We’re in an odd position, members of my generation, made to feel nostalgic about items that were never meant to have nostalgia attached to them. Almost every item from our youth was made cheaper, faster and with faster planned and unplanned obsolescence than our parents and grandparents’ generation. Even those items that were originally manufactured as part of an earlier generation were cheapened when they made their way into my time. This cycle has continued into the next generation. My son’s toys won’t make it through the year let alone be passed down from one generation to the next and to be clear, this is for the expensive toys, not the cheap ones.
When I was a boy I would take a record album and put it onto a briefcase turntable. The briefcase turntable was one that I dragged through the house, up and down stairs, threw on tables and chairs, fell off beds, etc, without nary the needle breaking; the record album was one that I forced to play backward, played Frisbee with, shoved in toy boxes, etc and you know what? It played just fine. In the rare occurrence of a scratch a penny on the head of the needle of my briefcase turntable and suddenly it played as if the album was never marred. ! I would listen to the record album and often turn pages on a book when the record indicated it was time by a beep. When I was done often I would make my way into the living room and pull the power button on our console television. Before the day of VCR’s I would put a cassette deck up against the speaker and record programs that I wanted to relisten to as I lay in my bed waiting to fall asleep.
If I wasn’t watching television or being read a book by a record player, I was playing with toys that had some craftsmanship to them. Originally it was toys like my parents had, Lincoln Logs and wooden blocks, as I grew it became more temporal but none the less sturdy—Star Wars toys that would survive being thrown around my bedroom, Stompers that had the generators replaced with larger generators, etc. These toys were seen as cheap in construction by my parents, after all they weren’t crafted by woodworking men but to me they were the toys of my generation.
As I aged still and became of music and movie age I bought cassettes and CD’s, recorded to VHS tapes, the televisions became cheaper, the toys were made of thinner plastics (yet somehow the cost went up on all these items). GI Joe and Transformers were pale comparisons to what Star Wars toys were just a few years beforehand; Lincoln Logs gave way to Lego’s. The world was becoming more consumer friendly, more cost-effective, cheaper and much more temporary.
Comparisons to previous generations could still be made though. My grandparents could talk of flipping through albums of 78’s and selecting tracks to hear; my parents poured over the details of a Beatles album, I read every liner note on a cassette jacket or CD booklet. My grandparents went to see live shows downtown, my parents to drive ins, I went to see movies on the big screen. I could go on but you get the point, yeah, I was the loser by far in terms of quality, of make—but I still had experiences that could be shared and experiences that could be traced back and understood by the generations that came before it. They were still in most cases communal experiences. Even television was communal. When the final Mash or the Wizard of Oz was on, everyone watched it. I don’t mean everyone the way the word is used today, I literally mean every single home in America had those programs on the television. When an album came out and it went to number one it was because a majority of the record buying public bought it in the one or two formats available.
So, my generation is forced to feel nostalgia for a CD, a thing by all accounts that is far, far more temporary and cheap than a record album from the generations before it. It’s cover art is smaller and because of the shrinking less impressive, the words smaller, the idea of two sides and the ebb and flow that was present was now gone. The rush of the experience of peeling the plastic off an LP and knowing you were part of something so much larger when you started to listen to it was replaced by the frustration of trying to remove the plastic case surrounding the CD stores used to put on them to prevent theft or from trying to remove the sticker on the top and bottom that said the artist name and CD title. No longer did you feel part of something bigger. CD’s weren’t crafted. People thought about the width of a groove and how the bass would cause the needle to jump in an album, CDs were ones and zeroes. And yet, they were what my generation had and we cherished them the way our parents did their vinyl. Movies were cheaper to see than live shows, didn’t carry the same cultural significance and yet I can remember the magic of seeing the Black Beauty for my friend’s Mark birthday. All of the boys engrossed and riding the folding seat cushions like horses. The screens we viewed these on were smaller than the drive in screens my parents viewed movies or on but they were none the less still as magical for my generation.
Now it’s a different story. Who cares what the release date of music is if you’re only going to listen to it alone on a phone. What’s it matter when a movie hits the screen if it’s shown in a room that barely 100 people can sit together at once and watch? My son still knows the joy of flipping through a book and smelling the pages as they’re turned by the very first person but with the advent of the e-book that will soon be lost. No one will ever be nostalgic about an MP3, no one will ever remember fondly when a new release was streamed on Netflix. I know, I sound every one of my 39 ½ years.