The day nostalgia died

By Alan Perrott

Alan Perrott finds sharing memories ain’t what it used to be.

Want to know why we can't agree on a name for the style of the last decade?

Justin Bieber.

Okay, perhaps he's more of a side effect than a scapegoat, but bear with me a few minutes. For instance, what other pop cultural figure with as many fans as he apparently attracts, has ever arrived here to either "OMG, OMG, OMG" or "wah? who?"

There was no middle ground with Bieber, you either adored him as an infantilised Elvis or poked Google's ribs for an explanation while wondering when you'd got old.

Not that anyone was at fault. The increasing folderol showed us how a nobody can now achieve mainstream success while being utterly invisible to the uninvolved.

Think back, if you can, to when his 70s predecessors, the Bay City Rollers, arrived. Even my grandma knew who they were - and not because she cared, but because we all got our news and entertainment from the same places.

Now that everything's online, those traditional sources are just another noise. Budding cultural movements have to drift to the edges rather than the centre to gain some momentum.

Which is why I say nostalgia is dead. How can we ever name the last decade when everyone's highlight package is different? To share nostalgia, you need at least a few experiences in common with your peer group.

Mention any decade from the 50s to the 80s and stereotypes will pop up - hippies, Michael Jackson, Diana (bless her), and more hippies - it's why they're perennial party themes.

At a pinch, you could carry this on into the 90s, what with Nirvana, Madchester hippies, and The X Files, but what of the 00s? I guess P parties could still be a goer.

What songs from the past 10 years will we be crooning around the campfires of 2050? James Blunt? Linkin Park? I'm thinking not. Susan Boyle? After all, it's about media-crossover these days and the reality telly-spawned Haggis had the top-selling albums in New Zealand for the past two years running, so maybe she is the zeitgeist? At least she's not a hippie.

Nope, albums sales show only how quickly the old music industry is dying. Music is as popular as ever, but the corporates' most faithful customers these days are preschoolers, the befuddled and music reviewers. Everyone else is way too busy downloading, uploading and freeloading tracks in a futile effort to stay cool - and I say futile, because rising stars can go from "likes this" to "unfriend" in the time it takes their YouTube clip to launch.

All this scrabbling for the new, stimulating and immediately disposable means nothing beds in properly, and if that leaves U2 as the next Rolling Stones by default, then music has real problems.

Still, if you're determined to give this nonsense a theme, then anonymous narcissism might do as well as anything. Have our lives ever been so documented? The web is so awash in baby videos, drunken tweets and admissions, that a list of websites makes an effective biography.

But I don't want to sound too mean-spirited about all this. It's not the end of the world. Well, not in the same sense that Dire Straits were anyway. Which is kind of my point. There was a time when the hairband bunch were the biggest bland in the land - and that was only because they were unavoidable unless you put your back into it.

When there are only so many sources offering direction, taste, on a macro level anyway, could be manufactured. With taste having devolved to an individual level, everything from music to fashion to sexuality to world views has broken into a swarm of sub-genres.

It's why people don't chat around water coolers anymore - unless they're discussing the weather or hangovers.

Television's hopeless. Everyone has a gizmo to record their favourites so they can skip the ads. No one aside from the fools with ratings meters watches the stuff when you're supposed to anymore. Once you've dropped a Top Chef spoiler you won't be bringing up the telly again.

I doubt the nation will ever tune in as one again, not even if a famous newsreader gets her top off, as Angela D'Audney did in 1982.

Now that's the stuff of nostalgia.

All that leaves is global events like 9/11, Diana's death and kittens on the internet, otherwise we stay at our desks, sip from plastic bottles and update our Facebook pages.

Oh, I'm sure current nostalgia will spasm for a while yet. Abba will be into their 10th generation of Dancing Queens before that bus grinds to a dead stop - and there's bound to be a Boney M comp on its way soon - but I reckon we've had all the mass market stuff we're ever likely to get.

From here on in we're in the same boat as Friends, condemned to re-repeats of past repeats until life becomes a muddle of familiar, if meaningless, sentiments. Then we'll all be bloody hippies.

- NZ Herald

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