Nostalgia Culture and the Worship of the Past

So you might have noticed that there is a sort of revival of all things 80s in current pop culture – thanks in no small part to books like Ready Player One and television shows like Stranger Things. Now it seems like the 90s are starting to get their nostalgia turn. I have kind of wanted to blog about the 70s, 80s, and 90s for years before they made a comeback, but never got the chance. Now it seems a little cliche to jump on the band wagon, but that is what we did back then anyways, right?

As many people have noted, things like Ready Player One are really more about celebrating middle class white 80s culture. That was why I have been putting off blogging about any of it – there were many problems and issues with assigning “the 80s” to one specific sociocultural group. In a lot of ways, that is what the 80s were all about. We thought we had solved things like racism, sexism, and hatred just because we had recorded “We are the World”…

Of course, we never really asked anyone outside of white middle class culture if that was really the case. We just knew we had. And yes, it was “we” that recorded “We are the World,” because we often saw ourselves as somehow cosmically part of anything that “we” liked. Even if we never actually even bought the song and just taped it off the radio.

There were always those downer alternative/goth/industrial kids… but what did they know? Oh, we were about to find out the hard way when they rose to the top in the 90s.

Still, its not to say that I can’t both reminisce about the past while also recognizing it as problematic. I was a kid in the 70s, in junior high and high school in the 80s, and in college in the 90s. I kind of got all three decades at about the right age (at least in my opinion).

Today, that hopeless sense of “didn’t we fix this already?” that is left over from the ashes of the 80s is probably what drives a lot of people my age to push back against any kind of movement to fix anything now. Which is weird – we were the kids that took a pseudo-punk / heavy metal attitude of “middle finger to the authority figures” so seriously in high school and college. It was always “adults” and “the man” that was causing all the problems by not listening to all of our solutions in our art and music…. until we were the adults and the authorities. Then it suddenly became the “kids these days!”

When I think back to 80s, I often remember an average Saturday in the summer, when I tended to sleep in until my Dad started mowing the lawn. I would wake up with the sun shinning in the window and bask in how “solved” the whole world felt. My generation had figured out how to perfect music, movies, television, sports, you name it. We were even generous in letting the older generations enjoy success if they were still “good.” Aerosmith, Robert Plant, Cher, Robert Redford, Aretha Franklin, and many other older stars and artists from the past were still in our top charts and top movies and so on. At the end of the 80s, as hair metal tamed down into blues metal and early rap toughened up into street rap, we thought we were just perfecting culture. We were sure it would all carry on for infinity after a few more years of getting it all… right.

Then the 90s happened. And that was a whole other story.

But you see, this was the sense we had in the 80s. We were perfecting everything. We were sending food to Ethiopia, right? We were solving the problems. We kept the nukes from launching just by watching War Games gosh darn it!

Yeah, we were naive. Not all of us. But the white suburban kids you usually see idolized in Stranger Things now? That was me. Well, without the cool supernatural stuff. And we were naive about the problems brewing in other parts of the world as well as on the other side of town until it slapped us in the face in the 90s… or 00s… or 10s… just like many of the kids in Stranger Things were oblivious to the problems lurking around them until they found themselves face to face with something… other.

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