Nostalgia propter se

This passage from the 1992 column on nostalgia for Victorianism points to something that goes beyond [post=11904726]general December merchandising stupidity[/post]:

Nostalgia is a form of amusement unto itself, like recreational outrage. It isn’t a disconnection from the land that causes people to bemoan modern ways, and idealize the past–it’s disconnection from ourselves.

It’s become a fairly pervasive cultural neurosis. Look how easily we can turn “the spirit of the holidays” on and off, or the use terms like classic diner as if they really meant anything–even the term classic alone.

No wonder everyone thinks they have to watch It’s a Wonderful Life right now–instead of just having a wonderful life itself.

What’s the difference? I hear all kinds of complaints about Christmas. It’s too commercialized. It’s too fake. It’s too Christian. Bah Humbug! Etc, etc.

Just take it at face value. Families and friends get together and have a big dinner, talk, reminisce, eat and drink a little too much, exchange gifts, and generally have a good time. Kids get all wide eyed and excited. Everyone appreciates the pretty decorations. Practically every Christian attends church around this time, and thinks about Christ. People feel generous and tend to give more than usual. It’s a time when many feuds are ended and hearts mended.

It’s not a cure for the worlds problems, but it is a better time of the year than most in places that celebrate it. It makes me and my family feel good and my kids happy. That’s enough for me my friend.

Good for you.

That doesn’t have much to do with the OP, however. The OP is about how nostalgia has come to be and operate in popular cultural discourse.

Nostalgia is not really some 19th Century thing – an idealized past is a time old thing. Think of biblical times – at various points in the Bible, some nostalgia for the past comes into play.

In the U.S., colonists idealized the past around the time of the American Revolution, the Glorious Revolution of 1688 or the days when the Brits ruled less directly (pre-French and Indian War) was seen as the good old days that the Brits violated. “Rights” in some fashion was an idealized view of what was done in the past, “common law” being “what they did in the good old days before you people changed everything!”

Nostalgia seems to me but a form of ancestor worship and tradition, which was always with us in some form. The past always seen through a cloud of smoke, an idealized form that was better than what really occurred, especially as older people we look to for guidance lead the way.

I hadn’t thought about the Biblical angle, but you’re right. The Israelites, on their trip through the desert, often complain about how everything was better back in Egypt. I’m sure other examples exist.

I think Cecil’s point is that nostalgia didn’t really become popular until the Industrial Revolution, not that it didn’t exist. It seems to be automatic whenever there’s a big change. Still, this could be more clear. Maybe an update is necessary.

Yes, nostalgia’s been around forever, but the organized nostalgia-is-good-for-you movement started around the time of Wordsworth (just as romance-is-good-for-you started around the time of Marie de Champagne).

By the way, as to the original question, actually reading A Christmas Carol reveals the answer at once. In England, at least, Victorians were nostalgic over 18th-century Christmases. (American Victorians didn’t really have that option.) Various literary remains make it clear that this lasted at least into the 1920s among older folks.

Whether it’s “nostalgia is good for you,” or whether it’s the notion that current times are somehow “corrupted,” (and commercialization is beside the point, though certainly an obvious given), nostalgia in social discourse is a construct that has nothing to do with any actual experience or memory.

The success of a cultural artifact like American Graffiti was not due to a movie-going audience old enough to have experienced the 50s, and they aren’t the clientele who frequent a 50s “classic” diner either. Nor does the Christmas card that your co-worker in Arizona sends you–which depicts a snow-scape and carolers wearing top hats and tails–have any connection to how anyone involved has ever experienced late December. That is, no connection other than that ever since they were children they were bombarded with these images at the end of every year.

So while nostalgia’s been around forever, it apparently has become more programmatic than ever before.

It’s not what it used to be, that’s for sure.

organized nostalgia-is-good-for-you movement

I’m not sure what this means. Some “organization” was involved in past cases as well.

American Graffiti, which was set in 1962, not the 50s, was released in 1973. The audience pretty certainly remembered a mere eleven years back.

I’m not sure whether nostalgia was ever primarily a function of individuals looking into their pasts. Some of that happened, of course, but far more nostalgia is a group or cultural story depicting a glorified past that never was but should ideally have been. More people remember being at Woodstock or Bobby Thompson hitting his home run or dating Elvis than was physically possible. It should have happened to them even if it didn’t. Commercial nostalgia makes that possible.

If that’s your definition of programmatic, then nostalgia has always been programmatic. Right from the beginning, a time when nostalgia was nicer and more memorable than today. :wink:

That’s not my definition; it’s not what I mean. I mean programmatic in the way that television content is called “programing.” Nostalgia is a genre now, because we have more sophisticated ways to represent the past, not the least of which is replication. It’s a genre today which is distinct from homage or the period piece or historical documentary.

I’m not talking about being nostalgic–I’m talking about nostalgic representation.

Once again, when has “nostalgic representation” ever been different than today?

Even Cecil gets this right. It has been the same since its beginning in the early 19th century. They had pretty sophisticated ways to represent the past then too. It was called “imagination.”