Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Hello, readers.

Happy Christmas. And New Year. And/or what not.*

As we reach the end of the year, you might be interested to know that several people are lamenting and debating as to whether or not our culture has become a prisoner to nostalgia or our nostalgia has blinded us to the new ways of being encultured.

See, for example, Kurt Andersen's "You Say You Want a Cultural Devolution" in Vanity Fair:
Ironically, new technology has reinforced the nostalgic cultural gaze: now that we have instant universal access to every old image and recorded sound, the future has arrived and it’s all about dreaming of the past. Our culture’s primary M.O. now consists of promiscuously and sometimes compulsively reviving and rejiggering old forms. It’s the rare “new” cultural artifact that doesn’t seem a lot like a cover version of something we’ve seen or heard before. Which means the very idea of datedness has lost the power it possessed during most of our lifetimes.
Maria Russo's response at Salon,
New technology, he [Andersen] writes, has reinforced the nostalgic cultural gaze. He’s not the first to note that nostalgia is pervasive at the moment, with virtually everything ever produced in any medium so easily accessible, so primed for re-discovering, that it’s tamping down our desire to produce and consume newness. But there’s more going on than that. Hasn’t technology also made HBO and Showtime and AMC possible? Cable television has made what we watch in 2011 dramatically different, and dramatically superior, to what we viewed 20 years ago.
and this new entry, also at Salon, "Nostalgic for Everything" by Matt Zoller Seitz
“Nostalgia is denial — denial of the painful present,” says a philosopher (Michael Sheen) in Woody Allen’s surprise hit “Midnight in Paris.” “The name for this denial is Golden Age thinking**: the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one [that] one’s living in. It’s a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.”
If nostalgia is indeed a flaw, it’s one that many 2011 films and TV programs shared...
Andersen's article, while being in some ways completely wrong (mid-90s Wilco is the same as Ghost is Born Wilco? Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash is in no way dated? Erm...), remains a fascinating entry into the conversation of how current cultural production is being perceived by those above and below a certain age.

In commenting on lifestyle and fashion, Russo seems onto something in her wondering as to whether or not, with so much of the conventional mores abolished as far as fashion (no pants for women, no piercings for men) and so much of our interactions occurring in virtual space (with our iPod, iPhone, Macbook, Android thing), fashion might have necessarily paused in the sort of fast-forwarding that occurred through the 20s, 40s, 60s, and on. People can wear whatever they want now, for the most part. And so they do. Or they don't. It's no big deal.

Generally, I find myself recognizing the intense, crafted nostalgia of things, especially music and film, of current chillwave, beach garage, and certain trippy, 80s relic, synth dance tunes. But, then again, I'm not confusing Josh Ritter with Dylan (as Andersen does), or Gaga's transgender anthems with Madonna's now  (as Ms. Russo points out) almost passe (but still catchy, "Like a Prayer," anyone?) odes to a a more generalized sort of sexual freedom. Nor, am I worried that Midnight in Paris, or Super 8, or any of the other nostalgically flawed gems mentioned by Mr. Seitz, signal any kind of death of artistic evolution.

Most likely if you looked at any year's list of cinematic or televised product, you'd find plenty of nostalgia. 1981, for example and also the year of my birth, included such nostalgic endeavors as Chariots of Fire and Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark.

What interests me, more than anything else--as a boy on the cusp of emerging into a displaced generation--is the loss of tangibility Mr. Seitz talks of, as marked by the end of film and records and, one day, perhaps, books.

It is not a bad or good thing. It is just a thing. And it is interesting. And if, in my old age, I gather around me a library of smelly, crackly, nostalgia, or curl in a chair-bubble with a make-believe paper copy of Michael Chabon's latest ode to the latest Golden Age***, I imagine I'll just be happy to still be kicking about.

ttfn, readers. Enjoy your burrito.

*If your holiday is not listed here, please also enjoy it. If you are not a holiday person then, as Marc Maron suggested, at the very least try to enjoy a sandwich. If you are gluten-issued, there are sandwiches for you (and me), too.

**Actually, according to Michael Chabon in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, it would more accurately and nonce-ly be referred to as, "the usual hallmark of the aetataureate delusion."

***See above.

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