Let’s re-think the good ol’ days

My friends, it is here: the epidemic known as nostalgia.

Nostalgia is practically airborne; a mental SARS with the staying power of herpes, and you can’t even have fun getting it. During times of crisis and unrest the nostalgia disease has been slipped into our psyche since the first moment some bitter octogenarian muttered, “Back in my day … ” And as a result of our pervasive fondness of the good ol’ days, our present identity remains in flux, and the prospects of our future are disturbing. But not to worry, for there is a simple remedy for our enmity: give me a few minutes to rant and laugh at all my jokes. The laugh will set you free.

First, the word “nostalgia” itself actually originated as a medical term by Swiss doctor Johannes Hofer in 1688 explaining how the afflicted lose touch with the present. How fitting. If we’re watching television, we’ll see broke celebrities mouthing off about the eighties, or Ashton Kutcher in “That 70s Show” while he dates a woman who was shooting sex pistols in the 70s before he even showed up.

If we’re on any university campus, we’ve all had the same thought: there are just way too many hippies. Clearly, the term nostalgia has become more orally pervasive than the film “Deep Throat.” For example, in an uncited article on potheadsanonymous.com, President Bush complained, “Back in my day, it only cost a few hundred bucks to get ‘blowed’ up. Now you need $87 billion.” We also see it in sports. “Back in the 70’s, athletes weren’t male divas. They were getting killed fighting a war we still don’t understand.” The cause of all this Monkees business lies in: 1) embellished sentimentality and 2) selective memory. Only two causes, because Three’s Company (ba-dum-bum).

Embellished sentimentality: It is almost natural that the older we get, the fonder we get of a time that is long past, yet still right in front of our fingertips as we reach back into our memories. And as we continue to look back, the sentimentality level raises and becomes embellished to the point that our memories are filtered down to those that bring us the most happiness and support our desire to fantasize about history, which is where selective memory comes in.

We could talk about all of the cute figures and events that have shaped our historical mosaic and see for ourselves how easy it is to remember significantly more of the good times than the miserable.

The problem with nostalgia is that it paints a dreamland vision of our past while invalidating the progress of our present, and disrupts our ability to properly evaluate history. Our ability to learn from the past becomes stunted and we can become doomed to repeat earlier mistakes. So in effect, the desolate image we created for our present and future will become a reality.

Now that we have seen the dangers of obsessive nostalgia, we need to look at history as it truly is, not as how we wish for it to be. Earlier we saw how selective memory can focus on the happy times, but what about if it went the other way around?

Wow, I miss the good times. Back when Native Americans could save the lives of a bunch of strange-smelling white people and in return get escorted along the Trail of Tears, ideally hollering and dancing all the while, to little splotches of land reserved just for them. Hooray for casinos. And how in the 60s and 70s the FBI brought enough cocaine into the country to get Ol’ Dirty Bastard high, eventually spreading into the suburbs so middle class Frederic could see pink elephants, too. And how we invaded the country, took it over, abused our citizens, bombed everyone else, usurped global power and bullied third world children to slave in sweatshops to make our Michael Jordan Nikes so we could get on basketball courts and neglect the academic training that would create the foundation for a rehabilitated community and nation, my God. Those were the good ol’ days.

This may seem harsh, yet wearing rose-colored glasses can be just as destructive, for they foster ignorance of our past and neglect of our responsibility to leave the world in a better condition than we left it. We need to create a more balanced analysis of where we’ve been, where we’re going and where we are now.

As Sir Paul McCartney sang, “I’m one rich bastard … and I believe in yesterday.” I too believe in yesterday. I believe in the bright future of our nation, and mankind as a whole. But we can live in neither of those. Remember the past, envision the future —- but let’s live in the now. Envision that.