Saturday, July 2, 2016

Terminal Nostalgia

A few weeks ago, Will McKinley tweeted a link to a Stephen Spielberg interview in which the director mentioned that he had "terminal nostalgia". Will went on to say that many of his classic movie buff friends suffer from the same malady. I also must admit to having terminal nostalgia--but the question is, for what?

Yes, I love old movies--my brother once told me that I only watch things which feature a cast list of performers who have passed on--but does that necessarily mean I have nostalgia for the times a particular film or TV show was made in?

My home video collection has movies from the 1920s, and many people now look at anything made in the 1980s as "old". So, to say that a person who is a movie buff is living in the past is somewhat simplistic. If you enjoy movies made over the span of a 100-year period, what past are you supposed to be living in?

Just because I watch numerous films from decades ago doesn't mean I would rather live in those decades. If a story intrigues me, I don't care what time period it is set in--or from what time period it is made. It cracks me up when friends of mine accuse me of not having an open mind because I dislike sequels and remakes, especially when those friends appear to have an aversion to watching the original product on which those reboots are based.

I harbor no illusions that things were better "back in the good old days". Most of the same problems that affect the world today were going on years and years ago, just in a different context. My childhood wasn't all that great--I certainly didn't fit in at school, my family didn't have a lot of money, and my parents didn't get along too well. If I had the chance to go back to the 1970s or the 1980s, would I choose to do so? Probably not. (Unless...I was allowed to go to Old Comiskey Park and see White Sox games.) Would I want to go back to the 1930s or 1940s? I doubt life really was all that much better than it is now.

So what exactly am I terminally nostalgic for? I think it is not so much for a certain type of lifestyle as it is a certain form of entertainment. As we grow up, certain things--books, movies, muisc--catch our attention, inspire us, and make us feel better about ourselves. I hated being a teenager, but I loved experiencing many of the great classic films for the very first time. Watching Svengoolie every weekend on Chicago's Channel 32 back in the 1980s was very important to me. That meant more to me than anything that happened in high school. Were old movies an escape from reality? Certainly--but I could have spent all that time drinking or taking drugs. We all have ways in which we cope with our everyday problems, and one of mine is being a film buff.

One of the great things about being a film buff is that you cannot see every movie ever made--and you can't limit yourself to one particular type of movie. Even if you try to stick to, say, horror and science-fiction films, there are going to be actors and directors that appeal to you, and you will want to see all of their work--even the work they did in other genres. If you have any type of imagination whatsoever, there's no way you can watch just one type of movie. And if there are those of you who watch just one type of're missing out on so many great moments, I can't help but feel sorry for you.

So maybe "terminal nostalgia" is just another way of saying that I'm more willing to watch movies that the mainstream population (whatever that may be) would pass by. There are types of movies, and types of actors, that make me feel good, or at least make me feel comfortable in watching them. Does it matter if the movies were made years ago, or the actors are all dead?

I have been accused of not liking anything that is new. That's not true--but I do know people who fit that description, and they're just as misguided as those who are not interested in anything that didn't happen five minutes ago. Nostalgia can be a good thing, but it can also be a trap. Living in the past might make you feel better, but it can also blind you to what is going on around you right now.

Another thing about nostalgia is that it is has a lot to do with timing. Anybody who knows me knows how I feel about the original STAR WARS. One of the big reasons why I love that movie so much is that it came out when I was eight years old--it was the first major personal movie event of my life. If I had seen STAR WARS ten, or fifteen years later--would I have had the same feelings for it? Doubtful. Whatever we feel emotionally nostalgic for has much to do with when we grew up. That has to be the explanation for why I have such a fondness for ugly looking 1970s-80s Major League baseball jerseys.

I'm starting to realize that this is becoming something of a rambling and pointless discourse, so I'd better wrap it up by saying this. If old movie buffs suffer from terminal nostalgia, it may be because they are more prone to have open minds, and they are more likely to appreciate cultural entertainment from all eras. "Living in the past" has very little to do with it.

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