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?