"Oh the good old days".. It's easy to say, easier to think. People generally think they'd be happier living in an earlier time. A simpler time. Maybe a time without global warming, tv, nuclear weapons. Yet, is nostalgia denial, a romantic wondering of people struggling to cope with the present. This is called 'Golden Age' thinking. We currently live in a time where everything seems to have gone wrong, from Brexit, economic crashes to us ruining the environment. So we are left stranded: unstable in the present, being dragged from the past, resistant to the future.
What is Nostalgia?
A wistful sentimental yearning for return to the past. Something that has gone & can never get back. It consists of memories, what was once nothing or vulgar to one generation is now magical. Through technology, the past is made real to us in a way that it never has been before. Films create scenes convincingly from any time, adverts sell us the past, social networks make us able to document everything. Despite our close relationship with technology, at this point in our evolution human beings are still animals & animals struggle to adapt to change that occurs too rapidly.
Nostalgia promotes good & bad feeling at the same time. This called cognitive dissonance, where stress is experienced by a person who holds two or more contradictory beliefs at the same time. Thinking of your own fond memory, that happened long ago has a great power of happiness & calamity. Citizen Kane used Rosebud (his childhood snow slay) to represent a time of this youth before his loss of innocence. Of course we probably did have problems but can't remember them, we glamourise the past.
Nostalgia in Politics
By invoking the idea of an idealised past, politicians can provoke cultural anxieties that make nostalgia especially attractive & effective as a tool of political persuasion. Right Wing politics often use 'the good old days' to attract voters to an idealised past. We become profoundly angry, vulnerable to the dangerous calls of charlatans & bigots & xenophobes. Islamic State call for a return to the imagined glories of the early years of Islam. The Brexit campaign was fought with a rallying cry of taking back control from Brussels, promising a return to the imagined glories of pre-EU Britain & Empire. Trump still use this method to win people to his fundamental values. "Make America great again. Take back control."
The Good Old Days
We are drawn like lovers to the unreachable past through fiction. We could understand nostalgia with curiosity, an interest in a different way of life. Though the danger is people idealise the 1950's with its decent society, values & way of life. Conversely, it was a time of repression with racial, sexual segregation which was mostly accepted & apparent. You could pick any era with glowing nostalgia, only to realise it probably wasn't. The swinging sixties of free love & fun, or drug abuse & sexually transmitted diseases. In a way all fiction is nostalgia, it appeal of a different way of existence.
"This implies the problems of yesterday are often the same problems of today. Politics, prejudice & poverty. Even things that happened to us as a child are somehow reflected to us as adults.
The beautifully nostalgic film 'Midnight in Paris' centres on this idea.
What should we learn from Nostalgia?
The present is often a little underwhelming, but life is sometimes unsatisfying, if we went to another time, we'd soon be romanticising about another. We cherish the past & fear the future. It'd be better the other way around. Every generation cherishes of a better time before they existed but never known. Don't let it make you resentful of the present. So when an advert, politician, someone says the good old days, be cautious. Believing in an ideal is not to be feared, we should all hope for a better way to live. Of course we'll never know if there was a golden age, as we never there...
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