Saturday, June 2, 2012

Why Nostalgia Is Killing You (And What You Can Do About It)

Childhood nostalgia can be a lot of fun. It's nice to look back at who we were before life got complicated and embellish in what we used to do.

There's an old Twilight Zone episode called "Kick The Can" where a group of senior citizens regain their youth by playing all the games they did when they were kids, particularly a game where they kicked a can for fun.

But sometimes, too much of a good thing can be quite bad.

We've played kick the can so much that we can no longer grow.

                                                 Some of us are more retro than others

Considering what we had to enjoy in the past, who could blame you?

A lot has been said about the past century and its seemingly categorized decades with regards to popular culture. In times of uncertainty, times when popular belief says that our days on the Earth are numbered, we like to look back onto what human civilization has accomplished, whether it be good or bad. This need to look back has started since the 90s (with Y2K fears) and continued pretty much since.

Looking at all the things that have come and gone, it's fun to cherish things that have come and gone.

A person on their deathbed may wonder about what the world will be like when they are gone, but their main thoughts are often the memories they had of the life before them.

Nostalgia can be a sign of declining civilization

If you were to look at moments in history with society on the edge of decline, you will see that many of them involved a lack of artistic innovation, a repeating of old ideas, and a resistance to new developments.

Of the various symptoms that illustrated the end of the Roman Empire was the lack of creativity that Roman entertainers had. The Romans were no longer hungry to do things differently. They became vain. They knew the past already worked, so they stuck with it. And the barbarians, hungry with different ways of doing things, stopped them. Nostalgia is a symptom of something larger. You love the past cause you're afraid of your future.

A lot of the items of pop culture that are adorned are part of the nerd culture. Isn't nerd culture the center of being innovative? Only if they reach their full potential.

When we think of nerds in the modern sense, we like to think of innovators who get rejected in high school only to grow up and change the world

This David turning Goliath story motivates those of us who find ourselves on the short end of the stick in our lives with only our long-term goals to help guide us through the storm.

This can work. This has happened.

Then there's the other side of it. There's wasting your life in the culture hoarding.

Is there a pride in being culturally literate? Absolutely, all the greats do it. But, they use their knowledge of the past to change their future. Sometimes, people get so caught up in the love of the chase, they forget what they're running after. 

In any Page 2 article Slashfilm has ever done, you will see talented artists create various parodies of every movie, television show, anime, comic book, or otherwise. All the hard work that these people do is done in living in other people's dreams. Which is fine, unless they wanna change the world.

Cover bands don't change the world.

If you're an artist making original work, maybe you can do one "cover" to grab people's attention and use that to link them in.

We have all this technological capability, and you're saying the only thing we can do is write old articles about our childhood and make Star Wars parodies? We are capable of so much more. We have the ability.

If you're going to look to the past, it better be because you want to know how it can help you with our future.

Do you ever have an old obscure movie that you think would be great for a remake, and then they remake it, and it's horrible? You thought it would be great if they could somehow modernize this underrated gem, and they gave you a teal orange carbon copy of recent films that came before it.

Again, you can be a hoarder of the past.

Yeah, you think it's disgusting when they don't throw away pizza wrappers, but if they were dusty trading cards, you'd still hold onto those things.

Imagine what kind of world we would live in if Spielberg and Lucas only made remakes. If there was no Star Wars, just a whole lot of Flash Gordon.

Could it be good? Maybe, but we would have no Darth Vader or Han Solo. No Indiana Jones. That's scarier than any dystopian future.

So, if you're an artist, make something original. Experiment. Make the muse go through puberty.

And if you're a collector, try something new. There's a lot of bands that have elements of what made the 80s fun for a lot of people. Or, you can watch a movie like Drive (with the oh so dreamy Ryan Gosling) and have cinema that emulates those influences with said soundtrack.

There comes a point where enough is enough. You can only collect so much of the past. There's only so many dinosaur bones that you can dig up.

As much as we'd hate to admit it, there's a joy to liking the past. Your own little website as a secret shrine to what you think is important. It gives you belonging. But, the Internet is quick to take that away. When all knowledge is a Google search away, it's hard to be on the inside.

This is why hipsters seem as confused as they are. They need to be in seclusion, and they can't be. This is why people on the Internet need to tear everything down. The drama is an attempt at an identity.

But there's a problem there. Contrarianism lacks autonomy. You might stand out, but you don't know who you are if all you do is say the exact opposite of everyone else. If you were forced in isolated confusion, you wouldn't know what your favorite band would be.

When something becomes bigger than us, it bothers us. Again, part of our identity is gone. It's like a politician who panders out of his base. You hate that they no longer represent you. 

When you run out of things to collect, you can make your own. That's where a real identity can come from. It takes time, but it's more fulfilling than trolling. 

You don't need nostalgia. If you did, you would welcome remakes. But you don't. Why is that? Because, you have mistaken the past with quality. Sturgeon's Law states that 90% of everything is crap. The past allows us to cherry pick. With the present, everything happens all at once, and we don't get the good 10% on the first try.

All I'm saying, if the sky is falling, now's the time to get your art project off the ground, whatever that would be. The future ain't here yet, so you might as well start now.

We like the past. And if you truly love the past, you need to let it go. Like Indiana Jones with the Holy Grail.

Why do we love what we've done before more than what we're going to do?

Cause we know how that story ends. It's a rollercoaster. And why do we like rollercoasters? Because rollercoasters have thrills with safety restraints. We even have a track to see where we're going and how we're ending. Even though we're scared we know it will be okay.

It's controlled chaos. We like that. We need fire to cook the food without burning the village down. And if the forest burns in the horizon, we hope to watch it at a safe distance.

Theatre is always fun, as long as the players stay on the stage. When they leap out to us, we don't know what's going on, and that scares us.

If UFC fighters jumped out of the octagon and started beating up people in the crowd, it might be fun to watch on pay-per-view, but that's only because they're not beating down your door.

One of the counterarguments to this is of course that, "if people watch someone being murdered, how come they have no desire to call the police?". Because conflict is watching a car accident. There's not much we can do but see the impact.

The entire "sport" of Nascar exists so people hope and wonder if someone will get into a bad accident and yet regulations, barriers, and the whatlike have been created to make sure the bystanders don't get hurt. Which makes sense, but it's really scary when you're the driver. Everyone wants the trophy, but nobody wants to die.

There's a spectator effect with the past, and that doubles when it is personal.

Life is not a rollercoaster. Life is like Mario Kart if you died when you fell off the tracks or didn't pay the bills. And that's scary. Not scary in the horror sense, but scary in the wasted life sense. All the horror movies about violence, but none really explore the fear of losing one's job and way of living. Cause it's not fun.

Controlled chaos could be Darwinian. It might help us cope with sabretooth tigers and teach us how to kill them. We admire the technique as a way to know how to deal with them when they are in our face.

A lot of things come into our lives that try to establish themselves as the next big thing. When we embrace them early on, we are in the know. When we embrace them early and they fail, we look really foolish. Myspace. Prequels. 

Sometimes it's a fad and sometimes it becomes a cultural staple. There's a fine line separating them. But the dance people do in between trends might come out to be embarrassing.

That's what Hollywood does now. Except, it's not street credibility, it's millions of dollars. And when they look foolish making a board game movie, they look really foolish making a board game movie 

The current state of dirty south hip-hop. They seem like Bret Michaels in the late 90s.

Could there be a comeback in the future? Sure.

But they need to bring the quality.

Draw the picture, don't copy and paste.

Does everything come from somewhere? Yeah, but that's not so much about creativity but more a property of matter. Matter can be modified, never created or destroyed. You can still make it in your own image.

There's always a twenty year nostalgia rule. What was popular twenty years ago always has a resurgence. Happy Days. That 70s Show. It happens. Only question, how can you be nostalgic about a decade of nostalgia?

Every once in a while, I see someone, of the Comic-Con demographic, who brings out the worst in enthusiasm. I call this the Peter III effect.

Peter III was an Tsar of Russia who nearly destroyed his country because his nerdy obsession with his Prussian enemies stopped Russia from winning the war. Peter III played with his little Prussian soldier action figures when he was way older than the "considerable age" for playing with them. He took over control of the military as Russia was close to winning the war against Prussia and made his men wear Prussian-like uniforms and draw up a treaty. He was assassinated by his wife for his Prussian fanboy ways.

                                                            Cosplay, circa 1700s

Is this an extreme example?


Is it still a fable about what unrestrained fan-dom can do to destroy people? Absolutely.

I love guys like Kevin Smith and Patton Oswalt, but sometimes they act like they should be wearing togas the way they love the past. Sometimes it feels like the empire is burning. 

It's not enough to be a consumer. You need to put your money where your opinion is and be a creator.

Do we need consumers? Yes.

Do we need creators more? Absolutely. 

And there are bands and films that do that.

Nostalgia is the television screen of our life. 

All the struggles from the comfort that knowing you'll get out of the story alive make you enjoy it. But now, the reruns are starting to take hold. It's not fun anymore. All a reaction against an undesirable identity.

Do you really remember the past as it was? Think about it. Dig deep. There were a lot of shows on Nickelodeon that were not that good. You can't remember them cause they got canceled.

All That isn't what you used to remember it as. 

Kenan and Kel is kick-in-the-pants comedy painful.

Better than Drake and Josh? Sure, why not.

But is the fact that they came later a sign that it's better, or is it just memories? They were both created by the same producers, so I don't think they would argue either way.

Don't mistake a greatest hits album for a lifetime's worth of work. The past has a lot of filler.

Nostalgia was first prescribed as a sickness. It was a way to mock soldiers who wished they could go back home and live the past cause they weren't cut for the battlefield.

Watch Al Bundy long enough and you'll become Al Bundy talking how you had four touchdowns in one game.

Do I love the past too? I do. But, like Aristotle says (how's that for past admiration) we need things in moderation.

You ever have the Internet go out at your house? Try it for a week. Now imagine it's not a week, but ten, twenty, thirty years. Welcome to the past.

I had a paper due via online course, almost went into convulsions when the Internet went out.

I hope this never happens on a global scale.

That will be the real end of civilization. Ironically, the only thing left will be our dusty CDs of musicians past.

Everyone wants to live in this fantasy version of the 1950s where we can erase the mistakes of the past and have a racially mixed group of friends in a malt shop while playing around with cell phones that have a retro design. I'm not gonna lie, even I wanna live there.

But even then, there would still be the atomic fear. 

When you were in high school, you were worried about the future, about essay deadlines and college applications. It's easy to forget that now. 

We should know where things come from. It's better to be attached to the past then to be an uninformed youth listening to some hip-hop remix sample of some 80s hit.

But understand that time is limited. 

At any given moment, a car could smash into wherever you are living and end your life. What would you have to show for it?

We're reaching a bubble. Something's gonna give, and it's gonna give soon.

You want childhood because you don't want to be a grown up. You want a level fifty Caterpie because you're afraid of what people will say about your Butterfree. Doesn't that reference just come off as tacky? You might think it's cool for a second, but then it sets in how cheesy it really was.

Do I love Community. Yes, I do. Do I love Star Wars? Yes, I do.

I also love it enough to let it stand on its own and let it go.

I guess it's a postmodern paradox. Learning from the past and making something new from it.

Somewhere along the line, people forgot that you can make new memories after you feel sad about the old ones.

Truth be told, reference jokes are easy, and they don't have the stigma that penis jokes have. I might use them in future works. But don't mistake technique for talent.

The difference between what Lucas and Spielberg did was that they used what they had to fulfill something they needed, to create something that was similar to what they loved but had not yet existed.

There was an appreciation, but they still found their artistic identity in their works.

Make new things that look like the past things if your heart so inclines, but make it new and make it you.

History will repeat itself, but it doesn't always need a remix.

There was once a marketing campaign that talked about how "everything is a remix" and while the goal of the project was well intended, it seems to miss the point.

It's one thing to copy and paste the Mona Lisa and mess around with the color scheme in Photoshop. It's another thing to take the time to have a model pose for you, to mesh all the ingredients together to paint the picture. That's not to say the entire art of "remixing" is a lie, there's a lot of people (DJ Earworm comes to mind) that make new things amazing things from remixes.

But there's a talent involved in that.

                                         Da Vinci took what he learned from nature

                                               And incorporated it into his work

Sometimes, playing a song from the heart differently can give it a whole new meaning. Other times, it just sounds like karaoke.

Now, if we can somehow all find a way to still exist after December 21, 2012, 2013, 2045, whenever, we might as well try new things. The Mayans predicted a "new era" arriving soon, and yet we fail to prepare with all the technology we have to counter it.

Then again, maybe this is what the Mayans were talking about. The Internet is growing, Moore's Law is in action everyday, cloud computing is finding it's way, maybe we are changing for the better and this is the new era that the Mayans were all predicting.

Maybe we can all try different things after that.

But, if, for whatever reason, you feel like that could be it, that could be the big one, you might as well take this as the opportunity that it is and get working on that one thing you've always wanted to accomplish.

Anyone who visits this site has come here with a need to celebrate the things that have made an impact in their lives.

How could we have enjoyed what we had if the people who made those things decided to reenact their childhood instead?