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Why We Shouldn’t Romanticize the Past

If you’ve been on the internet for longer than a day, then there’s a specific type of post you’ve definitely seen before. It starts with “I wish I lived in [insert past decade here]” and proceeds to tell you why that decade was so much better than the one we’re currently living in. For example, due to the recent wave of 1980s nostalgia (which I have no shame in partaking in), people post about their longing to wear neon clothes and walk around the mall with their Walkmans and scrunchies. I’ve also seen posts about people wanting to live in the 1960s because men were apparently more chivalrous and took girls on nice dates to drive-ins or soda fountains instead of whatever men do for dates nowadays.

So, what exactly is the problem with all that? Surely there isn’t anything wrong with wishing you were born in a different decade. On the surface level, there isn’t — there were probably girls all the way back in 1880 who wished they lived in the 1830s — but it becomes a problem when you divorce an aesthetic from its cultural context. The people making these posts aren’t thinking about the state of the world during these decades. They don’t want the aftermath of World War II, they want milkshake dates. They don’t want the looming threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, they want high-waisted jeans.

The decade we currently live in, with its end rapidly approaching, isn’t perfect. Just like any other decade, it has its own unique set of problems. That doesn’t make it a worse time to exist in than other decades. In the 1950s, the United States was still segregated. Being gay was referred to as “sexual perversion” and was illegal in a lot of states. Women had only gained the right to vote 30 years prior, and even then that right mainly extended to white women. During the 1980s, HIV/AIDS severely affected gay communities, and the US government refused to intervene until it became a full-blown crisis.

That isn’t to say that things like racism and homophobia don’t exist today. They do. The point is that people who say they want to live in those decades have the privilege of knowing they would not be affected by such things, just as they aren’t today. You can still do the things that you would want to do in the 1980s in modern times. There’s nothing stopping you from dressing exactly as your mother did in high school and listening to old vinyl records, and you have the added bonus of a slightly improved cultural climate for diverse groups.

All of the things that happened in these decades created the cultures that we find ourselves nostalgic for now. This current wave of 80s nostalgia is not a new phenomenon at all. In fact, in the 80s, people were nostalgic for the 50s. It’s a cycle that happens again and again and shows no signs of slowing down. There’s nothing wrong with this type of nostalgia, as long as you are aware that those decades had just as many problems as this one does, and romanticizing them can lead to the dangerous ideal of forgetting the struggles that people went through during them.

Images: 1, 2, 3

Amy is a senior at the University of Central Florida, majoring in Creative Writing and minoring in Women's and Gender Studies. She has a lot of opinions on a lot of things and will probably tell you she’s an Aquarius about five times a day, as if you couldn’t already tell.
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