It's the new black.
This is a Gaudy long-form essay, the first to be posted on this blog.
Despite the fact that I was born eighty-six years too late, I had a genuinely happy childhood. I followed Hardy’s
advice—was a good girl, kind to birds and animals, read all I could—and enjoyed the glorious terror that was the ‘90s: including, but not limited to, Lisa Frank, beanie babies, Full House, and pogs. Sometimes, I wish I could go back, maybe not to jelly sandals or crushed velvet blouses, but to those moments when I would crouch in front of my my TV/VCR combo, watching Anne of Green Gables ad nauseum, to that feeling of unabashed freedom and bliss that came with youth. As summer creeps towards me in this, my twenty-third year, I cannot help but look back upon the final few weeks of elementary school, when my friends and I wore shorts and stayed—extra long—for recess and couldn’t care less about “losing valuable time” or other adult things. I sat out on the soccer field between shifts, reading everything I could get my hands on, from Romeo and Juliet to Roald Dahl, and begrudgingly thrusting a bookmark into a much-creased page as I was substituted back into goal, where I would dream about Montagues and BFGs, and dodge the occasional projectile. And while I wouldn’t necessarily reclaim the Rachel haircut of my preteens, I find something comforting in the vestiges of “Cool Britannia” and Furbies, and the boy bands that, well, um, always seem to make their way on to my summer playlists.
A possible answer to this sense of satisfaction is as follows: we have a habit of commodifying nostalgia. We take things from the past—objects, technology, outfits, mores,—and reclaim it as either something new, or something we look on as fashionable in part because of its vintage status. Sometimes people look to something directly from their youth—that group of innocents who still insist on pulling out the Pokemon cards or MarioKart on their Game Boy. Some pluck objects from a different era—the vinyl aficionados, or better yet, those who want to appear vintage by shopping for furniture at Urban Outfitters or Anthropologie. The aesthetic of authenticity, justified by the passage of and durability over time, validates our own relevance, and our wistful longing for a time that we have tracked through history, seen from beginning to end, and now identify the artistic apices while casually ignoring context; yes, I should have come into my prime during the 1930s, blotting out the gender and economic hardship, and concentrating solely on the music, literature, art, wardrobe, cocktails, and influx of fictional detective couples (see: Nick and Nora Charles, Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, Tommy and Tuppence, etc.)
In his classic 1983 essay “Postmodernism and Consumer Society,” Fredric Jameson suggests that nostalgia is a complex longing “to return to that older period and to live its strange old aesthetic artifacts through once again.” That desire, however, has less to do with our wish to live in the past than it concerns our unwillingness to confront the present. While one can easily see this trend manifesting in nearly everything in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, it is most often coagulated and effectively projected through the ever-powerful lens of cinema. Jameson declares:
“It seems to me exceedingly symptomatic to find the very style of nostalgia films invading and colonizing even those movies today which have contemporary settings, as though, for some reason, we were unable today to focus our own present, as though we had become incapable of achieving aesthetic representations of our own current experience.”
Jameson’s example, interestingly enough, was George Lucas’ seminal classic Star Wars. Though this work addressed space in a time where orbital travel was just barely a reality, it evoked the 1930s-1950s old-school movies and television shows, mimicking plotlines and evoking the same emotions. Our only way to express our own reality, Jameson suggests, is by seeking realism through past examples because history is our point of reference. We learn from the past and from people who have experienced the past; from our grandparents to our parents to older role models, their history is how we learn to make our present.
Star Wars is pastiche because it uses the various archetypes—those identified by Northrop Frye and passed down through oral and written history—and balances them between their past applications and future possibilities. Though it may exist “in a galaxy far, far away,” the Star Wars universe exists as an homage to Science Fiction radio serials, as well as the storylines that have existed throughout literary and cinematic history.