Monday, May 5, 2014

Nostalgia Rules

Way back in April Michael Offutt railed against nostalgia in this post.  I promised to write a rebuttal and today is the day!  (Of course I wrote it a while ago.)  And right now I've got the 90s station on Comcast's Music Choice turned on to set the mood.

The gist of Mr. Offutt's post is that newer things are better.  That's not really something I agree with.  While there are many things that have improved in the last 36 years in terms of technology, the arts are where I would disagree.

Is Captain America The Winter Soldier many times better than Superman from 1978?  Duh, of course.  But it's not mostly because of the effects or the acting.  I mean I like Chris Evans as Captain America but he ain't exactly Olivier.  (Which is good because Olivier is dead.)  For me the main difference is that in 2014 filmmakers take their superhero movies more seriously than back in 1978.  That makes for better stories.  If they used 1978 effects well yeah it'd look lame, but I could probably still enjoy it.

Of course a lot of people probably liked Superman II more than Man of Steel.  They could probably give a bunch of reasons, but mostly it would come down to nostalgia.  The people who still like that movie probably remember when they saw it as kids or teenagers and thus they associate those good feelings with that movie, whereas they have no feelings to associate with Man of Steel.

For a lot more people--including me--the downfall of the Star Wars prequels was largely because of our love of the originals and it's going to be a problem for the new movies too.  The original Star Wars movies were some of the first I can remember ever seeing in a movie theater.  My brother and I had most of the toys at one time or another.  I had an Empire Strikes Back lunchbox.  I even dressed as Yoda for one Halloween--and I'm sure my sister will probably load that picture on Facebook at some point to irritate me.  There was this huge spiritual connection for me to the movies.  Then the prequels come out and it's just not the same.

(But also those movies suck on an artistic level.  The biggest sin is they marginalize the greatest villain of all time--Darth Vader--turning him into a whiny bitch who hardly kills anyone and could only beat a couple of feeble old guys in lightsaber duels.  And yes Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher were not great actors but Hayden Christensen was a whiny brat and Natalie Portman was a block of wood and let's not even get into Jar-Jar Binks or the Viceroy.  Then there's the story, where the first movie was essentially useless and the second, why was it called "Attack of the Clones" if they were the good guys?  And those dreadful "love" scenes that seemed like they were written by a third grader.  Yeesh.)

It was the same thing with the second Michael Bay Transformers movie.  I enjoyed the first one, but the second was so gawdawful.  The worst part for me was when they used Jetfire mostly as a comedic prop, turning him into some old geezer whose biggest contribution was giving parts to Optimus Prime.  That would not stand for me at all.  The 80s Jetfire was so awesome!  He was based on a Robotech Veritech fighter, which looked so badass.  I still have an original Jetfire in the box along with the original I got.  Getting that one for Christmas back in 1985 or 1986 was probably the happiest moment in my childhood.  That was my Red Rider BB gun.  So no I could not stand them using my favorite character like that; Michael Bay might as well have come over to my house and raped me.

Then there was the reboot of Star Trek.  I still remember the part in the ice cave or whatever where I finally said to myself, "You are not Captain Kirk and you never will be!"  On the whole Chris Pine is a better actor than Bill Shatner, but he's not Kirk.  And yes I suppose nostalgia plays a big part in that.  Star Trek II was another movie that was one of the first I remember seeing--in a drive-in theater no less!  My dad took us to see Star Trek IV in theaters like five times.  Now I'm supposed to just forget all that and accept this other douchebag is Captain Kirk?  No thank you.

(Also that movie sucked on an artistic level.  There were the gaps in logic, like Starfleet promoting a kid from trainee to captain and giving him the flagship?  Spock dating Uhura?  And conveniently the Romulan ship that went back in time was hanging around for 25 years before they got their asses in gear to strike.  Gimme a break.  Then there's the second one that's largely worse.  I'm sorry ladies, but I do not get the love of Benedict Cumberbatch.  He looks like a prep school kid who'd frequently get wedgies and stuffed in a locker.  If even a slob like me hit him once he'd probably run crying to his mommy.  I'm supposed to believe he's Khan?  Yeah, right.  It must be the accent.)

The thing is, I think nostalgia is only natural.  Maybe a psychologist could explain it better, but our brains learn to associate movies, songs, TV shows, foods, smells, etc with memories.  So when I bought the soundtrack to Transformers the Movie (the 1986 animated one) from Amazon recently and played it in my car I could remember crying in the theater because the bastards killed Optimus Prime off.  (Seriously that movie traumatized a whole generation of suburban kids.)  A lot of couples have a special song they refer to as "their song."  I can remember playing Journey's "Faithfully" and "Don't Stop Believin'" a lot when I was writing the First Contact stories back in 1995 or back in 2008 when I was writing Heart of a Hero, the first story to feature Emma Earl as the Scarlet Knight, I kept listening to "Dream" by Priscilla Ahn.

So we build those associations and if they're good associations then we associate good feelings with that thing.  When I watch Star Wars or Empire Strikes Back or the animated Transformers or GI JOE I associate it with pleasant childhood days and thus I'm willing to accept the faults in it.  That's just only natural.  Reboots usually suck because they change too much from the original, though on occasion a few manage to improve on the original.  I would say the Nolan Batman movies, but other people would disagree.  And I'm sure everyone has their favorite Bond after all that franchise's reboots.

I think nostalgia makes for a better experience.  It makes whatever you're watching, listening to, or reading more emotionally satisfying.  Not that that should be an excuse to never try anything new, but on occasion it's nice to revisit those old things; it's like visiting an old friend.  Why on Earth would anyone want to condemn that?

Contrary to what Mr. Offutt said, I do not "live in the past."  Sure I still have a box of old stuffed toys in my closet and I have my old Jetfire and some other toys, but I don't go around in parachute pants or drive around in a "classic" car; my car is a 2010, so there.  (I did once drive around in a 1977 Nova but that was not by choice.)  I grudgingly accept new technology, though that's largely because I'm cheap and hate spending a lot of money on a new TV or computer when the old one is still working.

With that being said, I have no problem with nostalgia so long as you aren't going overboard.  If you are wearing parachute pants and driving a Fiero then you've got issues.  Otherwise it's pretty harmless.

There is one area where I'm anti-nostalgia:  the fashion industry.  It seemed recently they tried bringing back those awful fluorescent colors from the early 90s.  Yuck.  If they try bringing grunge back I might have to find a bunker to hide in for a few years.  And those stupid kids wearing shirts for bands that broke up long before they were born?  Posers!  Come on, fashion industry, try something original that isn't terrible.  I suppose that might require some work, though, so let's just bring back Elizabethan era gowns and corsets!  And powdered wigs for men!  That would be totally awesome.  Which really kids, "awesome" is OUR word.  Get your own fucking word!  And rappers, stop "sampling" old songs.  Like creating your own beat is that freaking difficult; if you can't do that then get the hell out of the music business!

Here's the perfect song to cap off this entry by the only true Captain Kirk:


  1. I agree with your take on art and fashion.
    I was too fat to wear parachute pants, and I didn't shop at the GAP.
    I wore the concert shirts, but it was relevant to the time I grew up.
    The problem of this generation is they are hipster cool wannabes.

  2. I feel nostalgic just reading that post, as we must be the same age (I think I"m a bit older, actually). Star Wars WAS my first movie experience. I saw it several times in theaters, including the drive in.

    I think it's impossible to break that emotional tie to things we loved in the past. That connection is so strong, so ingrained, that even if someone to do a reboot that is objectively better, it's almost impossible to NOT have the audience still feel that connection to the original.

  3. So Grumpy Bulldog thinks nostalgia is good. I'm kind of with Steve Jobs on this one. I'm sure you've heard of him as the only person in history who's ever had a trillion dollar idea.

    Regarding death in general he said this: Steve said, "No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new."

    So yeah, death is a good thing for people and ideas. Nostalgia keeps things alive long past their prime. Let things die.

    1. Well if we all believed that we wouldn't have Homer or Cervantes or Shakespeare or any of those old guys because no one would have bothered to save their work for future generations.

      Not even Steve Jobs could invent something completely "new." Contrary to what Apple-ites might think, he didn't invent the computer. He didn't invent the cell phone either. Like everyone else he took ideas and perfected them. Progress happens because we remember the past and try to make things better. There's certainly nothing wrong in remembering that past fondly so long as we don't stop striving to improve upon it.

  4. The key to nostalgia is it usually taps into emotion. We remember the "good old days" and forget the bad things. The past will always be better than the present. And I totally disagree. Superman was way better than Captain America II and I'll arm wrestle any man who says otherwise!

  5. I'm with you. Nostalgia plays an important part in the ideas we have. We would never have gone to the moon if men hadn't read Verne as kids and tried to make that dream of going to the moon a reality as adults.
    I think that really sums up everything I would say about it.
    (I liked all the Transformers movies by Bay, though I can't watch the original cartoons anymore. Man, they were so horrible. But I love the idea of Transformers, now, even if I can't go back and watch those shows.)

    (@Maurice: The Superman movies, all of them, have been total crap. Even as a kid, I didn't like Superman: The Movie. It was boooring. Man of Steel has been the best of them, and it was crap.)



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