Thursday, June 8, 2017

Homesick for the Future

If the universe were to randomly cease existing tomorrow (we've been waiting billions of years, what's the hold up?!) I imagine one thing would happen with 100% certainty. Before being erased from existence, one man will speak. He will wear a smirk on his face before stating to the terrified: "It's really not so bad. You're just nostalgic for your childhood. This is fine." Then the universe ends and we all swirl into the void.

It is a fascinating mentality to have. Imagine being so dismissive and scared of the past that one can't admit there were aspects of it better than where we live in the present. Now there is something to be said about being obsessed with a time period in one's life, but it is much different today. This type of "forward" thinking is now one step away from being cultism.

A long time ago, there was a saying. It was a line used to excuse degrading standards and subversion of classic properties in a way to dodge all legitimate criticism. It is not used so much today though the spirit is very much alive.

The motto went like this:

Question: What is the Golden Age of *insert subject here*?
Answer: Age 8 to 10.

This was the original nostalgia argument used to shut down any criticism of a newer product from the time of the 1970s and '80s, and earlier. This argument can be found looking in old letter columns from the era. However, nobody uses it anymore. It is easy to puzzle out why it has. Because this claim falls apart on closer inspection and has been proven wrong with, ironically, the passage of time.

Time has passed, and many fans of different entertainment mediums have not had the benefit of being 8 or 10 years old when Superman's first comic was released or when The Moon Pool was first run. So then, how can there be people alive today who prefer that older age in comparison to what is currently being put out? It is unclear, according to these types. How can one prefer action movies of the 1980s when they were born in 1994? That should not happen. And yet another individual who grew up with those very same movies is apparently only able to enjoy them due to a nebulous concept called nostalgia. That simply cannot be the case, at least not in every example.

The fact is that different eras consist of changing aesthetics, different morals, and, sometimes, varying quality. Film grain used for a TV set in the 1980s is different from the HD widescreen contraptions of the modern era. Black and white is different from early colorization. This begs the question of how would one argue that the preference of one over the other is due to what each individual experienced in their youth.

Better yet, how does one prove this is the reason for the preference?

This accusation requires a heavy duty dose of projection from the accuser, as it otherwise has no real bearing on a discussion centered on taste. And what it tends to lead to is the revelation that the accuser is really a member of The Cult of the New.

"How can you possibly like this old thing better than this new thing! This was made more recently, therefore it must be better. All the progress we've made in history dictates this! Clearly, you must only like this inferior relic is because you are pining for a long lost youth and are simply out of touch with what the standard is now."

The trick in this accusation is that it can't be argued against. Reasons for taste and preference cannot be proven. Therefore The Mists of Avalon is an objectively better book than Le Morte D'Arthur because of the centuries of progress since the latter. Stories of knights are simply better because they must be. How can one argue against it? Progress dictates it must be so. Taste is absolutely no factor here.

However, it is.

It always is.

As a personal example, my favorite video game is Super Mario Bros. 3 and it has been for many years. Many gamers seethe at this revelation. I have been confronted with the nostalgia argument because there simply can't be any reason I could prefer an old action game to the cinematic scripted hallway shooters of today. Clearly, I must be deficient, otherwise how can I possibly prefer anything old? Old things are always inferior to new things, remember. I must be shunned. This way the narrative of New is allowed to persist. This is how the cult operates.

The problem is that I am never asked why it is my favorite game. I have no special memories regarding the game. It was not the first entry in the series I played. It was not released on my favorite video game console. I prefer the art-style of 16-bit and 32-bit sprites over 8-bit. There is no nostalgia attached to my preference.

If anything, my nostalgic attachment should be to Super Mario World, which falls into nearly every criteria above, and is not even close to one of my favorite games on the system it was released for. I could beat the game in less than ten minutes in my youth, and yet I don't really care much for it these days. Any sentimental attachment I have for it is divorced from my opinion of the game's quality.

But if this situation were to flip, one could find the same issue with The Cult of the New. Every new release is showered with aplomb and gusto before being forgotten within months. We live in a throwaway culture.

Take the Avatar film by James Cameron. It was showered with praise upon release, made more money than most filmmakers can dream of, and critics were hounded, insulted, and spat upon for daring to point out any flaws it might have had. Now you will struggle to find anyone who cares one whit for it, or is looking forward to its sequels. Video games also have this problem. BioShock Infinite was hailed as an unparalleled masterpiece, as was Uncharted 2, and any game Guerrilla Games has ever made. These products are bathed in a tsunami of attention at release, and then forgotten in a year. As a prediction: by November there will hardly be anyone still talking about Prey instead of the newest holiday releases.

Which group has the shallow attachment to the product?

It happens on a wider scale, as well. Any criticism of the legion of faceless, interchangeable modern popstars is met with held noses while few garden variety music fans, if anyone, purchases said artists' work or could name a song by them if confronted. Hollywood can still do no wrong in the face of so many people, yet those same members of the audience will admit that much of what Hollywood puts out is of lackluster quality when confronted. It is a form of Stockholm Syndrome. The entertainment industry has been around so long, and constantly "improving" from the terrible old days, that surely they must be leading the way to a brighter tomorrow. After all, that is what they have been promised.

And yet, it is a facade. Television ratings are in the toilet and Hollywood serves up warmed over remakes every week in the theater. If a member of The Cult of the New is confronted with this, they will cop to it. Yes, the entertainment industry is not in a good place right now. It's stagnant, sterile. It looks as if the entertainment industry worldwide has connived together to create bland formless grey goo to get the audiences trained. Get them on gruel, and they'll stop expecting steak.

Most know this, and yet will continue to insist that new is objectively better than old in every case. They must continue to hold these contrasting ideas in their head that current art and entertainment is lackluster and old works are critically flawed and clearly are not worth any attention, otherwise they will need to face the truth. What they are saying, and do not even realize, is that everything is lackluster. Entertainment is lackluster. Art is lackluster. Everything ever created is lackluster. Therefore, life itself is lackluster.

One has to wonder if the current epidemic of depression and suicide has anything to do with this mentality. That is, if they have the time to reflect before the next product Hollywood wants them to consume is put out. That will keep them good and distracted!

If one can only like the old because of an intangible itch in the heart, then where does that leave those who worship the new because of an intangible itch in their heart?

What is The Cult of the New hoping for? Are they looking to the future for a perfect utopia that they are certainly owed? But this very idea is dependent on tearing down the old, and abandoning the new at a faster and faster rate with every passing day. This is merely hedonism at breakneck speed. Consume, consume, consume. Don't think! There is a new product on the market. It's totally original and brand new! What do you mean it has been done before? You're just being nostalgic. This is better because it has perfected and sanded off all those problematic old things. Quickly now! Get it before it's gone!

And before they know it, they are old, alone, and with a shelf full of useless junk that they indulged in once and never give a second thought to. Just like a lemming coming off a sugar rush, the consumer is left broken at the bottom of the cliff wondering how they got there and why they feel so empty. One who only ever looks forward is doomed to miss the road falling out from under their feet-- looking down, up, and backwards, is an important tip to keep awareness!

This is a generation that does not indulge in dealing with the old. It will do them good to remember this thought process when they are living out their latter days in a retirement center, depressed and alone. Grandma is old. Grandma is outdated. Grandma is useless. Grandma is dead. Why are you still thinking about her, are you some kind of nostalgic? Keep your eyes forward and on the glorious future ahead. Don't think about it. Don't ever think about it. Don't look down. Hey, look, a new Star Wars movie!

Forget yesterday. Forget today. Forget tomorrow. Is history--is the world so easily disposable? This is the world the cult is creating around you at this very moment.

Yes, there are Baby Boomers who think the 1960s were perfection and untouchable for purely selfish reasons. Yes, there are Gen-Xers who think Nirvana is the best thing to happen to music. Yes, there are Millennials wishing that old Disney sitcoms were still around in a non-ironic way.

They might all be wrong, but at the very least their preferences are not steeped in a cult like belief of blindly charging down a dark train tunnel toward the light while ignoring they whistle blowing at the other end. Hey, if it's at the other end of the track, it must be better than the starting position. Progress dictates it is!

Nostalgia is a drug, but it is not a proper argument against enjoying the old. This is a conversation killer for a reason. Nostalgia is also not nearly as dangerous as the opposite is proving to be.

At the end of the day, it's really about taste. Aesthetics, design, content, and character, are all dependent on what the individual prefers.

What is not about taste is the blind belief that the road ahead is smooth and the sun so bright one needs to wear sunglasses. To believe something like this is less about any of the above qualities and more about about an empty and desperate hope that those who dare stop along the road to destiny and look back are simply mistaken and fundamentally flawed thinkers. This is about projection and reassurance to the cult member, not taste.

If it weren't about the forceful acceptance of new, revisionism wouldn't be nearly as popular as it is. Sure, the reason you've never heard of an author like A. Merritt must be because he is old and his stuff wasn't that good. It certainly can't be that he has been slandered, purposely let out of print, and scrubbed from history despite his popularity when alive. If you believe that, then you're either already part of the cult or you aren't paying attention. You're homesick for a place that does not even exist.

But you don't have to be. You can simply like things for what they are regardless of when they were made. It's not all that difficult.

You just have to stop, think, and look around.


  1. CS Lewis mentioned this back when he wrote the screwtape letters (I guess it would be an old book now, eh? ;)

    1. That book has always had an eerie feel like cold, stiff fingers brushing against the back of your neck. It's no wonder he had such a hard time writing it.

    2. I wonder if you are thinking about Orwell's 1984. Screwtape was done as a series of radio shows and then published in book form.