A pain in the past
Literally, that’s what nostalgia means: Pain (algios) for coming back (nostos). The term wasn’t used until 1688, when swiss doctor Johannes Hofer for the first time named an illness that miraculously healed the same moment that the patient returned to his hometown. The good doctor could barely imagine that three centuries later the world would suffer an unprecedented epidemic of nostalgia.
Why unprecedented? Even in the old ages, when the Past-to-remember was so short that it hardly could receive that name, there were notorious writers, poets, leaders and philosophers that praised the generations before their own. All the way to our days, grandparents have always done it better. But nowadays I think you’d agree that this cult for the past is going beyond measure. Everywhere we look a tribute is paid to some icon of the second half of the 20th century. I cannot imagine my parents going to a furniture shop to buy vintage. For god’s sake, they are vintage themselves!!! No, I am pretty sure it is us, my generation of baby boomers, the ones who are hooked within our own lifecycle.
Why now? Why us? Why would these questions be important to anyone? I guess that understanding the reasons for this nostalgic zeitgeist may help us to step into the future with less reluctance, to embrace innovation, to enjoy changing the world, and maybe even change it for the better.
Maybe part of the answer is that we are the first generation of happy western kids. Come on, every generation has got happy kids. Because kids are always happy, aren’t they? Yes, and no. We are the first generation of warless kids in the western countries, I mean within our borders (no cynicism intended). Even more, we are the first ones who see most of their relatives getting older and passing peacefully away. The first generation that cannot remember the sound of a weapon in the streets where we played.
See? For us any past time is truly better. No wonder we like to linger on it.
Anyway, it is already proved that our memories are made of imagination rather than precise data. So in the end, it doesn’t matter how happy or unhappy we truly were, but how happy we imagine our lives. And this is when another factor plays its fundamental role. We are also the first broadcasted generation, and the first videotaped generation too. We do not need paintings or still pictures to wonder how we lived. We’ve got it filmed and, thanks to the proliferation of low budget tv channels, on air daily. According to what we watch, we could be living in some undetermined time between 1960 and 1999. When Einstein said that the only reason for Time was so that everything didn’t happen at once he was underestimating the power of cable TV.
Happy memories delivered 24/7 to our living rooms and a deep economic crisis, that’s a perfect storm. Millions of fifty somethings sobbing and weeping for the good old times, and fighting for them to remain. Maybe because all the good old fights were already fought and presumably won: dictatorships, racism, feminism, illiteracy… Of course none of them is overcome, but they are officially banned in every democratic and civilized country. Besides, we wouldn’t really like to start a fire, no matter how important the cause was, we’d prefer to click for it rather than fight for it.
Actually, we feel so fine about no changes that we are entering the future while holding the past tightly. All this nostalgic environment has helped some old clichés to return to the front pages, hence Brexit, the refurbished communist slogans in southern Europe or the ultra conservative and nazionalistic ones in France or Austria or… Trump’s America First and Great again bla bla bla.
It’s the momentary triumph of the Fear to the Future. The “please, do not push me forward” begged by a (spoiled) generation that has lived happily for decades, a generation that has been replaced before the end of the match for no logical reason, they feel.
The question now is if we should allow ourselves to lose the experience of the last analog generation? Can we relegate so many people for the next thirty years? Doing nothing else than resist changes?
My bet is that we all have a lot more to gain if we spend enough time and resources on recovering the "Damaged" to make them part of the new construction. It is time to switch off the TV set when they air some revival show, to stop watching franchised remakes, to avoid the old fashioned gifts, the old style typographies on shop windows and restaurant blackboards, to indulge ourselves time after time into an idealized childhood. Mainly because we cannot hold the dead weight of such a big chunk of our community feeling sick of nostalgia. That’s not a healthy way to make a future.
Communication Strategist and Presentation Specialist