Digital Polyphony

film, games, memories & random thoughts


Discussing Nostalgia

Posted on May 4, 2010 at 1:29 AM

Discussing Nostalgia

Who doesn't like thinking of their past? Toys they played with. Movies they saw. Places they visited or even something more specific, like a certain T-shirt worn or piece of furniture that defined your grandparent's house? Hell, I have a whole series about things from my past, movies, shows and games, that I like to look back on and think fondly of. We all do it at least a dozen times a day, I'm just one of the weirdos that sits and writes about it.

There's an aspect to nostalgia, though, that I think gets a bad reputation. This being the assumption that you might like something because it's from your past and influences you, therefore you cannot be objective and therefore your view is skewed and your entire basis for liking it is based on your fondness and not objectivity. "Take off your nostalgia goggles" is a common phrase that I often retort with an equally common phrase "please shut up."

Nostalgia versus Nostalgic Understanding

It's nice to be nostalgic, but I think smart, experienced people know how to differentiate between the two - similar to how a smart person can separate the subjective self from the more objective critic. I'm nostalgic over 1980s action movies like Commando and The Running Man (and I'll get to those movies soon), amongst other things but there's no way in hell I'd say either of those were good movies. I like to call this "nostalgic understanding." With nostalgic understanding, you can have a love for something from your past that helped shape who you are or transports you back to the memories of those times, back when you were a child, had little responsibilities and were entertained by shiny flashy things. But you also understand that, despite your fondness, you can step outside that and look at it more objectively where your memories aren't influencing your opinion.

Being nostalgic is about celebrating things we grew up with, which doesn't automatically mean they are something we should appreciate as being good - only appreciate for shaping our foundations. Only until you grow, understand the good and bad qualities of things, have a good life experience, and still be appreciative of them are they actually good walls built on those foundations. Nostalic understanding allows us to take those things from our past, step outside ourselves and still say "wow, that's pretty good." Your nostalgia towards something doesn't mean your opinion is suddenly invalid - as long as you understand this approach, of course. It's not as though I'm a person who played Final Fantasy VI once and my fondness of it is based on those memories. Nor is it because I played it when I'm older and it somehow transports me back to when I was fifteen and the world ahead of me. It's because I grew, passed the foundation building, even the building of those walls as I understand life, the formation of criticisms and nostalgic fondness separately, can sit back and look at that structure and honestly, truly say whether something is good or bad. It's at that point I might play it and not be influenced by my fondness. It's not because I'm older and nostalgic, but because I'm older and simply understand more.

Nostalgia and Experience

I'm thirty years old. I don't use that as some badge of honor because I grew up with an Atari or NES and that somehow justifies my experience in gaming or say "I was there" when Batman or Terminator 2 tore up theaters. There are always multiple generations. Just because you're older doesn't automatically mean you know more or get more, you still have to apply your reasoning and thoughts intelligently.  Being older doesn't make observations and opinions valid - acting older does. If you have to say "well, I stood in line for Star Wars before you were born" - that's not acting older, if anything that's acting like a ten year old on a playground with eight year olds.

I'm thirty years old and simply grew up. I look back at my experience as a growing lesson and only now do I understand how childish I could be at times, such as during the console wars of the mid 1990s, how naive I could be in terms of videogame and movie hype and expectations versus a final product that only doesn't live up to those expectations due to my own faults, how stubborn I would be with opinions and completely unwilling to listen to another view and how, now, I see others going through the exact same processes as I did and understand that, eventually, they'll look back at their past and realize it's not about nostalgia, it's about building that structure you call life experience.

The same is applied to film and film students (if you've read my Rules of Hollywood articles, you probably caught the part that basically boils down to "don't act like you know everything because there's always someone who will know more.") I went to college, studied film and currently have a career in the very industry I spent years learning about (and, to be honest, college has some things right but doesn't nearly cover everything). I can feel nostalgic about the films that shape me, but from an experience,and in this case a professional level, it's that aspect that allows me to analyze, critique and look apart from my "nostalgia goggles." It's not that I loved Terminator 2 as a kid, it's because Terminator 2 was one of the best films ever made. It's script is sharp, characters full realized and pacing perfect. Would it have made any difference if I was nostalgic about it? I'm not nostalgic about Annie Hall and I look at that film the same I would The Goonies. Whether or not it impacted me when I was younger is irrelevant. As a grew up and understood more of this approach, it's then that my acting older far surpasses the fact that I actually am older. It's less about the date on your divers license and more how you carry that license itself.

Finding the Medium

Maybe it's just me, and it wouldn't be the first time, but I always find people using their age as some nugget of validity to whatever argument they may have as pretty shallow. Now don't get me wrong, I appreciate the fact that someone might be older and has lived during times I can only talk about, and perhaps in some cases experience things I will never, ever experience (or want to), but that doesn't mean they automatically know everything there is to know. They can be nostalgic about something but do they have a full-range of application towards it? If someone is 60 years old and a banker, would the fact he stood in line for Star Wars in 1977 and experience for that first time give his opinion of the quality of Star Wars more weight? Hell, even in a person's field of expertise, it's foolish to just claim you have seniority and shut down your eyes and ears to anything new or that might expand your knowledgebase even further. Perhaps that's the ego working there; that little voice in the back of everyone's head that says "I don't like being told things from younger people" or, more fundamentally, "I don't like being proven wrong. My way is right." They simply can't differentiate between their nostalgia and their current breadth of knowledge, or lack thereof. They are exclusive of one another, or should be, and the more and more people shut down from wanting to listen, living more in memory than in understanding, the more that little voice will say "get off my lawn you damn kids, I was doing (blank) when you were still (blanking)" in a few years.

I know it may not always be the case, but I love being nostalgic and, to the best of my ability, not let that influence my own opinions one way or the other. Preferences? Sure, I'll take a campy 80s flick like Big Trouble in Little China, a B-Movie in every sense, over today's B-Movies any day of the week. But that doesn't mean I can't see it for what it is and, more importantly, look beyond mere preference and memory and judge, discuss, analyzie or give advice accordingly. Then again, maybe I haven't quite developed that little voice yet, perhaps I'm in that middle ground where I'm old enough to get all nostalgic and young enough to keep asking questions. Then again, maybe it's just that I'm mature enough to tell the difference.

Signing Off


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