The Importance of Retro

I sink my teeth into why nostalgia sculpts our society.
December 15, 2010

"For us, the best time is always yesterday."
-Tatyana Tolstaya

No topic means as much to us on this website as the notion of "retro". The simple premise of you reading this article proves that the term "retro" garners a high sense of authority in your life. Most of us have just carelessly wandered onto this website; a stumbling act that we have easily succumbed to much like a druggie and his first hit of ecstasy. We have fallen victim to a very basic human activity, nostalgia. In our case, we can undoubtedly consider ourselves to be straddling the fence of addiction. Regardless, like other hobbies, we have just taken it a step beyond in constantly committing a large portion of our daily lives into all things retro. There are those of us who, on a daily basis, visit the forums, write for the site, submit nostalgic media, discuss early pop culture icons, and absorb as much of the material this site has to offer as possible. There is nothing to be ashamed of from this behavior. In fact, I highly recommend that everyone on this earth should have a healthy dose of some sort of hobby. Many roam this site declaring their love of the times that were once present, and only one question has evolved from my many visitations to this site...

In this article I'll explore the many reasons as to why nostalgia is not only important to us, but to the society as a whole. It's a fickle beast that nostalgia, and it may not be interpreted the same way from person to person. However, the thought processes that formulate nostalgic memories are all the same. I'll go into some detail as to why this is, as well. At the end of this exploration, I'll give you my thoughts on why RetroJunk is such a great tool to gauge retro's importance on society. But first, let's study the true meaning of "nostalgia".

"In general, nostalgia refers to a longing for the past,
a yearning for yesterday, or a fondness for possessions
and activities associated with days of yore."
-Morris B. Holbrook

"A simple dictionary definition for nostalgia
is homesickness... Homesickness is an emotional
longing for the earlier conditions of one's existence,
including undoubtedly a remorse at the loss of
youth and vitality."[/color][/b]
-Arthur P. Dudden

These two preceding quotes are from two scholars who have written on the subject of nostalgia, and I think they sum up the general conception of the word's definition quite well. The former is taken from Holbrook's article entitled "Nostalgia and Consumption Preferences: Some Emerging Patterns of Consumer Tastes". In his piece, the query of how nostalgia's proneness affects consumer thoughts on past products is highlighted. His definition is precisely how I would render the word's true meaning, especially in the context of today's society. It clearly focuses on the pop cultural aspect of the past, as opposed to an interpersonal connection to one's past. RetroJunk, all in itself, is based on this definition.

The "possessions" Holbrook speaks of could most assuredly be some kid's Castle Grayskull from the 1980's He-Man action figure line, or a kid's Ecto-1 from the magnificent The Real Ghostbuster's toy line. We all had these types of belongings that are forever etched in our minds, and yes, we have grown quite fond of these totally tubular trinkets. Our "activities" from our childhood are also catalysts for most of our sentimental contemplation. Playing Sonic on our Sega Genesis, watching Space Jam on our top-feeder VCR, or reading a Wolverine comic book for the first time all conjure up wonderful memories. That, in the tiniest of nutshells, is the modern ideology of nostalgia.

In our second definition, we find a more complex human element to nostalgia. Dudden wrote his article "Nostalgia and the American" to help determine America's perception on its progress while factoring the trait that is nostalgia. In Dudden's mind, nostalgia has an essence of "romantic pessimism", implying that a past-seeker has some sort of disgruntle with modern culture [Dudden, 517]. We can see the correlation between these thoughts and his definition of the term in question. The phrase "remorse at the loss of youth and vitality" implements the idea that those seeking a way to recollect the past have a dissatisfaction of the present.

I see this more often than not on RetroJunk. Some call it ranting/flaming; I tend to call it the absence of perspective. For example, many continue to rant about how today's kids shows have little to no prestige as television shows of their childhood. We have someone who has a problem with modern broadcasts, so he instinctively recalls a time from his childhood when life was good, therefore his shows were good. This is commonly referred to as the "They don't make 'em like they used to" argument, which is listed in Holbrook's Twenty Statements Representing Nostalgia Proneness [Holbrook, 255]. The argument has an entirely subjective backbone and cannot be overly deduced as a fact It is an opinion! Nonetheless, this process is paramount in helping to realize a fanaticism in nostalgia. But what are the inter-workings of retro?

"Nostalgia is like a grammar lesson: you find the present tense, but the past perfect!"

-Owens Lee Pomeroy

A common occurrence that highlights nostalgia's grasp on an individual is the time in which it happens. You don't see little 8 year-old girls running around spatting, "Remember when I was 4? Yeah, those were good times." The possibility of such an event is not out of the ordinary, but that has as much of the likelihood of occurring as Arnold and Helga from Hey Arnold! getting married.

The real story here is the abundance of an older generation thinking about their past. In Fred Davis' book Yearning for Yesterday: A Sociology of Nostalgia, he suggests that "in Western society it is adolescence, and for the privileged classes early adulthood as well, that affords nostalgia its most sumptuous banquets" [Davis, 57]. In other words, those of us who are currently in the range of 15-29 years-old are in the prime state of nostalgic events. Moreover, being middle-aged is also primed for degenerating back to a time of grandeur according to Davis. There is no specific instance of having more retro thoughts than another; it really just depends on the person.

Possibly the most independent characteristic of nostalgia is that "some individuals might show higher propensities toward nostalgia proneness than others" [Holbrook, 246]. I cannot stress this more than enough, one man's thoughts are to his own. There could not be any other man with the same tendencies and cognition. This could help explain as to why some of our friends, family members, and significant others mock us that we devote exuberant hours to this site. They just cannot comprehend the effect retro casts on us, as with some of their hobbies we cannot understand. Being nostalgic has imprinted a similar fingerprint in our minds. We all share its distinct swirls, but no two people have the same intricate design.

Lastly, let's delve into the psychology of nostalgia. There are many reports by countless researchers as to how and why people practice it, but I will just choose the most predominant name in the field, Sigmund Freud. What Freud believed was that the mind works on two levels, the conscious and unconscious. He said, "everything conscious was subject to a process of wearing-away, while what was unconscious was relatively unchangeable" [Gezari, 966]. We may remember a lot about our past in a recollecting way, but those thoughts are just trifles. Many forces can condition them into entirely different feelings. Our unconscious thoughts, like the feeling we had on Christmas morning our 2nd grade year, are forever static. Nothing can deter these thoughts, therefore can be the most cherished in our minds. I for one can tell you the way my favorite childhood movie theater smelled. I did not train myself to remember the scent, but it will stick with me until I die.

"I don't like nostalgia unless it's mine."
-Lou Reed

Nostalgia is, in my opinion, a driving force for many aspects of our daily lives. Before writing this piece, I often pondered the implications of a mind deadset on his or her retro things. We may discuss the pop cultural facets of the past ad nauseum, but there are numerous topics affected by our nostalgic tendencies. From politics to ethnocentricities, reflecting on our past and upbringing has a hand in shaping our society.
In general, our beliefs today are built on the solid foundation of our childhood. Most of my convictions are directly related to those of my parents. They raised me within a home that habituated my opinions on the outside world. We were not a church-going family. We were more left-wing than right. These kindred characteristics, plus many more, molded my mind just like the TV shows that were constantly on in my livingroom. I guess in a way we can look back to Freud's thoughts on the unconscious world around us. I might not have thought too closely about these things that were programming me, so they may be a little more ingrained into my subconscious. Just like how I can think about Power Rangers, baseball cards, and 90's alternative rock in a certain fondness, I can think about my childhood dispositions in the same degree of affection.

Conditioned notions fuel the actions of mostly everything. I would be fairly interested to see some numbers over how many US senators grew up in an environment that predicated the political party they currently represent. The percentage would more than likely be astoundingly large. My point here is that it is much harder to sway away from ideologies in which we grew up with. That is not to say it is possible, just less likely. What exactly could this example entail? The answer is limitless and I'll show it in some hypothetical babel.

Our nation's government mandates mostly everything our society is built around. Generally a man or woman of the government is steadfast to the party attached to his or her lapel. The inclination of said party is nearly a behest to this public official. And the official probably was brought up in this world as an advocate of this party. It is a chain of progression that shows no bounds: society is governed by government, government is run by political parties, political parties are consisted of public officials, and public officials are pushed by a retroactive partisan principle. Remarkably, it could all boil down to nostalgia. In Dudden's article, he expresses this stubborn act of immovable beliefs.

"It is indicated from their history again and again that important segments of the American people, though driven like tumbleweed before the buffeting winds of change and upheaval, attempted to do nothing more than remain where they stood, to keep old ways familiar, even to flee the present and the future into a nostalgically golden yesteryear secluded somewhere far off among remembrances of things past." [Dudden, 517]

Change is often frowned upon, and no person is willing to accept it with confident arms wide open. There will always be a moment of apprehension. We tend to cling to our specific doctrines, especially those held true during our childhood. Thinking back to those simpler times and purposefully trying to maintain our childhood constants illuminate the hypnotizing effect nostalgia could have. I am reminded of an episode of Disney's Doug, here.

The entire town of Bluffington is on course for a rapid transformation: Honker Burger has become Chez Honque, Roger has won the lottery, Connie has lost a lot of weight at a fat-camp over the summer, and Doug has to start going to Bebe Bluff Middle School. The conflict Doug faces during the episode is whether or not lapsing back to the old-days is the wise choice. There is a similar Boy Meets World episode dealing with this topic, as well. Anyways, we all have faced this challenge before. Should we stay true to our former selves or should we accept these newer terms?

Overall, the infinite amount of examples out there that express nostalgia's role on society include religious preferences, ethnic discrepancies, professional and collegiate sports enthusiasm, love philosophies, the debate over Coke or Pepsi, and many other biases. It is important to understand that society is a fluid and flowing mass of personal propensities. Whether or not these preferences are determined during childhood is unimportant, they still exist.

Despite the separated factions that people can absolve from revering their past, one should note the positives of such an action. The interest induced by being nostalgic can help carry historical accounts through time. As a history buff, all I can do is thank those who have recorded the past. My intrigue about history is easily quenched by the books and accounts made by these transcribers. Without this thirst for beckoning information, we might as well not write about any of the current or past events for future generations. The popular saying of "history repeats itself" proves that knowing about long ago is detrimental to moving ahead in society. True, just learning about past events is not really seen as a nostalgic pursuit, but to some it is. Sooner or later our favorite time periods will become just useless facts to people. Regardless, using our nostalgia could help establish a vehicle to those later generations. Who knows, internet goers from the year 2080 might happen across this website and learn an abundantly useless amount of info about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Growing Pains.

"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
-F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

The warm embrace we feel entering this site says it all. Relearning the things we had once forgotten reminds us who we were, and what made us the way we are today. It can't be said enough, retro is all around us and this site is only scratching the surface. Fathoming the statistics of how many people have and will venture on this site is a near impossibility. The need for repeating a past life is there, no doubt. We should only feel a sense of pride that we are on the cusp of everything nostalgic. This site, a gateway through some sort of time continuum, is something of high value. Not specific to one or a few individuals, but to all those willing to chase what once was. Its worth is immeasurable, and its purpose is many.

In my selfish use of this site, I attempt to discover what my life is built upon and then write about it. It is very encouraging and calming to me to know that I was once this little kid who only looked at the world through one paradigm. The uncomplicated eccentricities I focused on were basically which made me laugh the most, Freakazoid or Animaniacs; what toys will I be screaming about on our next Target run; or what cool book will I get through those Scholastic Book Club catalogs.

My friends and I all saw the world differently, but the simplicities were common among us. That is why this site is so successful. The hunger any RetroJunk regular has is for those homely times. Ask me which day of my life is my favorite and I will tell you it happened when I was 9 years-old. I could pick all the great days of recent memory, but I chose one from my preadolescence. I am sure that is a common trend with a lot of people.

We can assume that society is made up of many like us; those who strive for a glance at those glimmering golden-days—with varying deviations, of course. Our past defines who we are, and so a search for the past is the only plausible way to measure how far we have come. In our cases it led us straight to RetroJunk. Don't forget who you once were, and continue to find comfort in RetroJunk's arms. It is here for our enjoyment, reflection, and reassurance.

Well, I have to end this incredibly long article somehow. I guess I can only leave you with a saying, a good one at that...

"One must always maintain one's connection to the past and yet ceaselessly pull away from it. To remain in touch with the past requires a love of memory. To remain in touch with the past requires a constant imaginative effort."
-Gaston Bachelard

Until next time...


Works Cited: (Hanging indentations omitted)

Davis, Fred. Yearning for Yesterday: A Sociology of Nostalgia. 7th ed. New York: Free Press, 1979. 146. Print.

Dudden, Arthur P. "Nostalgia and the American." Journal of the History of Ideas. 22.4 (1961): 515-30. Print.

Gezari, Janet. "Fathoming "Remembrance": Emily Brontë in Context." Johns Hopkins University Press. 66.4 (1999): 965-84. Print.

Holbrook, Morris B. "Nostalgia and Consumption Preferences: Some Emerging Patterns of Consumer Tastes." Journal of Consumer Research. 20.2 (1993): 245-56. Print.
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