On nostalgia

Moving swiftly past the fact that I missed posting yesterday entirely (don’t tell anyone, I don’t think they noticed), on with the last few goddamn days of NaBloPoMo.

I was just thinking about Bagpuss again, and trying to pin down exactly what is the draw with nostalgia? There are Facebook memes about all the games we used to play when we were kids, there are faux old fashioned sweet shops in which to buy the sorts of sweets we never bought. There is all manner of ways, in fact, in which to wallow in a past that never was.

I remember being a kid, and a lot of the time I hated it. The endless, endless prolongation of boredom that was Sundays, the disempowerment, the stupidly inexplicable rules. I wouldn’t go back to the tumultuous confusion of my teenage years for any money, and I wasn’t mad keen on my 20s. So what’s it all about?

Like chick-lit, nostalgia is real life seen through a soft-focus, optimising lens. All the rough edges are smoothed away. The past isn’t only another country, it’s idealised, like something seen in a brochure. And we fall happily into it: we must, or the nostalgia industry would be dead on its feet.

For my peer group, nostalgia seems to have really started hitting as we got into our late 30s. Is it because, for the most part, by that time we’re solidly entrenched in Real Life?  Work, mortgages, children, school fees, the endless round of bills, pensions; age, aches, the first grey hairs, hangovers coming more easily and lasting longer? Some of those ‘I always thought I’d…’ dreams have either fallen by the wayside or been deliberately put away.

Not that it’s all bad, by any means. I find so many compensations in being older that I wouldn’t go back. But I do wonder if, as the options seem to narrow, it’s pleasantly escapist to think back to a time when we didn’t even have to worry about what the options were.


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I've run out of books. Again.

2 thoughts on “On nostalgia”

  1. I also think we’re nostalgic for individual things and don’t necessarily connect them to the values of time periods. Like I am nostalgic for The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, I am not nostalgic for/do not want to return to the 90s (especially not with that fashion). I think my friend’s old style decoration is cool, but I do not want to live in a time before I could vote. And if we start believing the things are the time period and thinking how great it would be to return to that time period because we would have an authentic supply of those things, that’s where the whole soft focus comes in and someone needs to start flashing the ‘danger, danger, this is not reality’ lights before we start having conversations about the good old days.

  2. Jodie – That’s a fair point. But I usually find the things I’m nostalgic for present only a trace of what I think they’re like. The flavour/humour/colour/scent is never quite what I remember it was. Memory is notoriously faulty, of course, so I suppose it means that I’m nostalgic for a memory of a reality rather than the thing itself.

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