The "tonic" of old-timeyness
Our old-timey addiction: Why we can’t get enough of century-old images (Henry Grabar, Salon.com)
This nostalgia is not special to New York, though it does run strongly here. As a city marked by great migrations, the city claims millions of exiles. It’s said that nearly half of New York City’s population has turned over in the past decade alone. And whatever sentimentalism lay buried in the hearts of those supposedly callous and busy urbanites who currently live here has come rushing to the surface in recent months, as the end of the Bloomberg era provokes a collective flood of reminiscence.
The pace of change has left many feeling like castaways marooned by time if not by place, and it’s easy to see how groups like Berkun’s “Old Images of New York” might provide a tonic, in addition to attracting aficionados of fashion, architecture and automobile design
This fixation on “the way we were” has historically been considered an affliction, but today, psychologists tout nostalgia’s restorative effects. In studies, participants reflecting on memories have reported stronger feelings of belonging, affiliation, sociality, self-esteem and meaning. While nostalgia is most often associated with evidently personal triggers — visiting a childhood home or hearing the voice of a relative — the object that inspires such emotion can be as banal and impersonal as a cookie or a cup of tea.
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This fixation on “the way we were” has historically been considered an affliction, but today, psychologists tout nostalgia’s restorative effects. In studies, participants reflecting on memories have reported stronger feelings of belonging, affiliation, sociality, self-esteem and meaning.
A take (and please, some allowance):
If we were to hear that Russia or India was going increasingly old-timey, and that it was lending them feelings of cohesion and belonging, would we greet the news as appreciatingly as this article would have us New Yorkers' bonding with their ancestors?
Completely different thing? After all it's places like liberal Brooklyn where everyone's going mountain men, channeling ancestors who worked 60 hrs a day in steel and wood to survive in the new country?
I don't think so. For the liberal men, I think their current affiliation with grandfathers who stoically "worked the mines", enables them something they've been searching for but had only until now found insufficient means. They want to go homosocial, unironic, but need some defense so they can believe themselves distinguished from the pleb sexist Americans they've been attacking remorsefully this last long while. Now they can be Men, without the defense and sundering of being ironic -- even somewhat brutal and alcoholic and definitely women-ignoring ones -- because they've fused themselves with the great spirit of Men who sacrificed themselves beyond what any flaccid contemporary could possibly manage.
They're beyond attack, because they see themselves as committed to a path that will lead to profound self-wasting; their bodies with all the other male bodies, who lost it all on field or in workplace. Faramirs committed to sacrificing themselves, beyond being recalled by even Gandalf's insistence that they're behaving beyond reason. They're Biff from "Death of a Salesmen," agreeing that they're the worst of men, but still (therefore) bypassing female obstacles to engage firmly but devastatingly with fate and Father. Dwarves who'll go the distance, to reclaim their ancient homeland.
Women too, see in the photos their own chaining together masochistically into groups, in compensation for their men-folk spending less and less time at home. They're bonding with ancestors who went knit and gossip groups, wishing their men folk could only spend more time at home.
The current nostalgia is not about looking back, but about resurrection, re-bonding -- with grief-afflicted and sundered and comparatively highly conservative people. People are becoming more true to ancestors a way back, those like our grandfathers who were confronted with the Depression and WW2, and who would literally have crashed your head in if you insisted they were surely therefore mentally ill and PTSD. Their participation in these events means they're archetypal; not singular themselves, but of a company of men.
Anyone fearful of the watering down of progressive movements from within, might want to compare the bonding going on here with what happened in the 30s in Germany, when people dumped flaccid liberal Jazz Age Weimer for ancestors of old. In that regressive period, university profs did not defend their Jewish peers.
Emporium / Patrick McEvoy-Halston