One day last week, my almost teenage son came downstairs from his man cave with a sombre and frustrated look on my face. His Xbox was downloading an update, he said. He’d already waited ten minutes and still, it hadn’t finished! I chimed in that, considering his generation can’t wait ten seconds for anything, I wasn’t surprised that a ten minute wait time bothered him so much.
And with that wry remark, aimed at ‘kids these days’, I crossed an ‘age line’, from which there may be no way back.
I’ll admit I’m nostalgic. So needless to say, but the 80s were, like, so rad. What else can you say about a decade that produced both He-Man and Transformers, not to mention David Hasselhoff in the greatest television show ever conceived by humankind – Knight Rider? Man, those were good times: pouring a bowl of Cap’n Crunch and settling in for a few hours of Saturday morning cartoons; packing my new Trapper Keeper and my metal Empire Strikes Back lunchbox for the first day back at school; playing ‘Q*bert’ and ‘Jungle Hunt’ on my Atari 2600; sitting next to my Sony radio/cassette player, my two fingers poised on the ‘Record’ and ‘Play’ buttons, eagerly waiting for the opening bars of ‘Every Rose Has Its Thorn’ so I could add it to my homemade mix tape… Like I said, so rad.
But nostalgia can have a nasty pessimistic edge, especially when wielded by people – often Christians like myself – who believe that, ever since some nondescript, wholesome, bygone era (when we were pure and uncorrupted – like a virgin, never touched for the very first time), the whole of society has fallen into decay. Unlike generations past, they believe this one is utterly immoral and self-indulgent. And they can’t go for that (no can do).
‘Remember when men were men and women were women? Remember when God blessed our nation, because we held fast to enduring Christian values? Remember when jobs were plentiful and the country was safe? Remember when we defeated Communism? Now look! Gay marriage? ISIS? Globalisation? Lady Gaga? What’s this world coming to?’
That’s why they elect leaders who promise a return to our glorious past, leaders who possess the fortitude to enact ‘values-based’ legislation, leaders who’ll make sure anyone who messes with the bull will get the horns, and who’ll re-establish our dominant position in the world.
In a sense, they’d love to cram society into the DeLorean, set the time circuits for 30 years ago, get her up to 88 miles per hour, and let the flux capacitor do the rest. Of course, once they got there, they might encounter a group just like themselves (maybe even their younger selves!), dissatisfied with the world of their own day, asking themselves, ‘How did we get here?’
‘AIDS? The Ayatollah? Libyan terrorists? MTV? Culture Club? What’s this world coming to?’
Same as it Ever Was
The truth is that every time and every generation has its own share of issues, fears and tragedies. We just have short memories. Nations and economies rise and fall, evil takes many forms, social conventions are perpetually in flux and there’s always plenty of immorality to be found, if you know where to look. The Hebrew wisdom book of Qoheleth (called Ecclesiastes in our modern Bibles) contains this fitting and profound poetic verse from ‘the Teacher’:
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has already been,
in the ages before us.
Qoheleth 1:9-10 (NRSV)
Look and You Will Find It
Idealising the past also leads to ignoring what’s noble in the present. We can easily overlook the passion of today’s young people, who speak out against injustices we’ve long neglected, or advances in medical insight and technology, which are helping to eliminate diseases and ailments that not so long ago spelled disaster. There’s always plenty of good to be found, if you know where to look.
Memory is a wonderful gift and it’s to our credit that we preserve the positive memories and surmount the negative ones. But the past is ‘the past’ for a reason. Let’s not pretend that we can somehow recapture it by reforming society in its image. Let’s not presume that we would even want to. And let’s be slow to believe anyone who claims that he or she can.
After all, this is the world we live in. If we don’t stop and look around once in a while, we might miss it.
- Featured Image: Delorean DMC-12 (Free to use under GNU license, from Wikipedia)
- Trapper Keeper (from rediscoverthe80s.com)
- Atari 2600 (Public Domain, from Wikimedia Commons)
- David Hasslehoff (from fanshare.com)
- Culture Club (found on Pinterest)
- MTV Apollo 11 Graphic (Fair Use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6225278)