Wednesday, February 8, 2012

#57 -- Nostalgianauts

"How were our tastes and tendencies forever altered because we stayed up all night watching Alfred Hitchcock or Ridley Scott movies (they. . . somebody. . . something is coming to get me!)?"


Transfixed by Clint Eastwood's cruelly-effective halftime speech during the Super Bowl, I made a mental note: the American spirit is built upon self-obsession. Even if it doesn't look like we're the best, we still invariably believe that we are -- that we'll always get back up if we're knocked down. That logic is sound, at least from my American-reared point of view. Now is not the time to be questioning my public school education though. These were high-concept thoughts hammered into young minds that can come out gnarled if they are not directed precipitously in adulthood. National pride is an extension of self-identity, a very particular layer, in fact, of self-identity. We really shouldn't have to use it very often, and yet it's become more common in my adult life. Self-identification is what makes or breaks a person's confidence. Look, there are kinds of people that will buy very expensive underwear -- it does the job as well as any cheaper pair of boxers, but the person buying it isn't buying an article of clothing. That guy is buying stock in himself. He's buying +5 points into self-confidence. 

Yes, Americana is kind of like buying a pair of boxers. America's patriotism and collective consciousness is built on a semi-modern mythology. We originally left England so we could practice our own fanatically-conservative religion, then 100 or so years later, the country's founding principles of freedom and humane-equality were transcribed by a collective of wealthy, atheistic slave-holders. This freedom and fighting for what you want has become the can-do confidence-pill that Americans swallow at a young age, and the mythology has been crafted into a reverent thing. At least for some. Some people detest it. That's just silly. All cultures look to history for relief from the present -- for inspiration and for values that might have been lost in modernity. You can go listen to Don Draper's speech about nostalgia, it's a great explanation about how stupid, personal memories make us who we are.

What I want to do is examine our own mythology. Not America's, necessarily, but that will probably come up. No, I want to travel back to understand these nostalgic crutches that people lean on when they can't manage to stand straight in the present. And so, the Nostalgianauts feature on What's That From? is born!

Maybe we'll be right -- that our gleeful devotion to something from long ago is merited. Does some tradition that is followed make sense? Does it need to continue? Do the books from our childhood hold up? What about favorite foods? Movies? Sports? Candle-pin bowling? Running barefoot in the snow? Can an item no longer be valuable to us but still clearly to be valuable to somebody younger?

How did our experiences when we were young influence us as adults? How were our tastes and tendencies forever altered because we stayed up all night watching Alfred Hitchcock or Ridley Scott movies (they. . . somebody. . . something is coming to get me!)?

When Conan O'Brien went off the air on the Tonight Show after 10 months, he said that he had achieved his dream, and he demanded that nobody should be jaded about the turn of events. It's strong message coming from a silly man, but it's wholly relevant, because I grew up watching Conan, sometimes without realizing it as he worked as a writer and producer on Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons before he became a talk show host. I don't ever want to assume the worst, which is why I want to approach Nostalgianauts with enthusiasm to learn why people love certain things from their lives as much as they do. People have very affectionate attachments to nostalgic items and moments -- I just want to understand these attachments and how they make the person into who they are today.

I suppose this will begin as a feature on What's That From? but maybe it'll evolve into a podcast, and something beyond. Who knows? We just have to keep asking questions.

Clint Eastwood (or the ad's writers, rather) was right, in a way that only a libertarian cowboy movie star that barely looks like he's acted a day in his life can. People are afraid and don't understand one another and that's why we lash out and lay blame. This is a big damn country and an even bigger damn world.

-- Alex Crumb
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Recommended related reading:
[The 10 Types Of Bombast In Storytelling] by Ghost Little and Doberman

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