Consumed Nostalgia: Memory in the Age of Fast Capitalism
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Nostalgia isn't what it used to be. For many of us, modern memory is shaped less by a longing for the social customs and practices of the past or for family heirlooms handed down over generations and more by childhood encounters with ephemeral commercial goods and fleeting media moments in our age of fast capitalism. This phenomenon has given rise to communities of nostalgia whose members remain loyal to the toys, television, and music of their youth. They return to the theme parks and pastimes of their upbringing, hoping to reclaim that feeling of childhood wonder or teenage freedom.
Consumed nostalgia took definite shape in the 1970s, spurred by an increase in the turnover of consumer goods, the commercialization of childhood, and the skillful marketing of nostalgia. Gary Cross immerses readers in this fascinating and often delightful history, unpacking the cultural dynamics that turn pop tunes into oldies and childhood toys into valuable commodities. He compares the limited appeal of heritage sites such as Colonial Williamsburg to the perpetually attractive power of a Disney theme park and reveals how consumed nostalgia shapes how we cope with accelerating change.
Today nostalgia can be owned, collected, and easily accessed, making it less elusive and often more fun than in the past, but its commercialization has sometimes limited memory and complicated the positive goals of recollection. By unmasking the fascinating, idiosyncratic character of modern nostalgia, Cross helps us better understand the rituals of recall in an age of fast capitalism.
erector sets from the 1910s and 1920s actually did spark careers in engineering. But this was not an endorsement of regression to that formative experience. Even though Hertz admitted that the “interests of many collectors frequently center on the toys they remember having owned or seen,” nostalgia for childhood, he claimed, was still “comparatively minor.” As if to ward oﬀ critics that toy collecting was somehow unmanly, Hertz emphatically denied that “real” collectors would “re-dress” their
Enterprises, both public and private, have sprung up to meet the demand for nostalgia. Amazing arrays of sites restore, collect, preserve, and romanticize lost crafts and lifeways. These include 6 Our Nostalgic Novelty Culture not only local and specialized heritage and history museums but restored railroads and annual festivals of small towns. Perhaps the most successful are highly commercialized places, most notably many of Disney’s theme-park attractions (beginning with Main Street USA).
loyalty from those “brought up” (as teens) on it. Of course, nothing is as clean and clearly cut as that. Let me illustrate with some episodes from this history of how the ephemeral became traditional. FIRST REVIVAL OF RETRO ROCK Given how fast rock came and went, it shouldn’t be surprising that the term “oldies” dates from as early as 1957, when the New York DJ Alan Fredericks played the not-so-old rock hits from 1954 to 1956. In 1959, the Los Angeles DJ Art Laboe released a compilation album,
hardly the founder of rock: Bill Haley’s rhythmic country-music band began Give Me That Old-Time Radio 163 during World War II in Pennsylvania (replacing the “Cowboys” with the “Comets” in 1952). Instead, Elvis oﬀered a unique sound that produced both ballads (inﬂuenced by the crooners of his day) and hard-hitting covers of “race” music (like “Hound Dog”). Presley’s signing with the publicist Colonel Tom Parker in August 1955 and contract with the mainstream publisher RCA set the stage for
kinship to the past.” This seems to be nostalgia not for a remembered childhood but for grandma’s framed Currier and Ives or the sentimental writings of John Greenleaf Whittier. Numerous other heritage sites have long oﬀered variations on these sites, each with a promise to take visitors back to a lost time in full authenticity and sensuality: At Plimoth Plantation, restored in 1957 close to the original site, the date was always 1627. At Gettysburg, the site of a famous Civil War battle,