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Nostalgia: it feels good to feel, the past.
The corrosive effect that looking back has on the present with an introduction that touches on Robert Downey Jr.
January of this year marked the release of Dolittle starring Robert Downey Jr. It’s the story of a doctor that can talk to animals who goes on a mission to save a gravely ill monarch. The movie is a remake of the 1967 classic, Dr. Dolittle, which is itself a film adaptation of Hugh Loftin’s children’s books focusing on the titular character. It received a 14% on Rotten Tomatoes.
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White men using extraordinary talent in service of monarchs is nothing new, and as we’ve witnessed over the last couple of decades, neither are shitty remakes of old movies. Recently though, the trend of repackaging old content into new facades made its way, full force, into another medium: video games. This year, we saw the release of a remake of 1997’s blockbuster RPG, Final Fantasy VII. The game follows Cloud Strife as he and his gang of eco-fighters try to stop an evil megacorp from using the planet’s liquid life-essence, mako, as an energy source. I’d say the remake is timely, but any work of fiction that has bad things taking place in it is timely in 2020. A Resident Evil 3 remake was also released, and two remade entries in the Tony Hawk Pro Skater series are set to be pushed out later this year.
(Cloud Strife in the original Final Fantasy VII)
Presidential politics have too undergone a nostalgia kick. On one side of the ballot is someone whose notoriety, driven by the inane capitalist cosplay of The Apprentice, peaked in the early twenty tens and promises to take America back to being ‘great’. On the other, a candidate heralded as a moderate savior for going on four decades and whose renown benefited immensely in 2008 from being the safe white accoutrement to a progressive Black President.
Regardless of outcome, nostalgia prevails. America will either be made great again for another four years, or we’ll have a president whose brand voice says respectfully, at moderate volume: “Come with me back to 2010, when everything was okay for everyone and most importantly there was civility.”
Whether it’s via votes or video games, nostalgia anchors us to the past, providing us a sense of comfort and happiness that for whatever reason eludes us in the present. Like any mind-trick, nostalgia causes us to overlook our surroundings: We ignore the bigger picture in the timeline to which we’re vacationing, gifting ourselves a moment that’s myopically focused on our own pleasure.
In the 2016 election, voters age 50 and higher comprised 56% of all voters. In the same election, the voting rate for ages 45 to 64 was 66.6% (😈), and 70.9% for voters age 65 and up. For comparison, voters 18 to 29 turned out at 46.1%. Of all total voters, 74% were white.
If you’re older than 50 and white (the majority of voters), you can hardly be blamed for wanting to drag the past into the present as much as possible. Politicians did great by you, and in turn, so did the economy:
The above chart shows how as a cohort, boomers owned 21% of the nation’s wealth by the time the generation reached a median age of 35. By comparison, millennials - who haven’t yet reached a median age of 35 - better all start hitting Powerball soon if they are to have any hopes of catching up.
Above, we see how much wealth boomers have as a group, broken down by asset category. When viewed in the context of the preceding chart, it becomes clear how impossible it will be for ensuing generations to catch up to, let alone surpass boomers. What we also see is that real estate and pensions - both of which are mostly bygone asset classes for millennials and Gen Z - play a huge role in wealth creation and stability. The problem then, is nostalgia and its tendency to cause us to ignore our surroundings. In continuing to vote their own self-interest, the fruits of boomers’ current votes have - and continue to - disenfranchise younger generations.
Many of us were raised to believe we could achieve the same as preceding generations, should we just apply ourselves and work hard. The data above dispels a good part of that myth. The myth, which has for the most part just applied to those fortunate to be born as white between 1946 and 1964, is otherwise known as bootstrapping (lifting oneself up by the bootstraps).
Bootstrapping, alongside America’s obsession with the protestant work ethic, causes its own unique brand of nostalgia: “If I can pull myself up through the ranks, why can’t millennials/gen z/minorities writ large.” This nearsighted vision of one’s experience precludes sympathizing, especially the type that would cause someone to vote in a more collective, less individualistic, way. After all, nostalgia diverts our focus from the detritus floating around our anchor, to the anchor itself and the comfort it lends us.
The Final Fantasy VII remake arrived this past April, to stellar reviews. Resident Evil 3 was also released this year, reaching number 6 in NPD’s video games sales charts. Turns out, there’s still a big market for nostalgia.
Dolittle still sucked though.
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Song of the week: In honor of boomers, a cool boomer singing about old friends. Minnie Riperton’s ‘It’s so nice (to see old friends)’: