Armagideon Time

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Space Ranger’s shoulder-finned and glass-helmeted ensemble may scream primo retro to today’s audiences, migraine but in 1963 his look was intended to project a theoretical glimpse into a fantastic (if improbable) future. As goofy and rooted in the then-present such aesthetics were, they still applied a forward-looking view even when regurgitating the pulpy tropes of decades past.

The same applies to the streamlined industrial designs of Raymond Lowey or the chrome-and-two-tone pastel automonstrosities put forward by Harley Earl — both pegged to revolutionary developments in aeronautics entirely at odds with the nostalgic semiotics their visions would come to assume.

Jump ahead to the present day, and such forward-thinking views are hard to come by. We live in an age where we can talk to handheld computers and disseminate ideas to millions of people with the touch of a button, yet the ideaspace is cuttered with re-makes, de-makes, revisionism, and other acts of retro-riffery. From chiptunes to mash-ups to psuedo-vintage minimalism, everything new is old again…while everything old is recycled and re-processed to serve older incarnations of its original audiences.

It’s not that I’m opposed to such things. I’m fine with revisiting old forms and paying creative tribute, and cleverness abounds within those realms. What troubles me is what the will to retro represents within our broader culture.

There was a time when social progress was viewed as a given. Sure, the parties involved may have quibbled over timetables and logistics, but the sense that things would (and more importantly should) get better for everyone was shared by all but the most fanatical flat-earthers and fellow pockets of rabid reaction, who were viewed as fading holdouts from the wrong side of history.

It was a grand dream, but it couldn’t survive the economic jolts of the 1970s and the subsequent embrace of a zero-sum approach to equal rights and opportunities. Even as the foundational components of the old dream have been rolled back, the notion of progress has been twisted into a self-centered ideology of acquisition and consumption.

“You actually believed that you should be able to do better than your parents? Or express your freedom in non-abstract ways? Fuck off, you entitled shits. The greatest, most prosperous and perfect Land of Freedom and Opportunity owes you nothing.”

I’m not saying there’s a direct link between the fetishization of shitty 1980s toy cartoons and the dismantling of the last vestiges of a nominally egalitarian society. Taken together within historical context, however, those tendencies are symptomatic of a state of profound decadence, where retrograde romanticism and hollow appeals to past glories can barely conceal the rot within.

This is how a dream ends, with a pixel art Hugga Bunch character presenting a pink slip.

13 Responses to “The long and downward spiral”

  1. sravner

    Is this about today’s Supreme Court ruling?

  2. bitterandrew

    Among other things, but the general idea has been kicking around in my skull for a while now.

    Still not sure the post articulates it well, though.

  3. Tim O'Neil

    Sounds like SOMEONE needs to reread CAPITAL. And maybe throw in Giovanni Arrighi’s LONG TWENTIETH CENTURY.

  4. bitterandrew

    I must have missed the chapters on the semiotics of steampunk fashion and the umpteenth pseudo-retro lady cosmonaut cheesecake sketch posted to tumblr.

  5. Tim O'Neil

    Base, meet superstructure – superstructure, meet base. The tendency of the rate of profit to decline is on line 6.

  6. Doug Hudson

    Nostalgia is the opiate of the masses?

  7. damanoid

    We know now that things aren’t going to get better, so why bother trying to imagine what ‘better’ would look like? It takes all our imagination just to ignore what we’re doing right now.

  8. kidnicky

    Aren’t you the guy who writes the online edition of Wizard Mort of the Month? And the guy who makes fun of old RPG charts? And posts Wall Of Vodoo music videos?
    If you don’t like retro culture, you COULD review one of today’s good comics, or post a Passion Pit video, or write about 4e D&D. Of course, in doing so you’d have to admit pop culture continued past your junior high graduation.

    Love your ISB jokes, hate your shoegazing soliloquies.

  9. bitterandrew

    “hate your shoegazing soliloquies”

    Aw, fuck. And I spent so much time growing out my bangs and trying to find a distortion pedal for my computer keyboard.

  10. Ken Lowery

    “Love your ISB jokes, hate your shoegazing soliloquies.”

    Then what in the stone fuck are you doing here?

  11. kidnicky

    I’m here because, as I said, I enjoy articles where he makes fun of old Image characters. That said, how can you give a lecture about people enjoying nolstalgia too much when your whole act is dredging up some nerdy pop culture item and making fun of it.

  12. Ken Lowery

    It seems obvious to me. There’s bad ways to reconsider and appraise the past, and good ways. Andrew decries the bad ways. What about that is hard to follow?

  13. sravner

    If you don’t use what you learn from the past to make something new, you’re a failure, even if you’re a success.

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