Think you love college? Think you love your life? Think that this is the best you’re going to get?
Liar. You don’t know it, but you love your past, not your present. You probably love the year that you were in fifth grade the most.
What’s that? You don’t remember that very well? Trust me. Our country gets a big kick out of its past _ not the dead past, not the history, but the living past: your past, your parents’ past. Memories of your childhood. Somewhere inside of you, there’s a fifth-grader who still likes that music and those clothes and misses them terribly.
Want proof? Look around you. No, really, look anywhere. Austin Powers. That ’70s Show. Retro-theme parties, especially ’80s parties. People like to see and hear the things that they knew when they were young. As for the young (hello, college students), we seem to like to be reminded of what we knew when we were even younger. Watch for Transformers t-shirts around campus, or see how excited people get when you put on “She Drives Me Crazy” by Fine Young Cannibals (until the post-mortem George Harrison revival, “Got My Mind Set On You” often had an even more potent effect). You love these things even if you don’t remember them consciously.
It’s nothing new. Ask your parents: in college in the ’60s, they had ’50s parties, too, a concept which I find both unsurprising and hilarious. How far back does this trend go? Did people throw Depression parties in the late ’40s? That’d be amazing. Everyone could dress in rags and every five people would get a potato to share.
Personally, I can’t wait until we’re all willing to embrace a grunge revival. I have some denim shorts and flannel button-downs that are just dying to get up and rock out to a little Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. And it chills my soul to think that today’s kids _ lovers of Pok?©mon and toaster pastries and aloof arrogance _ will someday put on Britney Spears and Eminem and Creed for a nostalgic kick.
Just as smell is one of our strongest links to our memories, recreating the environment of the ’80s through music and clothes can really take you back. A little Peter Gabriel and I’m right back in my sister’s car on the way to elementary school… and for some reason, I like it. Like first love, your first exposure to pop music can be a real kick in the head; the impact never goes away even though you move on to bigger and better things. I’m sure my sister doesn’t even listen to her old Peter Gabriel tapes anymore, but “Shock the Monkey” makes me all of eight years old again.
That’s why samples work so well in making new pop hits. No one would have paid any attention to Jessica Simpson and “I Think I’m In Love With You” without the transplanted hook from “Jack and Diane.” You hear something that you already know and love but haven’t thought about in a while and bang, emotional reaction. It’s not just us. We’re a culture in love with our own past.
Is it a healthy trend? Something about an entire society _ or all of humanity, even _ reaching forever backwards smacks of stagnation and impracticality and simple unhappiness. You can’t get around to living your life if you never stop yearning for your past.
This is why it frightens me when older people describe college as the best four years of their lives. If this is as good as it gets, living out the rest of your life seems a little pointless, and I refuse to look at my life that way.
Still, I like to think I live for my present and future as much as my past, but I still love ’80s music and ’80s movies and ’80s parties. Why not revel in it a little bit? Looking back on fashion trends with fifteen more years behind you lets you see your life a little more objectively _ and maybe it can help you realize how many parts of today’s culture that we’ll laugh at in 2020.
It’s also a chance to live out your childhood as you might have if you hadn’t been a child. I was seven years old in 1989 _ and that only for the last couple months of it _ and there’s no way that I was going to get down on the dance floor to “Like A Prayer.” I don’t know if I had ever seen a dance floor. Sure, I know the music of the era, but I didn’t experience it the way a teenager or young adult or (gasp!) actual adult would. Partying like it’s 1989 is a way of doing it all over again. It’s a second chance, a rewind button for your life, and we all think sometimes about how nice it would be to have one of those.
Admit it. Don’t we all wish that we could go back and try it again sometimes? I know ninth-grade Drew could take a lot of lessons from his modern-day counterpart. Much as I enjoyed high school (most of it), it would be a completely different trip for me today.
So the verdict on retro fun: universal pleasure or a decadent waste? As always, life is a little from column A, a little from column B. Don’t sit around wishing for days gone by; what’s done can’t be undone, and what’s been lived can’t be lived again. But if you just want to throw an amazing ’80s party, you’d better invite me. I’ll show you how it’s done.