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October 19, 2009 / JV

Red Flag on Nostalgia


I’m not sure if it’s because I’m around a lot of music, hip-hop, and (as seldom as possible) poetry crowds.. or if it’s just the times we’re living in — with the omnipresence of YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.. or if it is a tendency of human beings in general, whenever they encounter unanticipated change and new things .. to be nostalgic.

And by nostalgic, I mean to have a romantic notion in your head of how the past was, and to want to have whatever was in the past be in the present. For example, you may hear a lot of people talk about “real hip-hop”. They’ll refer to “the good ol’ days”.. you know, when A Trible Called Quest was mainstream and hip-hop was about parties in the park and cyphers on the corner in The Bronx. They’ll say now all we have is commercialized trash and the people who are really saying something don’t get enough promotion because they can’t get signed to a major, or people won’t listen because they’re ignorant and all they want to hear about is cars, clothes, money, and sex.

Nevermind the fact that the parties during Kool Herc’s days tended to end in violence. Or the fact that 2 Live Crew and N.W.A. existed alongside Tribe and De La Soul, or that shit was complicated and groups like Boogie Down Productions had songs like “9 Millimeter Goes Bang” on the same album as “Poetry”. Also nevermind the fact that people will listen to what they want to hear, and if a bedroom beat with an already played-out “conscious” message about like.. ma’at or something on it is not going to cut it, then someone needs to step THEIR game up. don’t be bitter, be better.

I’ve also run into a lot of people who have a lot to say about their feeling that human beings don’t even really interact with each other anymore because we have all these other ways — thanks to technology — to contact one another on a surface level. These people basically feel like technology is at odds with human nature. The internet is to blame for the fact that no one writes letters to each other anymore. Text messages are the reason communication is abbreviated and cell phones prevent us from having tea or sharing a meal. Twitter lets us broadcast our lives to whoever will follow, gives us a false sense of celebrity, and also a misleading sense of connectedness to people we don’t really know. YouTube has facilitated the triumph of the soundbite and media’s need to compress everything into a quick, easily-digestible tidbit. And Facebook has eroded personal relationships altogether with wall-posts posing as a real effort to hang out with someone, and comments, “likes”, etc allowing people to be “in touch” without really being a part of each other’s lives.

comic by robert sergel

comic by robert sergel

My response to all of this is: Puh-lease. As difficult as it may be to make this concession: technology is a part of life. And you can determine the degree to which it is in yours. Having e-mail is not preventing you from writing a letter, if that’s what you want to do. Twitter existing does not mean you have to join and joining doesn’t mean you have to tweet (twit?) every 5 minutes. “chillin in my car”. “pullin up to the street @jdoe is here.” know what i mean?

And in a bigger picture, things change. I’m sure when the car was invented there was some radical anti-car group fulminating about how now people will be able to get to one place to another without the deliberation that comes with deciding to go somewhere and getting there. Or that the exhaust from the cars would ruin the ozone layer and surely, it’d be the end of the world. Also, what were horses to do now? Just sit and eat hay?

The issue is not missing things, because we miss things when they’re not around anymore. The issue is not even wishing we could go back to a time when things were a certain way… The issue is wanting to transplant that time, or that thing, or person, or whatever we are feeling nostalgic about, into the present. This does not work because the present was not made for that subject/object of our nostalgia. There are new things now, but more importantly, there are new ideas to be had. Creating the future has to entail creating new ideas from fantasies, imagination, intellect, gut.

Furthermore, we often misremember things. We “remember” times we never experienced, like hip-hop’s “golden age,” and we think to ourselves that we would love that now. But we weren’t there then, and our vision is tainted by an intellectual or sentimental desire to be in the past — where things were by default, better. We “remember” when people sat down and talked to each other instead of texting, and we want that now. We want to put everything that we have experienced between “now” and “then” — internet, cell phones, pagers (?!), — into a hole and pull things from old picture frames and have them come to life to be a part of our present and future.

But I think we need to be more creative. We need to be more imaginative and inventive. Communication has been revolutionized. Broadcasting, “news”, and reality itself have all been revolutionized. I mean, you’re reading a blog right now. It would serve us well to embrace this change. To think of what will be next. Based on people’s untapped desires and fantasies, based on what we think society could use. Stop longing for the way something was, and make yourself a part of the way things are and will be. If nothing is unimaginable then anything is possible. Make the world and re-name your reality.



Leave a Comment
  1. Leigh / Oct 28 2009 11:01 pm

    Came over to this post through PB. Agreed on being wary of nostalgia. Generally, I’m better off and have more opportunity as an adult woman now than I did as a daughter of a single mom long ago, and so on into my working-class, gendered past. I think I’ll take the present and future, thank you very much.

    Though I do like a good chuckle over “kids today” as I teach undergrads this fall. ;)


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