‘Nostalgia is denial – denial of the painful present … the name for this denial is golden age thinking — the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one one’s living in — it’s a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.’ ~ MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
They say that we’re lucky to be alive in this day and age. It’s a revolutionary time rife with technology, information and opportunity, granting us unprecedented processing power, exponential storage capacity, services across the board and gadgets to boggle the mind, from smart phones and apps to search engines and virtual reality. We have the ability to travel all over the world and carry our office with us on a laptop, or store it in the cloud, while our savvy health services are growing all around us. We have access to interactive media and round-the-clock communications on a global scale. You name it, baby, we got everything, straight out of the magic box.
But I can’t help but wonder whether we got the short end of the stick. A generation and a half ago they didn’t have what we have. They had simpler and more potent things, like booze, drugs, guns, big-ass cars with big-ass engines, the ability to use these things without everyone and their great aunt going neurotic over who did what.
They had privacy and freedom, with no big brother and little snitch to harass them.
They had the ability to speed down the road for miles on end, to pull over and sleep in the car without getting ticketed for loitering, drifting, or engaging in suspected terrorist activity. They could eat unhealthy wholesome food and play sports in public areas that didn’t require a pass to get into. They had access to beaches not drenched in toxins, where they were able to swim and dive without the lifeguards and security shouting after them. They had the ability to go to a concert and have fun without the ushers shoving everyone into health-and-safety boxes; they were free to stage-dive and crowd-surf and let loose until the world’s intricacies faded under the swirl of sweet recklessness. Nothing ever got recorded on a thousand cameras and played in public, nothing got screengrabbed and posted on the web for everyone to point at and roll their eyes and lose their morginity over. Nothing got between you and the occasional bad day, because there weren’t that many fences and trip-wires to negotiate. You didn’t have a gazillion eyes observing your relationships, eager to massage you into form in the name of propriety-gone-total, in the name of collectively-understood individuality, and no one ever really threatened to invade your family at the drop of a hat and take over the proceedings, eager to instruct you on how to raise your kids, on how to speak and comport yourself, mandating what you can say and how to say it.
Nothing ever got recorded on a thousand cameras and played in public, nothing got screengrabbed and posted on the web for everyone to point at…
I look back at the previous generation-and-a-half and marvel at the special freedom they enjoyed, craving their sense of spirit. I wonder if they knew how good they had it, how amazing it all was, or if they paid tribute to the wonders of their day. I wonder whether they appreciated their time on this earth, making the most of it, or whether they grumbled and griped like we do, complaining about how shitty everything was, especially when compared to the generation before them. I guess they did exactly that — grumble and gripe and compare — unaware of the spirit permeating their time. To each their own, I guess, each generation romanticizing the past, oblivious to how well they have it when compared to the next generation.
There you go. Hardly a celebration of progress — at least on the surface — this contrarian insight emphasizes the beauty of the world we succeed, offering nostalgic reminiscence, painting our wake beautiful, all the while pointing out how amazing our given era is, how utterly special its moments are, if only we stop sulking about what we don’t have and look at what’s available to us. All we need is to see things from the point of view of someone looking back in time, romanticizing our day and age through their eyes.
I wonder if they knew how good they had it, how amazing it all was, or if they paid tribute to the wonders of their day.
Still, say what you will, driving down the road with no electronic speed traps netting your speed and no tom-toms beeping and bleeping and yapping away is what it’s all about — a world I wish we could regain, or at least preserve, maybe not across the board but in select parts of the world.
Let me call these areas Edens, places we may visit when looking to break away from the humdrum of sleepless high technology and social organization. Decompression areas where no one’s watching, where Health and Safety is not humming in the background.
I look forward to this day, wondering if it will ever come, and if it does, whether it will live up to its potential. Sometimes I lose hope, aware of how prevalent the panoptikon is and how difficult it is to escape. Revamping our setup is necessary but difficult. I look around and see nanny-state intervention, clinical setups and sterile environments, the walls of our current day and age creeping in ever so slowly, edging me and others like me into ever tighter boxes. My immediate reaction is to find a way out.
Midnight In Paris, a Woody Allen movie, talks about all this in terms of a writer seeking the beauty of the lost generation, whose main characters feel nostalgia in turn for the Belle Époque. Everyone misses what they never had.
It’s an excellent story, more romantic than neurotic, which is a big statement for a Woody Allen movie, offering an excellent escape — more than an escape. It compels me to regard the world around me anew, reminding me how to bring out the romance in it. I look at it through the eyes of a man strolling the streets after the clock strikes twelve, at which moment time resets and the golden ages of history come to life, one after the other. And the world transmutes itself, assuming a little magic.