September 16, 2013

The Vortex of Vintage: Guilt & Nostalgia. ~ Katie Wilkins

Why do we have this obsession with old things and a strange love-hate relationship with the new?

We consider our grandmother’s closets to be goldmines and cringe at the sight of a “Made in China” label.

 “It’s not like I’m all into nostalgia and history, it’s just that I can’t stand the way things are now”

 ~ Novala Takemoto

I’d like to think for a moment about all the vintage lovers out there. The girls in the 50’s dresses and the kids buying vinyl instead of songs on iTunes. Boys wearing leather lace-ups instead of Nikes and young people sitting on the tram with their iPhone glued to one hand and a 1969 copy of Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five to the other. I often wonder about the guys who love mustaches and beards and have started bringing mullets back. And what about all the people spitting in the face of fancy-schmancy DSLR cameras by using good old fashioned film?

Sometimes I wonder what we’re all on about.

Why we have this obsession with old things and a strange love-hate relationship with the new? Why is everything from Target a no-go but that hideous brown and orange 70’s thermos is number one on our wish list? Why are stores like Urban Outfitters making replicas of old clothing and furniture? Generations before us, on the contrary, were obsessed with the new. They spent their lives trying to progress in terms of fashion, technology and ideas.

So why the urge to rewind now?

I can think of some huge positives to loving vintage, recycling being the main one that jumps to mind. And of course, not letting the great designs, writing and music of the past drown in the sea of touch screens and shopping malls. There’s nothing special about a giant, mass-produced piece of “art” from IKEA and there’s something disconnected about clicking “download” instead of being able to hold a record, tape or CD in your hand. Plus, I think we lost all sense of flattering fashion somewhere between shoulder pads and low-rise jeans. I think the real reason we consider our grandmother’s closets to be goldmines and cringe at the sight of a “Made in China” label has a lot to do with nostalgia and a little bit to do with guilt.

“We are homesick most for the places we have never known.”

~Carson McCullers

For some reason we feel nostalgia for a past that we’ve never even personally experienced.

The past seems so beautiful, simple and raw. The future is just plain scary. We are aware of the rapidity of development—we see the world changing so quickly that we can’t possibly keep up with all the latest musicians, films, news or trends. Fashion, ideas and technology are, nowadays, so disposable and transient. Our books and newspapers are turning digital, our food is becoming more processed and our commodities are cheap and poor quality.

We long for the times when new fashions were new—not just a replica of those that preceded it. Our innate being craves to experience a time when we knew where our food came from and who made our clothing. The desire that we have to relive a time we never experienced might seem quite strange; a utopian view of the past or a romanticized way of looking at what we don’t have.

Wanting what we can’t have is the curse of human kind but particularly, it’s the curse of a generation that is over stimulated, over informed and drowning in things.

We know that the past wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns; there were the world wars and a lack of women’s rights; there was the Act that considered indigenous Australians “Flora and Fauna” until 1967, the slave trade in the US, and so on. But let’s be honest—racism, sexism and war are not dead today and our seniors seemed to have had a way of living a more simple life that was more socially, culturally and environmentally engaged.

I think we feel a bit guilty.

Our over-consumption is going to hurt the environment; we love modern technology but know that it’s bad for us; everything is so easy now. We don’t have to hunt, farm or even cook. We don’t have to build, clean our own dishes or go to the supermarket thanks to Internet shopping. We can’t even sit and daydream any more because our handheld computers distract us during times when, otherwise, we would have read, written or just thought.

But we really like our handheld computers because they give information pronto—they tell us how to get places and let us see photos of our friends on the other side of the world. We also love that we can walk around the corner and buy a cheap bowl of Vietnamese noodle soup any time we want, free from having to know what happened to the cow or what chemicals went into the ingredients. And Spotify is really fucking cool. And Internet shopping is so much better than having to face a giant, shiny, busy mall.

But we mentally smack ourselves every time we get frustrated when Google maps won’t load quickly enough to save us from taking the wrong exit. We often test ourselves to see if we can just wait in a café for our friend without checking our email again. We sometimes wake up hung-over, having drunkenly ordered 9 liters of vinegar, 70 jars and 10 kg of sugar to start our chutney business.

As much as we rely on our 2013 first-world luxuries, we know that the things making our lives easier are also taking away from our intrinsic ability to think, create and act for ourselves.

I sometimes wonder if we’re becoming an impatient and over-indulgent generation.

Are we replacing intelligence and effort with disconnection and laziness? I do fear that by allowing myself to fall victim to 21st century luxuries, I will somehow lose my sense of self—my inherent humanness. So, what if I wear old clothes, grow my own vegetables and read more classics and fewer magazines?

It seems that our fast-paced way of life has lead us to believe that what is old is beautiful.

We want to halt the world’s progress but at the same time revel in all that the 21st century provides us, so, we sleep on vintage bed frames. We read books that are torn at the corners, with pages that are various shades of coffee brown.  We store our food in rusty tin containers despite the health implications and cook our eggs on aluminium pans (even though non-stick pans from Kmart are only seven dollars). We buy records and make preserves like our grandmothers did. We watch old films and still carry around notebooks instead of using our phones and iPads. We will buy the retro couch in the second-hand store even though it’s incredibly uncomfortable and weighs about 200 kgs.

We cling to a way of life that we never had but we desperately hope it will give some more meaning to our busy lives, where information is endless and to be still is to be lazy.

Sure, it does seem like we are being hypocritical romanticists who have “the grass is always greener” written on our foreheads. But although it seems that vintage is just a passing trend that will soon fade, I think it’s far more important than that. The vintage lovers are helping to preserve the past and keep us from getting sucked into the vortex of movement, development and modernization that is our world today. Maybe we can shed the “hipster” label and just appreciate that that we appreciate our history, and relish the fact that we are expressing ourselves by being environmentally friendly, using our brains more, holding onto some of the beauty of the past and getting back to basics.

We don’t need to fear the future but a bit of healthy guilt and awareness of our current culture and lifestyle can go a long way.

Our grandparents have taught us what to change, but they can also teach us what should stay the same.


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Assistant Ed: Stephanie Sefton/Ed: Sara Crolick

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