I am beginning to fear nostalgia.
This is, I must confess, a new fear. For most of my life, nostalgia was nothing more than a harmless distraction. When invoked, nostalgia became a sort of glorified remembrance of the past that felt both quaint and mildly silly. It may have been a bit maudlin at times, or—when pushed to its extremes—obnoxious and ignorant. It was never frightening, though. That has changed.
I should say this is not a veiled complaint about “nostalgia porn” (although I suppose it could be looked at that way) nor is it a rant about the massive amount of media surrounding nostalgia. We are not drowning in nostalgia, now, anymore than we have been. Which is, of course, to say that we have always been drowning in nostalgia. Our obsession with it is not really a surprise. Time, for now, is a one way journey. We can never return to the moments that came before. We are, in a way, explorers traveling further and further away from a home that we will never find again. Yet, we know this past. We remember it, and it remembers us. The past is what makes us, so it should come as no surprise that we lose ourselves to it. We tell our stories and bend the details. We forget elements and fabricate even more. We craft a nostalgic vision of a world that feels so real and comfortable but which never was and never will be. We are storytellers crafting the stories of the past. We always have been.
What happens, then, when the past is ever-present? Not the real past, mind you. That time, that context we can never return to is lost, but now the brilliant echoes remain. Artifacts of the past living through a the lens of the current moment. Certainly, these pieces of the past are nothing new. We have long kept and traded in the trinkets and texts of times gone by. Indeed, we often treasured these things. We created large buildings to house them and protect them. I spend a lot of time wandering those museums and libraries. They are some of my favorite places in the world.
There is, however, a difference between treasuring and hoarding. We have long since moved past that point.
Now, we seem to live in these echoes. They fill our screens and eat our time. We still argue about Ross and Rachel, and cheer for Pam and Jim. Fox tells us that they are “wide open” to a Firefly reboot. Our films, and books, and art do not adapt so much as duplicate. Content is recycled and recycled and recycled again, a compressed image file saved so often that the story it tells warps and pixelates. And we still watch. We do not tell stories. We do not draw on the elements of the past to help shape something new. We are too busy living in this nostalgic fugue.
I fear that.