Why We Love Nostalgia

I was talked into watching a chick-flick this past weekend. How that happens I never know, except that usually a “chick” is the one talking you into watching it. I was assured that I would learn something about women in the process. I didn’t.

But I wasted two hours confirming what I already knew about them. Okay—maybe that’s a little harsh. I didn’t waste the two hours, but thanks to my mom, two sisters and previous girlfriends, I knew everything the movie had to say about the opposite sex. But after reflecting on the movie, I did learn something about society as whole. If we look at that movie and at today’s culture, there seems to be a strong yearning for a return to yesterday, a search for nostalgia.

In the world of wrestling, for the past few years, people have become fixated with retired wrestlers make their return to the ring. It didn’t take long for Hulk-A-Mania to catch fire like it once had in the mid-to-late ’80s. People went nuts for Hulk Hogan, a.k.a. Terry Bollea, as he came running down the ramp in his trademark yellow and red tank tops. And I’ll admit it—I was a Hulk-A-Maniac all over again. I didn’t care that he was 50 years old, it was great reliving the Hulk Hogan of the past, the one that I remembered watching growing up. And to be honest, I was an even bigger fan this time around. Nostalgia is not only rampant in the WWE, but all around us.

People have caught on to the nostalgia craze all over. We want to return to the past. A sign along I-35 advertises the city of Gruene as “Gently resisting change since 1872.” People will get up in arms anytime you mention any possible change to an historic site. You can turn on VH1 almost anytime of the day and you can catch reruns of I Love the ’70s, I Love the ’80s and I Love the ’90s, where actors, musicians and comedians reflect on the greatness of decades past. And I’m just as big of a fan of those shows as I was to watch Hogan tear into The Rock. So, what is it about nostalgia that makes us yearn for yesterday?

According to Webster, nostalgia is “a sentimental yearning to return to an earlier time remembered as happier or more pleasant, or a former place evoking happy memories; a longing to experience again a former happy time." But you know what, they never teach nostalgia in a history class, because nostalgia is an imitation or maybe better yet, a limitation of the truth. We simply block out the bad and relieve only the good times in our mind.

Will Rogers said, “Things ain’t what they used to be and probably never was.” Historian Owens Pomeroy said, “Nostalgia is like a grammar lesson:you find the present tense, but the past perfect.” And though I think it’s great to sit around and remember the past, there’s also danger in enjoying nostalgia too much. Sometimes we get so caught up in the past that we forget to look at the present and we forget to look to the future.

We want to return to the “good ole’ days.” But if we really take time to look, we’ll see that the “good ole’ days” weren’t as great as we thought they were. That’s why God tells us through the prophet Isaiah, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!” There is something bigger and better going on right now. Today—Aug. 23, 2004—is the best day ever, if you make it that way. Remember, change is coming, whether you and I like it.

I believe that if we stop and focus on the past for too long, we’ll end up losing our grip on reality and the present. While I Love the ’90s, ’80s and ’70s highlight the great moments of each decade, there are also a number of fads and toys and music that no one wants to return to. And there are also a number of issues that those shows would never touch on, because if they did, those decades would lose their nostalgia.

Does anyone really want to go back and relive the atrocities of the past? The hostage situations? The famine and AIDS outbreaks? Does anyone want to go back and relieve the Challenger explosion? Chernobyl, the Iran Contra Affair or New Coke? Even talking with my grandparents as often as they reminisce about growing up, I don’t think they would want to return to the depression (there is a reason they called it the depression). I don’t think anyone wants to return to World War I or II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War or Gulf Storm.

As nostalgia goes, I’m sure in 2044 I’ll all be sitting around talking about how great 2004 was and how great the 2000s were. I’ll pull out my PDA and laptops and show my grandkids how technologically advanced we thought we were. I’ll talk about how great the PlayStation 2 and Xbox was and how amazing the first high definition TVs were, and they’ll look at me like an idiot. Then they’ll go to history class and learn about terrorism and 9/11 and the fall of the stock market and think I’m nuts for wanting to go back to the “good ole’ days.” And I’ll just smile and reminisce and wish things were the way they used to be, when kids respected their elders and you could buy a burger, fries and a coke for under $7.

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“If you’re yearning for the good old days, just turn off the air conditioning.” -Griff Niblack

[Jonathan Blundell is the editor of a weekly newspaper in Belton, Texas, and the co-owner of a small media company, 121 Media.]

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