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Posts Tagged ‘nostalgia

“There was a clarity to the Nineties”*…




From Captain Marvel (set in 1995) through reboots and revivals like Twin PeaksFull HouseRoseanne, and The X-Files to the recently announced re-reunion of the Spice Girls, we are awash in 90s nostalgia.  But perhaps we’d be wise to rethink our rage for the retro… and to do our best to learn from that history…

North Americans tend to take a rather rosy view of the nineties, with some pronouncing them as “the last great decade.” That was the title of a three-part documentary TV series that aired on the National Geographic Channel in 2014. The following year, a New York Times commentary written by Kurt Andersen – an alumnus of Spy magazine, another fixture of the nineties zeitgeist – wore the headline, “The Best Decade Ever? The 1990s, Obviously.” Mr. Andersen went so far as to suggest that the decade “provoke[s] a unique species of recherche du temps perdu” that puts it apart from the usual cycles of nostalgia. “[L]ooking back at the final 10 years of the 20th century,” he wrote, “is grounds for genuine mourning: It was simply the happiest decade of our … lifetimes.”

Mr. Andersen seems to make a compelling argument on the nineties’ behalf. For much of the decade annual economic growth in the United States averaged around 4 per cent, a number it’s only since come close to matching now. Unemployment, he wrote, shrank to new lows, median household incomes grew by 10 per cent, and stocks quadrupled in value. Here in Canada, the decade got off to a rougher start economically, with the country going even more deeply into recession than the United States in 1990-91; and then, mid-decade, enduring a period of severe restructuring that saw dramatic cuts to social spending thanks to ballooning federal and provincial budget deficits. By the last years of the decade, however, Canada’s economy was in a similarly healthy position, in time to enjoy such other fruits of the nineties as Viagra and the internet, with all its democratizing, utopian promise. It was the decade, too, when we first became tethered to our mobile devices, with market penetration of cellphones nearing 40 per cent by 2000, and the way we consume culture and interact with politics began to evolve to the point we’re at now, after decades of staying more or less the same.

Mr. Andersen neglects to acknowledge how income inequality would spike during the decade, or that some combination of technological change and newly signed trade agreements would contribute to the hollowing out of the North American manufacturing base that working people depended upon. Near the end of his essay he allows that the decade was not without its problems – noting the failure to heed the growing danger presented by climate change, and how passage of the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999, with bipartisan majorities in both houses of the U.S. Congress and the support of President Clinton, would help pave the way for the financial crash of 2008. Of these problems, however, Mr. Andersen blithely remarks, “But they weren’t obvious, so … we were blissfully ignorant!”

Which is entirely the point. In the introduction to his 2008 essay collection  Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century, the historian Tony Judt argued that, in time, we would come to regard the period between the fall of communism (1989-1991) and the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 as “the years the locusts ate: a decade and a half of wasted opportunity and political incompetence on both sides of the Atlantic.”

Quite suddenly, Mr. Judt argued, we fell under the notion that history could have little to teach us, except in the most narrow triumphalist sense. “With too much confidence and too little reflection we put the 20th century behind us and strode boldly into its successor swaddled in self-serving half-truths: the triumph of the West, the end of History, the unipolar American moment, the ineluctable march of globalization and the free market.”…

In an essay eminently worthy of the read, five-time National Magazine Award-winner Chris Frey argues that our nostalgia for the 1990s obscures the story of how the decade created the crises of the present: “How the Nineties are coming back to haunt us.”

* “There was a clarity to the Nineties. It was pre-9/11, before that anxiety kicked in that exists right now about the financial crisis or terrorism. We were all just going to move forward into the millennium and everything was always going to get better. Then, whoops, that didn’t happen.”  – Carrie Brownstein


As we learn from the past, we might recall that it was on this date in 1994 that Auburn Calloway, a Federal Express employee facing possible dismissal for lying about his flight hours, boarded FedEx flight 705 as a deadhead passenger.  He carried a guitar case concealing several hammers and a speargun, intending to crash the plane after injuring the flight crew in a way that would seem consistent with an accident; but the flight crew succeeded in subduing him.  At his trial it emerged that he was trying to commit suicide in a way that would allow his family to collect $2.5 million in life insurance proceeds.  Calloway pled insanity, but was convicted of air piracy and attempted murder and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences; federal sentences are not subject to parole, so he remains imprisoned at Lompoc Penitentiary.  The aircraft, N306FE, is still in service.





Written by LW

April 7, 2019 at 1:01 am

“In a lot of places, of course, the ’80s had never really come to an end”*…




Frankie Goes to Hollywood: You have woken up under your high school gym teacher.


Simple Minds: You have tasted a scented pen.

Mike and the Mechanics: You have thrown a Rolodex at a raccoon or skunk.

Peter Gabriel: You know what Fimo tastes like.

Roxette: You have injured yourself with a Q-Tip.

Madonna: Your bedroom smells like Midori.

Tommy Tutone: You have attempted to use a Polaroid picture as an ID.

Eurythmics: You have lost a mood ring in a hot tub.

The Smiths: You have read aloud to a hamster, ferret, or turtle.

Def Leppard: You have used a package of lunch meat as a pillow.

Psychedelic Furs: You have worn sunglasses through an entire tooth cleaning…

Consult a (very complete) list to find out “what your favorite 80s band says about you.”

* Nick Harkaway, Tigerman


As we revisit yesteryear, we might recall that it was on this date in 1082 that “Valley Girl” by Frank Zappa and his then 14-year old daughter Moon Unit, entered the Billboard Pop chart at #75. It peaked at #32 in August.  Written by the dad and daughter and performed by Moon Unit, and intended as a parody, the single popularized the Valley Girl stereotype nationwide; following the song’s release, there was a significant increase in “Valspeak” slang usage, whether ironically spoken or not (not the least of which was the film, Valley Girl).  Indeed, Zappa later sardonically observed that, despite his rich body of work, he was likeliest to be remembered as a novelty artist for “Valley Girl” and “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow.”




Written by LW

July 17, 2018 at 1:01 am

“We are homesick most for the places we have never known”*…


It is fascinating to note that from the early modern era to the twentieth century, the word nostalgia primarily indicated a disease, whose causes, symptoms and cures were debated. Nostalgia’s test-case was Swiss soldiers abroad who missed their home and were depressed. (It is not an ancient Greek term at all.) Immanuel Kant in particular was much vexed by the supposition that going home could somehow satisfy the longing for a lost past, which, he insisted, must remain unsatisfied by definition. Nostalgia in those days was a technical term used and discussed primarily by specialists. In the twentieth century, however, the word has become fully demedic­alized. It now means little more than a sentimental attachment to a lost or past era, a fuzzy feeling about a soft-focus earlier time, and is more often used of an advertising campaign, a film or a memory of childhood than with regard to any strong sense of its etymology, “pain about homecoming”. Victorians talked with passion about their feelings for the past, longed for lost ideals, and, as one would expect in an imperial age, often talked about travelling home, in overlapping physical and metaphorical senses. They also theorized such feelings and dramatized them in poetry, art, music and novels. But “nostalgia” is a major term for us, not them. In this sense at least, nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

I can’t help wondering whether this shift in usage does not betoken a broader shift in politics too, or perhaps in cultural self-understanding…

Mosey (carefully) down memory lane at “Look back with danger.”

* Carson McCullers


As we agree with Proust that “remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were,” we might send epigrammatic birthday greetings to Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra; he was born on this date in 1925.  Berra played almost his entire 19-year baseball career (1946–1965) for the New York Yankees. Berra is one of only four players to be named the Most Valuable Player of the American League three times; according to  sabermetrician Bill James, he is the greatest catcher of all time and the 52nd greatest non-pitching player in major-league history.  Berra went on to manage the dynasty of which he was a crucial part, the Yankees, and then the New York Mets; he is one of seven managers to lead both American and National League teams to the World Series (as a player, coach, or manager, Berra appeared in 21 Fall Classics). He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.

Berra is also remembered for the “unique”  observations on baseball and life with which he graced reporters during interviews:  e.g., “Baseball is 90% mental, the other half is physical,” “It’s déjà vu all over again,” “You can observe a lot by watching,” and “The future ain’t what it used to be.”  In The Yogi Book, Berra explained, “I really didn’t say everything I said. […] Then again, I might have said ’em, but you never know.”


Written by LW

May 12, 2017 at 1:01 am

“There’s a good deal in common between the mind’s eye and the TV screen”*…


Not your correspondent… but might have been

It’s widely suggested these days that we’re in a “Golden Age of Television”… but hasn’t the history of the TV been one long Golden Age?

In case of fire, 82% of 20th Century Americans surveyed in the pre-Internet era would rescue the TV set. The other 18% would stay still watching the thing and ask, ‘What fire?’ America loved the magic box…

More glimpses of Americans and their tubes at “Found Photos: Mid-Century People Standing By Modern TVs.” Volume Two here.

* Ursula K. LeGuin


As we tune in, we might recall that it was on this date in 1998 that Frasier set an Emmy record, becoming the first to take top honors for outstanding comedy series five years in a row (a record currently tied by Modern Family).  Frasier won a total of 37 Primetime Emmy Awards during its 11-year run, breaking the record long held by The Mary Tyler Moore Show (29).



Written by LW

September 13, 2016 at 1:01 am

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