January 10: nostalgia

Legislated nostalgia might be defined as a phenomenon that forces people to have nostalgic feelings about things that they have not experienced. We see it around us a lot at the moment. Mugs and t-shirts with Keep Calm and Carry On splattered all over them. Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food chain of shops and book. Both of these cultural omnipresences create collective nostalgia for the so-called blitz spirit, a spirit that few of us now have experienced and the fictional world of Orwell’s 1984, a world no-one has experienced, and many people are happy to partake of these worlds as they feel they tell us something true or at least cosy about Britishness. As Owen Hatherley notes in his book The Ministry of Nostalgia, this may hold within it sinister political undertones. Equally, however, it tells us something about the nature of our sense of nostalgia. The other day I had fish and chips and mushy peas at home. The drink I have to have with fish and chips and mushy peas is tea. This is nostalgia for what I used to have as a child, and this is a truly personal nostalgia. But so many other nostalgias are collective cultural phenomena. I am a great one for insisting on using the words of my youth, even though they may be unfashionable nowadays. I go to the pictures, at a a pinch the cinema, but never the movies. Pictures is my childhood; cinema is my young manhood. Movies, though, may partake of a greater collective nostalgia than either of these, perhaps a legislated nostalgia, though personal nostalgia trumps the collective for me. I suppose we all live in our own worlds, with our own sets of saturated meanings immanent in the words that mean things to us. Sometimes for political reasons you have to force a shift in yourself, though sometimes your self cannot accept a shift too far away from your own past. My mum used to call black people darkies, thinking it was more resepctful. I remember Mohammed Ali on Parkinson refuting the word black and insisting on the word brown. I’m not clear anymore on whether the word black is acceptable or not in whatever circles, whatever cultures, classes or countries you mix. In a sense, when people get old, what happens is that they are unable or unwilling to leave the nostagic words of their youth and this insistance in clinging to the words of their youth, also the behaviours of their youth, has become toxic.


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