There’s something very weird that happens in popular culture, particularly in the realms of music, films, TV shows and video games. After a certain of period of time passes (perhaps a decade or so), we act as though the cultural objects that emerged during that time are some of the best things to happen to our lives, even though there’s a slim chance that we may not have thought that way at the time. For example, various arcade games released in the 70’s and 80’s would have been taken for what they were during their time (simple entertainment), but are now hailed as iconic relics of their time. Often, this manifests itself as a mentality where people are so consumed by nostalgia that it clouds their judgement to the point that anything new is always bad. This is what’s called “nostalgia blindness”
Because apparently there used to be a time when this looked good.
Before anybody starts throwing a hissy fit, I am not against nostalgia. In fact, I think nostalgia can be good thing. In fact, I myself sometimes can’t help getting a little stuck in the past. Sometimes it’s good to look back on the past and what we loved, but nostalgia blindness does not refer to this. Nostalgia blindness is when we automatically assume anything newer to be inferior to what we knew in childhood. It’s extremely common in gaming culture, where people’s inability to get over nostalgia ruins sequels to video games that are ostensibly superior than their predecessors, but I can talk about nostalgia blindness in video games any time I want, in any post about video games or indeed gaming culture, so today, I’m not talking about video games. Besides, the way I see it, nostalgia blindness goes way beyond that.
I’ve already mentioned how Buzzfeed spends its time promoting pointless 90’s nostalgia (which I’ll get to talk about later on in this post), so let’s stick to a more basic point. Nostalgia blindness kicks in when you grew up with something and your sense of nostalgia blinds you to the flaws of what you were raised with. For example, a number of films from the 20th century now seem very much outdated (depending on what films you actually watch), but survive based on the nostalgia of an older generation of viewers. Because of this, many people forget about the weaknesses of these films based on pure nostalgia. This also seems to happen whenever we remember anything targeted at a youth audience. Whenever anyone wants to rant about how bad the present day is (and I know I’ve done this before), they bring up examples of things that were marketed to the youth of their day as either “more tolerable”, “good”, or even “classics”. Of course, back then, the older generation would have been the ones deriding that as terrible compared to what they grew up, saying the exact same things as we would be today. It’s a neverending cycle of pointless cynicism from the older generation, and equally pointless sycophancy from the younger generation.
Entire periods of history can become victims of this, especially the latter half of the 20th century, and with that in mind, let’s start by talking about the 1950’s, which is the subject of the famous American sitcom Happy Days. Many who are nostalgic about the 50’s focus on the vibrant optimism of the decade, the golden age of American affluence, and the dawn of rock and roll. However, the 50’s today are famous for the notoriously buttoned-up cultural norms that dominated the American landscape. Because of this, almost everything from the 50’s now seems bland to anyone who didn’t grow up during that time. Also, let’s not forget that the 50’s was still an era where sexism and racism were institutionalized norms of American society, and anyone who disagreed was branded a “filthy communist” who threatened the “morals of society”.
The 60’s was an interesting case. It started out as barely anything different to the 50’s, except that the early part of the decade gave rise to the era of the archetypal jet set playboy. Of course, people today remember the 60’s for the hippie counter-culture, the Beatles, pop art, psychedelic rock, LSD, the civil rights movement, the space race, and the sexual revolution. The 60’s is etched into modern culture, primarily because the people who came out of the decade haven’t stopped going on about how great it was. When they talk about how great the 60’s was, they tend to leave out the negatives. Much of what happened in the 60’s happened in the context of both the Cuban Missile crisis and the Vietnam War. The flower power dream was crushed in the midst of riots, social unrest, government oppression, and Altamont, all of which tended to be ignored by 60’s nostalgia. And then the 70’s was remembered for disco, funk, punk, Space Invaders, classic rock, the golden age of porn, and a wealth of sitcoms and Saturday morning cartoons. That aside, the events of the 70’s helped shape the world into its current form, but was frequently ridiculed as the decade where disco was popular, which makes no sense when you consider that disco was only around for a few years until the decade ended. Also, historically speaking, 70’s was a decade of confusion and disillusionment. The Vietnam war still raged for a time, the energy crisis had the Western world running out of gas for the first time, and crime was going on the rise. Also during the 70’s, people were depserate for something to take their minds off of the bleak landscape of the era, and so Hollywood obliged by introducing a new wave of 50’s nostalgia, and by setting into motion the dawn of blockbuster cinema.
The 80’s is a major target of nostalgia blindness. Everything that was popular about the 80’s is still beloved by anyone who isn’t repulsed by all the neon lights. Even people who weren’t even born in the 80’s can’t stop fawning over the decade of excess. At this point, it’s not so much a question of what the 80’s is remembered for, but what they weren’t remembered for. Popular culture as we know it today was practically born in the 80’s, which brought us Rambo, Nintendo, the moonwalk, VHS, The Karate Kid, New Wave music, and a whole host of other things that we need only to look around for. They’re also remembered for home computers, Hollywood blockbusters, teen movies, and ridiculous hair. We currently live in a time where 80’s nostalgia is still very popular. Pretty much all the clichés of popular culture were created in the 80’s, and there’s a plethora of TV shows, movies, and even video games dedicated to emulating the campiest, cheesiest elements of the decade’s absurdly optimistic neon glow. That being said, there’s currently a major case of nostalgia blindness going on, because all of it ignores everything bad about the decade. Here in Britain, we elected a stern old lady who did about as much damage to the nation as David Cameron is set to do today. Elsewhere, the spread of the AIDS virus created widespread panic, as homophobes treated homosexuality as the modern equivalent of leprosy. Also, America’s political landscape was dominated by the rise of the religious right, as conservative Christians began to gain significant political influence. In a sense, it was almost like it was the 50’s all over again. It’s not as though the culture of the time was much better. In fact, the 80’s popularized a number of horrible teen stereotypes, and brought us the abominable, neon-tinged nightmare of cock rock (better known as glam metal).
Thank God we got over that.
Finally, let’s talk about the 90’s, the decade I was actually born into, and also the decade that Facebook doesn’t shut up about. The 90’s is well-remembered by the current generation for the rise of the Internet, Forrest Gump, porn, Bill Clinton (and maybe porn involving him), hip hop music, Kurt Cobain, Disney’s renaissance period, The Simpsons, Cartoon Network, and the birth of reality TV. Frankly, I didn’t care much for the 90’s, primarily because I was a barely intelligent toddler by the time the decade ended. Hence, I get rather annoyed with all this 90’s nostalgia for the following reasons.
- The fashion of the 90’s was downright terrible.
- The Macarena will instantly bring horrible memories back to my mind.
- Everything else that’s horribly wrong here.
The 90’s saw popular culture morphing into its current state, in that movies and TV shows were getting dumber and dumber as time went by. Films began to rely more heavily on CGI, and were often the poorer for it. Meanwhile, rap music became the misogynist, mind-numbing schlock that it is today, with rock music struggling to survive in a time where the mainstream has started to abandon it. The 90’s also brought about the whole “debate” over whether video games cause violent crimes (a topic I will cover another day). It was also the decade when the US and UK started bombing the Middle East in a campaign that eventually culminated in two unjust wars that the people in charge spent the next decade trying to justify. Besides, most of what we choose to remember about the 90’s comes from the aggressive marketing campaigns we may have been exposed to as children. In other words, the 90’s was essentially a drowning pool of jaundiced slogans and committee thinking.
All that being said, I understand that nostalgia can be a good thing. But, as I’ve spent the last six paragraphs illustrating, it’s very easy to allow nostalgia to cloud our judgement to the point that we forget that we could be doing better by moving forward. It’s also important for me to point out that preferring things that were made before you were born isn’t inherently bad so long as you aren’t too closed-minded about it. Yes, we all love reminiscing over the past, but if we allow ourselves to get stuck in the past, then we are less motivated to move forward towards the future, and would be far less happier with life in the present.