Pining for Nostalgia

By Mike Munzenrider.
Instagram photo by Mike Munzenrider, in which he remembers the Ides of March, 2012.

I had high hopes when I set out to write an essay about nostalgia, high brow hopes. Though I’d been assigned to read Proust’s Swann’s Way as a freshman and never got further than 100 pages into it, I was going to quote it. I had Anthony Shadid quoting Mark Mazower talking about war-altered Baghdad and nostalgia, in what was a Pulitzer Prize winning piece; I was going to quote it. I’d cooked up all sorts of pop cultural tie-ins and heavy names to drop, thinking that the more intricate and heady ways I could describe nostalgia, I’d somehow write myself around one little fact: I’m becoming quite contemptuous of nostalgia.

Much of this contempt comes from honest introspection. I can be seriously nostalgic myself, for things like 90′s hip hop, the ’96 Volkswagon GTI I crashed long ago and skateboard shoes that haven’t been made for 12 or so years. Yes, there is a pattern here, but I wasn’t going to give up on redeeming nostalgia. Beyond the self-realization that I was somehow stuck in the past, another realization sort of occurred while conducting an interview for the essay deep in the maze of cultural studies faculty rooms in Nicholson Hall. During what was a very interesting if not staid interview about nostalgia, another faculty member, whose name evaded my notes, walked by in the hall and was asked his take on the subject. He stopped, thought for a moment and quoted Tony Soprano, who’d said, “Remember when is the lowest form of conversation.” This faculty member even added a bonus, if inaccurate, f-bomb to the quote and walked off.

That moment on a Thursday afternoon, past deadline, would have been a great eureka moment to fully realize my essay, which ultimately turned into, more or less, an anti-nostalgia piece. But no, I toiled a bit more trying to wring out some sort of higher truth that could apologize for my, and society’s reliance on a past we long for, which probably didn’t happen the way we remember. In that way it often works, some time after hearing Soprano’s two cents and having stared at notes and a computer screen for some time and with my own nostalgic tendencies in mind, I gave in. I’m over nostalgia and the really big, nostalgic, even, ideas that continue to prop up the whole enterprise. I’d like to think I’m better for it, too.

In the piece, Instagram came up as a benevolent purveyor of soft-nostalgia. Convenient for this Dispatch, this week, Facebook bought Instagram for a cool $1 billion and the news had Instagram users getting preemptively nostalgic. Proof below:


Read Mike’s full essay, Seeing Through Sepia