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.