Uncategorized | October 06, 2011
Knowing When to Say No to Nostalgia
One summer my mom and I watched every episode of The Flying Nun on Nick at Nite. If you are not familiar with the 1967 television show, Sally Field’s character is inspired to become a nun after being arrested for protesting in New York City. She moves to a convent in San Juan, Puerto Rico and wears an aerodynamic hat that allows her to fly. The series was as ridiculous as the hat implies. I remember my mom gasping in excitement while wearing an I Love Lucy t-shirt when Nick at Nite announced The Flying Nun’s return to the network. A similar, collective Twitter gasp occurred at the news that Nickelodeon will be re-airing classic 1990s television shows like Rugrats, Kenan & Kel, Doug, Clarissa Explains It All, and more. I gasped because I like to fit in and hoped Ren & Stimpy was on that list.
A more local, literary version of this reaction took place the other night with a few friends in a bar. I mentioned that my parents weren’t big fans of the Berenstain Bears series (save Too Much Birthday, a title that perfectly expresses the aftershock of birthday festivities). There was more gasping. My friends “loved” the Berenstain Bears. They loved the Animorphs series and missed Goosebumps. They wondered if kids still read The Boxcar Children and if Franklin Goes to School was required reading yet. Soon a group of college students barely old enough to buy their own beer were recounting their childhood reading lists with a sad sentimentality. This group was also compiled of creative writers and English majors. Nobody was placing any literary value on these books or addressing my parents’ original concern that the Berenstain Bears were representing a too typical trope of Dumb Dad and Mean Mom. All assigned value was in the recognition that once, a few years ago, we liked these things and now we miss these things.
I’m unsure what to make of this nostalgic phenomenon in my generation. I’m certainly not anti-nostalgia. I identify as pro-nostalgia for the most part and spent Tuesday night in my 1998 softball shirt, making mix cds, and listening to The Wallflowers. I’m more interested in the backward and forward demands of twenty-somethings who want the feelings associated with the past to fit into a progressive, technologically advancing society. For example, I’m writing this from a MacBook while an Underwood typewriter stares back at me. I became sentimentally attached to cds in the emergence of iTunes. Ipods don’t scratch or skip, but I suddenly found myself unsettled by the idea of a world without liner notes, special thanks, band pictures, and hard to open cases. A similar pathos seems to direct the conversation of books versus ebooks as well. Arguments tend to end with, “I just like the smell/the page folding/the weight/the newness/the oldness/the hold-ability of a real book.” I wouldn’t buy an ebook, but that’s because the screen gives me a headache. Real books aren’t exactly ideal either. You can’t read them in the dark. I’ve idealized the typewriter, but require an Apple product; I’ve romanticized cds, but wish I hadn’t spilled iced coffee on my iPod; I like the hold-ability of a book, but could do without the smell.
I didn’t wonder about my mom’s reaction to The Flying Nun not because I assumed she had missed the show’s comic timing, complex plot points, or suspension of belief. She knew that the show was kitschy and bizarre and would only last three seasons, but a certain distance from its original to its resurgence made her reaction appropriate. For previous generations, nostalgia comes from a genuine loss of a past that has come and gone. My generation seems to be the first that is simultaneously mourning Kenan & Kel, while waiting for clips of the 33-year-old title actor, Kenan Thompson (now an actor on Saturday Night Live), to load on their smartphones. The required distance between saying goodbye and idealizing the past is getting small enough for my friends and I to feel like our youth is gone.
Technology and accessibility merging with a romanticized past has proved positive when you consider a nostalgic wish for community intersecting with social media or available scientific evidence leading to a return to natural, Do-It-Yourself lifestyles. The negative side is the imagined distance we assign to recent occurrences like these Nickelodeon shows, which we could probably do another ten years without. Before you start feeling sentimental about the return of Amanda Byne’s sketch comedy show The Amanda Show, consider this tweet:
“I’m in the process of writing my first book! It’s TOP SECRET, but I need lots of smart, funny & inspiring people to contribute their story about what makes them happy and what made them who they are today! Yayayayay! Please share your story with me! I want you all to love this book! XOXO :)”
– Amanda Bynes, September 27, 2011
Some things we just need to let go.
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