Nostalgia for Nostalgia

Everyone gets nostalgic over something, but I have noticed that we Americans can all get nostalgic together from time to time. I read something recently about a growing nostalgia for the 1990s, and it occurred to me that I have heard this record before.

When I was growing up in the 1960s there seemed to be a generalized nostalgia for the 1930s and 1940s. Funny, those would seem to be two times that people would not get nostalgic over – the 30s was filled with a nasty economic depression that brought a dust bowl and breadlines, while the 40s was synonymous with with a world war and rationing at home. Nostalgia for those periods either prove a human ability to remember the good and forget the bad of an earlier era, or how awful the 1960s was for those who had lived through the earlier periods.

That kind of nostalgia brought us television shows like Hogan’s Heroes and McHale’s Navy (sitcoms involving a group of POWs and the hapless crew of a PT boat, respectively). There were also plenty of movies about that period – I sometimes wonder if the number of WWII movies made in the 1960s exceeded those made in the 1940s. Of course, there was plenty of great stuff to come from those decades, whether it was Humphrey Bogart or the music of the big bands.

The first big nostalgia kick I was old enough to appreciate was the way people in the mid 1970s went gaga over the 1950s. The music of that era started getting airplay on the radio and girls in high school were wearing saddle shoes. The trend was really evident in television. Where 60s TV brought us WWII nostalgia, the 70s gave us Happy Days and its spinoff, Laverne and Shirley.

I remember getting half swept up in it – I spent some time getting familiar with some of the music of the era and still enjoy a lot of it. Elvis is still a thing for a reason, after all. But (as might be expected) I refused to go all-in on the fad. This is because I tend to not do fads – that’s one benefit of being a contrarian. Think of me as your social counterweight, always there to push back against current trends. I’m sorry I must take a short break – Elton John’s Crocodile Rock is crashing around in my brain right now and I have to make it stop. Being a social counterweight means that I have to absorb plenty that I would rather not. But I digress.

By the 80s nostalgia for the 60’s was in vogue. Who can forget the movie “The Big Chill” about a bunch of aging early Boomers spending a weekend remembering their lost youth. The Temptations and the Beatles displaced Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis as the nostalgic favorites, and the music from before the Kennedy assasination seemed to disappear from the oldies stations that were trying to keep music radio alive for people over 16 years old.

When my kids were young – maybe 15 or 20 years ago – the 70s got its turn and became huge – girls were into tie-dye shirts and of course there was “That 70s Show”. And be honest, weren’t your millenial kids pestering their boomer parents for that fondue set that was a seldom-to-never used wedding gift?

More recently the 80s has been the source of much of the retro-love. Even today, I will occasionally get into Marianne’s car and get smacked with an “80’s Weekend” on her station of choice. And, to be truthful, there is some 80s music that I am quite happy to hear. That seems to me to have been the end of the great American pop music machine that could make Z Z Top, Aretha Franklin and The B-52s or the Go-Gos coexist on the same radio station.

What is funny now that we are seeing nostalgia for the periods I lived through, is that the nostalgia can miss a lot. The 70s that everyone celebrates (tye-dye, sit-ins and Woodstock) was nowhere to be seen in my midwestern suburban life. Most of us boomers’ lives were full of Oldsmobiles and live-action Disney movies.

The 80s is funny too – to hear it told now, you would think that Ronald Reagan was the most beloved figure in politics. Let me tell you – I was there and that was not true. A good part of the country hated Reagan as fervently as many of them hated Donald Trump in recent years. Well, almost as much, because I think Trump-hate broke the meter.

The 80s was also a time of really high interest rates that only seemed reasonable because they were down from the really, really high rates of around 1979, so those of us who financed houses and cars sucked it up. As we worried about who the long-distance provider on our landline phones should be.

The thing that gives me pause is that some day, people are going to become nostalgic for the early 2020s. I don’t know what it is going to look like yet (though I suspect Polaroid cameras and SUVs will be involved). But I do know that it will come along at some point or other. I guess the only reason is that 2042 or 2052 will suck, only in different ways than 2022 sucks. Just like life in 1986 sucked in different ways from life in 1966. There is always plenty of suck in life, but it usually manages to move around and take on different forms.

I guess the good news is that no matter how bad things might seem right now, we can always cope by thinking about how the generation of young people (that hasn’t been named yet) will look back and wish they had been here with us to experience the good things we have. And who knows, by then time travel might have become a thing and they can actually do it.

COAL Update:

Anyone who owned an old Cadillac could hardly be blamed for accepting a second one for free. At least that was my theory.


25 thoughts on “Nostalgia for Nostalgia

  1. I don’t know if this has anything to do with how people think about their lives and nostagia, but I attended a seminar while at an advertsing convention that talked about a concept the person was calling the “age wave”, where you could look at what was happening in a persons life, in the world and the culture, while they were inbetween their late teens to early twenties, and basically be able to track how they handled money, and thought about things, all the way through their lives based on how they did it then. The person had plenty of examples and it was pretty striking at how that age range seemed to be very important in establishing the way people operated for the rest of their lives.

    I have much nostalgia for the 90’s! Almost everything in my life was operating on a high level, and most all the the operating systems (i.e. like film photography), was at a high level of development and was a “mature technology”. Since then, everything digital that has pushed into my life is in constant change and no where near a “mature technology”. There are an amazing amount of things that are never working with a high level of fidelity because the technology keeps changing, both because of actual improvement, and because of marketing pushes; and no one ever has the chance to get good at it. I used to wonder if my parents thought about their later years the same way I do, and I have come to realize they didn’t because the way they comported themselves didn’t have to change on a daily basis. Just the way I pump gas has changed 4 times in the last 8 years, and every time it changes, it works differently and I have to pay attention to a machine that asks me to do the process differently that the one that was there before. Extrapolate this across every thing you do, and you realize it’s taking way too much of your thought process to admin this world, brain power that could go to problems like curing cancer is taken up with trying to understand changes in your life that there is no real need for!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That age-wave concept is interesting, and I suspect there is a lot to it. It recently occurred to me that, for all practical purposes, the entire adult population of the US has effectively churned over completely in the last 60 years. Nobody who was in charge of anything in, say, 1962 is still in charge of it today – they have either died or are living in that practical irrelevance to the larger picture that is old age. Attitudes that we once took for granted slowly disappear and are replaced, for better or worse.

      I remember laughing at my father once – I was probably in my 20s in the late 80s and was making fun of the early 70s decor at his lake cottage. Dad piped up and said that he liked the 70s styles, and we kids all howled. Now, my kids will speak disparagingly of 90s styles and I think to myself that I have become my father, because I think the way things looked in the 90s was quite nice.

      And I agree completely that technology has led to rapid changes in the way everyone does almost everything, and none of those changes is really our choice. We are all required to adapt, then adapt again.


  2. I remember when GM used a Led Zeppelin song (Rock and Roll if I recall) as the theme in a commercial about a Cadillac. That started a trend of advertisers using music from Baby Boomers’ youths as theme music. It’s OK, but after a while it has become all too recognizable as a hook. It is attention getting just the same.

    TV shows that try to use nostalgic themes tend to overdo it in my mind. What things looked like in the 90s, they take to the extreme.

    Personally, I have held on to older items from my youth. I can look at something and remember when I got it, and often where as well. However I have noted that my kids have very little interest in historic items (especially mine), and rather tend to look to build their own histories. I fear for the fate of photo albums my parents passed down to me, and the bookcases of photo albums I have filled over the years, once I’m no longer around.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It is really true that photos and memorabilia from one generation rarely gets attention after a couple of generations. My mother had some old family photos taken in the 1930s and 40s, and I have no idea who some of those people are. My kids could identify almost nobody in them.

      And you make a good point – listening to the music they use in advertising tells us who the target customer is. I am finding that I am the target for a smaller and smaller number of products, most of which are now pharmaceuticals.


  3. To me, there are two types of nostalgia: The first type is the warm, comforting feeling produced when things from your youth are fondly remembered. When you’re a child, you are more pure, the world is fresh and new, and everything seems fascinating. Seeing/hearing/re-experiencing things from that time makes you feel young again.

    The second type is the admiration for things created in the past which are of highly aesthetic, artistic, and significant value, and can only be authentically produced in the time period in question. Hence, I am therefore “nostalgic” about aspects of the ’80s, the ’70s, the ’50s & ’60s, the ’20s & ’30s, the Victorian Era, the Antebellum South, 17th & 18th century Europe, Medieval Times, ancient Greece and Rome, Egypt, Persia, and civilizations older than that.

    Today is the “Golden Age” of something, but we’re too close to it to really appreciate it now or know what it is. It may be the Golden Age of the Internet, which allows us to see and hear so much of the great things from past eras–which wasn’t so easy previously. Future nostalgia for 2022 may (unfortunately) be based on the fact that we are living before terrible thing x happened: a nuclear war, political upheaval, massive economic collapse, Big Brother surveillance/police state, out-of-control lawlessness, an even-worse pandemic, food and fuel shortages, utility blackouts, etc. Or maybe future decades will be so much BETTER in ways we can’t imagine. But even if they are, I predict there will still be nostalgia.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You make a good point about nostalgia for what we have experienced and nostalgia for things or eras we never experienced. And it is interesting to think about what this current era may be remembered fondly for. I hope in 50 years people are not reminiscing about the 2020s as the golden era from before we were subjugated by artificial intelligence.


  4. JP, I liked the 50s best of all the eras I’ve lived through and I was born in 1956, so I was really too young to enjoy that era in real time. I did like Happy Days and later I liked the movie Grease when it came out. I watched Laverne and Shirley but was not a big fan.

    What started me on the 50s craze was in high school and my first few years of college, I had friends who had a 50s band. My friends and I used to go to their gigs and dress up like the 50s. It was a lot of fun. They still do their 50s shtick at fairs, festivals and music-in-the-park events every Summer all these years later. The Zelenak brothers began the band in 1972 and now one is a judge and the other a City attorney, both here in Lincoln Park. I think people embraced the 60s and the hippie/Woodstock era at the 50-year anniversary of that event. I was old enough to remember the music from that era, but I was more into the folk music than the loud or heavy metal music. I was a tween then and can remember the clothing, lots of people wearing fatigue jackets, dirty bell-bottoms, fringed moccasins and lots of beads, peace symbols on the fabric and medallions.

    Funny you mentioned The Big Chill. I don’t have TV, nor cable, but just watched it a few weeks ago on Amazon. I am probably the only person who never saw that movie. It was a big deal around here at the time as the characters were all college friends from U of M.

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    • Linda, a life long friend of mine semi-retired with his wife from Washington D.C. to her property in Beaufort South Carolina…lot’s of “Big Chill” talk down there constantly because that’s where the house is that it was filmed at, at least the exterior shots. Lots of tourists wandering around and looking for it all the time. By the way, those who are really “in the know”, and have lived in a city with a decent art house theater, will tell you that “The Big Chill” is pretty much a later made commercial rip of John Sayles indie film “Return of the Secaucus 7”, which predated it and was in the indie theaters at least two years before the start of filming on the Big Chill. Those of us that saw the Sayles fim were pretty “meh” about it’s commercial rip-off when it came out. Those not familiar with John Sayles should google him, he’s quite the renaisance man, from novelist, to screen-writer, to director, to actor. I had been reading him in the 70’s when his first film “Return of the Secaucus 7” came out, so had to see it. Those wh think they don’t know him,might remember his acting turn as the Ring Lardner character, alongside the fabulous Studs Terkel, in “8 Men Out”.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Andy – Well that was interesting because I didn’t know anything about the indie film and after reading what you wrote in this comment, I read up on it a little more. I thought I’d watch it sometime on Amazon Prime – it was $59.00 to buy ($117.00 if you buy the MGM version – hmm, wonder if that will be available on Amazon Prime when the MGM acquisition is finalized?). I don’t have the Prime Video Channels subscription. I actually don’t even have a TV – I cancelled my cable in 2010 and stream programs from Amazon, PBS and Peacock which I get through Comcast. My TV is ancient, one of those with the bulbous back on it. I thought TBC was okay, with the soundtrack perhaps better than the storyline in my opinion. I didn’t think there were all that many exterior shots (the football game or departing in the car) to interest people. Thank you for sharing all this info with me.


      • I have not seen many of the classics and since I cancelled my cable in 2010 and I can’t even get basic channels, I have to watch shows by streaming them on my computer. I’ll wait until I’m retired and try to watch some then. I am always saying “when I’m retired” and who knows if I will accomplish half of the things I seem to think I will do in my newfound freedom.

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  5. I can remember my neighbor, long gone now, who tore up the former homeowner’s gorgeous rose garden shortly after he moved in as his two grown sons liked to tinker with trucks. The sons’ respective wives would not allow old vehicles or vehicle parts to languish in their yards, but dear old dad didn’t mind, so that was how the three of them often spent their Spring through Fall weekends. The sons both worked for the steel mill like their dad who had since retired at age 55, so Saturday mornings they went to the junkyard to search for parts. They spent so much time at the junkyard that the younger son saw a help wanted sign and got that part-time job so he could check out the incoming vehicles to score parts. I can remember those very long bodies of those Caddys and it would be daunting towing it lest it fishtail – yikes!

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  6. I think every generation thinks they had the best of times when they were younger, even my mother who grew up in the Depression and WW2. I love vintage fashion so I enjoy looking back at the clothing of different eras. I think it’s normal to get more nostalgic when you get older and start to reflect back on certain stages in your life, but I’m certainly not nostalgic about the 90’s – I can’t remember anything about the whole decade, including the music and the fashions, as for anything post 2000 – forget it!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I can tell you that nostalgia for the 1970s is very strong now, and among many age groups. The reason I know this is because I happen to share a name with the main character of “That ’70s Show.” The TV show itself went off the air about 15 years ago, but it still has tons of fans. I seem to meet them all. People frequently think its funny it is that I share a name with their favorite TV character, and then tell me how much they love 1970s stuff. I find the name-twin thing to me amusing, especially since I’m not a TV person at all, and have never seen a single episode of that show.

    Incidentally, my own kids and their friends seem more interested in nostalgia from past decades than I remember anyone being when I was their age. Interest in music, movies, fashion, etc., from previous times seems very broad among teen and pre-teen kids I know. Maybe some of that has to do with how mean daily life has become for our younger generations, and kids long for a time when they think the world was a nicer place in which to live. I don’t know for sure, but I find the phenomenon interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I never watched That 70s Show either, so never picked up the thing with your name. That phenomenon is interesting, I once worked with a guy named Bob Hartley – that was the name of the main character of The Bob Newhart Show of the 70s. We tried a lawsuit together and the judge (who was kind of a jerk) kept referring to him as “Mr. Newhart”.


    • Ha Ha, Eric, I always thought when I saw your entries, that you used Eric Forman as an alias! It’s now even better that it’s really you! I’ve lived all over the country, but born in Chicago and grew up in Chicago and Milwaukee, I lived in Milwaukee between 1970 and 1980, so I would have been 16 to 26 years old, and people I meet ask me all the time ifi That 70’s Show is accurate. I tell them amazingly, some of it is, but some seems like a “smearing” of culture from the 80’s as well as the late 60’s, all into one. Never read much about the show (altho a lot of my friends who were blue collar had “Red Forman” Dads, and tipsy “Kitty” Moms), but we were always trying ot figure out from clues where Point Place was supposed to be located, and it always seemed to be somewhere west of Racine and Kenosha!


  8. I am mystified that all three of my granddaughters have been raiding my closet over the years for retro grandfather duds. I buy very few new clothes because after I retired, I already had accumulated enough outer clothes to last until I die. I was never a clotheshorse. These three cousins in different families enjoy both making fun of my attire and wearing it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • But do they wear the clothes in normal life or for Halloween costumes? 🙂

      Seriously, I’m right with you. If I could keep from staining or outgrowing things, I could wear what is in my closet for the rest of my life.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Seriously, they wear my shirts and jackets to school and out with friends. The clothes are often too big for them. Bizarre. Luckily for them, they will outgrow the phase. I think the 22 year old finally has.

        Liked by 1 person

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