You know the type: the old souls who complain that nothing is quite as good as the Good Ole Days. They remain stubbornly unaware of the goings-on of current media and entertainment and fashion and whatever else there is, lest they be infected by the modern virus and start acting as trendy and inane as the rest of their unfortunate peers. They don’t know the hits and rising stars and Top Ten Brad Pitt Movies You Should Watch Before You Die, and they don’t plan to. Everything they like and everything they want was back then, where they themselves would like to be. If they do happen to like something that smacks of modern, they will keep that closely-guarded secret until they die.
I know that type very well, because I’m one of them, raised in a family populated by them, and spend my days surrounded by them to the best of my ability. I am aged beyond my young years, that irritating “not like other girls” of the vintage type, and I like it, dang it.
That isn’t to say I hate all things modern with an unhinged passion. I do love my Imagine Dragons and my Owl City, my BBC Sherlock, and that episode of Blue Bloods I started for Tom Selleck and finished for Donnie Wahlberg. But if I had to choose one or the other, I’d take the dusty oldies. The question, though, is why in this modern age that offers so much would I pick something so. . .ancient? Let’s over-analyze a moment, shall we?
Is it the glamor? Back then, it wasn’t just the movie stars who took pains to look their best. You dressed up to go places. If Leave It To Beaver is to be believed you dressed up, to a lesser extent, to stay home. You took pride in your appearance. As somebody who loves knit pants and three-day-old hair shoved into a ponytail, I don’t think I would survive this aspect for more than five minutes, but maybe the fashions alone would provide me the motivation to take the time to look good. And maybe not, but we won’t go down that road.
Is it the values? Every generation had their rebellious teenagers and their scandalous trends, but the public attitude seemed tempered more with respect, patriotism, just plain wholesomeness, and all those other things that give you the warm fuzzies. The entertainment of the era reflected those values, too, barring such classics as Beach Blanket Bingo and every schlocky B-movie ever. But on this point, I’ll just come out and say it: I’ll take a cruddy old black-and-white mess over any modern movie I find when I’m channel-flipping, plot be hanged, because I know I can watch the former without running into the gratuitous sex and cussing that would make a sailor turn blue. Perhaps I’m a prude—but if I am, I like it.
Is it the quality? They made things to last back then: clothes, buildings, music, cars. But these days? I’m pretty sure the Chinese workers making Nike shoes don’t exactly revel in their sense of achievement with each successfully completed piece of footwear, and after driving an HHR I can darn sure guarantee the people at the Chevy plant just weren’t feeling much patriotic pride that day. The things of yesteryear, to dredge up an old cliche, truly withstand the test of time.
Is it the entertainment? For lovers of classic TV, films, and music, I hardly need to explain. I will shamelessly admit to dropping what I’m doing to watch any Audie Murphy movie that happens to come on, listening to “This Boy” on loop for precisely three hours straight while my cat writhes in existential agony at the repetitiveness of it all, and constructing my day around the Rawhide binge I have been planning for no less than two months, waiting for the perfect moment to crawl into a quasi-pillow fort and let Eric Fleming & Co. chase my troubles away. I can tell everything apart from back then, too, from songs to the first three seconds of a TV intro to most any random two actors you happened to slap in front of me. Today? All the songs sound alike, TV intros stopped being hummable sometime in the mid-80s, and Hollywood is a raving mess of makeup and plastic surgery. Would I be able to make sense of this mess if I just dug a little deeper? Probably. Do I want to when I can just go watch a Burt Lancaster movie instead? No.
Part of it, for me, is the power of knowing something that my peers don’t. One of the perks of being the only one to hold the secrets of the oldies is that you can say random, perfectly relevant things and nobody will understand. You can also say random, less relevant things and nobody will understand those either. (Next time you’re in a public place, try yelling, “Pennsylvania 6-5000!” and see how far that gets you.) It’s fun; it gets you weird looks; and if you’re lucky there’ll be someone old enough to remember what on Earth you’re talking about, and you can share a clandestine laugh with this perfect stranger with whom you have instantaneously bonded after one brief Glenn Miller reference.
With all that said, I would love to go back and live in Them Good Old Days. But there are two ways of going about this, and neither of them are terribly satisfactory (or possible, now that we’re getting all technical, because quantum mechanics scares the snot out of me and I’m fresh out of DeLoreans). The first option would be to invent myself a time machine and go back with all the prior knowledge I have of my modern era. The conveniences and advances of my age would be gone—doctors would still recommend smoking for your health, I wouldn’t have wifi (the horror!), and Amazon’s Same Day Delivery couldn’t bring hoards of impulse buys to my door. Plus, polio.
I would be in the same age as the actors I idolize, able to tune into my boxy old TV and see the debut of my favorite series, but utterly at the mercy of the channel schedule. After slipping the surly bonds of Earth at midnight, I’d be stuck staring at a test pattern if I couldn’t sleep. Would I survive? Sure. Would I miss being able to watch ten solid episodes of Rat Patrol back-to-back through the magic of YouTube? Obviously.
The second option is to wave my magic wand and end up back in time with no knowledge of the future, so I wouldn’t spend my days trying to adjust and wishing that somebody besides Cadillac had figured out how to put climate control in their cars. After all, you can’t miss what you’ve never had. But then how would I know the era I was living in was special? I’d just zip through it as fast as possible, like I do this one, wishing I was somewhere else (which begs the question, “What good stuff am I missing that’s going on right now?”, but we’ll tackle that
never later). I wouldn’t savor anything, because I wouldn’t know to.
So in the end, I’m happiest where I am with Prime Video and pizza delivery and the ability to even have this blog in the first place. I figure we’re where we are for a reason. I wasn’t born too late; I was born just right. . .but I can think of a few people who were born too early.