Nostalgia Bites

Part of my daily schedule will be watching as many high school/teen movies as I can and still keep up with the actual writing part of the thesis. While I ate lunch I dipped into today's new arrivals from Netflix. ABC has released a sickeningly nostalgic series of DVDs collecting their "After School Specials" from 1974 to 1989. I just watched The Heartbreak Winner (listed as The Gold Test on the DVD). It was almost unbearably melodramatic, which after a moment's reflection seems entirely appropriate. In fact, that would be a decent description of high school in general wouldn't it?

The other thing worth mentioning - aside from the father's crazy-out-of-control Oscar the Grouch eyebrows - is how everything looked a little too era appropriate. I mean, that kitchen. I've been in that kitchen before.

Speaking of which (and please forgive the conversationally-stream-of-consciousness tone I'm taking right now), I finally saw Juno yesterday. It was great. Implausibly funny. Well acted. Perfect soundtrack, minus the Mott the Hoople song, which is awesome, but totally not "hard core". My only "complaint", which is really more like a metatextual observation, is: what's up with the new nostalgia? The characters in that movie weren't even alive in the 70s. Actually, if they are currently in high school, chances are they weren't even alive in the 80s. Why are they paying homage to slinkys and suspiria and iggy pop? Did it all start with Napoleon Dynamite and that feckin' tater tot intro? Do they even make trapper keepers anymore?

Not that I mind. I mean, who am I to talk? One of the reasons I'm writing this damn thing in the first place is because I still haven't gotten over movies like The Breakfast Club and Pump Up the Volume.


Jon Morris (Matis) said...

See "Ghost World" for a different perspective on young characters not alive in the 80s appropriating 70s and 80s pop culture ephemera, fashion, and even sub-culture identities. (And see "Ghost World" because very few movies are anywhere near as good as that one)

I'm not sure it's really "nostalgia," although not sure what else to label it. Is there a name for nostalgia applied towards something you didn't actually experience in the past? If not, eric, you should coin the term and get famous for putting your finger on the pulse of the new zeitgeist.

ericdbernasek said...

I haven't seen "Ghost World" in a while. I'll have to revisit it, but my vague recollection is that they were more interested in exotic and relatively "ancient" cultural experiences. The Bollywood theme that opens the movie and the rare blues 78s that Steve Buscemi's character collects are the two things that come to mind. My feeling is that the characters in "Ghost World" have an "anywhere-but-here" approach to suburban life, and their cultural interests are a manifestation of that escapism. Just a thought.

The interesting thing about films like "Napoleon Dynamite" and "Juno" is that the "nostalgia" is most likely imposed by the writer or director. I mean, are teenagers today obsessed with the Thundercats and living room furniture circa 1978? This is a very different mentality from "Ghost World" in that it idealizes a time that is close enough to the present to almost have been experienced. In other words, even if the nostalgic cues are not coming from some slightly older writer, director or set decorator it is somehow more plausible - and also somehow more odd - for someone to be obsessed with an earlier time that is almost like the present, than an earlier time or a distant place to which they have no practical access.

Jon Morris (Matis) said...

I was thinking of the scene in Ghost World when the main character dyes her hair and dresses up "Punk" then gets frustrated when the people in the comic book store don't "get it." But she's actually appropriating siginifiers of a past counter-culture for the purpose of asserting her own (new) identity.

And in other news, I think I have coined the term for it:
"Nostalgia Once Removed"

ericdbernasek said...

Damn. You beat me to it. :) That's perfect actually.

When I watched "Ghost World" again I thought that scene was the closest to what you were getting at. Otherwise I think Enid is more obsessed with things that are just weird or generally kitschy, in a John Waters or R. Crumb sort of way. Again, it's a sort of escapism, and Enid's punk scene is also a sort of escapism. Like Revolutionary War reenactment or, the Dark Star Orchestra.

Nostalgia Once Removed is much less calculated, because nonchalance is one of it's distinguishing characteristics from what I can tell.

I have to think about this some more...