The Genteel
July 12, 2020


The "Jet Age" was a wondrous time in human existence (Source:

There is no feeling quite as beautiful as the feeling of nostalgia. At least for me there isn't. I don't know what happened in the world or when I became obsessively attracted/attached to things I discarded so quickly in youth, but I can't seem to cease getting terribly excited about anything that isn't digital or virtual or state-of-the-art or high def or whatever fancy thing we've invented and perpetuated as the must-have cultural norm. Tech-literate friends of mine say that only people who shop for vintage clothing get swept up in this quasi-idea (and its ideals) of how much better (or simpler/easier) it was to live organically in the past. I see the point they're trying to make. When I developed a will to actually shop for second hand clothing (surmounting my irrational fear of communicable diseases), I was subject to a plethora of other relic-y items: Polaroid cameras, every good VHS you can't find on DVD in stores (Spice World), candy, Pogs. The immediate reaction, of course, is always, "Awww, you guys, remember this?" And, of course, you almost always want to buy it. (I usually do.)

But there seems to be a flaw in the plan: technological advancements and other quality-of-life boosters haven't exactly equaled human satisfaction. After WW-II, there was a jolt of anticipation with what came next. Things were booming (like babies, for example).

I know it's silly to think about, but we seem to be having a "moment" of excessive nostalgia(-ing) in the pop culture collective. The gears are turning, the cycles are shifting, and it feels as though we're stuck in a loop of an idea where everything used to be so much better than it is right now. Of course, I don't imagine it always used to be like this, that people always thought this way. The 1950s, for example, were universally better and more optimistic than the '40s, and the roaring '20s better than the 1890s. But there seems to be a flaw in the plan: technological advancements and other quality-of-life boosters haven't exactly equaled human satisfaction. After WWII, there was a jolt of anticipation with what came next. Things were booming (like babies, for example). But then The Cold War happened. Y2K was over and the world survived, ready to take on a new millennium and evolve into next-level humans. And then 9/11 happened; its effects reverberated across the globe. And today, among the trickles of brightness that present themselves to us - for being alive, and for being free - there are patches of darkness that question the future of global fiscal markets and those rebelling against corporations and governments.

I catch myself in moments where I feel the need to look back because it feels safer there. I survived things like 1997 and high school and my first apartment, and, in retrospect, it wasn't so bad. But tomorrow? If even the simplest of unforeseeable circumstances (like the weather) are any indication, I can't know what happens next and I don't attempt to predict it anymore. For a lot of people, that place can be frightful, terrifying, and uncomfortable. But our cultural industries have become dependent on a diet heavy in nostalgia. It can be as simple as looking at movie listings or glancing at a newsstand this month. Apart from things like the Marilyn Monroe "revival," we've begun to remake and revisit other things that entertained generations before us; sometimes rebooting them, other times just admiring them. Did you see the new Footloose movie? Just last week here in Toronto, a local paper ran a cover story about a former kid's party palace known as The Mad Hatter. It became an instant smash, and one of the paper's most successful articles to date. Commenters flocked to the message board to exchange experiences at the '80s institution, and there were over 3,000 Facebook likes. For a story that only a fragment of readers would actually understand or have experienced, it was interesting to see that even my thirteen-year-old niece wished something similar existed today, or how much fun it must have been for those kids. Clearly, unlike me, Chuck E Cheese wasn't enough for her.

Shows like Pan Am succeed in showing the magic of human life - and its wondrous moments - that just don't exist anymore.

Fashion also depends on our need and fondness of this "nostalgia," and depends even more on the past itself. It's evident in everything from looser '70s fits to re-imagined flapper silhouettes, borrowed and updated (or, in some cases, downgraded) season after season. On the street, hi-top kicks have continued to gain momentum, so have higher-waists in denim; on wrists, friendship bracelets were almost mandatory last summer, and on nails, art is reinvented in ways I haven't seen since 1995's flop-turned-cult-classic Showgirls. Television shows like ABC's Pan Am set their story lines in the uncharted skies of the 1960s, otherwise known as the "Jet Age" that saw commercial flying become de rigueur among the middle class. People still wore their Sunday best for treks across the Atlantic, and being a stewardess was an intriguing, even if an under-appreciated, career. For one, shows like Pan Am (and others like now-cancelled The Playboy Club and Charlie's Angels) have brought some equally exciting revivals in fashion, prompting a feature in the September 2011 issue of Vogue, and caused other publications like The Houston Chronicle to declare this sort of thing a "fashion buzz."

There's also an upside to what The New Yorker recently called "nostalgia mongering." Shows like Pan Am succeed in showing the magic of human life - and its wondrous moments - that just don't exist anymore: a moon landing, even the so-called Jet Age itself. The sky was literally the limit, and I get lost in circles thinking about how magnificent it must have been to witness the first launch into space, and that the world literally was connecting to itself, and changing, and evolving. My mother explains this phenomenon best, as only one from that era possibly could. It's the same for us, too, but in different ways. I want to be around when there's a cure-all for cancer, or HIV, or we reach some sort of "Space Age" for the middle class. Those will be moments where the world will feel full of possibilities, much more real and astonishing than it does right this second. It reminds me of a lyric from a post-bubblegum Mandy Moore song (her transition from pop princess to indie darling pretty much defined my late teens) that goes, "I'm looking forward to looking back on these days." Isn't that so poignant and so the point of nostalgia? Moments as they are right now will always remain as such in our memory, but we'll glamourize them, and pretend they were better or easier or happier. That's what nostalgia mongering feeds on: the possibility that you'll feel as hopeful for the future as you do of the past.




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