August 8, 2012

Going beyond personal nostalgia in admiring the past

What keeps nostalgia from leading to regression is putting yourself in the mind of someone who, back in the good old days, was as old as you are now. Then you're not just pining for a return to how you remember those times, but discovering that your current self too would enjoy those times more than the present times. It really was a better world for everyone to live in -- young, middle-aged, and elderly -- not just a time that you have biased warm fuzzy memories of.

Now that a lot of people who were children in the 1980s are in their 30s, they should take a stronger look at how much better it was for 30-somethings back then, not only for small kids. It may, however, make you even more depressed at how bad things have gotten.

You won't be prepared for it either by hearing people now in their 50s and 60s complaining about how cool it was to be a 20 or 30-something in the '80s. They'll readily agree to that assessment, and provide you with lots of examples once you bring it up. But you're not supposed to get spontaneously nostalgic about how cool you were in your 30s, and how boring the society is now. It's like they're afraid of hearing, "Well, you were over 30, so how cool could life have really been for you?" Due to this silence, it's something you have to figure out on your own.

But people in their child-rearing years used to have quite a social life, before they decided to lock themselves indoors all day with their nuclear family. Although I don't have kids, I still see how much aggravation helicopter parenting adds to the lives of those who do. You get cabin fever, and you're not allowed much of an outlet since after all they are your family. We don't even have cathartic movies anymore like Vacation and The Shining.

Parents of Millennials get so snippy with them, constantly pester them via cell phone ("What were you doing when I called 15 minutes ago???"), and result to impersonal, emotionally cool, and rational-intellectual ways of interacting with their children. All signs that they're always on the verge of a nervous breakdown, doing whatever it takes to hold themselves together.

During the heyday of New Wave, my mother used to go out dancing with her close friend every weekend. She was in her late 20s and had three children -- me, around 3 or 4, and my brothers who were 1 or 2. Sometimes my dad would go, and more often he'd stay home. And both parents used to go over to other grown-ups' houses for "dinner parties," whose main attraction was actually booze. (My parents say it was not uncommon for party guests to drive home drunk in those days, something that the supposedly reckless and hormone-blinded teenagers today almost never do.)

Also, if neither parent was home to look after us, they hired a... shoot, what were they called? I know I saw them in movies before... oh that's it, a babysitter!

You don't see that level of sociality even among unmarried and childless adults today, who would rather stay at home and plug themselves into one of their many devices instead.

And of course with church attendance so much lower than it was during the most recent religious revival, grown-ups have abandoned one of the most reliable ways to get to know one another and create enduring social bonds. I distinctly remember what ear-to-ear smiles the grown-ups used to wear when they greeted each other before and after church. Daily life was a lot more dangerous and topsy-turvy then, so being near those who would get your back and help you through your troubles must have made them feel blessed.

Don't forget how much time the elderly used to spend hanging out with one another at the mall.

There are many more aspects of adult life that could be discussed, but I'll end it there for now, and come back to it now and then. Perhaps the easiest way to sense this for yourself (if you're of a certain age) is to look back at how much great music there used to be for adults -- not corny, and not ponderous, but sophisticated, and in an organic rather than phony way. Here is an earlier post on that topic, which I only feel stronger about more than a year later, having picked up Graceland by Paul Simon, So by Peter Gabriel, It's My Life by Talk Talk, and Diamond Life by Sade. Forget about being 7 years old again in the '80s -- I'd kill to be in the over-30 crowd back then too.


  1. Yeah, one of your previous posts discussed how life during rising-crime times is better for everyone. During the 80s, for instance, even nerds and goths threw their own parties and had girlfriends.

    Its funny, but when I talk to young people today, a lot of them, especially guys, talk about how they feel like they've somehow been excluded from their peers, and are "missing out" on their youth. Everybody feels this way, even the so-called popular kids! Everyone is so isolated, they don't realize that everybody else is equally isolated.

  2. Is there anyone who enjoys falling-crimes time? I mean, if you talk to older people, there are some who talk about the "good old days" of the 1950s. And there are some adults who very clearly loathe the changes that happened in the 1960s.

    That makes me think, sometimes, that cocooning is some kind of conspiracy on the part of the rich. I've heard all kinds of theories. For instance, one is that, the rich held back on introducing repressive policies because of the fear that Russia and the communists would exploit popular discontent. Repression began in the early 90s because the USSR had fallen.

    Another is that cocooning is the result of racial minorities and lower-class whites integrated into schools and public venues. Or, if you'd rather, hunter-gatherers and farmers flooding public venues.

    Is there *anyone* who benefits from cocooning though? It seems like even the groups that seem to benefit - such as gays - are actually still worse off. During cocooning times, gays become self-destructive, but during rising-crime their bad tendencies are kept under control and their lives seem better.

  3. Your talk about dinner parties reminds me of riding home from day skiing trips with my dad as a kid in the early 90's. He and his friends would crack open beers and sip them while driving and not think anything of it.

    When I got old enough to notice these things, I had to warn him that times had changed and that this could now get a person in a lot of trouble.

  4. AIDS was killing gays during the rising crime Great Sixties Freakout. They have become less reckless since then, and live longer.

  5. "Its funny, but when I talk to young people today, a lot of them, especially guys, talk about how they feel like they've somehow been excluded from their peers, and are "missing out" on their youth."

    Yeah, you might think they wouldn't feel weird since they grew up during the fragmenting '90s and 2000s. But human nature feels that something's missing all the same.

    I see the lonely popular kid thing at '80s night too. Well, they might show up with some guy friends or rarely some chick friends, but they don't get to interact with girls for the most part, who are too boys-are-yucky, look-don't-touch, and generally just trying to show up the other girls instead of wanting boys to approach them.

    They occasionally talk to other guys there, who they didn't already know, but that's about it.

    I guess the popular crowd isn't actually that popular anymore, in the sense of having extensive social ties throughout their school, being appreciated, desired as friends and mates, etc.

    It's more like they're well known as having the *potential* to be popular -- looks, personality, etc.

  6. "Is there anyone who enjoys falling-crimes time?"

    I think most people are pretty satisfied or complacent now, and have been since the Clinton years. Same vibe in the later '40s and '50s.

    As for nostalgia after the period is over, no one really got misty-eyed for the mid-late '30s -- I mean longing for the general zeitgeist, not just liking The Wizard of Oz, etc. Neither for the '40s (in general).

    Most of the '50s nostalgia was from people who weren't there or were too young to remember it. Nothing wrong with that necessarily -- nobody anymore remembers the Roaring Twenties, but they were cool.

    But the '50s nostalgia sees it as a more traditional time, when it was the height of the New Deal march toward the "world of tomorrow". Nothing traditional about all those garish futuristic drive-ins, International Style buildings, or hive-like Levittown developments, just to pick one area of life.

    Adults back then saw how far they were drifting from a human, organic, traditional world (like trying to put strict limits on ugly billboard-like signs for fast food places).

    But those who came after them don't know about any of that. They see it as the pre-'60s era, and by a halo effect assume that it was better in every social respect, not just having a lower crime rate and more stable sense of order.

  7. Agnostic, I was born in 1968, so I remember the 1980s well. My sister was born in 1955, and I remember her and her husband (b. 1948) "parenting" in the 1980s. Helicopter parenting isn't new - they were doing it back then. They were upper-middle-class (he had been a fast riser in the corporate world) and they and everyone in their social circle did the helicopter parenting thing back before it had a catchy name. Perhaps it is something that has just filtered down the classes over time. And they're still doing it with their children in their 30s!

    I will say, however, that they did seem less isolated than a lot of parents seem these days. (Disclaimer: My wife and I have a 2 year-old and we're both in our 40s. We don't feel any more isolated that we used to, but then we've misanthropes by nature!)

    PS You want drunk driving stories? I remember sitting on my Dad's lap in the car in the early 1970s, me steering, him with a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other. Now THOSE were good times!


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