A mere 12 posts in, and I believe the Northumbrian Countdown is finding its identity. I probably didn’t plan it this way, but judging by what I have posted, and posts that I am in the process of ironing out, it seems that this will be a nostalgia blog, first and foremost. There isn’t a single thing I’ve written that isn’t some kind of logical extension of what I was interested in as an 11-year-old kid. 1960s and 1970s music, Disney World, the presidents and in time Star Trek, Tolkien, Magic: The Gathering, theology….these topics are kind of like comfort food to me. They return me to a less worrisome state of life, they give me a sense of expertise, and they have all, in some way, shaped the person I have become.
And I surely have not been alone in retreating to topics of nostalgic value. All kinds of websites like imockery, the Nostalgia Critic, and Cinemassacre One of the things that made Family Guy so popular over ten years back is that it brought back some of the neatest elements of our mass-media childhood in cutaway gags or non-sequitors. Every time they show the Kool-Aid Man, the Transformers, the Care Bears, or He-Man, the show strikes the deepest of chords in us. And when they touch on uncomfortable conclusions– that Bert and Ernie might be considered gay today, or that Frito Bandito acted like he was strung out on coke, it’s funny because it juxtaposes the innocence of our youth with the often-cynical and sarcastic and jaded and overly-ironic people that we have become. Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane isn’t doing anything new, mind you. I remind my gentle readers of what it was like watching “The Wonder Years” and being interrupted every 3 minutes by one’s parents cooing “I remember having bell bottoms like that! My neighbor used to have a car just like that one! Groovy!”
But this raises some questions that are fascinating to me. Why are we nostalgic? And why does nostalgia take the form that it does? One thing that I have observed is that those in my generation– broadly including those between 22 and 35, tend to feel nostalgia for manifestations of pop culture– even if they are obscure manifestations. Finding an old commercial on youtube, seeing an episode of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”, eating a McDLT, and witnessing the “Truffle Shuffle” from The Goonies take us back to the pleasanter moments of childhood. How strange it is to feel a common nostalgia, when earlier generations must have felt nostalgia of a communal or deeply personal sort. The hay of a particular farm, the smell of a family recipe that cannot be duplicated elsewhere,a shoreline, a cityscape.
To untangle this mess, perhaps we should look to the origins of nostalgia itself. The term itself is a legacy of the Greeks, who used the term “nostoi” to cover an entire genre of their epic literature. When translated, it means “the homecoming”, and in particular, the nostoi literature told tales of homecoming from the Trojan War, and what befell the Achaean heroes after the conquest of Troy. While nostalgia for us is unerringly pleasant, this was not so for the nihilistic Ancient Greeks, forever believing they were not in control of their own fate. For each of these figures– many of whom surfaced in The Iliad, the trip home ends badly– in hardship, in death, in disappointment. Agamemnon finds himself cuckolded and murdered. Menelaus ends up shipwrecked in Egypt. And the less said about the sundry misfortunes of Odysseus, the better. Even when blessed with the godlike traits of the Achaean heroes, the message is clear– you can’t go home; the comfort of the past is irretrievable. You either won’t make it, like Agamemnon or you will find it hopelessly changed like Odysseus (or, I suppose, like Frodo Baggins who faced the scouring of the Shire.) That, I believe, is why we covet nostalgia so fervently: it is irretrievable, at best an echo of times past.
It is in recognition of this spirit of futility, then, that I continue my blog. So, it is my hope, in this belated mission statement, that “The Northumbrian Countdown” can help to untangle nostalgia, unpack it’s meaning, highlight it’s absurdity. In many ways this will be through analytical or critical pieces on music groups, locales, people, events, modes of entertainment, that impressed me way back when. But is such a project sustainable or even advisable? To give the last word to the aforementioned Kool-Aid Man, my response is a heart “ohhhhhh, yeaaaahhhh!”