Monday, November 15, 2004

Was the Past Really Better? Part I

Well, the short answer is no, but that doesn't explain why, and the real answer to every question that we face in life is not in the answer itself, but in why what the answer is, is in fact that answer. A bit complex, that. Even I'm not really sure what I was talking about.

Anyway, so much of what people talk about seems to be just about how good things in the past were, and this idea really bothers me. I think there's two levels of past fetishization. One is the idea that things really were better then. Like, in the 60s, music meant something, and movies were the work of auteurs, not just the tripe you see now. People will talk about Hollywood's Golden Age, or comics' silver age, and really feel that the works being done back then were better. You see it in videogames too. So many classic game compilations have come out and been embraced because people are enamored with the idea that older games were better.

I'll admit that I subscribe to this school sometimes. I would have loved to have been around when The Beatles set the tone of popular music, rather than generic hip hop song of the month, and I am sort of jealous of that era. I prefer the popular music of then to the popular music of now. Similarly, I will often wax poetic about the days of the 2D game, back when things were simpler. I'd much rather play Final Fantasy III than Final Fantasy VII, but I don't think that's just a nostalgia thing, it's more about the fact that when FFVII was made, 3D games were in their infancy.

But, I digress. There's this one strain of thought that things in the past actually were better. However, recently, another strain of thought has come up. This is one that holds that old things were better, but takes a sort of ironic approach. This is the school of thought that gives us people still constantly talking about shit like Saved by the Bell. This was an awful show, as was Full House or any number of other series people will discuss, but they still watch them, in a sort of semi-ironic way, at once reveling in the badness and actually enjoying the show, becuase they feel so above it. TV is probably where this is most prominent, people who you could never get to watch an episode of Twin Peaks or The Sopranos, and say that 144 episodes of Buffy is too big a commitment, will gladly spend hours watchin really awful sitcoms, and go on to claim that TV today is going downhill.

You see this a lot in comics too. People will either say that back in the 60s, books were so much more imaginative and fresh, or that the 80s were the Golden Age and stuff today isn't as good. Alan Moore's Supreme series is all about revisiting 60s comics, and showing love to them. Thing is, these comics weren't really that good, it's just nostalgia. That's not to say that Supreme is bad, it's a really great book, but in a lot of respects, I'd rather see Alan moving forward with original material than just rehashing old things. I think Grant Morrison has a much better approach to nostalgia, wherein he's not trying to capture the actual style of 60s comics, but rather the feeling of awe and majesty that they gave to the kids who read them. The best example of this is the brilliant Flex Mentallo.

So, ironic nostalgia bad. You can see this a lot in music too. An entire industry has grown up around specials about bad early 90s music. Rather than focusing on albums from that era that were actually good, like U2's Acthung Baby!, they spend all their time on the same approved set of novelty songs. People always thrown on stuff like 'Ice, Ice Baby' or 'Can't Touch This' as opposed to playing a song that's actually good. Those songs were bad then and they're still bad now.

Basically, it really bothers me that people spend so much time focusing on trash culture from the past, particularly the early to mid 90s. There was some great stuff back then, it was the time that gave birth to Twin Peaks and Sandman, but that's never what's mentioned, it's always the novelty rap songs and bad sitcoms. I can see enjoying something ironically once in a while, but for a lot of people it seems they never enjoy something sincerely and fully. There's so much good stuff out there, don't waste you time watching or listening to crap.

So, what is good now, and how can love of the past be better put to use? That'll be part II.

Related Posts
Was the Past Really Better?: Part II (11/16/2004)


Anonymous said...

TRUST ME, Compared to today's new pop music, "Can't Touch This," is legendary.

Anonymous said...

This is just the authors opinion on tv shows and history in general.
How about actually looking at FACTS about the past such as life being simpler, not everything being such 'a rat race', better quality construction of houses and cars etc, most items nowadays are throw away cheap shit and then we complain about the environment?
Music and movies were better years ago, anyway can rehash a song now and make friends with an equalizer rather than having true talent. The costs of items, goods and the basic cost of living is everyday going up and up, yet in the past things like this were not a problem so much as they are now.
People were police and had manners in the past, not everyone of course but most people did. Now its the other way around and most people are rude and few have manners.
Rather than just focusing on one particular area of the past look at the whole picture.....overall I believe that the past is in fact better.