Instant(er) Nostalgia

So, finally got around to seeing Oliver Stone’s George Bush biopic W. while I was in San Francisco a week or so ago with Altay, Allie and Chris.

Despite my greatest hopes, the movie’s mostly meh from beginning to end — which is sad, considering how awesome the source material is. The script is disjointed, the writing is flat, and the movie drags about 2/3rds the way in. The flat parody of Condi Rice as a yes-woman with a funny voice wears thin after the umpteenth use. Probably the real saving grace is the badass performance of Josh Brolin, who totally hits the uncanny valley with his role as El Presidente.

But really, what W. ends up being, with the film’s many references and ironic gestures at our hindsight on the consequences of the decisions of Bush administration, is a nostalgia trip. It’s Best of Bushisms 2000-2008. It’s a walk down memory lane. The fond chuckles of the audience everytime Brolin breaks out a “misunderestimate” or replays for us the “Mission Accomplished” scene reflects a sense that even things that transpired less than 5 years ago are safely in the realm of “Man, remember the time that…”

But, in the bigger pop culture context, the real interesting question here is: how close can nostalgia come?

There’s an unoriginal point to be made here. It’s been commented time and time again by people more famous than Our Bureau that the massive success of VH1’sI Love the 80s, and then with I Love the 90s, seem to indicate that the latency period between which a piece of pop culture is new and the point at which stuff enters the nostalgia-verse and becomes considered “old school” is getting shorter. We’re long ways away from the times when we used to yearn for a pastoral past there was no way for anyone to have actually experienced. Most people have directed experienced what they’re nostalgic about nowadays — it happened only a little while ago.

Granted, these staples of the VH1 broadcast lineup don’t define the extreme limits of cultural nostalgia. Indeed, internet culture mostly outpaces this decade mark of “oldness” regularly. Web 1.0 culture from a decade ago is safely, utterly retro chic now. And, as the fires of rickrolling burn themselves out and LOLCat-dom becomes an institution, the original I Can Haz Cheezburger image inspires flurries of remembrances from geeks everywhere.

With the groundbreaking work of Best Week Ever, we know that, at the most extreme, the nostalgia frontier sits nowadays at about the seven day level. With the proper video editing and subject matter, people will sit down and listen to famous people recount lovingly what happened less than a few days ago.

Most people find this shocking. But truth is, it’s only doing pretty good. We could be doing much better.

Could we push it to the day? Or to the hour? Or to the minute? How small can we make the distance between and t+1 ?

One medium that’s been a huge centerpiece in the narrowing of nostalgia is the increasing availability of on-demand personal product creation. The ability for any old Joe the Blogger off the street to get his or her own custom t-shirt/mug/lunchbox/custom postage hugely raised the possibility of capturing Flavor of the Week fads and selling them for fun and profit. Sure this has always kind of happened (cf sports game schwag), but technology makes it a larger and broader phenomenon.

But even then, the turnover is still about a week. You’ve got to wait for your nostalgia. And lord knows we hate to wait in these trying times. What if the financial crisis resolves itself in the time it take me to get my jokey t-shirt? What if my astute political gaffe caption becomes irrelevant? What if people forget about the in-joke that we talked about this morning? It’s the risk associated with creating something and waiting for it that long that prevents us from making nostalgia items about things shorter and more temporary than a week. The higher the speed people can create/receive items that reference the past, the shorter the nostalgia period will become. That’s the only way to shatter into the upper limits. No doubt as companies like Zazzle and Cafe Press get better at order fulfillment, we’ll see ourselves hitting that zone. I think as the mainstream broadcast cycle gets tighter, we’ll also see this mental frontier get closer to the present.

But until then, I’m thinking the bold leap into the future will be DIYing it with iron-ons and a bunch of blank t-shirts. I want to be able to be living my life and then come back an hour later with a shirt that says, “Remember That Time Tim Totally Had That Breakfast Sandwich With Egg and Cheese” and with the date and time small in the bottom-right corner.

Or, “Remember That Time We Were Talking About The Election This Morning.”

The cool thing is that they reference something so incredibly tied to a time and place that they’ll become vintage almost instantly. Perfect.

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