A brief note on nostalgia

09 Nov

Just a thought-bubble today, as I’ve just finished one exams and should be studying for another and/or working.

About a month ago, I posted a review of the Houghton ‘Museum Release’ and paired it with MGMT’s Time to Pretend as part of a broader discussion of appropriate nostalgia. In the last two decades or so, there’s been a wave of semi-nostalgic pop-culture referencing going on in popular texts:

  • there’s the the overt (in a pejorative sense) such as the hideous Family Guy versions of Star Wars (and Family Guy in general), or Community (these guys are cool with it though);
  • the gentle homage of Super 8 and Moon which is there for those who want to see it, but doesn’t rely on it for audience enjoyment;
  • the obvious but also funny-in-its-own-right homage within The Simpsons (a good discussion about this phenomenon, based around The Simpsons, over at Salon);
  • or the awkward somewhere-between-the-first-two such as American Horror Story.
  • (my views on insincere homage in music will have to wait for another day)

This guest Dinosaur Comic captures the my feelings about the insincere / overt-cultural-capital types of pop-culture referencing:

I find it frustrating when referencing is done as a cop-out for not having original ideas. I find it frustrating when it’s done in an overtly ironic / post-ironic sense, or when it’s done simply for the audience to go “Hey! I know that!”. You can see it in much of Quentin Tarantino’s work, where he references many things to be hip; however Weird Al Yanchovic’s UHF (1989) and Stay Tuned (1992) are were doing it before Pulp Fiction.

But, to trump everyone mentioned above, these guys have doubled-down on every Hipster malappropriation of pop-culture referencing:

From Matt Yglesias / The New York Times:

“You just don’t get the same feeling in a pristine print of a DVD,” Mr. Kinem said. “With VHS it’s like I’m experiencing an old grind-house movie theater. I would never watch them on a computer.” The distribution arm of the blog for which he writes will release the 1986 micro-budget horror film “Gore-Met Zombie Chef From Hell” on VHS this year.

Paige Kay Davis, the director of business development for Camp Motion Pictures, chalked up the popularity of the format — sales of “The Basement” exceeded her company’s expectations, though she wouldn’t give figures — to a mix of nostalgia, remorse and discovery.

“VHS represents a period when you could walk into a mom-and-pop video store, and what you could rent was limited to what was right in front of you,” Ms. Davis said. “There were these amazing illustrations on the big boxes, and no one had any idea what the movie was. You were taking a gamble. It’s the opposite of instant gratification.”

Releasing films on VHS can be a chore. The titles tend to be obscure, and many were shot only on low-quality video to begin with. It can be hard to track down who owns the rights. Hiring a company to produce boxes and labels for a product that was thought to be obsolete can be expensive.

(Oh, and these guys also have my proxy on hipsters and VHS)

To a certain degree, I walk a fine line pairing sparkling shiraz with (mostly) films or somesuch. I hope it’s not because of bad types of nostalgia described above, or as a means to expouse my own cultural capital. Ideally, each pairing must match something in the way wine can be socially used, and be interesting on their own merits. Cultural artefacts can be celebrated – be they wine or popular culture – and discussed on their merits, but lack legitimacy if only/primarily as a means of accumulating cultural capital; to convey a sense of superiority in knowledge and experience over others, rather than sharing and celebrating the produce of human minds, labour and endeavour.

Which leads me to this:

I appreciate that it’s (self-proclaimed) Koyaanisqatsi for my generation. I should love it. It reminds me of my childhood, which seems to have mirrored that of it’s makers. I owned several hundred VHS tapes (I spent a lot of time alone). But alas, it’s boring and alienating for most people who didn’t grow up with the films in the place, and that makes it quite pointless. At best, I could put it on in the background at a party. But the fact that this vent viral after appearing on Boing Boing suggests that the pop-culture-referencing-for-it’s-own-sake fad isn’t going away soon. And that’s crappy. Crappy like wine elitism.

1 Comment

Posted by on November 9, 2011 in Distraction


One response to “A brief note on nostalgia

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