In Which Saul Does Not Get Nostalgia, Take 500

Today is Back to the Future Day. I see that all the Internet is filled with articles and memes because Back to the Future II occurred on October 21, 2015.

I’m rather perplexed about why my generation and younger millennials seem hooked on a constant nostalgia loop for every moderately entertaining movie or thing from our childhood like blowing on old Nintendo cartridges to make them work. How does the Internet become a constant nostalgia feedback machine?

Please do be so kind as to share this post.
TwitterFacebookRedditEmailPrintFriendlyMore options

101 thoughts on “In Which Saul Does Not Get Nostalgia, Take 500

        • More seriously, I get that you are joking; but to the small extent that BTTF touches on race at all, it’s hardly an attempt to whitewash black cultural contributions or history out of the picture.

          There’s the ambitious, put-upon black diner employee, “Goldie” Wilson, who is laughed at and told to get back to mopping by the white diner owner in 1955, when Wilson states he’ll be mayor one day – except we already know that Wilson will be the mayor, since he is running for re-election in 1985.

          And Marvin Berry and the Starliters are shown to be way cooler than the kids they are playing for (they are not-so-subtly enjoying a “jazz cigarette” outside); and when Marty plays with the band, he was not planning to do so but is literally returning a favor to them, since they chased off Biff’s goons and helped Marty out of the locked car trunk (which is how their guitarist injured his hand).

          This “returning the favor”, is of course metaphor for how Marty, a guitarist and fan of Eddie Van Halen (=the tape he uses as “Darth Vader”, to scare George McFly into action), would trace back that musical lineage to Chuck Berry.

          That a rock and roll fan inadvertently “invents” rock and roll is just a silly in-universe time-travel paradox riff, not some “boomer fantasy” to be “worshipped”.

          Report

  1. More soberly, this is almost certainly driven by the confluence of geek culture and the need of internet media to simply have content. Back to the Future was a quite entertaining movie back in the day, but no one confused it with a massive cultural event. That today is the day chosen for the protagonists’ trip to the-future-as-imagined-in-the-eighties is pretty much a trivial coincidence.

    Although we do finally have hoverboards. Kind of. But no flying cars (which, in retrospect, is probably a good thing as a high percentage of drivers I encounter have enough difficulty navigating in two dimensions).

    Report

  2. I never had a soft spot for the Back to the Future films, so today’s gushing about the series and its premonitions of the future are not my cup of tea.

    Now, if we start talking about Star Wars again….

    Report

    • Yesterday was Charles Ives’ birthday. The local classical station talked about him a bit, and played a few of his compositions. Fun fact: he is known in insurance history circles (stipulating that such things actually exist) for his innovations, which are foundational to modern estate planning. The guy was a thinker.

      Report

  3. I get the sentiment you’re expressing, but I think this is a misapplication of it. I think the calendar striking a relevant day in something enjoyed. My friends and I celebrated “V for Vendetta Day” on the Fifth of November (1997). In the case of Back to the Future, though, it has an element of what they thought the future would bring compared to what it has.

    I’m not even a big BTTF guy. I still haven’t seen the third.

    Debating whether to watch the second today in celebration.

    Report

  4. “Why do people enjoy things they find fun and I don’t? I just don’t get it!” – Saul Degraw

    Later (and earlier)…

    “Why can’t people understand that I just enjoy what I enjoy and they don’t? They just don’t get it.” – Saul Degraw

    Report

  5. The internet has allowed geeks to get together no matter where they are. And back to the future is not just mildly entertaining. Its a solid trilogy with an absolutely brilliant soundtrack. I think Chris is better to talk to about this, but I think it might have to do with the way memory works. Which is why movies with John Williams soundtracks are always so well received.

    Report

    • I haven’t seen II and III in a long time, but I rewatched the original not too long ago, and let me tell you: that is one tight and clever script.

      All that said, I’ve been a little nonplussed (original meaning) at all the BTTF-related internet articles in recent months as well.

      Report

  6. What really perplexes me is how big this entire Back to the Future celebration got without much in the way of apparent coordination. Just a few years ago you would have, at best, a couple of geeks doing something even if you hung out with a very geeky crowd. It seems that many more people and sites are doing something to honor Back to the Future II. Slate, Cracked, and other internet sites have several articles about the trilogy. All power to them because it is good-natured fun but it does seem a bit odd.

    Geek culture has a very heavy element of nostalgia in it even though it is also focused on the future. My guess is that a lot of it is because geek cultural tastes tend to be developed during your childhood compared to other cultural tastes. Very few people become art cinema fans in elementary school unless they are extraordinarily precocious. More than a few people become comics, fantasy, and anime fans as kid’s though. The nostalgia element of geek culture is a way to reconnect with happy childhood memories. It is also fueled by business people who can make money off it with relative ease.

    Report

    • Maybe in doses. I think it encourages an ahistorical thought though. The guy I know from high school who became a right-wing nut job spends half his time posting right-wing nut job jingoistic stuff and childhood nostalgia stuff. Also some stuff on dogs that I agree with.

      Report

    • Chris: Nostalgia, by the way, is very healthy.

      I agree. But I wonder to what degree BTTF Day is really nostalgia.

      I don’t see a lot of people talking about where they were when they first saw it. In fact, unlike Star Wars or Wizard of Oz, I can’t say as I’ve ever heard anyone talk about BTTF since it cam out ever, save whatever year the one in the actual future was set, when every radio DJ in the world takes about all the things the show predicted correctly or incorrectly.

      Even in this thread here, I see people talking about things like glyph noting the script stands up over time, but nothing that really comes off as nostalgia.

      To me, BTTF Day isn’t akin to thinking back about waiting for the ice cream truck when you were seven, and what it was like being a kid with your friends and family. It’s more akin to those times when you’re in college or your early 20s and you want to throw a them party, and someone just picks something fairly random and everyone agrees, “yeah, we can probably make that work.”

      Report

      • I imagine they’re too different kinds of nostalgia, the one about the ice cream truck and the one in which a cultural object we share, and enjoy sharing. The former is very personal, like remembering your ex or that time in college when… The latter is a sort of shared memory of what it was like when we were younger and more innocent and thought that by 2015 we’d all have flying cars and hoverboards (how silly of us!).

        Of course, Back to the Future II is such a salient cultural object entirely because Back to The Future was so popular that everyone of a certain age has likely seen both it and its sequels, but it still is very salient, and you can talk to just about anyone of a certain age about it and collectively experience the nostalgia for the time of your life, of our society, etc.

        That said, I liked 3 better than 2, and would rather go back in time to the Old West for Back to the Future III day.

        Report

        • I think you have nailed it. Except that I am more of an International Talk Like a Pirate Day guy, myself. Also, suppose that the movie making predictions about today had come out in 1915. It would be only a minor news item, with old film buffs talking about it. BTTF is more of a thing because lots of people remember the film from its first run.

          Report

      • BTTF #1–which really isn’t under discussion here–was also nostalgic, but in another way, one that isn’t being discussed (I think, I’ve only read half the comments). My mom, who was 22 in 1955, was, when she saw the movie in 1985, really amused by the references to the 1950s and how hard it was for Michael J. Fox to adjust, especially the little things, like Fox not knowing how to open a bottle of coke or everyone thinking he’s in the navy because he wears a vest.

        I admit #2 doesn’t really pull at my own heart strings. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the whole movie all the way through. But I guess it’s interesting that it took place in 2015, and it’s now 2015, so why not do something harmless about it?

        Report

  7. I think it’s like cable TV, only on a bigger scale.

    If you have 800 channels, you’re going to have to kind of scrape the bottom of all the barrels to get enough content. Rebroadcasting TV shows from the 70s that weren’t popular when they first came out? Sure. Watch people buy and sell things at a pawn shop? Go for it.

    Things like Back to the Future Day on the inter tubes are the same, I think. People need to be entertained every day, so bottoms of barrels get scraped.

    Report

    • Watch people buy and sell things at a pawn shop? Go for it.

      I liked Pawn Stars when it first came out. It essentially was the demotic version of Antiques Roadshow. I was willing to tolerate the strong suspicion that most or all of the transactions were bullshit. I lot interest when the show became more about bullshit faux-reality interpersonal plotlines.

      Report

    • These sorts of nostalgia fests always existed. It’s just that before the Internet, it would be a local science fiction club having a Back to the Future Day or something. Maybe there will be something larger if it happened to coincide with a convention. The Internet and corporations allow for bigger and better coordination.

      Report

  8. Nostalgia has always been present. The internet just makes you aware of people outside your immediate social sphere. This is true for all things, not just nostalgia.

    For instance, I did not catch the Star Wars trailer yesterday. I believe it aired during MNF, which I was watching, but I was doing dishes and chores during breaks in the game. Twenty years ago, I’d have simply not known it ever happened. Or maybe a friend would have told me at school the next day.

    But now? Now I see Tod’s post and I hear it discussed on a football podcast and I know. And it feels huge. Not because it is actually huger than it would have been 20 years ago but because I rub (virtual) shoulders with more folks than I did 20 years ago and, as a result, am more aware of things than I previously had been.

    As to why people get nostalgic for certain things and not others… eash, I have no idea. Why do some people like mayonnaise?

    Report

  9. In my email, there was political spam from the Democratic party about the Fight for the Future, which was written in the style of the Back to the Future logo, so Saul might have point after all.

    Report

  10. I wonder how much of this was fueled by all the fake “today is BTTF day” posts and photoshops that have been floating around since at least 2010.

    Report

  11. Glyph:
    I haven’t seen II and III in a long time, but I rewatched the original not too long ago, and let me tell you:that is one tight and clever script.

    And the casting. We wouldn’t be having this conversation if they’d stuck with Eric Stoltz as Marty – or if John Lithgow had been available to play the Doc.

    Hell, they even found a way to make the Crispin Glover shtick not be irritating (per the old Bill James essay on ballplayer Juan Samuel, Glover is a textbook “Walter Matthau”).

    Report

  12. I think it’s pretty easy to overestimate cultural ephemera from your childhood. Around Christmastime my friend dug out his DVD of Goonies and it was still entertaining, but damned if those kids don’t scream way too much and if there aren’t holes you could drive a truck through. I read this huge list of pretty much all of the films of the 1980s a year or so ago and I have to be honest, the only ones I’d call great works of cinema were Blue Velvet, E.T., and Raging Bull- a list that probably nobody else would agree with. Back to the Future? It’s summer entertainment.

    Report

    • I’m amazed at how quickly cultural objects are discarded. While I watched many of the same cartoons, TV shows, and even movies that my parents watched in their childhood and early adulthood, my son and his friends have no exposure to most of those, and very little exposure to most of the things from my childhood. Part of this is that people his age have grown up in a time when the contemporary entertainment options are virtually unlimited, whereas they were very limited when I was a kid, but part of it is that many of those things just don’t hold up as well in a digital world with ubiqutious computers and cell phones and such.

      Report

        • I just mentioned a compilation of videos showing children watching The Empire Strikes Back and learning that Darth Vader is Luke’s father in yesterday’s thread. Part of being a parent is exposing your kids to stuff you liked as a kid. That’s kinda how cultural transmission works. Sure, there’s nostalgia involved, but even here it’s serving a largely productive function.

          Report

          • My 6-year old boy is Star Wars-crazy. I have not particularly pushed this, and in fact tried to keep him from the prequels as long as possible.

            His 4-year-old sister is into it, to a lesser degree – she’s seen bits and pieces of various SW media, but nowhere near as much as he has.

            So I’m not exactly sure where she learned it (probably from him) but last week the two of them were lightsaber-dueling and acting out the scene (she played Luke).

            You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a 4-year-old girl dramatically scream, “IT’S NOT TRUE! THAT’S IMPOSSIBLE!”

            Report

            • For years, my son carried either a lightsaber (one of those ones that you could retract into the handle) and a poké ball, or both, just about everywhere we went. Granted, he used them for a variety of purposes (the lightsaber worked well for playing army and the poké ball for playing toss, for example), but he chose those two things because they were associated with two of his favorite things. He got into Star Wars through the prequels and the cartoons, though, and Darth Mal was his Darth Vader.

              Report

            • I tried to get my daughter to watch Star Wars when she was about 6. The movie starts much slower than I remember. I gave up only partway into it as she clearly had no interest.

              Report

      • Part of this is that people his age have grown up in a time when the contemporary entertainment options are virtually unlimited, whereas they were very limited when I was a kid, but part of it is that many of those things just don’t hold up as well in a digital world with ubiqutious computers and cell phones and such.

        Also, a lot of the stuff you and I grew up with was… well… crap. Especially in the area of cartoons. Looney Tunes holds up. He-Man was terrible. Really, the only cartoons I’ve found that hold up are Animaniacs and Tiny Toons, both of which were slightly after my time. And Gargoyles and maybe a few others… but all 90’s. The stuff when I was young-young? All crap, as near as I can tell.

        I do think your explanation has merit in other things, though. (Specifically movies.)

        Report

        • Batman: The Animated Series and Robotech holds up. A big reason why so many American cartoons are crap was that there were under many more restrictions than the Japanese were. If G.I. Joe or the Transformers was made in Japan for a Japanese audience than they could do a lot more with continuity, death, sex, and company. The United States, not so much. Cartoons were also supposed to have a direct didactic purpose rather than an implied one.

          Report

    • Back to the Future? It’s summer entertainment.

      I don’t know if I’m prepared to go to the mat for it as an all-time cinema great, but Ebert compared it to Capra (specifically, It’s a Wonderful Life), and he and Siskel both rated it highly (as did others). It was Oscar-nominated for Best Screenplay, and was nominated/won several technical categories as well as some sci-fi-specific awards.

      I don’t know if it’s appreciably less-impressive than E.T.; but as a comedy, it inherently has a tougher row to hoe to achieve critical love than a drama does.

      Comedies make you feel good, and that’s never seen as worthy of respect as making you feel bad.

      Report

      • Groundhog Day was better, but Back to the Future was a solid, solid movie.
        I’ve seen better comedies, of course… but for an 80’s movie, it’s really, really good.

        Report

  13. I have your answer.

    For folks like me, Back to the Future is right in the wheelhouse for nostalgia maximization, because I have kids who are also in the right wheelhouse.

    Because there are a whole bunch of pop culture things I remember from my youth that I can share with them, but there a whole bunch of pop culture things I can’t share with them yet (but boy, I’m looking forward to it).

    I mean, I was 11 when I saw John Carpenter’s “The Thing”. In retrospect, I was way too imaginative to watch “The Thing” at 11. 13 would have been better, probably would have enjoyed the movie as much but gone without the three weeks of paranoid nightmares about my brother’s face ripping off in the middle of the night.

    So for Adults of a Certain Age, we’re now bringing along two kiddos into our pop culture memories and Back to the Future is pretty age-appropriate for anybody who is older than 8 and younger than 15.

    There are a lot of Adults of a Certain Age who *saw* Back to the Future between the age of 8 and 15 who now also *have* children between the age of 8 and 15.

    So that’s my guess.

    A whole bunch of y’all either were younger than 8 or older than 15 when BTTF came out, *or* you now have children that are under 8 or over 15, and hence… yeah, whatevs. It was just another 80s movie.

    Report

    • I think I was around 5 when the original came out. A bit older when II came out.

      If I become a parent, I suspect I am going to be the weirdo who wants to introduce them to Jules and Jim and Cy Twombly paintings.

      Report


    • You have a point about the age of our kids. I am 44 and my son is 20. BTTF is nowhere on the list of movies I want to pass down, its, as you say “just another ’80’s movie.”

      On the other hand, we watched The Thing together not long ago, man is that good and it blew him away just how good it was.

      Report

    • There are a lot of Adults of a Certain Age who *saw* Back to the Future between the age of 8 and 15 who now also *have* children between the age of 8 and 15.

      It’s a weird coincidence…set a movie exactly one generation into the future, and, oddly, it turns out that one generation in the future is where it will be set. Very odd. Wait, no, what’s the opposite of odd? ;)

      I’d call BttF genius by planning for nostalgia, except it was pretty much a coincidence. The first movie wasn’t intended to have any sequels, and the joke ‘a problem with your kids’ ended up writing the script. And, also, nostalgia wasn’t as well understood then.

      But there’s another reason the movie is so nostalgic: TV Tropes points out that the 1955s scene is explicitly meant to invoke the 50s (In fact, it calls that a ‘Mister Sandman Sequence’), but, almost coincidentally, the 1985s scenes *do exactly the same thing* to the 80s to people living now.

      Movies almost always try to make themselves timeless. Watch other 80s movies, and barring a few things that can’t be helped (Older fashions, no cell phones, etc.), they, like all movies, are not trying to be any specific time.

      But BttF *deliberately* contrasted the 50s (and 2010s, and 1880s) with the 80s, and, in doing so, unintentionally made the 80s really really obvious.

      Report

      • Gortimer Gibbons is deliberately going for the nostalgia effect.
        Two reasons:
        1) Cellphones kill plotlines dead. So does wikipedia.
        2) Nostalgia is kinda fun. If nobody has laptops and ipads and everything… well, you’ve got a different sort of world.

        Report

  14. Mike Schilling:
    The earliest version of this I know is from Heinlein’s By His Bootstrap, published in 1941.The main character copies stuff from an old, ratty notebook into a fresh one; the old one is (of course), the fresh one, aged over many years and then brought back via time machine.

    The other canonical example – the Wiki page namechecks it but I’m kind of proud to say that I remembered it before looking – is Somewhere In Time, where the McGuffin (a watch) travels around and around the closed time loop (although at least Heinlein noted that things age, which IIRC the watch never does). Also Kirk’s glasses in Star Trek II/Star Trek IV.

    Report

    • Didn’t Somewhere in Time become a really sappy movie with Christopher Reeve?

      I remember reading about Somewhere in Time conventions and people who name their kids after the characters in the movie.

      Report

  15. Saul Degraw:
    No Last Temptation of Christ? Sex, Lies, and Videotape? Manhunter? After Hours?

    I miss VHS. Last Temptation, like Lawrence of Arabia, was a 2-tape set. This made it convenient to throw the second one away and just watch the first half.

    Report

  16. I’ve only see the first BTTF, and wasn’t hugely impressed.

    I get nostalgia; I don’t really grasp why this particular series is so popular. But I don’t feel the need to pretend I’m superior to others for not liking it.

    Report

Comments are closed.