Why nostalgia is bullshit

I see a lot posted by friends on my Facebook page, there are always articles in Buzzfeed about “Modern kids just won’t understand” usually followed by another Buzzfeed article titled “312 things you’ll only understand if you lived in a bag of custard during a very specific period from November 1998 to December 1998”. Basically Buzzfeed is to journalism what Hitler was to Human Rights. That’s a little harsh, Hitler loved his friends. But the point remains, websites and pages and groups and magazines and all sorts are sharing the wonder of nostalgia. How great it was in the past and how kids today just can’t understand us and how they have smartphones and we had sticks or something.

1993

1993

Well sorry to break it to you fellow Millenials (and a few of you late stage Gen Xers riding our coattails) but the past wasn’t as great as you remember it, nor has technology burst onto the scene giving kids all the wonders we didn’t have. Sure, we didn’t have Smartphones with Angry birds loaded onto it but I bet you had at least a couple of those Tiger Handheld Games. Technology may have advanced, but we still had antisocial, mind dumbing things to distract us. They just had poorer graphics.

Call of Duty 1990

Call of Duty 1990

We have always found ways to distract ourselves, to not pay attention to things around us and to entertain ourselves. Throughout history we have had distractions. Shakespeares theatre was popular with all classes of people and was basically pop-theatre. Shakespeare was the Michael Bay of his day is what I’m saying. So what about the past is so appealing? Well I don’t think it is so much we miss the past but we miss our youth. We miss not having to pay bills, not having to deal with council tax, not having to be an adult. You can’t simply take three months off in summer and spend the time playing and having fun with no commitments. We have to work to earn a few days off when we can have those care free days.

We remember the positives. Like with psychic readings, we remember the good and mostly forget the bad. Sure, we remember the huge bad things like people we love dying, bullies harming us and Jurassic Park III, but ultimately we focus on the big fun aspects- the long summers, the holidays away. We forget the hours being dragged around shops with our parents, the times we just sat in our rooms whiling away the hours with a GameBoy because there was nothing to do. We may not have had the internet but we had television, we had video games, we had magazines. People look back fondly on their school days, but really they were a 9-3 slog of boredom for many. You might recall a favourite teacher, or a specific lesson that stuck out (such as the time that kid in Biology asked what a condom was) but really, would you actually like to go back? Do you not remember that two week period of going in every day to sit exams lasting up to four hours. I fell asleep in one it was so boring. The most exciting thing that happened was me and a friend had our bikes stolen during a French exam, further reminding us why French is a dangerous language.

And summer wasn’t all sun. It was not as bad as now due to increased climate change, but we still had shitty weather. We weren’t out with our friends every single day. And though Kids TV isn’t what it was because I’m 32 and it isn’t aimed at me, we remember sitting and watching the first episode of Power Rangers but forget the rest of the million episode long show because actually it was pretty shit. Our memories of our formative years are a patchwork, and the other thing to remember is, well, memory isn’t very good so those happy nostalgic memories are clouded in rose tinted flashback.

We forget that we went home after school, did homework and lounged around playing Sonic The Hedgehog day after day but remember the one day our friends came over and we had a massive game session where one of your friends decided to show off his fresh circumcision. No, just me? Alright then.

Basically, those years you long for were not that great and would you really want to relive them? The squeaky breaking voice, the acne, the constantly inflexible and stained crotch of your pyjama bottoms? Okay, the last one is kind of a guy thing. But the point is, would you want to relive it? No, you wouldn’t. Because for every good thing you remember, there are many more bad, and an almost infinite supply of nothing and dull you have wiped them from memory, like you tried to wipe your pyjama bottoms. Again. Guy thing.

Picture unrelated

Picture unrelated

Kids don’t really have it better today either despite those constant memes telling us otherwise. Now of course, in many ways they do. Way to go Ash, contradict yourself instantly. But here is the thing to remember: today’s iPhones and internet is our nostalgic Gameboy and Teletext. The generation before us made the same types of comments about us. Saying that we didn’t know we were born, that we were spoilt, that we had an infinite supply of things to distract us. We may not have fully immersive online game play, but we had Zelda, and Mario, and Sonic, and everything that went with it. I’ve had variations on game consoles as long as I can remember- as a kid I had a Commodore, a Master Systems, a Mega Drive, a NES, a SNES, a GameBoy, countless Tiger Games and even a walkman with a built in Tetris game. We may not have had as advanced technology, but we had it, and we were amongst the first generations to have such ways of wasting time. We can’t condemn modern kids for doing exactly what we did.

As to phones, yeah, sure, I couldn’t have got online and watched porn on the bus but I still had a phone at 16. I could still text and call my friends, I could still interact in ways similar to what kids can today. So to look at kids today and attack them for hiding in their room with the internet when we hid in our rooms with Gameboys and MTV when it played music doesn’t come across as nostalgic, it comes across as missing the fact things haven’t really changed. Technology has just advanced.

We could watch new movies, we could even get pirated films on VHS that weren’t substantially worse than today. But when we fondly remember going to the video shop to rent a movie it was still shit and not as great as we remember- did you forget about tracking? About chewed tapes? But at least we still had them. It is easier today than ever to watch movies, but it wasn’t difficult back in the 90s. So lets stop criticising kids today for having it easy when we had it just as easy, we just had different technology.

And lets not forget that the 90s was the time of the Matthew Sheppard murder and the Admiral Duncan bombing, two watershed moments in LGBT rights advancement. Nowadays we look with annoyed side eye at those using FAG as an insult, but 20 years ago it was common language. The 90s were not great for social equality.

I don’t feel nostalgic for the past, I enjoy the things I enjoyed- I still play Sonic the Hedgehog because it’s a great game, but do you still play Story of Thor, or Cool Spot, or Gauntlet, or the abundance of TV inspired games like Wheel of Fortune, or how about Bonanza Brothers? Again, back to remembering the positives. A lot of games on Mega Drive or SNES sucked and we forget them, rightly.

This. This game. Just. This.

This. This game. Just. This.

Ultimately nostalgia is bullshit because it remembers and longs for a time that didn’t exist. A time that is warped due to bad memory and an ease of forgetting the mundane. The 90s were fun- in the 90s. Today we don’t really long for the past, we long for a care free time when we had none of the commitments we now have, we remember the past because as we get older we become more out of touch, more confused and slip back in to a comforting memory that makes us feel better. But that memory is a lie. Its fun to look back and remember the positives, but ultimately we advance, because we get bored. If we still only had 8 bit games we would likely have given up on gaming, if music hadn’t changed we would not be able to fondly remember Aqua (you shut your mouth).

It’s fun to look back, but lets not pretend the glory days were glorious. I like remembering the fun things, but lets not allow our love of the past to overwhelm the future. We don’t need a Kickstarter for a Mega Drive console, we have emulators and we have the old consoles readily available. Nostalgia is fine, but it is also bullshit. It is a fantasy world that never existed and it blurs a future that might never be. And if this isn’t enough to convince you the past wasn’t all that- may I just remind you of Windows 3.1

My job here is done.

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3 Responses to Why nostalgia is bullshit

  1. skepticcanary says:

    You didn’t really own a copy of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde on NES did you? I only played it on an emulator after hearing about how legendary bad it was and MY WORD! It’s like trying to wade through treacle while everything on earth wants you dead!
    Bloody nostalgia. I like it, but only the good bits.

  2. Miss Twist says:

    Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be; never was anyway.

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