Sunday, January 10, 2010

Trips down Nostalgia Lane

"What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?" -- Plato, circa 348 B.C.

One of those ludicrous e-mails that's been kicking around forever landed in my In Box the other day.  The subject line was "How old is grandpa?" (or something similar), and it ran through a long list of things that supposedly did not exist when Gramps was a boy (television, fast food, ballpoint pens), bemoaned the way social mores have changed (when Gramps was a boy, grass was something that got mowed, premarital sex was nonexistent, and there were lemonade springs where the bluebird sings. . . ), and then concluded with "He's 59!"  I laughed.  A lot.  The little trip down Nostalgia Lane obviously hadn't been updated since someone first scrawled it with a goose quill pen quite a few years ago. 

Think about it.  Someone who is 59 now was born in 1950.  People who are 59 now were teenagers in the 1960s and in their 20s during the 1970s -- the era when every male's ambition was to have a Penthouse letters experience.  (For the uninitiated, Penthouse letters were noted for men describing "I never thought this could happen to me!" sexual exploits: sex with incredibly hot twins, sex on Greyhound buses, sex in elevators, sex with strangers, sex with the babysitter, sex with watermelons, sex with kitchen appliances . . . you get the idea.) 

Then, by coincidence, I read Last Child in the Woods.  It's a great book with an important thesis, but it's got the same vein running through it:  things were better in the good old days.  The author, Richard Louv, waxes nostalgic over growing up in a close-to-rural area, building tree forts, messing around in the woods, getting dirty, and generally being able to live a vaguely Tom Sawyer-ish childhood.  He has a serious point to make -- Americans are increasingly disconnected from the natural world; we see nature as something we go and visit, but fewer and fewer of us are actually doing that (visits to national parks have dropped, fishing is losing popularity as a hobby, even the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts are moving away from camping and other outdoor activities).  Louv sees the lack of connection with nature as contributing to a whole host of problems:  childhood obesity, crime rates, poor academic performance, social anomie, . . . you name the problem, and we can make it better by providing more opportunities for kids to enjoy unstructured play and explore nature. 

I actually agree with many of the points Louv makes, but think his perception of the wonders of a childhood where kids could flip over rocks, dig for worms, or build tree forts in a vacant lot as they wandered about in a carefree bucolic landscape is more than a tad skewed by his own rose-colored memories of his particular lived experience. (I'm also distrustful of the single cure for everything that ails us even when it's a cure I like, but that's a subject for a different post.)  He's doing the same stroll down Nostalgia Lane that the folks who pass along the "things were better in the old days" e-mails or call in to C-SPAN saying they want "their country" back do -- imagining a past that never was as good as anyone of them think it was.


  1. I can't do anything about any of that, society is in control of that.

    So I've been just taking to taking care of my county being as I've always been a country hick.

    And I'm going camping in the county this next weekend. Screw the rest of the world, I can't do anything about it.

    And just why do you live where you do? You like the fancy comforts there?

    You're part of the solution or part of the problem you know. But I'm guessing that you would hate to live the way I do.

  2. And once again, BBC, you'd be guessing wrong. I'd move to where you live in a heartbeat if I had the means to do so -- the Pacific Northwest (especially along the coast) is one of my all-time favorite places -- and living simply doesn't bother me. Ab out all it takes to keep me happy is a decent public library within a reasonable driving distance.

  3. I would have to agree with the back to nature premise but think the good old days just weren't as good as we remember. I could live in the Bayfield peninsula in a heartbeat. It would be fun to live there and have to drive here on the weekends for an ethnic restaurant fix rather than driving up there every weekend to play.

  4. "What is happening to our young people?

    They don't get smacked enough anymore, like we was.

    I'd move to where you live in a heartbeat if I had the means to do so -- the Pacific Northwest (especially along the coast) is one of my all-time favorite places -- and living simply doesn't bother me. Ab out all it takes to keep me happy is a decent public library within a reasonable driving distance.

    I don't know what you mean buy 'means', maybe money? It doesn't cost much to move if you do it right.

    Just because I live on the edge of the known world doesn't mean it's all hicksville here.

    Ten years ago a state of the art library was built here, I taught a computer class there for two years.

    I'm not sure how many computers are online there now, but a lot for this little town. And now they have free WiFi.

    And thanks to the Gates, I suppose there are a good number of towns on this end of the state that have good libraries.


  5. Billy, you must be running out of people to argue with. You should know by now I'm a country girl who's counting down the days until I qualify for retirement and can get back to upper Michigan, a place where the trees definitely outnumber the people.

    As for a decent public library, all it takes for one to qualify is for it to be one is for it to be open on a regular basis and have a librarian who knows how to process interlibrary loan requests.

  6. This is one of my pet peeves. You wrote a great post. I found myself the other day talking to someone about the 80s and how great they were until that person, who is my contemporary, pulled out a copy of 'The Last Dragon' for us to watch. That movie is a time capsule of everything that was tacky and stupid about the 80s and suddenly I realized that every era sucks in some way. The only way that childhood is so fondly remembered because we didn't know anything beyond our own faces and selfish needs. It's only when you really see how things are that life begins the suck. Every year adds more and more shit to the pile and you lament a time when you had so much less of the crap to carry.


My space, my rules: play nice and keep it on topic.