Nostalgic for Nostalgia

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Nostalgia seems inevitable, when we start thinking about where we’ve been, either as individuals or as a culture. Unlike the future, we already know what’s happened in the past, so we can pick and choose our emphasis, we can decide what counts and what doesn’t. How it looked, how it happened.

We can rewrite the past in a way we can never shape the future, because we’ve already got the block of events. All we have to do is carve them. It’s like a lump of clay we can smooth and shape to our liking, leaving out the parts that didn’t go the way we’d like to remember them.

Along with the memory reforming, the idea of nostalgia, for me, always brings up kitsch, something I enjoy more than pretending the past was different than it was. Delightfully awful objects that served a purpose now long gone, left in all their miscolored glory. Objects that force you to wonder at the moment that formed them, the notion that led to them, the actions that took the idea from abstract to concrete.

It’s that kind of nostalgia that reminds us of the dangers of the the other kind, that romanticizing a past that was never perfect leads to expectations of an impossible future. Focus on the kitsch. That’s where the real nostalgia lies.

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Getting Nostalgic Over N

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The word “nostalgia” should always be written in pink, because it, itself, implies a rose-colored glass-tinged world. Nothing embraces this idea more than the way we talk about and think about the concept of family. There’s an idea–particularly in the U.S.–that there was a time that was a golden age for “true families.” You know, the “Leave it to Beaver” kind.  Well, family’s always been a complicated, multifaceted creature.


The Way We Never Were: American Families And The Nostalgia Trap by Stephanie Coontz. Amazon for $10.85. The Way We Never Were examines two centuries of American family life and shatters a series of myths and half-truths that burden modern families. Placing current family dilemmas in the context of far-reaching economic, political, and demographic changes, Coontz sheds new light on such contemporary concerns as parenting, privacy, love, the division of labor along gender lines, the black family, feminism, and sexual practice.

Nonfiction not your thing? Try Her Cousin Much Removed, or sign up for my spamless newsletter.

Download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities. It’s free!