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Nostalgia without anguish or disappointment

Mining the past for gems of retro pop culture

Were those the days?
Were those the days?

Dear Hipster:

Here’s an obviously non-controversial premise for you: hipsters are very nostalgic, and they love old-fashioned stuff so much that they’re constantly imitating past trends in an effort to color modern life with the shades and hues of yesteryear. That’s all well and good, but I take umbrage with at least one aspect of that. Namely, I suspect “nostalgia” isn’t really the right feeling, and I can’t rightly say what is. Most hipsters are pretty young, and they may not have even been born when a lot of the stuff they are nostalgic for was relevant. Is it possible to be truly “nostalgic” for something you don’t actually remember?

— Rich

I suspect you have this one perfectly backwards, although not altogether wrong. The hipster love of all things vintage means that nothing is truly off-limits when it comes to mining the past for gems of retro pop culture. This ordinarily results in young people acting like their parents and not admitting it. See, for example, their devotion to synthwave music and fashionable mustaches. You rightly note the vast difference between being nostalgic for things you don’t technically remember experiencing in real time and stuff that’s part of your history and about which you have real memories.

With respect to the former, it’s a lot easier to generate a favorable impression of something you don’t actually remember, because you can look at it through whatever set of rose-tinted glasses you happen to have handy. By way of example, it’s really easy for somebody who was born after the 1970s ended, and therefore didn’t have to live through the actual 1970s, to describe a contemporary bar or restaurant as having a “cool ’70s vibe” because it has a Terrazzo floor and the bartender knows how to make a Harvey Wallbanger — which is about as far as the concept of the 1970s extends for someone born in, say, 1991.

In contrast, it can be a lot trickier to feel genuinely nostalgic over a retro recreation of something you actually remember, because either (a) you remember how bad the real thing was, and you’d sooner forget it; or (b) the retro recreation can never live up to your (probably unreasonable) personal expectations. For example, a person who lived through the actual 1970s might walk into a bar with a “cool ’70s vibe,” and then immediately walk right out again after concluding she has no desire to relive a decade of disco and cars that could do 0-60 in 17 seconds on a good day and kill you in even a low-speed wreck. On the other hand, when you’ve got sweet memories of partying in a shag-carpeted basement the first time you ever heard Rocket to Russia, there’s never going to be a revival that can hold a candle to the real thing, so hipster nostalgia perpetually fails to measure up.

That’s why nostalgia is a funny business, and I think we have to reverse your basic argument in order to make it ring true. Because nostalgia is more effective when it’s not based on actual memories, hipster nostalgia ultimately proves to be a purer form of nostalgia. It’s a nostalgia without anguish or disappointment, which is why it proves so enduring. Of course, to end on a slightly more cynical note, it’s probably also why it proves to darn profitable in so many instances. But that’s a tale for another day!

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Were those the days?
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Dear Hipster:

Here’s an obviously non-controversial premise for you: hipsters are very nostalgic, and they love old-fashioned stuff so much that they’re constantly imitating past trends in an effort to color modern life with the shades and hues of yesteryear. That’s all well and good, but I take umbrage with at least one aspect of that. Namely, I suspect “nostalgia” isn’t really the right feeling, and I can’t rightly say what is. Most hipsters are pretty young, and they may not have even been born when a lot of the stuff they are nostalgic for was relevant. Is it possible to be truly “nostalgic” for something you don’t actually remember?

— Rich

I suspect you have this one perfectly backwards, although not altogether wrong. The hipster love of all things vintage means that nothing is truly off-limits when it comes to mining the past for gems of retro pop culture. This ordinarily results in young people acting like their parents and not admitting it. See, for example, their devotion to synthwave music and fashionable mustaches. You rightly note the vast difference between being nostalgic for things you don’t technically remember experiencing in real time and stuff that’s part of your history and about which you have real memories.

With respect to the former, it’s a lot easier to generate a favorable impression of something you don’t actually remember, because you can look at it through whatever set of rose-tinted glasses you happen to have handy. By way of example, it’s really easy for somebody who was born after the 1970s ended, and therefore didn’t have to live through the actual 1970s, to describe a contemporary bar or restaurant as having a “cool ’70s vibe” because it has a Terrazzo floor and the bartender knows how to make a Harvey Wallbanger — which is about as far as the concept of the 1970s extends for someone born in, say, 1991.

In contrast, it can be a lot trickier to feel genuinely nostalgic over a retro recreation of something you actually remember, because either (a) you remember how bad the real thing was, and you’d sooner forget it; or (b) the retro recreation can never live up to your (probably unreasonable) personal expectations. For example, a person who lived through the actual 1970s might walk into a bar with a “cool ’70s vibe,” and then immediately walk right out again after concluding she has no desire to relive a decade of disco and cars that could do 0-60 in 17 seconds on a good day and kill you in even a low-speed wreck. On the other hand, when you’ve got sweet memories of partying in a shag-carpeted basement the first time you ever heard Rocket to Russia, there’s never going to be a revival that can hold a candle to the real thing, so hipster nostalgia perpetually fails to measure up.

That’s why nostalgia is a funny business, and I think we have to reverse your basic argument in order to make it ring true. Because nostalgia is more effective when it’s not based on actual memories, hipster nostalgia ultimately proves to be a purer form of nostalgia. It’s a nostalgia without anguish or disappointment, which is why it proves so enduring. Of course, to end on a slightly more cynical note, it’s probably also why it proves to darn profitable in so many instances. But that’s a tale for another day!

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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