Blasts from the past | Chuck's World

By Chuck Sigars | May 10, 2017

Every three to four years, eyeballing it but probably close to correct, I write a semi-screed about nostalgia. Sentimentality about the past is right in my wheelhouse, but it’s personal for me. And about me, mostly.

What annoys me when I come across it is nostalgia that offers no context and delivers cheap comparisons. Many of us can look back through rose-colored glasses on our own lives, but I’m talking about a particular form of truth twisting, a time-specific chauvinism that focuses mostly on other people and how they’re spoiling everything. And usually they’re young people, who take the brunt of all this judgment.

My kids are young people. I’m a little protective, maybe.

But I get it. The world is moving awfully fast these days. I wonder if a lot of the appeal of nostalgia wallowing is just frustration with the pace and scope of modern life. There’s too much to read, watch, listen to, learn; the past seems less chaotic, and easier to manage.

And a big part of this probably is our frustrated desire to stay current, to understand how we got to where we are and, by the way, understanding where we are in the first place.

It’s probably not going to get better. Moore’s law alone suggests that technology has been outracing an individual’s ability to evolve along with it, and technology is driving the car here. It’s actually driving the actual car, come to think of it. At some point, most of us will have to accept that we just aren’t going to keep up.

The truth is, I’m sort of a generational chauvinist myself, although not really in the sense that my generation had to make special sacrifices and were shaped by events. Mostly I think of us as being awfully lucky.

We were, too. People born after 1955 never had their life trajectories altered by compulsory military service, never had to take that into consideration when looking forward (even if it might have been a good idea for some of us).

We entered the job market at roughly the same time as ubiquitous computing did, and as rapid as technologic advances came we were able to stay on top of it for a long time, or at least those of us with the interest and that particular kind of work.

We never had to straddle the two eras in popular music. We were teenagers during the golden era of 1970s filmmaking, and by the time we were old enough to sneak into mature movies, it seemed more a rite of passage than an evolution of the art. The most significant political moment of our young lives wasn’t an assassination or an unpopular war; it was the resignation of a president, a confirmation that the system worked the way it was supposed to. As I said, lucky.

But time will always catch you, and keeping up with change will eventually focus more on blood pressure and degrading joints, not messaging apps. When I have a computer problem, I ask my son for help. What can I say? I was the IT guy in this household for 20 years; it’s time to move over.

I don’t begrudge anyone a trip down memory lane. I’d be glad to take that walk myself, if only to see a movie again in a drive-in theater, or drink an ice-cold orange soda from a gas station (they tasted better; don’t ruin it for me).

I’d like to turn on the TV late at night and see Johnny Carson, or maybe Dick Cavett. I wouldn’t mind walking down my high school hallways one more time, or talking with my dad again.

None of this makes the world of my childhood seem better than today, though. It just makes it nice to remember, and I’m all for nice.

I finally got around to watching “All The Way,” the HBO movie about Lyndon Johnson’s first year as president. I’m pretty familiar with the story, thanks to some excellent biographies of our 36th president by Doris Kearns Goodwin and Robert Caro, and just an interest in what was going on in the world during my childhood obliviousness. I thought it was well done, with superb acting and writing, and I saw nothing that I hadn’t known about already.

But it’s unsettling to be reminded that while I was happily enjoying my childhood, riding my bike all afternoon without a helmet, drinking out of garden hoses, and otherwise perpetuating the stereotype of the golden age of American progress, people were being lynched because they wanted to vote. That doesn’t show up so much on the “good old days” lists you see on Facebook.

This is the problem with nostalgia, or at least the problem I have with it. It’s fun and sometimes even enlightening to look back with fond memories; it’s just that this particular exercise seems to squeeze our perceptions into tiny passages lined with the good stuff. The bad stuff seems distant, or quaint, or, often, not on our radars.

I just think it’s helpful to remember the bad stuff. We’re all going to gloss over the past; I do it all the time. I probably wouldn’t care to see a movie at a drive-in these days, not really, but I’d like to test that theory out.

And I’m done with my screed, anyway. I’ll check back in three to four years. Something will need correcting by then.

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