The nostalgic way forward

sarahburns.online

Nostalgia, I have been taught, is a longing to recreate a lost home.

It’s a desire I always feel intensely during my first few weeks back in Berkeley after any time in my hometown. I long for the way the world looks from inside a car — the way buildings and ugliness seem so much less permanent when you can pass them by in seconds — and the feeling of safety that perspective brings. I want to wake up to purring cats, my little sister’s too-loud music in the bedroom over and a pantry stocked with more than one kind of cereal.

The “lost home” I’m creating here is definitely mine alone, but a tendency toward nostalgia certainly isn’t. I would argue our generation is all about nostalgia.

There’s our obvious proclivity toward declaring ourselves “’90s kids” and reminiscing about old T.V. shows and shared memories. But remembering the people and things we’ve lost is something every generation does. It goes further with us.

A friend of mine posted something to the effect of “old is cool” on Facebook as a way to advertise a Daily Cal recruitment meeting. While I’m sure the comment was meant to have far less meaning than I am going to ascribe to it, I think the fact that it was offhand only further speaks to how tightly we are bound to the idea.

The odd thing about our generation isn’t that we are nostalgic for Power Rangers and Push Pops; it’s that we’re nostalgic for typewriters and records — relics that were aging long before we were cognizant of them.

But that’s not to say every other generation didn’t also look fondly toward a past remote from them. They did. The difference is that we seem to believe that the way to move forward is by looking back.

Let me explain: If there is an iconic group of our generation that has tried the hardest to distinguish itself from past ones, I would argue it’s one commonly found at Berkeley. For lack of a better term, I am forced to call this group hipsters.

In all ways but one, hipsters are all about separation. They keep away from corporations, hate mainstream music and champion individual creativity.

The contradiction of our generation then, is the contradiction between wanting both rights and Ray-Bans. More precisely, we romanticize a past that would certainly have been far less accepting of the differentness we would like to embody.

Perhaps that contradiction exists because in an age that boasts both instantaneous information and Photoshop, reality has become harder to come by. Maybe it is the existence of Photoshop that leads us to fetishize the Polaroid; because we have such an easy way to distort, we cling to a form that requires reality to exist. When we know we can change the world on a computer, we also need to know that the chemistry of celluloid film is utterly beyond our control.

Perhaps it is the recent past that has led us to look further back then our own lifetimes. Perhaps we have come to believe that the situation we’ve been left with at our age — divested from higher education, bereft of any hopes for social security, confronted with the ticking time bomb of fossil fuels — necessarily forces us to look farther back in search of something salvageable.

Or maybe that’s just the classic tension inherent in nostalgia — the desire to use the past to escape the present, both in our culture and our columns.