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Noted: Retromania

Aug 22, 2011

by Alison Feldmann

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

Remakes. Revivals. Reissues. Reunions. Prequels, even. Every time I turn around, there’s another not-so-classic movie, television show or album being unceremoniously uprooted from pop culture purgatory. If enough years have passed, it seems that any trope is justified for reintroduction to the thriving nostalgia industry. (Hello, Smurfs! And SNICK. And Dirty Dancing. Really, this list could go on indefinitely.) Is nothing sacred, or are there just no original ideas left?

Author and critic Simon Reynolds takes on the heady topic of nostalgia in his latest book, Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past. Far beyond rotary telephones, animated cartoons from the ’70s and reality show reunions, there has to be some limit to the amount we can mine past creative accomplishments. “There has never been a society in human history,’’ he writes, “so obsessed with the cultural artifacts of its own immediate past…Rather than being about itself, the 2000s were about every other previous decade happening again all at once. But what happens when we run out of past?”

In an interview with music blog The Quietus, Simon Reynolds opines on “past shock,” remixes and retro fetishism:

“I think the whole antiquing thing, this vintage thing, has something to do with this weird middle class thing of wanting to distance yourself from consumerism while still consuming – because it’s enjoyable and you like to have things. I came across this really cool quote by this artist called Margaret Kilgallen. She uses a lot of commercial imagery from another era… things she got from advertisements in old magazines. She said something like, ‘This stuff becomes interesting to me when it’s no longer selling anything to me.’

“It’s something to do with the passage of time, and the gradual divorce from current commercialism makes these things seem recuperable in some way… There’s this thing I try and do mentally which Mark Fisher has talked about. He calls it the ‘past shock’ – taking music back through time and how people from the past would not be future-shocked, but shocked by how familiar it was. I can’t help but think people would be really surprised by how much of this recreative stuff is going on.”

The question that has to be asked is, how much nostalgia is too much? Is retromania a death knell for any originality of our own generation? And how do we find a happy medium between the comforts of the past and the discomfort of the unknown?

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3 Featured Comments

  • awildtonic

    awildtonic said 5 years ago Featured

    I enjoy remakes and re-imaginings and whatnot because I like to see how a different person or people interpret different stories. I compare it to musicians covering other musician's songs. Sometimes it's awful, but sometimes it's awesome!

  • VeraVague

    VeraVague said 5 years ago Featured

    i think we remake originals for three main reasons: one, classic designs are tried and true--sure to make a profit; two, classics never go out of style, and three, unfortunately because we are (speaking for my own culture) a mass produced society. it's just easier to keep doing what is safe. i guess all makers of things are re-makers to a certain point, but i think it's obvious we need some fresh ideas!

  • mazedasastoat

    mazedasastoat said 5 years ago Featured

    "Fashion" in the way of clothing & household goods is a relatively modern phenomenon. Until about the mid 1900's what you wore & your furniture was exactly the same for generations, Maybe all this clinging to the past is a cultural reaction to the speed of change...

70 comments

  • zwzzy

    zwzzy said 5 years ago

    I get so frustrated by the remakes. There HAS to be a fresh idea out there somewhere! It is pretty funny how it never seems like today is thinking ahead, where is the futurism? (I just want a hover board already, haha)

  • SmallEarthVintage

    SmallEarthVintage said 5 years ago

    The Smurfs movie really did make me think there are no original ideas left...though I know that can't be so! I love old things, and there is certainly something comforting in the repetition of old stories/themes, especially when we live in such difficult times. It sometimes seems as though technology is bounding forward so fast that nothing else can possibly catch up.

  • RareDesign

    RareDesign said 5 years ago

    The remakes are crazy!! I heard a joke lately (can't remember who or I'd give credit) that 'creativity is down 50% in the current generation of children, might be due to the fact that that half wouldn't put down the video games long enough to answer the questions'

  • wiosnachamow

    wiosnachamow said 5 years ago

    I guess it's because of the market rules - in our times, where not a lot of investitions are sure, investing in something that once was sold with a big revenue is a sure investition. That how the culture&economy marriage works.

  • shshhshop

    shshhshop said 5 years ago

    A lot of people love remakes because it captures a time in their lives that they never wanted to forget (or a feeling.) Unfortunately, the remakes never live up to the original (okay, maybe rarely, but I can't think of one right now) and definitely cheapen everything for me. I won't be watching the remake of Doug on Nickelodeon, because that show was so important to me back then, I don't want it to be tainted by a less-than-stellar remake.

  • overthemeadow

    overthemeadow said 5 years ago

    Very interesting... It seems society is always pushing for new / improved this or that and the constant change of technology is so fast and furious that maybe the past is something we think we can grasp and hold on to.....the memories and the simple times.

  • NecessiTees

    NecessiTees said 5 years ago

    Occasionally my friends say " they don't make them like that anymore"..... well, sometimes, they really do make them like that - case in point, the remakes. But what's so wrong with not making them like that anymore anyway!

  • TipsyTimeMachine

    TipsyTimeMachine said 5 years ago

    The idea of movie remakes is far from new, Hollywood has been doing it since the early days of switching from silent movies to sound. The sheer amount of it has increased however and I think it has to do with the high costs of making a movie today. Studios are putting their money behind known vehicles because they believe they have already have an audience that recognizes the material. They'd rather make these movies then take a chance on an original screenplay, and have to spend more on advertising.

  • MegansMenagerie

    MegansMenagerie said 5 years ago

    I am not a big fan of remakes. It will always be compared to the original so why not just be original in the first place!

  • awildtonic

    awildtonic said 5 years ago Featured

    I enjoy remakes and re-imaginings and whatnot because I like to see how a different person or people interpret different stories. I compare it to musicians covering other musician's songs. Sometimes it's awful, but sometimes it's awesome!

  • VintageEye

    VintageEye said 5 years ago

    Yes Zwzz! I agree! Where are those flying cars I was promised in the 60s! :) I do enjoy pop culture trends coming back around for a return engagement though!

  • VogueByVague

    VogueByVague said 5 years ago

    i've asked myself the same questions. interesting point about antiquing being consumption without blatent consupmtion... things to think about!

  • MissTessaMelissa

    MissTessaMelissa said 5 years ago

    I remember being weird for shopping at thrift shops for retro items when I was in middle school, and now many of those treasures I still have and I find them here on Etsy years later as being the popular items. (and at a MUCH higher price) Some people live vintage, some people can't afford brand new, and some people come along for the ride. That is just how society is in one form or another.

  • myvintagecrush

    myvintagecrush said 5 years ago

    I think we can find a nice balance between the old and the new.. As for what Reynolds says, all I can say is that there is nothing like owning a great piece of vintage clothing! No one else has what you have, it has stood the test of time, etc.. there is nothing like having the OG, rather than buying the cheap modern knockoff at your local forever 21

  • shannondzikas

    shannondzikas said 5 years ago

    I sell vintage because I am, and always have been, passionate about everything neglected and forgotten. Shopping for old treasures is like the modern equivalent of hunting, same adrenaline rush and high when you find the jackpot!

  • SweetandDandyVintage

    SweetandDandyVintage said 5 years ago

    There's so much nostalgia to choose from. Style is so personal, and each new generation, and even individual really, brings their own personality to the table...incorporating what has been, what is now and what is their own. The possibilities in this life are endless...I say we just enjoy the ride! ;-)

  • VeraVague

    VeraVague said 5 years ago Featured

    i think we remake originals for three main reasons: one, classic designs are tried and true--sure to make a profit; two, classics never go out of style, and three, unfortunately because we are (speaking for my own culture) a mass produced society. it's just easier to keep doing what is safe. i guess all makers of things are re-makers to a certain point, but i think it's obvious we need some fresh ideas!

  • BarkingSandsVintage

    BarkingSandsVintage said 5 years ago

    As a vintage dealer, I love the artifacts of the past. But as I surround myself objects from the mid 20th century, I often have the thought 'what does today look like?' Why aren't I buying things that are designed and made now, things that speak of the present moment? In 50 years, what are people going to look back on as being quintessentially 2011?

  • hoganfe

    hoganfe said 5 years ago

    Alison a little retro goes along way for me lol!

  • mindymosher

    mindymosher said 5 years ago

    It's not just movies and clothing either, the automotive industry is seeing revamps of retro styles, ie: the new mustangs, challengers, chargers to name a few. I'm just waiting for Oldsmobile to come out and be like "This is your father's Oldsmobile!"

  • LittleWrenPottery

    LittleWrenPottery said 5 years ago

    Interesting idea, I often think that its people reacting to the unknowns of the future and reflecting on a time when they felt safe, happy and knew what that future might bring rather than the modernity of uncertainty. If that makes sense.

  • Parachute425

    Parachute425 said 5 years ago

    I'm frustrated with tv commercials that reuse tunes from popular music - 60's through today. Where are the creative jingle writers?!!!! There are no new catchy tv commercials for the next generation to be nostalgic about. All together now . . . Oh, I wish I was an Oscar Mayer wiener

  • TheIDconnection

    TheIDconnection said 5 years ago

    I'm for the originals. I've not seen a remake that I cared for! Interesting :)

  • TheScarfTree

    TheScarfTree said 5 years ago

    Very true - when one thinks about it! Great article! Thanks!

  • LavenderField

    LavenderField said 5 years ago

    Really! What does happen when we run out of past????

  • blackcatdetective

    blackcatdetective said 5 years ago

    Vintage/handmade just seems more personal to me. I'm not against consumerism, I'm against mass markets. I was watching Antiques Road Show and was just in awe of how a style of table could have regional signatures. Maybe we are remaking items because our futures just seem to be more of the same that you can buy anywhere.

  • knitfitt

    knitfitt said 5 years ago

    What I find interesting and new is the way old or vintage items can be reworked and repurposed.

  • siennaorlando

    siennaorlando said 5 years ago

    When I think there are no more original stories, I just watch a documentary. The things that happen in real life can be so much more interesting than the same ol' story rehashed by a writer thinking they are being original.

  • dreadsandcurls

    dreadsandcurls said 5 years ago

    Remakes don't do it for me, I prefer the original. And that Donna Summer album cover is smokin'!

  • sparrowgrey

    sparrowgrey said 5 years ago

    It's a delicate balance between old and new, but somehow the remakes don't often work for me either. Interesting post.

  • darkponydesigns

    darkponydesigns said 5 years ago

    I really love the perspective this article gives. Something to think about. I am endlessly inspired by the past and my own personal nostalgia. I think the trick is to put your own spin on it. xo Robin

  • flabbergastbanana

    flabbergastbanana said 5 years ago

    perhaps the root of all this retromania is that our culture has a fear of the future.. the only futuristic movies are the ones where aliens invade.. people feel safe in the past and that is where we are stuck now.

  • AmeeliaBedelia

    AmeeliaBedelia said 5 years ago

    I do think some people are drawn to vintage or antique items because they want to feel connected to our culture in a way that modern, mass produced items just can't evoke. It could be a sense of dissatisfaction with the 2000's or just an appreciation of where we have come from and how incredibly different things were before major technological advances....

  • mazedasastoat

    mazedasastoat said 5 years ago Featured

    "Fashion" in the way of clothing & household goods is a relatively modern phenomenon. Until about the mid 1900's what you wore & your furniture was exactly the same for generations, Maybe all this clinging to the past is a cultural reaction to the speed of change...

  • melaniepaulson

    melaniepaulson said 5 years ago

    I don't think retromania is a death knell for creativity, but I do think it's a good indicator that many people are not happy with what is vacuum-sealed and delivered for our consumption. Perhaps they're looking for something more "authentic." While movie remakes may be the pop-culture manifestation of the dissatisfaction, maybe it's the same emotion that drives some people to buy objects with a story, like a vintage or handmade item. There's a connection to a community, to the past, and to a culture that people crave; the marketplace is filling in that void in a variety of ways.

  • NopalitoVintageMore

    NopalitoVintageMore said 5 years ago

    We are consumers, like it or not. We feel our worth when we can "afford" things to show that we are worth it. It is our part of our cultural up bringing. Re: New ideas, well it depends on the ideas and what purpose they serve, helping mankind, ideas that are meant to help but are turned into something that doesn't help and can even kill, designing a useless mop that doesn't work but sole purpose was to make money, disguising "new" ideas as new with a twist, an idea that produces a great piece of art/book and think of African art and African American music, you see their "ideas"/ "Copying" in European art and rock n' roll. The original "idea" was copied and passed on as an original idea..... I have battled the idea of being a consumer for most of my life. The Apache in me says NO and the Spanish in me say YES. I have learned that moderation in ALL things is a good thing. We live in a consumer society, this country was built on consumerism (not the original inhabitants, but those enterprising Europeans who started companies such as the Virginia Company selling tobacco... OOOhhhh, sorry for going on, but reading all the comments and it appears that you all are so young, it just brought back memories of all the discussions I had when I was younger.....

  • SkyBox

    SkyBox said 5 years ago

    The blog is definitely on target, many artists from all genres despise the remaking of everything that was. But can't it be flipped, just a little bit? Can we use it to drive us to be more creative, more original so that the future will be sampling us?

  • jenjenpb

    jenjenpb said 5 years ago

    I know that our inspirations come from the past so are we running out of ideas? Hmmm or it could just be the latest "fad" of our era and the future will be about new and originals. Only time will tell, but I gotta say I'm buying into the whole vintage thing and love it...not remakes though.

  • 2k2l2e2v2e2n

    2k2l2e2v2e2n said 5 years ago

    This is the struggle isn't it?! Balancing ideas of the past with ideas of the future. Okay, deep thought. I think its important to recognize that present retro revamps are approximations, that they're filtered through a present lens and that that present lens shifts constantly. Rather than clinging to hopes of reviving the most authentic version of the past, or trying to imagine the most perfect futuristic of futures, I think it's most useful to put our energies towards creating a present lens for ourselves that moves at varying speeds, but always with a sense of integrity.

  • funkomavintage

    funkomavintage said 5 years ago

    I see it all, rather than a pathological response to a lack of creativity, as the New Creativity...reusing snips from the past...and let's face it...the 70s were awesome ! (and based on the 30s & 40s) Collage. Restyling. Revamping. Restoring. Sampling. And would Jonathon Adler have a career if the 60s and 70s had never happened? He takes the past and redoes it....and it looks pretty fresh. But, yes, something that looks entirely Future will be done...what will that be? I don't know, I haven't seen it yet !!

  • LayOffTheBooks

    LayOffTheBooks said 5 years ago

    There certainly are a lot of old movies being made into new movies, old books being made into new t.v shows, etc. remakes. I'm not a huge fan of them, they never seem to stand up to the original in my mind. However- antiquing, buying used, wearing vintage are all things I'm a fan of. It makes me feel good to know that I have saved something from the landfill, and I feel that it makes my carbon footprint a little bit smaller.

  • Iammie

    Iammie said 5 years ago

    I like retro. It reminds me of something I love about the past. :)

  • BetaBoutique

    BetaBoutique said 5 years ago

    I really do not find anything bad abour remakes Maybe it is because I am from East Europe and not so familair with all those Western World cliches aquired in last decades. In addition to that, I do not see anything that modern pop culture can offer to us. There is just void emptiness which thats why is filled with realms of past. Once modern world will have something interesting to say in language of pop culture, it definitely will.

  • ScrapunzelPixie

    ScrapunzelPixie said 5 years ago

    I think because quite often, modern films depict the future as a scary place, we love retro all the more. I for one embrace the future as a beautiful unwritten, and adore the past as a long loved friend :)

  • thymeforgotentreasur

    thymeforgotentreasur said 5 years ago

    I have always loved the past the simplier times has always spoken to me in a sense, the items... Personally they have no business doing remakes, nothing is like the original! this article was very interesting, thank you!

  • thevelvetheart

    thevelvetheart said 5 years ago

    Retromania definitely isn't the death of our own originality. When blended in with the current times, it creates comfort and uniqueness. Recently it dawned on me that I am decorating our house with mid century finds that were first popular around 50 years ago. I grew up in a house full of victorian antiques- things that were first popular about 50 years before my parents were around. Interesting!

  • BanglewoodSupplies

    BanglewoodSupplies said 5 years ago

    Very Nice. Thank you.

  • stillettoRANCH

    stillettoRANCH said 5 years ago

    When I see something new that replicates the past I get nostalgic for my youth. That is a huge draw for me. When I was 6, we had a fiat 500 and now they are back!!!Chances of me finding an original are nil. So, in that regard, I am happy for remakes..Lets face it though. The originals are ALWAYS better.

  • TNShopthailand

    TNShopthailand said 5 years ago

    I guess it's because of the market rules - in our times, where not a lot of investitions are sure, investing in something that once was sold with a big revenue is a sure investition. That how the culture&economy marriage works.

  • TheNightjar

    TheNightjar said 5 years ago

    There has always been Retro as far back as you can imagine. Even painters of the 17th century copied the 16th century. I think this Retroism happens because we romanticize the past. We can never live in the 1960s if we were born in the 1970s, we can only idealize what it may have been like. One reAson why costume dramas are so popular

  • minoubazaar

    minoubazaar said 5 years ago

    This is an interesting topic. People who study history know that some people are always nostalgic for the past. The Renaissance in Europe was basically about people getting nostalgic for ancient Greece and ancient Rome, and then you have the Egyptomania phase where Americans and Europeans from the 19th century because obsessed with ancient Egypt. What I find interesting is that America is generally a country that does not look to its past as we like to see ourselves as constant forward-seeking--but the nostalgia is strong as ever.

  • ginaamirjewelry

    ginaamirjewelry said 5 years ago

    I love what you say here "Rather than being about itself, the 2000s were about every other previous decade happening again all at once. But what happens when we run out of past?” exactly what a strange time to be living in, I literally do not know how to define the 2000's

  • booksoftime

    booksoftime said 5 years ago

    Love the article. I enjoy items from the past as well mostly because beautiful things do not have to be expensive and what a treat to be recycling as I am doing something I love. Rosie

  • itselemental

    itselemental said 5 years ago

    Remakes are this generation's "comfort food." We are caught up in that 30-year "history repeats itself" cycle. The 80's "Me-Generation" was a time of prosperity and spending; ... No wonder, during these turbulent times, one would want to re-live the past.

  • TheMillineryShop

    TheMillineryShop said 5 years ago

    Back in the early days of designer houses, they made clothes to last. Women were not just fitted for clothes but were directed to dresses that suited them. They moved around at the fittings to purposely stress the clothes by bending this way and that, and those clothes were made strong enough not to pop a strap or bust a seam. Made to last and meant to be worn for years, you could always restyle a dress, hem up or down a bit but the bottom line was that you kept you clothes and valued them. Today clothing is expendable, one season down and it's time to clean out the closet. I think THAT is what we are trying to re-capture here, maybe just a little. Bring back styles, yes, but let them have some staying power too. We can't afford not to.

  • MEMORARE

    MEMORARE said 5 years ago

    great questions, that repeatedly come up ;)

  • hempandhamsa

    hempandhamsa said 5 years ago

    Retro is such limited terminology when there was more, so much more going on. Starting social change that still isn't over until it has fallen like the Berlin Wall is proof that nostalgia is a measurement of time. See what I mean? http://www.etsy.com/listing/80136349/vintage-tax-marijuana-bumper-sticker?ref=v1_other_1 http://www.etsy.com/listing/71548139/vintage-stop-the-drug-war-button?ref=v1_other_1 http://www.etsy.com/listing/71226198/vintage-buy-american-hemp-bumper-sticker

  • froufroubijou

    froufroubijou said 5 years ago

    The past is Not simple...fewer rights etc....I do NOT want to go back. The idea it was better back then shows peoples reluctance to change.

  • bellalynda

    bellalynda said 5 years ago

    Very interesting post. My problem with the remakes that have cropped up in the 2000s is they are not remaking anything that was actually "cool" in the first place....they are merely remaking what greenlighters who were probably kids in the 80s vaguely remember. In the 70's we were still clinging to the 60's bohemian lifestyle, in the 80's we embraced the innocence of the 50's mixed with colorful versions of the 40's in our clothing and jewelry, and those things showed in film, tv and music...If you were a teen/adult in the late 70's-early 80's you understand there is not a valid cultural need to resurface most of the things that do...I think the concept that we will eventually run out of past to recultivate is accurate, its happening already. There's probably already a Pogs app....I wouldn't know, I am old. :)

  • HulaGirl1922

    HulaGirl1922 said 5 years ago

    hmmmm... each generation brings a bit of their own style... with a bit of an influence of past geno...so I say... RETRO-IZE to the beat of your own song ♥

  • Jungle

    Jungle said 5 years ago

    Things in the past were made with more quality. They cost more, but now things that have made it thhis far in time as also synonomous with longevity. So, even if it's a re-created retro, it gives a feel of quality, durability, and more longevity than a trend (even if retro itself is a trend....)

  • Jungle

    Jungle said 5 years ago

    btw, remembering the 90's, the trend after vintage, was bright & stylish modern. So even if modern is the next trend, it still follows the exact pattern of the past....

  • NatalieDrest

    NatalieDrest said 5 years ago

    For me it's a fine line between creatively using something that has come before (fabrics or fashions) and whipping a dead horse (dirty dancing remake)

  • EmmaJosephineDesigns

    EmmaJosephineDesigns said 5 years ago

    It's much easier to come up with a remake and tweak it than coming up with your own originality sometimes. It does work though!

  • Stargazer02

    Stargazer02 said 5 years ago

    I love vintage stuff but hate when they remake classic movies!

  • 99years

    99years said 5 years ago

    I own that Donna Summer album.

  • afternoontees

    afternoontees said 5 years ago

    I was just thinking / writing about this recently, how my generation is so obsessed with the Nineties already!

  • yogiodie

    yogiodie said 5 years ago

    I think we remember things more fondly than when we actually lived them. There is history, compassion and personal connection when we reach back and pull in another time. We romanticize the past. But isn't that what life is all about? These will become the good old days in short order. So remember this day, and save that outfit you are wearing right now. It will be even a hotter topic in 20 years.

  • eclecticvogue

    eclecticvogue said 5 years ago

    I think it's human nature to look back and to look forward. Think of all the futuristic alien movies and TV shows of the 1950s and '60s. There was Star Wars in the '70s. The world has changed so swiftly in the past 100 years with the invention and daily use of mediums like the radio, TV, internet, etc., that I believe we're going through a sort of self-awareness period. The world is becoming smaller the more we communicate. It's healthy to examine where we've been, the influences of the past. It's the stuff of inspiration, philosophy, religion - all the vital questions of life, really. And I don't believe it when people say there are no original ideas left. There are infinite ideas and stories, but with the economy the way it has been for years, it's simply a safer bet for designers, moviemakers, TV producers, etc., to go with an idea that already has a fan base. As for collecting old things, well...the draw for me is the stories behind each item, imagining the people and the times in which they lived. It's a way of experiencing history, akin to visiting battlefields or staying in a Victorian bed and breakfast.

  • NikkiCrossApplesauce

    NikkiCrossApplesauce said 5 years ago

    I was literally just thinking this very thing this morning!! A great question to be asking our generation. Especially in these crazy economic and political times, how will we face the future? Or will we keep hanging on to the past? You can see this battle playing out all over Etsy. New art vs. vintage sellers.

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