Archive for April, 2013


Nostalgia and Oblivion

Nostalgia is a powerful force. We don’t often acknowledge it, but it pervades our politics and art in subtle ways.

Recently, I had two causes to reconsider nostalgia. One cause was DisneyLand advertisements I see when I watch Hulu, and the other was the movie Oblivion.

You see, when I watch TV on hulu, I am shown MANY advertisements about how fun disney world is, however, the funny thing is that the advertisements are not mainly for young children. You might think that since some of them show little children being happy, but that would be a shallow reading of what’s going. One clue is that there is an advertisement of a young married couple who goes to DisneyLand to rekindle their love. Personally, I find it incomprehensible that two married people who be even remotely interested in spending their hard earned money on a trip to the world’s larget tourist trap. But judgments can be a nasty thing. Fine, they like Disneyland. But if these adults ¬†are the target in one commercial, it makes one suspicious that a pattern is to be found. And there is definitely a pattern. Namely, that the commercials play on the parents.

The one that sickens me the most shows a young girl putting her arm around her father, and the voice says something about how this young girl will not be 9 forever, and now is the time to make memories with her. I would rail and rant about the destructiveness of trivializing memories by selling the feeling that one is a good parent: you can feel like a good parent if you just come to our theme park! But that would be a waste. There’s nothing new about trying to cash in on the insecurities of others. Sadly, I’m starting to believe that capitalism, an economic system I think highly of, has really become predominantly that.

These commercials though also contain a potent amount of nostalgia, asking the GROWNUPS in the house to remember their time at disneyland and how “magical” it was (the sad thing is that with technology, disney theme parks just aren’t that magical anymore, because gets are maturing faster and their not phased by some of the animatronics that really impressed my parents). Nostalgia is different than reminiscence, though they are related. Nostalgia asks us not just to remember the past, and to revere it, and to treat it as a fragile but important aspect of the present. Rather, nostalgia is cheap because it asks to seek a “past-feeling” and to try to remake the present in the image of a more comfortable, simpler time. But such a feeling always hides the complexity and sacrifices that are present in every age of ourselves (or our country if politics is the issue). Sure, I could go back to my summer after high school. That was a wonderful time for me, but it was also a time that’s imperfections are only revealed after having lived a little bit longer. The roots of various insecurities took hold at that time, and I was naive about many things. To want to “go back” to that time would be a blind acceptance of a time period that I know in my heart has just as many flaws and difficulties of my “present” stage of life.

Oblivion, the new movie with Tom Cruise, is really well done I think, but it uses Sci-Fi for it’s cheapest end at some points, which is to generate an extremely potent type of nostaliga, which is nostalgia for the era WE ALREADY LIVE IN. Consider Cruise, who lives in 2077, but goes around wearing a Yankees hat. This set-up asks us to project ourselves into the future and then to look back, along with Cruise’s character, with love at our 2013 century civilization. But this “looking backward” covertly ratifies the status quo. We overlook, when we look along with Cruise at 2013 in the framework of the film, all of the difficulties and contradictions of our time. We remember the Yankees cap, a symbol of Americana amid the rubble of an Alien-human war.

All Sci-Fi can do this, or perhaps, more specifically, all post-apocalyptic Sci Fi. This is one reason why Sci-Fi is reassuring and fun: we get to see our civilization from the future, and to yearn nostalgically for what already is the case. This is sci-fi’s cheapest use, and it can, if allowed to roam unchecked, overshadow sci fi’s very valuable function of showing us what we could be, and what problems we must anticipate.