It isn’t necessary to imagine the world ending in fire or ice—there are two other possibilities: one is paperwork, and the other is nostalgia. When you compute the length of time between “The Event” and “Nostalgia For The Event,” the span seems to be about “a year less in each cycle.” Eventually, within the next quarter of a century the nostalgia cycles will be so close together that people will not be able to take a step without being nostalgic for the one they just took. At that point, everything stops. Death by Nostalgia.
Frank Zappa, The Real Frank Zappa Book, p. 203
Pining for a RETVRN to some mythical golden age is a double-edged sword that can lead to a rediscovery of forgotten truths and aesthetics, or it can lead to stagnation and entropy. In a recent discussion you can view here, where I used a recent viewing of the 1993 Robin Williams comedy Mrs. Doubtfire as a springboard for discussion about the nostalgia trap. People with low reading comprehension abilities thought my thread lamented the drag aspect of the movie, which I did not. Men dressing as women has been a staple of comedy for millennia. In fact, I noted that the movie has a cute premise and is altogether family friendly in the sense of the overall plot: a father is so desperate to be able to see his children every day he’s willing to go to ridiculous lengths to do so . . . and try to win back his wife in the process.
My point was about the nostalgia bros. who think the 90s was a golden age of wholesome goodness. I was surprised by the fact that this movie was given a PG-13 rating considering it was marketed to kids—I was there, and it absolutely was—yet contained pretty vulgar sex jokes, bad language, and stuff like that. My thread was about the movie’s tone, not saying that “drag is evil” or “ban all swear words.”
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But this post isn’t about Mrs. Doubtfire. It’s about the besetting vice of those of us born somewhere between 1978 and 1989, which is wallowing in nostalgia. It’s impossible to move forward when you’re always looking back. I think there are some reasons for this trend, and in particular among those of us who consider ourselves in the counterculture.
First, dissidents of a more conservative bent recoil instinctively at the idea, the notion, the very word “progress.” Much as too many think any sort of collective action is total and complete communism, the idea that things change and that change can be positive is anathema to far too many people.
The problem is that art can stagnate if people continue doing the same old thing. Progress doesn’t have to equal garbage. The whole point of movements like the Pulp Revolution was to rediscover writers of the past who had been deliberately forgotten and use them as inspiration for something new; it wasn’t to recreate the exact same types of stories written in the exact same type of way as was done in the 1930s. Even the Renaissance didn’t just copy Ancient Greek literature and architecture and art—it fused those things with what was going in in Italy at the time to produce something truly unique.
It’s the difference between pastiche and inspiration. Progress is good, if what you’re progressing towards is good. And I mean that in the objective sense.
Second, as Isaac Young noted in his November 28, 2022 post, “Here Was Tolkien, When Shall We Expect Another?” dissidents are too fractured to form a coherent, organized movement that can truly push back:
While this means we are politically fractured, this also means that we’re fractured artistically. There is so little cooperation and dialogue in our art communities because we cannot assume a shared aesthetic and meaning. We don’t have a name because we’re all just individuals pursuing our own interests and beliefs. There can be no name for the current Right Wing artistic movement because it’s not there. It doesn’t exist. Everyone is just doing their own thing.
This is a problem, but I don’t think it’s unique to dissidents or “the right.” The left can be like this too. The difference is that they have big money behind them because they understand that culture is not about getting rich. The money is a nice benefit, but so much of the driving forces in culture are loss leaders for these millionaires and billionaires. They have their eyes on the prize, and to the extent that they’re willing to band together or promote the little guys (see my third point), it’s due to their being able to think big and take a long-term view of things. Conservatives, and some right wingers (which are not the same) think too small and in terms of what’s in it for them as opposed to what’s in it for all of us?
I disagree with Isaac in one sense. Dissidents are unifying and creating shared aesthetics and ideological commonalities, and we don’t need a single name. I already mentioned Pulp Rev. There’s the Iron Age movement as well. Comicsgate exists. The world of tabletop RPGs even has its own countercultural movement, the BrOSR. So these things are there. What they lack is tons of money.
Could these dissident movements get backing? Sure, if conservatives weren’t looking at culture in terms of ROI and whether it’ll help fund their retirement. However, money isn’t the only way to help. There’s also the idea of spreading the word, which brings me to my third point: too many conservative big shots are just in it for themselves.
In a post also on November 28, 2022, “Double Agent Poso,” Brian Niemeier details a recent illustration of this phenomenon involving glow-in-the-dark wunderkind Jack Posobiec:
Say what you will about the Death Cult, its members aren’t on the make for a quick buck. They’re devoted to a moral crusade.
Granted, their morals are diabolical inversions of the truth. But cultists will give their money, friends, families, and humanity for them.
Their dedication stands in sharp contrast to the grifters Con Inc. has foisted on us a leaders.
The grifters don’t care about you. If you listen long enough, you’ll hear them say it in their own words.
They’re looking out for #1.
I can’t say it any better than Brian. I will only add that there is something in the conservative temperament which leaves adherents prone to the twin views that (a) art is useless and (b) if it’s not making you rich, it’s a waste of time. However, you cannot fight a religious war, which is what we are in, with economics. You need a competing moral system. The problem is that conservatives too often, and mostly without realizing it, owe their allegiance to Mammon. And Mammon and Moloch are not enemies.
We are on our own. No Daddy Warbucks is going to save us. We are the cavalry we’ve been expecting.
And so we see the twin problems of Nostalgia Overload and Refusing to Join Forces. Honestly, I’m more concerned about the former. You can’t have a movement in any sense if its fruits are not good. If the works are high quality, the rest will follow. Dial in the art first.
I recognize that this post has been a lot of diagnosing without providing any solutions. Well, you’re in luck because here are some ideas:
There is no “Golden Age.” Everyone, even the greats of antiquity, thought their own era was a mass of degeneracy and ignorance. Don’t get depressed about the state of the world. Change it in your own little way.
Don’t try to recreate the past. Pastiche is not the same as inspired by. Further, even if recreating the past was doable, it would, absent fundamental changes, get us back to the same state we’re in eventually. It’s the time-travel paradox: everyone likes to daydream about what small change they’d make if they could travel back in time to change the present; why not think about what small change you could make in the present to change the future?
Don’t be afraid of progress. Progress is not a dirty word. Changes aren’t by default bad. Nothing will ever stay the same, and that is okay. An overreliance on nostalgia breeds inaction and stagnation.
Don’t be afraid to enjoy new stuff. If there’s a new book, a new song, or a new art style you find yourself liking, don’t be ashamed of that just because it was produced this year by some 20-something with weird hair and an even weirder vocabulary. Old-timers need the young to push us out of our comfort zones as much as the young need old-timers to keep the past alive. We’re all connected and to break this chain is to unmoor our culture from tradition . . . and sometimes it is okay to break with tradition. But it should be intentional and directed towards truth and goodness in the objective sense.
Everything new and current isn’t awful and everything old isn’t the best. Try to view things as objectively as possible, recognize that not everything is worth keeping and that not everything is worth jettisoning.
Don’t be afraid of joining a group and helping promote other artists, even if you won’t make any money in return. Making money is great, but it is not the reason we’re doing this. Pitch in on crowdfunding campaigns. Spread the word. Retweet, blog, write reviews of stuff you like. Periapsis Press, Iron Age Media, and Upstream Reviews are doing the work when it comes to fiction and are great starting points, providing reviews and critiques. Maybe you’re not a writer, but you can still provide tremendous value in this sphere.
Understand to whose glory you are creating art. Everybody worships something, even if you think you don’t. You can only defeat a system of morality with a superior system of morality.
Regarding a unified aesthetic, those movements are out there. I differ with Isaac Young in that dissidents need one unified aesthetic. A common set of broad ideals is helpful, but if you like writing gory slasher stuff while others in your sphere prefer family-friendly epic fantasy, that’s great as long as you know what you are for. Which brings me to my last point . . .
You have to be for something, and not just against the status quo—this is something I most definitely do agree with Isaac on. People like to rally around concrete things and want a vision of the future instead of a laundry list of complaints. We all need to spend time thinking about what we stand for and how to articulate it.
I come across like someone who thinks they have all of the answers. Believe me, I don’t. I feel like I am fumbling in the dark and only accidentally come across something worthwhile. But I know what I stand for as much as what I stand against, and I know what I am trying to do, which I’ll attempt to express in a future post.
Check out my series The Swordbringer, soon to be concluded, to see how I tried to meld my influences with things of my own creation.
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