A Post-Nostalgia Society

This one’s going to get controversial.  Let me preface it by saying these are just my own thoughts and that you will probably have different opinions.  I’m not interested in right or wrong.  I’m hoping to throw some comments out onto the internet because that’s what we do these days.

My generation has a problem with nostalgia.  We’ve never really experienced it.  We are probably the first generation to have near complete access to everything we loved as kids.  It’s an unintended consequence of the information age, but almost nothing from the 80’s onward has ever really gone away.  And if absence makes the heart grow fonder and familiarity breeds contempt, then that’s more troubling than we immediately realize.

Traditionally, nostalgia comes from a longing for something you used to have.  It’s that warm fuzzy feeling we get when we’re reminded of something we haven’t thought about in years.  It’s remembering something, usually through the positive spectrum of faulty memory, in a fond way.  It’s a movie you haven’t seen in over a decade.  Or a toy you threw away when you were twelve.  Or a TV show that you can’t quite remember the title of but you’re pretty sure at some point somebody fought a dragon with a laser gun and that it was the greatest thing you’d ever seen up to that point.

That is gone now.  If you are 40 or younger,  nearly everything you like, everything you held dear, is available for you to watch, buy, or otherwise experience again.  And while that shouldn’t be a bad thing, it’s also time to acknowledge an unintended consequence.

Nostalgia also used to mean you were allowed to outgrow something.  It also meant popular culture would evolve and change as creators and corporations were required to market and sell new ideas, if only to win over the next generation.  This is almost a thing of the past.

There’s really very little “youth” culture anymore.  Everything young is usually either a repackaging of an older idea (and usually not even that old) or aimed at a much wider audience than mere kids.  Aside from purely pre-schooler entertainment like Dora the Explorer and her ilk, there’s little aimed at children.  And even Dora has a bad habit of putting on princess dresses to get the much desired tween buck.

The danger is two-fold.

First, it doesn’t allow us to let anything fall to the wayside.  Once we become  a fan of something, we’re supposed to be a fan forever.  It’s The Firefly Effect.  In the early 80’s, a failed and canceled show like Firefly might be remembered by a few.  It might even sit quietly in the shadows of obscurity for a few decades before getting a reboot.  But it would most probably be a footnote, no different than Manimal or Automan.  A cool idea that just didn’t go anywhere.  Yet in this day and age, when people can watch and rewatch DVD sets a thousand times, when they can just log onto a search engine to find a thousand websites all devoted to not letting it go, when comic book companies can’t wait to ride a wave of undeserved pre-nostalgia toward easy money, a show like Firefly keeps going on.  Even when it should be allowed to just go away and let something else get a shot at being culturally important.

I don’t dislike Firefly by the way.  I just don’t believe it’s earned the rabid loyalty it’s gotten.  It’s a failed TV show.  Yes, the network did screw it.  The networks screw lots of shows.  That’s just the way it works.  Time to move on.

The pre-nostalgia is so common nowadays that it even appears before the show is on the air.  The cult of Firefly was born the moment the idea was first whispered by Joss Whedon.  It was ready to exist before pen was put to paper, before a single character was created, before a single episode aired.  We’re so ready to serve this pre-nostalgic impulse that many of us are actively looking for something to be beholden to, to hail as wonderful and forever awesome, even before we know what it is.

I know this view will be a bit controversial, especially among Firefly fans, but it’s something worth saying because, frankly, I’m annoyed by the entire concept.  Six episodes on network TV do not make a “classic”.  Calling yourself a “browncoat” doesn’t put you on the same footing as a “trekkie” or “trekker”.  Creating a fandom through sheer willpower and desire to have something to be a fan over is an exercise in circular logic.  Firefly is great because it has so many fans.  It has so many fans because it’s great.

Heck, I love Kolchak: The Night Stalker like nobody’s business, but it doesn’t change the fact that it was only on for a single season.  Although it did end up with more episodes than Firefly so I guess I’m more justified. Still, you wouldn’t expect me to call myself a “blue suit” and tell you over and over again about how awesome Kolchak is.  And it is awesome.

The second, more damaging effect of this obsessive nostalgic impulse is that the next generation isn’t really getting any new toys to play with.  Even if we accept (as we probably must) that pop culture will suffer from certain levels of stagnation, we have a deeper problem.  The only thing worse than a generation refusing to let go of childish things is one that expects those childish things to grow up with them.

Kids like dumb things.  Silly things.  Things that require child-like wonder to enjoy.  And most adults simply don’t possess that wonder.  This isn’t a problem when you just admit it and move on, but when you insist on taking silly, wondrous childish things and stuffing them into a “mature” box, more often than not something is lost.

Transformers are a line of toys built on the premise that kids like robots and kids like cars and why not put both together in one package?  There’s a storyline that comes with them, but at the end of the day, it’s about toys.  And it’s stupid.  Do I really need to point out that the notion of alien robots that change into cars, jets, and dinosaurs is about as silly as you can get.  Even on the most forgiving level possible, it’s goofy.  No amount of justification can really make it work.

Or how about an entire military organization whose sole purpose is to fight a single terrorist organization.  Everyone on both sides gets distinctive costumes, code names, and gimmicks.  Oh, and both teams get a ninja because . . . why the hell not?

And then there’s the emerald space cop with the magic ring who makes objects out of green energy.  This is a character designed with twelve year olds in mind.  The biggest mistake the Green Lantern film made was actually being a movie that understood this.  It’s only sin was in realizing just how goofy the entire concept is and still trying to make a film out of it.

In comparison, The Dark Knight takes the concept of a man who dresses as a bat to fight crime and turns it into a maudlin, depressing, unexciting snoozefest.  It does so in the name of sophistication while entirely missing the point of what makes Batman work.  He works because he’s ridiculous.  I know I’m in the minority on this one, but to me, a Batman film that you don’t want to take your kids to is worthy of mockery.  It’s like a Care Bears movie with ritual murder.  It doesn’t make a damn bit of sense.

Though my objections to The Dark Knight exist mostly because it represents everything I hate about modern comic book superheroes while Green Lantern represents everything I love and it can be a bit disheartening to see the public’s reaction to both is the opposite of my own.  Not because I care if one gets all the praise but because it’s always discouraging to see something you enjoyed mocked for the very qualities you love about it.

Then again, I could start my own Green Lantern movie fan club, find a bunch of people that agree with me.  It wouldn’t be that hard in this day and age.

I’m not suggesting that we can’t have “mature” superheroes.  Or that our only two choices are shallow fluff or grimdark grittiness.  But I do think that pre-nostalgia is a real cultural problem.  I just don’t have a solution for it yet.  I’ll let you know when I do.

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,


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  1. Will
    Posted July 6, 2011 at 2:54 am | Permalink

    Fascinating post, ALM. And that’s coming from a big Firefly fan. There’s the seed of something broader & deeper here. I hope they give you some credit in the intro to their theses!
    By the way…
    The writers of Stargate SG-1 took a shot at Firefly in 1 ep. A long running and therefore, by definition, successful show that never inspired much passion as far as I know.
    I know you mean the original starring Darren McGavin & suspect you have the same opinion of the Night Stalker remake as you do of Dark Knight.

  2. Louis Arico
    Posted July 6, 2011 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    Hey Lee,

    I can see how your quirky sense of writing could give you such disdain for all the cookie cutter writing that movies are pushing for. I, myself have been an avid action fan for years. Your books are very action packed and tons of fun to read. On this subject that your trying to find this common ground of a “mature” superhero. Your really going to be disappointed, mostly because all comic book heros are put there to tug at the heartstrings of every boy and make little girls figure out who they should swoon over. If we get rid of these qualities and do make them both mature and ridiculous, then we get a Jim Carrey movie. Most assuredly, no one wants this. If ridiculous action is what u want, try Shoot Em Up. Ridiculous action with maturity. If u want comic book action try Kick Ass, these should satisfy you until we get our Captain America on.

    love your words and ideas

    • A. Lee Martinez
      Posted July 6, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      Well, I guess you haven’t read some previous posts, but I pretty much despise Kick-Ass. It’s exactly the problem I was talking about in that it takes superheroes and turns them into something horrible and unpleasant. Though it is original material, at least. But things like Kick-Ass tend to miss the point of superheroics from my perspective. Just not my kind of film at all. It isn’t mature. It isn’t even particularly clever.

      I do like Shoot Em UP. It’s a fun movie, but I don’t know if it is trying to be mature. And it actually has likeable characters and isn’t pretending to do anything truly unique. It’s just an over-the-top homage to action films.

      I’m trying to be optimistic for Captain America, but I have not been terribly impressed by Marvel’s movies. They aren’t bad, but they haven’t won me over either.

      • Louis Arico
        Posted July 7, 2011 at 12:06 am | Permalink

        you are correct, i have not really delved into the previous posts. Point taken about superheroes turning into something ugly and stained in order to save the day. On the flip side of the coin, is it not conflict between hero and villain as well as the heroes internal struggles that keep our attention and entertain us. It is truly hard for movies in general to express all the different sides of not only comic book stories, but regular everyday made for television science fiction. I bow to your integrity, and hope you understand how much i like to have my heroes have a little bit of darkness and evil just to show the human side of them. Above all, i just like to be entertained.

        hope you get to write some movies

        • A. Lee Martinez
          Posted July 7, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

          I’m all for variety, and I don’t think superheroes have to all be bright and shiny. But I only resent the assumption that bright and shiny superheroes are somehow less valid than dark and gritty ones.

          I do disagree that having a character be “dark” or “evil” humanizes them. Flaws don’t have to be of the dark variety to make a character interesting. Again, not that I care if dark heroes exist, but I do still think a character can be flawed without having a dark side. And I don’t believe making someone screwed up or evil humanizes them.

  3. Posted July 6, 2011 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    I LIVE in nostalgia land; the older something is, the BETTER it is, and you young snotty nosed kids had better get with the program. Swing – better than rap; jazz – better than rock. (Rock better than rap, but then, what isn’t?)

    Original film – FAR FAR FAR better than reboot/remake/reimagining. ALWAYS. (Yes, always, even when the original was pretty crappy, it is always better than someone else’s attempt to cash in by displaying their lack or originality and paucity of creativity.)

    Firefly, btw, had 13 episodes, not 6. Although relatively ‘new’, it was original and hearkens back and draws upon nostalgic concepts, tropes, characters.

    (Original Outer Limits better than re-do. Star Trek (no need to say ‘the original series when it IS the original series) far, far better than ‘next gen’, voyager, DS whatever #, yada yada. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves better than sponge bob square pants.)

    New generally sucks. Seriously – especially in the film world. Although unfair in many respects, the Hollywood Studio system consistently turned out better films. Where is the 21st century’s Casablanca? African Queen? Yankee Doodle Dandee? Lawrence of Arabia? No where, because two things have changed in the digital age:

    1. there is ‘always’ a market for trash (pay per view, dvd rental, streaming with ad sales), so that the dollars invested are not nearly at as much risk as they used to be, meaning that the bar for quality has steadily lowered and

    2. the modern audience has everything spoon fed to it, requiring little or no imaginitive participation on its part.

    The saving grace, however, IS the very persistence you mention. A large enough percentage of today’s audience will become sufficiently bored with the drek that they’ll seek out more (and better) in earlier materials, and some will fall in love with one or another property, enough hopefully to keep that stuff alive.

    • A. Lee Martinez
      Posted July 6, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

      I don’t know if I agree with your two points. There have always been B movies, burlesque theater, and other such forms of entertainment. Every generation claims that the next is somehow less imaginative than the previous, but it’s hardly true.

  4. Zovesta
    Posted July 18, 2011 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

    To be honest, I completely disagree. Why should the new generation sit through crap? Why should they be forced to? A good show is a good show, no matter how old, and if Grandma remembers this really funny show she loved as a kid that she thinks Billy will love, why shouldn’t she be able to pull up Youtube and watch it?

    To be honest, I don’t have satellite anymore, or even cable. I watch things only on the computer. Three shows that I watch a lot? Golden Girls, Soreike! Anpanman, and Darkwing Duck. Golden Girls is only on, like, two channels late at night, I haven’t seen Darkwing Duck get aired in years, and Soreike! Anpanman is basically unheard of outside of Japan (and not dubbed in English, except in India). If it weren’t for the internet, I’d be stuck watching Kappa Mikey, King of the Hill, and Snapped, shows I don’t really care for.

    I still have nostalgia about shows. Just because I can watch them now doesn’t mean that the first feeling of excitement is gone. I can recall how I felt, and I can remember the magic, and, sometimes, I build my own sort of stories and the like off of what made it so great to begin with.

    Just because there are good shows now doesn’t mean that we should forget about the good ones of the past. And I really don’t want to have to pay a hundred dollars to get my shows shipped to me from Japan so I can watch them over and over.

    Just my two cents.

  5. Posted July 28, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    I think this is a very interesting idea. It kind of ties-in to the whole “man-boy” phenomenon in that Gen-Xers (such as myself) never really have to let go of the trappings of our childhood. Of course, the flip-side about nostalgia is that many of the things that we remember from the past no longer pass muster when viewed again now. For example, when I was a kid I loved Disney’s “The Black Hole”. I even ran around with my fingers in a side-ways “hook’em horns” gesture to simulate those double-barreled laser guns they had going “pew pew pew”. Then my wife and I bought a 6.99 copy from Target and sat down to watch it. Ugh. Not good. Totally blew away the nostalgia.

    Being a Browncoat, I don’t think Firefly’s a good example of what you’re talking about–of course, that’s mostly because, in my purely subjective opinion. I just happen to think that even the small body of work provided is worth the rabid fandom. But I think the idea of misplaced nostalgia is intriguing with a more than a nugget of truth to it.

    Of course, by coincidence, my wife and I were watching Kolchak on NetFlix a few months back and I had commented that it would be pretty easy to do a Kolchak costume–but I’d have to give out prizes to anyone who recognized who I was. So if you want to put together a “Blue Suite” cadre, let me know 🙂

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  1. […] to be dying.  Earlier this month I came across a blog post by author A. Lee Martinez titled “A Post-Nostalgia Society”, which triggered thoughts about the effects of living in a world where nostalgia has become a […]

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