The baseball player was right about one thing – Nostalgia is not what it used to be. Rewriting history to favor any particular opinion is not new or unusual. What is different is the opportunities of expression. Social media, for example, allows for immediate dissemination of whatever nonsense is popular at the moment. Little effort is made to examine the facts – each sound bite is designed to conjure an emotional response. We live in emotionally turbulent times. In many ways our emotions are driving our thinking – rather than the other way around. But it is not just social media at fault – there are media wars over the best presentation of nostalgia.
From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in a 2010 interview with Republican House Speaker John Boehner:
“They’re snuffing out the America that I grew up in,” Boehner said. “Right now, we’ve got more Americans engaged in their government than at any time in our history. There’s a political rebellion brewing, and I don’t think we’ve seen anything like it since 1776.”
What did Speaker Boehner mean? What is he trying to convey? The key to his nostalgia is the embedded comment ‘…the America that I grew up in”. This attempt to qualify and affirm his view is based on his recollections of his upbringing – nostallgia.
Most of us think of nostalgia as simply wistfulness or longing or melancholy – or perhaps homesickness or reminiscence. Joyful memories of the past are pleasant and heartwarming – but are they accurate measurements of what has been, to be used as a guide for what we must do. Must government make policy decisions, pass laws, based on the sweet memories of childhood?
Maybe we need to look at more nostalgia.
How about this this jewel from Facebook:
I’m old school. I believe in Having good manners, Respecting my elders and Helping others When I can…Share if you’re old school.
Well – there you go. If you are not ‘old-school’ then you are clearly a person with no moral values.
Here is another Facebook reminiscence:
Anyone who was born in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s… We are the last generation who played in the street. We played outside until the street lights came on. Our mothers did not worry about us. We are the first who played video games, the last to record songs off the radio on a cassette tape. We walked over a mile with no worries on being taken. We learned how to program the VCR before anyone else, we played from Atari to Nintendo… We are the generation of of Tom and Jerry, Looney Toons, Captain Kangaroo. We traveled in cars without seat belts or air-bags, lived without cell phones. We did not have flat screens, surround sound, iPods, Facebook, Twitter, computers or the internet… But nevertheless we had a Great time. Re-post if you’re a 50’s or 60’s or 70’s baby.
I am a late 40’s baby. I think the person who authored the above is probably a 70’s baby. I did not have Atari or Nintendo or a VCR. What does that mean? It means my nostalgia is better than their nostalgia. I think of myself as one of the lucky people who survived no seat belts or airbags or running wild on the streets.
Fox News is clearly on the right of most debates in our country. Here is some of the commentary and the corresponding video:
Fox News – When I was a kid growing up in the world there wasn’t any political correctness. No filters. The Rat Pack could make fun of each other, make racial slurs, everybody laughed at it, they had a good time in doing it. And nowadays political correctness is a ruthless situation on both sides…. It is absolutely crushing our ideas of and freedom of speech…. We have had this overall collapse of our freedom of expression… Amos and Andy you were able to have fun with each other. Now all of a sudden it is political correctness.”
The FOX News hosts are scary people. But they are not alone in their attempts are framing history to promote their point of view.
There is a popular program on HBO these days – it is called Newsroom. One three and half minute clip is presented on youtube as the most honest three and a half minutes on television. Check this out and I’ll meet you on the other side:
Well, there you go. Who can argue with the Jeff Daniels tirade? Let’s look closer at the text of his speech:
College girl: “Why is America the greatest country in the world?”
” It’s not the greatest country in the world. …You know why people don’t like liberals? Cause they lose. If liberals are so fucking smart how come they lose so God Damn always? And with a straight face you’re going to tell students that America is so star spangled awesome that we are the only ones in the world that have freedom? Canada has freedom. Japan has freedom. The UK, France, Italy, Germany, and Spain – Australia, Belgium has freedom. 207 sovereign states in the world and 180 of them have freedom. And you, sorority girl, in case you accidentally wander into a voting booth one day there are some things you should know. One of them is there is absolutely no evidence to support the claim that we are the greatest country in the world. We are seventh in literacy, twenty-seventy in math, twenty-second in science, forty-ninth in life expectancy, a hundred and seventy eighth in infant mortality, third in median household income, number four in labor force and number four in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adult who believe angels are real, and defense spending – where we spend more than the next twenty-six countries combined – five of whom are allies. Now none of this is the fault of a twenty year old college student but you are none-the-less a member of the worst period, generation period, ever period, so when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about. Yosemite? (long pause)
(Daniels continues): It used to be we stood up for what is right. We fought for moral reasons. We passed laws and struck down laws for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed. We cared about our neighbors. We put our money where our mouths were and we never beat our chests. We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men, we aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it we didn’t make it feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election and we didn’t (emotional pause). We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed – by great men, men who were revered. First step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore. Enough?”
The FOX segment foolishly endorses racism. I watched Amos and Andy – the stereotype of stupid black men was cemented in our group conscious. A couple of white guys on television at the same time were Superman and the Lone Ranger. Which role model would you choose for your children?
But Jeff Daniels on Newsroom leaves something to be desired. I wonder who the great men, the men who were revered – he was talking about.? Daniels goes on and on about other countries that hare free – and I agree – but my personal pride will not let me forget that America, The United States of America, was the role model for most of those countries.
You see what happens? My pride, my emotions, took over.
I presented some of these arguments to some friends, liberal friends. The response was as expected. Jeff Daniels was just being rhetorical. The FOX guy was a racist.
Listen folks – it comes down to this: Rhetoric matters because that is the means we have of conveying our thoughts, our values, our morality, our hopes, our dreams, our everything. I am personally tired of the bantering on both sides of the morality debate – Let us hear some rhetoric that brings us back together rather than that which continues to drive a wedge between us.
Here is my favorite nostalgic reminiscence from Facebook (thanks Regina):
If you lived as a child in the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s or 70’s
Looking back, it’s hard to believe that we have lived as long as we
As children, we would ride in cars with no seat belts or air bags.
Riding in the back of a pickup truck on a warm day was always a
Our baby cribs were covered with bright colored lead-based paint. We
had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors, or cabinets.
When we rode our bikes, we had no helmets. (Not to mention hitchhiking
to town as a young kid!)
We drank water from the garden hose and not from a bottle. Horrors.
We would spend hours building our go-carts out of scraps and then rode
down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. After running
into the bushes a few times we learned to solve the problem.
We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we
were back when the streetlights came on. No one was able to reach us
all day. Our parents knew that all the neighbors would watch out for
all the kids. No cell phones. Unthinkable.
We played dodge ball and sometimes the ball would really hurt.
We got cut and broke bones and broke teeth, and there were no lawsuits
from these accidents. They were accidents. No one was to blame, but
us. Remember accidents?
We had fights and punched each other and got black and blue and
learned to get over it.
We ate cupcakes, bread and butter, and drank sugar soda, but we were
never overweight… we were always outside playing. We shared one
grape soda with four friends, from one bottle and no one died from
We did not have Playstations, Nintendo 64, X-Boxes, video games at
all, 99 channels on cable, video tape movies, surround sound, personal
cell phones, Personal Computers, Internet chat rooms … we had
friends. We went outside and found them.
We rode bikes or walked to a friend’s home and knocked on the door, or
rung the bell or just walked in and talked to them. Imagine such a
thing. Without asking a parent! By ourselves! Out there in the cold
cruel world! Without a guardian.
How did we do it?
We made up games with sticks and tennis balls and ate worms and
although we were told it would happen, we did not put out very many
eyes, nor did the worms live inside us forever.
Little League had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who
didn’t, had to learn to deal with disappointment…. The teams
actually kept score and the winning team was allowed to be excited and
the losing team learned to be good sports about it and learned that,
in life – sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.
Some students weren’t as smart as others so they failed a grade and
were held back to repeat the same grade….. Horrors. Tests were not
adjusted for any reason.
Almost no one went to “pre-school” and when we graduated high school
we all knew how to read, use proper grammar and do basic math. We all
learned how to count out change without a calculator to tell us the
The worst problems in school were tardiness and chewing gum in class.
Our actions were our own. Consequences were expected. No one to hide
behind. The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke a law was
unheard of. They actually sided with the law … imagine that!
If you misbehaved – your parents spanked you and no one arrested them
for doing that! We also learned that when a parent said “No” – they
actually meant that and our lives would not be ruined forever by being
denied every little thing we wanted at any given moment.
New toys were received on birthdays and holidays….. not on every
trip to the store. Parents gave us gifts out of love…. not out of
This generation has produced some of the best risk-takers and problem
solvers and inventors, ever. The past 50 years has been an explosion
of innovation and new ideas. We had freedom, failure, success and
responsibility, and we learned how to deal with it all.
And you’re one of them.