Tag Archives: pop-culture

Nostalgia as in-situ History Creation: A fragment

Occasionally a celebrity will die, or an old commercial tune will come on, or one person will mention a public figure also known to another person of the same generation. These types of scenarios often spark a collective nostalgia performance. And, if there is someone younger about who shows the least bit of curiosity (“who was that?“), or even if they show none, there will most likely be a history telling of this pop-culturally significant nostalgia. “Well, so-and-so was a well-known [insert occupation here] in the late 19[??]s who really [contribution to (pop) culture]…

Most often I experience this around my older relatives, removed by a generation, sometimes only by half a generation, if it’s a cousin who’s significantly older. This is different from sharing different subcultural knowledge. No, this has a historical element. This type of sharing and telling is bolstered by its nostalgia; by its being in the past and no longer being relevant (or present/visible) in the present cultural moment. This is about reliving the pop-culture the experiencer and teller has found important–and that past society has told them is important.

This is pop-culture canonization. Telling about those people and phenomena remembered as significant. Popular culture canonized in peoples’ memories and collected sharings of them as history. As truth about the past. This person I remember that you young’uns don’t was important, and let me tell you why.  (Because I can state some facts about themBecause the media told me they were important once. Because I remember seeing them on TV, hearing that jingle, reading about them in the paper, hearing my parents talk about them…)

What from the now will we each and together decide is worthy of canonization? Worthy of telling about in the future with that glazed-over look of privileged, historically-contingent knowledge. This happens, I suspect, both unconsciously and consciously with the help of media and cultural producers and talking with friends and contemporaries…alone together. When of course everything is mediated, if not in the massive sense of TV and internet, than through other means. But I want to find out: what will we make memorable? Make pop-history? What of the millions of details about popular culture in this very moment will we be able to recall for the younger generations to come?

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Filed under Contemporary, Historical, Media, Nostalgia

Merrily Spring-boarding from a Book Review to Thoughts on Nostalgia: A Review of a Review of “Ready Player One”

In the September 5th issue of Time magazine, there was a one-page book review of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One. This post isn’t going to discuss the book itself, as I haven’t read it, but rather some issues that the reviewer, Douglas Wolk, touched upon in his article.

Briefly, the book seems to be about 1980s video games being played  in a dystopian future, and one game in particular that, if beaten, can give the winner unimaginable riches. In his review, Mr. Wolk points out that this book has been talked about for a while now, and that this talk is “acutely nostalgic.” Then he goes on to a section entitled “Pop Culture Eats Itself.” Yum!

Wolk ties the excitement surrounding this novel to a particular idea presented in Simon Reynold’s Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past. The idea being that the current turn in artistic expression is toward rehashing. Toward the celebration of the bygone. Toward nostalgia. Sequels and mass-culture entertainment drawn from existing stories and cultural landmarks abound. The presumption is that art used to, once upon a “better” time, strive for originality. (This is itself a nostalgic lament.) I would point out that all this re-making and referencing capitalizes on an imagined audience’s predilection for nostalgia. After all, movies and books and even some visual art gets produced because those with the money to back these projects believe that they will see a return on their investment. This artistic turn toward nostalgia that Wolk and Reynolds note we’re being bombarded with in popular culture is in no small part in the service of marketing. In the service of commodifying (self)reflexive nostalgia to feed the masses, in the hopes that they might fill the pocket-books of the creators and their patrons (if we want to stick with the idea that this is all art in some form or another).*

Onto a second, slightly related point that comes up in the article about the value of nostalgia in and of itself–at least in the world of (pop)art/culture. Again, my thoughts have strict limitations as I have not read any of the books being referenced in his review (shame on me!), but when Wolk writes that we should rue the day that science fiction starts looking toward the past (and, oh crap, thanks to Cline’s book, that day is today!), I wonder what kind of “trouble” he thinks we’re in, either creatively or socially. He concedes that “all that crap clearly meant something to people,” but bemoans the fact that Cline’s book doesn’t explore this. It just presents the 1980s games as a saving grace in and of themselves for the inhabitants of the dystopian future. (Oh yeah, there was also that winning money thing.) Wolk thinks there should be more commentary on that meaning.

Wolk essentially criticizes Cline’s novel for glorifying something that isn’t real enough; that does little to push the boundaries and say something new as it presents the nostalgic for mass consumption. Or maybe he’s angry that the glorification offers little analysis or critique. In any case, Wolk claims that this building-upon and making-new is an artist’s job, “not just to offer up comforting familiarity as a talisman against the void.” But I wonder if perhaps this could be one of the points of Cline’s book: that nostalgia is emptier than we’d like it to be.

*One final tidbit: Wolk refers to what he sees as Cline’s overuse of pop-culture references to the 1980s as “maddeningly fetishistic.” Exactly.

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Filed under Art of all Kinds, Book Reviews, Commodification, Media