A pretty sure way to get hits nowadays is to write a piece which solicits nostalgia. If you’re like me – white, middle-class and kind of tacky – your Facebook feed will be filled with Buzzfeeds, Vices goosing you into the past-tense. Titles such as: “Things All Nineties Kids Remember!”, “The Greatest Moments of 2005” and “The Cracking Banter at the Potato Famine of 1845”. The more we change, the bigger the incurable pang and the trashier we get.
For those of you who were unaware (specifically addressing my peeps of the Potato Famine) – the internet happened. Before that the past was only confined to certain places. Archivists would have to take their wagon and drive it for five miles to the nearest library and READ A BOOK to find that ‘Flo Rida’ spells out ‘Florida’. Today we can just go on Facebook™ or Youtube™, plunk on ‘Low’ and let 2008 enter into our lives again. We can also watch Barry falling off a cliff a hundred times over, we can small-screen Karaoke to Alanis Morissette and stream archived episodes of The Bill until we’re left asking, Now what?
Why does that pang for the past keep growing as we move onwards? Instead of forming its own present-tense we reconstitute styles and impressions from yesteryears. Our fetishes for the retro are unshakeable and it’s so easy to capitalise on this. Think Coca Cola ads with the 1950s pinup ladies, resurrecting old marketing ploys to get cash money. Think of 2009 as twinned with 1985 à la La Roux and Ladyhawke; 2015 twinned with 1976 (un)thanks to Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars. Think unnecessary and mouldering remakes like this year’s Jurassic World and Poltergeist.
Since 2000, nostalgia has been responsible for the main bulk of fashion, music, film and for conversation starters on the internet. Kids of my generation who were born in the ’90s have only recently been able to reflect on the trademarks that stamped our childhoods. Before the internet it was kind of easy to catch up with the world – we had our jelly aliens and pogo sticks and everybody needs a bosom for a pillow. Now as 24 hours worth of videos are being uploaded every minute on Youtube, there is too much information to cling on to. As we keep accelerating, the rifts between the world you grew up in and the world you’ll grow old in get a lot deeper. In Adreas Huyssen’s words, “total recall seems to be the goal. Is this an archivist’s fantasy gone mad?”
Nostalgia as the word and concept was coined in the 17th century by Johannes Hofer to describe the conditions of the Swiss mercenaries and their pining for home. Nostalgia was associated with homesickness and a pining for their native land. Today’s nostalgia is more about transportation than time-travel. Spaces and places can easily be travelled to and tweeted about, but we’ve yet to build a flux capacitor. It is a lost time that we long for simply because we can never get there. I guess nostalgia just feels better than whatever this is. Then again, a few years down the line I’ll probably think of this – sitting down and writing this in my student room as one of the best times of my life – how dismal. Regardless, looking back at photos of my dad in 1980s Adidas makes me wonder how he got to the 2004 line of Rocha John Rocha. The present-tense sucks.