Even though this is an article about making comics, art etc.. I’m probably going to have to spend several paragraphs talking about a strange experience that I had shortly before I wrote this article. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.
As regular readers of this site probably know, nostalgia is one of the things that inspires a lot of the art, comics etc.. that I make. Most of the time, this is nostalgia about the 1990s (I grew up in that decade, but wish I’d been older during it) and – accidentally – possibly the early 2000s too. Sometimes I even get nostalgic about decades that I haven’t even lived in.
However, I recently had an experience that made me feel very nostalgic about a very specific period of recent history (mid-2009 to mid-late 2010).
Whilst looking through some old desktop icons, I decided to dust off my old Spotify account and take a look at some of the playlists I’d made back then. Instantly, I was transported back to a very rose-tinted version of this very specific period in time. It suddenly almost seemed like it was a whole decade in and of itself.
It was a time when pop music was, very briefly, actually good – where “popular” bands (eg: La Roux, Metric etc..) had a slightly 1980s-inspired/indie/sophisticated kind of sensibility. It was a time when many people didn’t quite have smartphones just yet.
It was a time when websites were still primarily designed for desktop computers, rather than for phones or tablets. It was a time when DVDs still felt like they were modern and timeless ( I still use DVDs regularly, but people these days obviously use video streaming services a lot more- despite the fact that they don’t actually get to own copies of any of the TV shows or movies they buy..).
It was a time when the UK’s Tory/Lib Dem coalition government was still new and exciting, and “austerity” was a dusty old word that only appeared in history books. It was a joyous time when people of my generation actually used to go out drinking and clubbing slightly more often. It was a time just before indie games really had a resurgence, so retro gaming was perhaps more popular than it is now. It was the glorious last days before the UK Government tried again to price everyone out of going to university.
It’s an oddly difficult time to describe concisely, but it feels like it was very different from the present day. As I said, this 1-2 year time period almost feels like it was a different decade altogether.
This, naturally, made me wonder why it’s more difficult to make “nostalgic” things that revolve around more recent time periods. I mean, this is something that I’ve even joked about in one of my more recent webcomics – but it’s something I’ve never really thought about in depth:
I think that part of the problem is that it’s very difficult to spot what is and isn’t memorable when you’re actually living in a particular decade. Likewise, it can often be next to impossible to predict how the subtle facts of everyday life will change in the future.
Plus, we’re often also already comparing the present day to the past most of the time – so the idea that the present day will become “the past” isn’t something that is easy to think about. Then again, this probably depends whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist.
I mean, if you think that the world is constantly getting better, then the thought that the present day will become the past isn’t too unsettling. However, if you think that the world seems to be on an unstoppable trajectory towards more misery, gloom, petty restrictions, authoritarianism etc.. then the idea that the present day may eventually seem like “the good old days” in comparison to the future is a deeply frightening one. And a thought best avoided.
Then there’s also the fact that “nostalgic” things tend to be more distinctive when they’re noticeably “old”.
I mean, if you saw someone using a portable cassette player then it would probably seem more noticeable and “retro” than if you saw someone using a MP3 player – despite the fact that *ugh* smartphones have all but replaced good old MP3 players these days. Portable cassette players became “obsolete” in the 1990s (thanks to portable CD players), but MP3 players only became “obsolete” less than a decade ago.
Plus, unless you’re the kind of person who is hyper-modern in every possible way, it’s probably more likely that (in some way) you’re still living in the age that you’re trying to get nostalgic about.
Whether it’s the technology you use, the TV shows/games/books etc… you really like, your fashion sense etc.. we’re all living in the past in some way or another. Which is probably for the best, given that the present day probably won’t be worth getting nostalgic about until sometime in the 2030s…..
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂