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