Some of Keillor’s observations ring true for those of us here in the year 2013: he predicts that the future of air travel will only become more and more cumbersome and he imagines that Americans’ growing dissatisfaction with stagnant wages may become an issue. But the vast majority of the piece reads as cranky “get off my lawn” nostalgia. Which is to say, he’s romanticizing a past that never existed in the service of bemoaning a future that will never arrive. He begins by calling contemporary culture “trash” (being careful to clarify that the New York Times doesn’t qualify as such) and pretty much goes downhill on the future of humanity from there.
Some of the stuff hits the mark, particularly about the rise of celebrity culture and the fragmentation of the media, but that was a rather safe bet in 1996. He says people won’t be nostalgic for the horrible age of 1996, which turned out to be wrong; every generation gets nostalgic for the world they saw as children, filtered through their own gauzy recollections of happiness and sugary cereal and cartoons and long summer evenings. I’m nostalgic for 1968, for heaven’s sake. Kids today are busy remixing their childhood and getting verklempt about Pikachu. Adults look back to the mid-90s as a happy time - Cold War's over, history has concluded, it's all internet and commerce binding the world ever tighter, and so on. We are still permitted to be nostalgic for the 90s, although that will change eventually. He concludes:
People will miss a time when there wasn't so much nostalgia. In the '50s we looked to the future, which we imagined would be streamlined, shiny, modern, and then suddenly modernism died.
The past got preserved left and right, historic buildings, old streetlamps went up like weeds, and Victorian theme malls. Sleazy TV producers renovated big white Congregationalist houses and filled them with old bookcases and rocking chairs and pretended to be New England transcendentalists - the past was copied, quoted, constantly evoked, until one day the country looked more like it used to than it ever had before.
”Modernism” didn’t suddenly die, and “modernism” was different than the commercial vernacular of the 50s. Modernism was severe; the Googie drive-in style and its watered-down variants were fun, playful, optimistic and far more futuristic than modernism - which, after all, had its roots in joyless pre-war German theorists designing blank-faced machines for living. Modernism as a commercial style yielded to kitschy-gitchy-coo crap with big fake mansard roofs or gimmicky shapes, and its skyscraper styles ended up as the Boring Glass Box that did nothing but reflect all the other boring glass boxes. Whether he thinks it was a bad thing that the past got preserved left and right, I can’t tell. Old streetlamps were popular because people liked them better than the modern versions - once they were asked, that is.
I say, forget it. Just get over it. There's the future out there. Go live it.
Agreed! The demolition of Summit Avenue begins tomorrow. Surely we can find some European architects willing to fill its length with witty, provocative new future-proof buildings that will speak to people in 100 years just as the mansions of Summit speak to us today.
The entire article is here.
By the way, the little title card above is for “Just Imagine,” a bizarre sci-fi movie from the early talkie years. It had the most astonishing special effects anyone had ever seen - outside of Metropolis, that is. It’s almost an American remake of Metropolis without the class warfare, and with musical numbers. In other words, the American version of Metropolis. Speaking of which:
Maria the Killer Robot gets a refreshing juice drink between scenes.
One of the Behind-the-Scenes shots assembled at this site. Also included: Jack Nicholson in “The Shining,” and “Alien.” Fun for any film fan. Sorry - cinema aficionado.
THE MORE THINGS CHANGE Violent video games: a big concern. Are they warping our children’s morals? It’s a relevant question. It’s also thirty years old:
In November of 1982, the US Surgeon General C. Everett Koop gave a speech in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on the subject of domestic violence and child abuse. After concluding his remarks, he fielded a question about the harmful effects of video games on children. Koop said that while there wasn’t yet scientific evidence of any harm, children were becoming "addicted" to video games, "body and soul." Though Koop quickly released a statement following up to curtail fears, an AP story, wired out to newspapers across the country, had done its damage. By February of 1983, psychologists were positing that the "intensity of the experience" of video games was worrisome, as was the fact that the games "seem[ed] to be real." In July of 1983, two young people were arrested in Houston, Texas for the stabbing deaths of four arcade employees in an after-hours robbery, making national headlines.
The quote comes from this excellent Verge history of arcades, a subject that will probably loom as large in the pantheon of American nostalgia as the Drive-In - albeit darker and smellier. The aroma of musty carpet always pervaded those places, along with overdrive teen hormones and spoiled spilled soda.But think of that quote: intense experiences, soaking into your body and soul. He's talking about Missile Command.