Nostalgia vs. the Present: What to Keep and What to Throw Away?

Over the weekend, I was going through all of the media that I own. Granted, nowadays it is a very small amount because everything is on tablets or a hard drive. I used to be that dude who collected everything from magazines, to comics, to laserdiscs, to CDs, VHS tapes, Blu-rays/DVDs — yeah, moving sucked. As I perused my stash, I noticed that most of the physical things I held on to were from the ’80s-’90s. They were talismans of nostalgia, reminding me of when I was fully immersed in the pop-culturescape. Do you remember that feeling?

There used to be something magical about going to the movie theater, waiting in line, and then watching a film that blew your mind. It wasn’t just the film itself, but the whole event of it. It was reading the Starlog or Fangoria beforehand. It was getting the Cinefantastique to make sense of what you just witnessed. It was going to Tower Records to get the latest joint from your favorite artist, and meeting someone in the aisles, who wound up being your best friend, for a time; because you both thought that Done by the Forces of Nature was one of the most underrated albums in Hip Hop history.

While the Interwebs give us more access to the stuff we love, there is a distance there that I cannot articulate as clearly as I want. But man I used to love stuff.

Having more than just a memory of a piece of culture that gave you some kind of pleasure, is fairly remarkable. It isn’t like an oral history that changes with each telling. Until it broke or wore down to the point of being useless, the object never changed. Your experience of it did. So I could go back to my Krull laserdisc and watch the same thing over and over. I could study it, reinterpret it, and incorporate it into my life. But, like food, we should be very mindful of the popular culture we consume.

There are some pop cultural truths you just have to acknowledge, if you came up in the ’80s-’90s:

  • Most of the stuff you liked was racist, homophobic, and misogynist. Eddie Murphy’s Delirious encompassed all that. Not to mention the no POC allowed worlds of John Hughes and Spielberg films. And do we really need to talk about some Hip Hop music?
  • Music was better, and more diverse and easier to discover.
  • You kicked it with other cultures, but you didn’t pretend to be of that culture. Asian and Latino/a kids didn’t have to say “nigga” to be down.
  • There was more concentrated POC representation in the media than there is now. In Living Color, Living Single, All–American Girl, Vanishing Son, House of Bugging, Roc. Fox used to be that channel.
  • We didn’t care about box office receipts. We cared if the movie was dope.

And this is my conundrum. Now that I am in my early 40s, I am a completely different person than I was when this stuff was so important to me. I cannot even sit through the first twenty minutes of Delirious without feeling ashamed at the things I laughed at, and repeated in front of all kinds of company. I love Logan’s Run, but the unbearable whiteness of the film is like popcorn in my teeth.

Roscoe Lee Browne voicing "Box" was highly problematic on many levels.
Roscoe Lee Browne voicing “Box” was highly problematic on many levels.

Do we really want to get into the Lethal Weapon series or how Indiana Jones only used his whip (violently) on brown folks in Raiders?

Not to mention the sheer ugly racism of Temple of Doom. But, damn. Raiders is what put me on the path of studying the Humanities, and even pursuing degrees.

It is like a fight between positive feelings generated by nostalgia and my current political and social reality. Do I completely abandon the things that once gave me immense pleasure to conform to my new understanding and interaction with our world? Or do I treat these objects and experiences like scars that left an indelible mark, and each indelible mark is a part of my story?

4 thoughts on “Nostalgia vs. the Present: What to Keep and What to Throw Away?

  1. Damn. Lots of food for thought. I go back to the 60s and 70s and man was that a period of change. Julia starred a Black woman as the main character way back in 1969; Room 222 had a main Black character; Sesame Street had Maria and other POCs. Now it seems like a big deal to have a POC as a main character and I shake my head that a show produced by a Latina has Latina maids as the main characters. They’re Latina so of course they have to be maids… SMH.

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