Nostalgia: If it was a stock market commodity there would have been a bull-run by now. Apart from the speculation about his successor, the announcement of Alex Ferguson’s retirement led to such an explosion of ‘wist’ for the past, by Saturday only about 4% of people were reported to be living in the moment.
It didn’t need that event. Nostalgia now is far better than it used to be and it can strike at any time. I was in a café at the weekend. It was one of those optimistic eateries. Crowded with people, its architecture suggested that during the boom it was intended for it to be a large EXCITING RETAIL OPPORTUNITY!! But now a rather lovely café was occupying it, like a coral reef growing on a shipwreck. It was providing an ecosystem for fashionable people who had named their children after Celtic Gods.
In the far corner was a bookshelf containing the types of books you find in this place. Half of a set of World Book encyclopaedia and a fishing guide to the inland waterways of Scotland. But the book that jumped out at me from a distance was Cartoon Fun with Don Conroy
Art historians specialising in the late 80s early 90s period will recognise the work of Conroy. An artist of the Owl school, Don Conroy never compromised on his principles. No matter what you were drawing, everything started with two circles. The point of this article is not about barn owls, it’s that Don Conroy was a hero of the 1980s – the decade when today’s 30somethings were in their formative years and all watched the same telly. His friendly smile and everyone-can-draw outlook made him one of the most recognisable people in the country. He still is.
Of course, every generation has its warm memories of the past and distaste for the present. 30 years ago adults lamented “the youngsters today don’t know they’re born. When I was small we had to look at the Late Late through a Scots Clan wrapper to pretend it was in colour.”
But it seems that a collision of circumstance, motive and technology would suggest that those who David McWilliams calls the Pope’s Children, are probably the most nostalgia-obsessed adult generation thus far. (Of course we might think that purely because we are also the most self-obsessed). Entire industries are based on our memories of the past. Heckit, I’m as bad as anyone – I’ve sold tea-towels celebrating the “Good Scissors”. The natural next question is – what will nostalgia be like in thirty years’ time. We’re a much less homogenous society than we used to be (thankfully). We don’t all watch Glenroe and have our bath at the same time. What are the group experiences that link a generation? Will people say “Ah X-Factor… BEFORE they gave them guns. I remember it well.”
Or will thirty-somethings in the 2040s be looking back thinking “Will I ever forget The Teens? When everyone was nostalgic ALL THE TIME. Those were the days.“
This article was first published in the Irish Examiner on May 12th, 2013