural life. We seem to forget the hard work, poverty and lack of opportunity that often is a part of such places. My cousin lived in rural Wisconson in the 1970s and her mother confided to my mother that she hated the lousy schools and lack of opportunity that resulted in drug use and teen pregnancy. It’s as if we think small towns are places where it’s either the Fourth of July or Christmas every day and everyone is eating blueberry pie or turkey.
Remember Sarah Palin referring to small town America as “real America?” John Stewart made fun of that by pretending that the hijackers of the planes that struck the World Trade Center were mad that they had attacked “fake America.”
From time to time my older sister sends me facebook posts on the “weren’t the 50’s wonderful, don’t you miss them” meme. I don’t buy it. Yes, I was a fairly happy kid in the 50’s. I was part of a stable middle class white family, close to loving grandparents and other cousins. What’s not to love?
But I know enough to know that my experience was by no means universal. That in fact there were large groups of people who did not have the advantages that I had. That the advances in racial and social justice that have been made since then were good, but not sufficient. So, yes, not really big on nostalgia.
Nostalgia is usually for those not paying attention.
Who didn’t remember the West Coast evening newscasts on 04 Apr 1968, or care about some motel in Memphis.
Who didn’t see classmates show up with torn clothing and/or bloody noses… and only some of them get sent to the nurse’s office.
Who didn’t try to make friends with the new kid in fifth grade, to be told that the new kid wasn’t the right kind of friend. By teachers, neighbors, and parents.
Who weren’t stuck using substandard books and lab equipment in high school because the large landowners (the only source of taxes to support “local schools”) hadn’t convinced the (thoroughly corrupt) County Assessor that their holdings shouldn’t be taxed for schools because there were no kids living there.
Etc. (There are a lot more specific examples for anyone who grew up in the sixties or seventies, too, but those examples often include… trigger words. Words that, themselves, call “nostalgia” into question.) One Soviet-dissident poet (maybe Voznezhensky?) wrote about the framework of “nostalgia for the present” — that nostalgia is often projecting the best parts of one’s present life or aspirations onto the past, without any of the disappearances, gulags, KGB, and other icky bits.
I am close to the same age as Mr Scalzi, and I immediately thought this could be a poster for a remake of “A Boy and His Dog.” Atomic demise, not quite imminent enough for characters not depicted in this image.
My big nostalgia is for the lost climate of my youth; autumn is just winnowing away.
Speaking of atomic demise, growing up with civil defence brochures in the basement (cement would stop some of the rays) a couple of times I have seen my city innocently depicted using concentric circles, once for a residential map. My emotions went blank: God bless the innocent, but for the rest of my life those circles will always stand for the various damage radii of the Bomb at ground zero.
* * *
Same hungers but different way to feed ’em.
Sex, sustenance, security. All hungers boil down to one of those three categories.
Right now I am heating previously made bitter black tea, one of my moderated hungers, and to satisfy my cravings for sweetness there will be sugar added, two spoons (stubbornly I’ll keep it from five). Sipping a hot cuppa, sugared and dribble of whole milk, a warming sense of slow easing. It was also a bit of nostalgia, reminder when my life was simpler. Delusional, that. My life was different not necessarily better. I’ve struggled with PTSD since age fourteen, some good years some awful, but mostly slightly miserable.
Now, looking back, I wish for a time machine and the fullest possible stack of formula for SSRIs, SNRIs, cholesterol thinners, et al, and (yeah, yeah) stock picks for the past thirty years. And there would be temptation of covertly hunting monsters of the ‘Jeffrey Dahmer’ variety, maybe others too (not getting explicit in a post the NSA, GCHQ, et al, is archiving against the day all citizens are declared Enemies of the State).
Crosstime pruning of weeds, there’s my dream career. Not just mine, lots of books and movies and teevee series. All based on the notion we can fix this mess and seeking the easier way given a decade of perspective.
Others have sought their version of nostalgia, all those Dixie Boys longing for the glory days prior to the “Slaveholders Rebellion” — we need to stop being polite in terming it a ‘civil’ war — and they wave flags of their lost world and other horrid failures. If they ever got their hands on a time machine, not only would there not be a 19th Amendment, the 15th would have been strangled in its crib, too.
So, good thing on average, nobody has a time machine.
Crazy thing, now as I look back from 2020 towards 1970, for every five (5.00) problems solved there seem almost five (4.93) arise to replace ’em. (Those numbers are for dramatic effect, nothing but gut estimation.) New ‘n unique, alongside odd variants of golden oldies. Yeah, things are getting better but so slowly. For sure, we’ve gone from a society always on verge of famine to steady food supply to a silver age of surplus that is wonderous to look back on. Newer problem? Cheap foodstuffs leading to obesity, something unique in six thousand years of semi-documented history. Right now in this moment only a few places on this planet is that new problem a common one.
* * *
There’s plenty of other such moments, others wrote of ’em by words better than mine and made incidents personal and immediate. You can indulge in ‘nostalgia’ if you wish, I prefer frozen grapes and chocolate and e-books as my drugs of choice. (Does anyone have a bootleg of Charles Stross’s final ‘Merchants’ book? No way I’ll be alive when it finally drops.)
* * *
hopefully, you-all will have a chuckle from my favorite new cyber-haiku…
newest tweet contest bouncing off “Trump Vote!” tweets
(inspired by @jlodge28’s “TOMATOES DON’T BELONG IN GUMBO. VOTE!”)
HAN SOLO SHOT FIRST. VOTE!
LUKE I AM YOUR FATHER. VOTE!
FRIENDS DON’T LET FRIENDS GET TATTOOS WHILST DRUNK. VOTE!
NO FATE BUT WHAT WE MAKE. VOTE!
FUTURENEWS: 09OCT2020 an anonymous staffer posted a reminder inside the White House:
“will the last survivor please turn out the lights before exiting the White House death zone?”
recent googling by staffers: “quickie last wills”, “cheap coffins”, “suing my boss for killing me”
FUTURENEWS: 19OCT2020 announced remake of “Grinch Who Stole Christmas” to star Melania Trump
FUTURENEWS: 19OCT2020 announced remake of “Weekend at Bernie’s” to star Donald Trump in role of puppet-on-string corpse and Jared Kushner and Eric Trump as string-pullers; plans to rent White House as movie set; Vlad Putin rumored as bankrolling;
FUTURENEWS: 19OCT2020 announced remake of “Grinch Who Stole Christmas” to star Melania Trump
FUTURENEWS: 01NOV2020 defiant women gathered for outlawed #NotoriousRBG concert on SCOTUS steps; DHS indiscriminate teargas results in mass hospitalization; 287,000 gathered more than Trump’s swearing-in; WH staff dared not show Trump footage for fear of yet another rage-out
FUTURENEWS: 02NOV2020 just in time for elections tomorrow, the president has announced his plan for replacing #ObamaCare… #TrumpDontCare
which will provide subsidized cardboard coffins for cancer patients… nothing much else
FUTURENEWS: 02DEC2020 it has been confirmed by the US Marshals Service that Donald J Trump is scheduled to be tossed head first into an open sewer on 20JAN21 at one minute past noon by an eager team of marshals…
FUTURENEWS: 20JAN2021 Joe Biden sworn in, crowds estimated at exceeding 2.1 million; FOXNEWS fails in effort to term statistic fake news; cheering audible all the way to golf course where Trump went to plot his futile attempt at a comeback;
FUTURENEWS: 21JAN21 in an effort to provide Donald Trump full CV19 experience: (a) he lost his job (b) evicted from his home (c) cannot get medical insurance preexisting condition (d) will need months of expensive treatment (e) family shunning him being drain on limited resources
FUTURENEWS: 028JAN2021 just one week after President Biden inauguration: insomnia fallen 78%; husbands reporting wives snoring 62% less loudly; children have 91% fewer nightmare; 42% less bedwetting; turns out calling him ‘Sleepy Joe’ appropriate since everyone able sleep better;
FUTURENEWS: 27FEB2021 as the nation mourns the death of Trump yesterday, emergency legislation is proposed; calling it “Donnie’s Law”, the Senate passes a national mandatory mask mandate, 92-0 (8 GOP senators having attended WH meetings in SEP’20, caught the virus, died)
FUTURENEWS: 01MAR2021 just a month after President Biden inauguration, clouds are reported as being 19% fluffier and kittens 7% cuter;
…and in other news, stock market sustains a record setting rally of 152%
When I was a kid, the big nostalgia thing for the grownups I knew was Fiddler on the Roof. Like Jane Austen capturing the last days of the pre-industrial English aristocracy, Sholom Aleichem, who wrote the stories that the play was based on, captured the last days of a vanishing world. Not one of those adults would want to return to that world, but it was pleasant to visit. I never saw the play or movie, but – spoiler – the whole world in which it is set gets wiped out by the Nazis, though I gather that even within the play one sees modernity ending that world in one way or another.
So why were all these adults I knew nostalgic about a pretty horrible world that was about to end even more horribly? I got the impression that it was because it was part of who they were. It was like someone of Irish descent, like one of my English teachers who swore that she and her sister had heard the call of the banshee and returned to the village to find that a relative had died, getting nostalgic for a world of grinding hard work, occasional famine, political repression, and you know the rest or can look it up. I grew up in a community of immigrants, and some of the stories of the old country were pretty horrifying, but there was still that ache, that sense of yearning for the past.
The world was far from perfect then, for all values of then, and it is far from perfect now. Still, I have nothing against nostalgia. During times of crisis remembering the good things from one’s past can provide hope. It can give one strength. It can establish identity. But only a fool takes nostalgia seriously and imagines that if they could only bring back the past that it would make things better.
Nope, don’t want to go back at all. The small (15k people) town I grew up in was only 10 miles from the state capital; and my graduating class (’81) had 1 black girl (moved to town that year) and 1 boy from Lebanon (moved in freshman year) and all the rest white bread. My high school (in Connecticut) American History class didn’t mention the KKK or any issues in the south after restoration.
That same town now isn’t much better; it’s fully integrated; but being so close to the capital, it’s been gentrified. It has take-out from around the world; but it also has Mc-Mansions and homeowners associations and spends more money on the football field than on computers for the classrooms.
Bette Davis in All About Eve: “I detest cheap sentiment.”
Dolly Parton [apocryphal]: “I adore cheap sentiment.”
So – here we have Dad & Dave trying to work out whether tomorrow will bring much-needed drought-breaking rains. Not looking good, is it?
Meanwhile Ma & the girls are head down, bum up in the kitchen, laundry, chook pen & veggie garden. No bloody time to look at flamin’ sunsets!
Yeah, things were so much better back in them days. *eyeroll*
I suspect that the lure of nostalgia has to do with the fact that we know what came next. We know how the 80s ended, we know that nuclear war wasn’t an issue; we know that Y2K didn’t break the world, and so on. When we want to return to childhood, it’s not just the innocence of childhood. It’s also the comfort of knowing that for the next 30 years or so nothing too terrible would happen to us, which I certainly don’t have about my life right now.
I grew up in the midwest (born 1955), seeing a lot of nostalgia for the time before The Wars (you know, nose buried in books and magazines).
My two grandmothers, born before the first war, were both unpleasant, selfish women. The wealthier one had the passive-aggressive, saccharine-sweet way of assuring you that all her desires were in YOUR best interest. The poorer one was just plain mean.
It wasn’t until I was in my 40s or so to wonder what is was like to have a probably mensa-level IQ (based on their descendants) but be defined by being only a wife and mother. Light bulb moment!
I think any accurate discussion of the whole nostalgia issue has to account for the fact that some things have gotten better while others have gotten worse. Obviously, things have gotten better for women and for the LGBT community, and I don’t miss the ubiquitous cigarette smoke either.
But things have declined in other very significant ways too. For instance, (as you implied) income inequality has grown and the middle class is much less comfortable than before. Housing and education are both much more expensive and it’s harder to get started in life. Obesity and chronic health problems have increased. The incidence of mental health issues has skyrocketed.
A couple of really startling changes ….
1) 3 or 4 decades ago, most employees didn’t put in unpaid overtime. That was only for managers and certain professionals along with small-business owners, all of whom had a real stake in the business. But nowadays, a lot of white-collar workers spend their evenings and weekends logged in and “working a hot issue” or answering requests from their bosses, or even just covering for another employee on vacation because there is no slack in the system anywhere. This comes at the expense of mental health and family life.
2) Most of high school and even junior high is now a time of “application prep” for university. I’ve heard of kids with A+ averages and near-perfect SATs losing out on university spots because they didn’t present “demonstrate enough leadership in their extra-cirricular activities”. This emphasis on grooming teenagers into polished urban professionals (which starts as early as Kindergarten in NYC) makes them unhappy and forces them to miss out on the unstructured time with friends that should be part of being young.
So the “everything was really bad back then” is also a simplification in many ways. I think it’s well-intentioned and much of it is due to a welcome acknowledgement of formerly-marginalized groups and a sensitivity to the role privilege plays in these nostalgic narratives But if we don’t acknowledge the complexity here, we can’t really talk to wide segments of the population and in a political sense, we’re vulnerable to false nostalgia like that shown in the poster. This has very real results in elections and elsewhere.
I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s and it wasn’t until the 80’s we had a water closet and a shower in the home. Before that it was an outhouse, which was an experience in the winter. To clean yourself it was a sink in the kitchen and you had to heat water on the range.
The longer I’m around the more I appreciate what Jimmy Carter did in the 70’s even though he’s considered to not be a great president there’s a lot that he did that actually outlasted several presidents and some details surfaced decades later that really gives the reflection that he did have the long term perspective and had great integrity. What he did was not to promote himself but to satisfy his conscience and try his best to serve the country by not accumulating unnecessary external enemies.
But today I see that we have two candidates that seems to not have every sheep in the pen so to day and with a heavy luggage of questionable behavior. Too many cases with Biden and small girls when you look at videos and pictures all over the internet. Trump is no better and has a history of higly erratic behavior as well where he has had a huge turnover of people which has more or less made him an international pariah. Just give us a sane sensible person in the office. I’d better have someone that’s consistent that I can politely disagree with but still respect than someone that I can’t trust. If it had been Bernie Sanders or James “Mad Dog” Mattis fighting out the election I’d have been good with either one.
Sorry for the political ranting.
As a child of the 90s, what I’m nostalgic for is the earlier days of the internet. When computers brought new wonders every day, rather than new horrors. When people socialized in small internet communities and everyone used instant messaging. When it was common sense not to use your real name, rather than a requirement. It was a great time, before “social media” — in just about every way a downgrade from the old ways people socialized online — came in and bulldozed it. The internet used to be a place where you could be yourself and not worry unduly about it interfering with your AFK life, which I saw (and still see) as deeply insincere and limited by comparison. The internet has become more and more like “real” life: that is to say, shitty and controlled by a small group of powerful people.
You might be interested in this research: “A Present for the Future” (https://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Publication%20Files/Rediscovery_91a38887-12e7-4c5c-a60d-866c0e4a95c4.pdf) relative to your memory and the happiness you remember. There is joy to be found in remembering the “small” moments of life at a future time. I believe this is why getting together with old friends can be such a delight – they are a repository of events that might be trivial in the grand scheme of things but their recounting places you back in time for a moment.
Did I misread you?
Is your position that we (we specifically meaning those unable to see the “golden” aspects of the old days) should try and catch more flies with the honeyed acknowledgment of the “good” bits of the past so as to avoid alienating those who “disagree with us”?
My other question is, who, exactly, is your intended audience?
Please tell me you aren’t admonishing people, marginalized groups in particular, to consider the political consequences of putting forth “[oversimplified]” depictions of the past and present or for failing to acknowledge the prevalence of “first world” problems.
Why is it marginalized groups’ job to have nuanced conversations with privileged folks?
What “good” was there in an era when certain groups were banned from restaurants and could be beaten for choosing the wrong seat on a bus?
To whom do they owe an acknowledgment that being beaten, raped or even murdered with impunity was just an unfortunate aspect of an otherwise glorious time?
It’s almost always going to come back to most things sucking for people like me and some decent times for the other one in the conversation.
Things have certainly “gotten better” in that certain protections for certain groups have been codified into law, but I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how much more work needs to be done, considering the following:
More importantly, the degree of support for trump indicates a claw back of epic proportions, as will ACB’s confirmation to the supreme court.
We could very well be staring down the barrel of fifties era existences for marginalized groups.
As for the decline, while social mobility and health are major issues, I’m not all that worried about white collar workers when blue and no-collar workers are hungry and homeless; I’m sure they’d gladly work that overtime if it meant white collar money.
I know that there’s this huge push to try and win people over, to get them to agree that certain folks are entitled to human rights and other considerations.
I don’t think this is going to happen.
I don’t think those who disagree about certain issues are winnable to my side, and I, for one, am done with compromise, as it always seems to mean some kind of self-deprication.
Let those with privilege in common have that conversation; I’ll be over here doing what I can to change the sociopolitical landscape so that those “golden” days don’t return.
I’m nostalgic for the 1970s as those were my teen years. I’m under no illusion they were actually better, I just have a fondness for them. The trouble comes when people convince themselves things really were better.
A book I read back in the early 1990s, after a decade of conservatives nostalgifying the glorious 1950s pointed out that conservatives actually living in the 1950s were nowhere near as happy with them. Integration protests! Juvenile delinquency! Gay people! Comic books rotting American children’s minds! Communists everywhere! Women taking over!
Yes, you misread me.
I’m nostalgic for 2015! When we knew there were problems and we thought we were going to keep working towards making them better. When the bigots in my HOA were afraid to say out loud in mixed company that they were bigots. Currently they’re trying to take over the HOA board so that we don’t have to comply with laws that they will no doubt sue us for not complying with when they catch Covid and get sick or have a relative die. Not just Trump signs, but flags as large as a car.
Re: my childhood– much much prefer the control I have as an adult. My childhood was not happy and I couldn’t change it, but as an adult, I have been able to.
I’m nostalgic for the past when we could have colonies on other planets by the present.
(Not so much for the future with the flying cars that other people long for, which we have now but call them helicopters, but for the affordable by everyone flying cars, which we don’t.)
There is this. I’m about 10 years older than you, and have a brother about 10 years older than myself. He’s the kind of guy who might post a pic like that, while remembering watching sunsets on Grandpa’s farm. Has some explicit ’50s nostalgia. For him, the lynchings, Jim Crow, repressed women, closeted, persecuted gays, all that stuff is by the way. It’s not part of his memory of the times and so it’s not part of the times for him.
When I contemplate my own past I do sometimes feel a sense of loss, but I think it’s mostly about foreclosed possibilities, good things that might have been that were strangled in the crib by reactionaries. As somebody just upthread remarked, I have nostalgia for 2015, when at least it seemed for a while that our society had turned some kind of corner and was headed away from perdition.
That episode that you mention, with Krissy bathing Athena while chatting inconsequentially: the proper name for the feeling you have about that might be not “nostalgia” but mono no aware.
I like the phrase “The times weren’t simpler, it was just me that was simpler.”
Addressing only the “flying cars” aspect of past futures that we miss, I suspect those may remain forever out of reach. The failure mode of a car engine is “stuck by the side of the road.” The failure mode of a *flying* car engine is “all aboard died in the crash.”
Shall I bust more nostalgia?
Flying cars, as best I recall, belonged to media fiction such as the comic strips. The written stuff, including Tom Corbet, Space Cadet, didn’t have them. The few times I remember prose sf using them would be as a mere “speed the plot” device, (the villain escaping to the space port) same as the two-way wrist radio/TV of Dick Tracy saved time in showing communication. Like how the folks on Babylon-5 never had to waste time walking over to a wall phone.
I remember a romantic painting of an English countryside with a nostalgic WWII bomber in the sky. To my surprise, two women agreed that the bomber spoiled the painting. So far I haven’t heard anyone complain about present day cool contrails, but…
No doubt folks who don’t like the unnatural sounds of cars over on the highway, wouldn’t like the sight of unnatural flying cars cluttering the pretty blue.
Some tastes, like the Pepsi challenge, are only good initially. I have no desire to wear a 1940’s cape or have a little view screen on my visiphone, although I might for a few minutes, until I get real.
(Note: Arthur C. Clarke once wrote there was a whole warehouse full of visiphones, gathering dust, that even millionaires weren’t buying—this would have been during the time of transistors)
Speaking of tech, even if the day comes when people stop saying, “It must be true, or they wouldn’t have (printed it) forwarded it on social media” then I still won’t get nostalgic. I will remember my present disgust.
I think nostalgia is a nice diversion but would I ever want to go to that era and relive it? Heck no. I know I idealized my memories and, if I went back via some fantasy or science-fiction-ey manner, I would quickly realize the reality was much different than what I remembered. I like using emails, blogs, texting, streaming and other modern conveniences and would hate to go back to writing snail mail, using old-fashioned land lines for phone calls and clunky poor resolution VCR tapes for movies. I miss the friends and relatives I had back in the day that have since moved on (or, sadly, passed on) but I’ve met new friends and relatives since then.
I have a friend who grew up in the early 80’s and posts all sorts of nostalgic blog entries about his days playing video games, logging into BBSes, hosting software swap parties and other techie stuff of that time. He is also a big 1980’s culture fan (loves the movie “The Goonies” and does not understand why his kids don’t like that movie). Would he like to go back to the 1980’s and re-live those days? I’m thinking no. I’m sure he would love to visit to watch some of his favorite movies in theaters, attend a rock concert or log into a favorite BBS of his youth but live there? No. He loves modern technology and culture of today just as much and would miss it terribly (not to mention the friends and family he would leave behind).
Nostalgia is a nice fantasy but the reality of it is too harsh.
Do not PRESUME to dictate how I should or should not feel.
It’s telling that the most ardent defender of the good old days is male. I try not to make assumptions, but I’d put money on him also being white, heterosexual, and at least Christian-adjacent.
As someone who grew up poor female white trash, the ONLY thing I’m willing to concede was better was the existence of unions, which helped my mom hoist us out of poverty, with the aid of overtime and the credit union which gave her credit when most banks wouldn’t.
Otherwise, fuck the good old days. No matter how much things suck now, things were worse for more of us then.
My Dad’s family had to do the tenant farming thing in the interwar years, my Grandmother said the only good thing about the good old days is that they were gone. Though I do miss the days when I didn’t worry about reactionary jerks destroying Social Security.
Damnit, Scalzi! You ruined my nostalgia for those tater tots that I used to have in school. :)
Seriously, though, I try not to miss too much of the past (with a few exceptions). All the points you have made about America in the past (and present) is true. On a personal note, I do miss all of the time I had in the late 90’s/early ‘00’s when I could have invested it in writing. I mean, I had a different career in mind then so I don’t blame myself too much, but now I feel like I’ve had to play catch up a bit. However, being married to my wonderful wife for fifteen years makes everything better.
We can’t change the past, only the future. Here’s to a better one for all.
I am nostalgic for the 80’s for one main reason, both of my parents were alive and healthy and I got to see them every day. I want that back. I can’t have it, but it’s what I miss the most. I’m glad I grew up in the 80’s, but I wouldn’t want to actually live through them again.
There’s misreading and deliberate obtuseness.
I’d encourage you to reread the entry when all the nerves John hit stop throbbing.
I’ve done this upthread and am comfortable in my “misreading.”
In your case, m’thinks the criticisms of bigoted, golden-day fetishists might have hit too close to home, hence the gobbet of fetid petulance you hocked up in response.
I’ll tell you this, the implications you read in the original post are much, much less apparent than the ones in your own. Guess which ones are more problematic?
Can I assume that Suzanne Modeski was referring to that twee picture with its implication that all of us should pine for the good old days?
I too resent such blatant appeals to emotion. Our free-to-air TV stations used to do a lot of that in their promos. “Prepare to fall over in amazement! The most heart-wrenching story ever! Unbelievable revelations that will take your breath away!” Yeah, not so much.
Hence the Don’t tell me how to feel! reaction, which I think is quite justified.
Suzanne herself might expand on the wherefores & the whys. I’m listening. :)
Suzanne’s “critique” ought to have been focused and supported from the beginning; if she was referring to the artist behind the photo, the photo itself or to the author of the original post, she should have been clear. On its face, that post seems to take issue with the thesis of the original post, and the implications of that aren’t great.
Do I begrudge her the right to disagree? No. That’s neither my right as a fellow human nor my privilege as the host.
Am I obliged to keep silent on implicitly offensive, troll adjacent posts on the slight chance that they’re inchoate? I don’t think I am.
Yes, further elaboration on his/her part would clarify the matter. So far all we’ve got is 1. averse to emotional manipulation, and 2. X-Files fan. :D
@ Shrinking Violet:
I understand and agree with the first objection; I don’t like being manipulated anymore than the next person.
I hope the poster will return to clarify the point.
To pick up on something up thread regarding improvements for the LGBTQIA community:
Yeah, not all that enthusiastic about the return of the good ole days.
How about we turn the present into a reality that works for everyone?