The Good Old Days, When Things Were Not As Good

Critics are jaded out of nostalgia for when they were less jaded. A common criticism of critics is that they no longer seem to enjoy anything: every movie, every band, every game, every book is cynically ripped apart. But we are all critics – I mean, we all watch movies, listen to music, play games, and read books looking for something that we’ll enjoy, and are disappointed when they aren’t “good.” But we’ve all gotten jaded.

We compare things today with great things of the past, or of our past. We remember when we fell in love with a movie or book or band and most things now just don’t cut it. But have you watched your favorite old movies lately? I’ll bet if you watch the movies you used to love objectively, in a new and critical lens today, you won’t be that impressed.

Yes, part of it might be that they were new in the world back then: for example, The Matrix was the first movie to have bullet-time action scenes but now that every action movie has them it seems a lot less special. I think its more important, though, that they were new to us. Before we got our fill of a certain type of book or movie or song: when their voices seemed to capture something about ourselves for the first time, we were a different person than we are now. We had more wonder.

Kids are impressed by everything. The first big fight scene, the first big on-screen kiss, the first spaceship, the first electric guitar, the first mystery-solving girl with a confident wink – they’re all things of wonder. And we’re all kids when it comes to something new. Then we figure out how to get more of it – (what do humans do better than figure out how to get more of what they want?) – until what used to be magic becomes old hat.

The thing is, the object doesn’t change. We are the ones who change. The book is the same. The movie is the same. The song is the same. They are both magic and old hat, both wondrous and grievously flawed.

This becomes important in the bigger society considerations of the “Back When Things Were Good” attitude. The older people get, it seems, the more they idealize the way things used to be, in part because they miss the way things used to feel, in part because they miss the them that used to feel things that way. But the things themselves: they don’t change. They were wondrous and flawed.

Decades past did have their own unique and ineffable charm, and lost ideals like chivalry and innocent trust. But they also had vastly closed-minded and discriminatory attitudes, towards for example, Black people, Latino people, gay people, poor people, new immigrants, women as a whole, and more. It also had, at various times, great economic depressions and disease plagues and such, but let’s talk about the social for now.

If you were not Black or Latino or gay or poor or newly-immigrated, or a woman, you might be nostalgic for when these “politically correct” constructions were not an issue – and you might be tired of having to hear about them. But racial minorities, immigrants, gay people, and girls always existed – they were just so voiceless and suppressed that no one had to listen to them. As a society, there was not blissful ignorance so much as deliberate obfuscation of the different and oppressed. The mirage of “Good Old Days” only exists by overlapping the desert of silent suffering and helplessness that anyone who was different had to suffocate within.

Maybe, I think, it’s the same with our own jadedness towards our movies and books and music, and lives. The demands of wonder are in opposition with the demands of pragmatism/progress, and experience is the spectrum we move across. For example, say tomorrow you discover an amazing new kind of cake called Awesomecake. I’ve never had it before, and it floods your panties with happiness. You start to do research, and figure out where the best kinds are, and sample many places’ varieties, and look up recipes, and practice making it at home, and – well, a year from now, will you still feel wonder for it?

That also brings up the issue of how technology can remove wonder by making it so much easier to research and build up a personal knowledge of something. But, remember, wonder is an opposite to pragmatism. The networks of technology pragmatically allow doctors and scientists and academics to share information so that your life might be saved faster if you have a heart attack, your airplanes and computers can get faster, and your English majors can argue louder. Should humans give up medical research and cultural progress to preserve wonder? That would be tantamount to giving up, as a species, so we can enjoy our last few generations of existence smiling (unless we get sick). An interesting idea but no thanks.

I’m glad we are so good, humans, at being pragmatic, even while we thirst for wonder. Because I have some good news. There are always new things to get excited about. The world is full of them, and we keep inventing new ones anyway. See, a hundred years ago, there were no such things as rock music, or young adult fiction, or slow-motion gunfight scenes – we made them all up.

So there’s no reason to be all weepy-eyed about the racist, homophobic past. And if we do get weepy-eyed about our former selves when we were younger and discovering things for the first time: we should go discover something for the first time. For everything you research and practice and enjoy into oblivion, there will be another thing waiting you haven’t heard of, or are terrible at.

Don’t let yourself stay in a comfort zone when you get jaded. Find a new hobby. Go looking for new types of music or movies or books – ask friends. Go places where you might meet new people. Leaving The Comfort Zone is the grand human key to both pragmatically progressing as a society, and maintaining wonder in our daily lives.

I’ve been looking into archery for a bit. It has the dual advantage of being really dorky but not taking advantage of the cerebral skills I’m good at. But so what? It caught my attention a little bit. Maybe I’ll hate it, maybe I won’t. Let’s go pull the string back and see what happens.

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One thought on “The Good Old Days, When Things Were Not As Good

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