Nostalgic for Nostalgia

Is the past still the past?

A Facebook friend shared this from Classic Retrovision Milestones:

Yesterday afternoon, I tweeted this:

I got some really interesting responses, which I’ve grouped into categories, none of which are mutually exclusive.

1. There’s no longer a monoculture

David Burbach: “Nothing since has come close to the concentrated social and political disruption of the late 60s & early 1970s. ’50s nostalgia’ was, and is, longing for a different world in a way that twenty or thirty years before today just is not.”

Matt Stimson: “Did the Internet kill nostalgia by fragmenting our shared experiences? I wonder.”

Phimosis Jones: “I’ve wondered if there may never be a collection of quintessential pop songs that everyone knows from the aughts and later, like how there are 70’s and 80’s songs that will never be forgotten. People can discover little known indie artists online and develop their taste in music that way, instead of listening to the radio and hearing the same songs that everyone else is listening to. A good thing for exposure to a variety of music, but no one song may have the same cultural relevance as the hit songs of the past. Music might just be less of a universal cultural touchstone, outside of songs that appear in other mainstream popular media maybe.”

3rd Moment: “I went skiing the other day, and all the 20-something lift operators were playing music from before they were born (Beatles, ACDC, Nirvana, etc.). That kind of thing seems common now.”

To which I replied, “[There has been a] spate of stories recently about how older music is almost all that anyone streams. Even the huge hits of today are a smallish portion. And granting that some of it is just being old, songs that were 25 years old in 1980 were simply from another time, whereas so much from the late 1960s forward (which were already oldies when I was in junior high) still sound contemporary.”

Which leads to a second category:

2. There’s less era differentiation than there used to be.

Ampzilla: “I don’t feel the naughts were that different from now. In contrast the 60s were a world apart from the 80s in so many ways.”

Cathy Young agrees: “Basically this. Though the woke revolution may yet change that.”

Charles Cole: “Everything after 2001 feels the same. Pop music dominated by one genre, pop film dominated by one genre, etc.”

Kitten: “Stuck culture”

Andrew H: “I can understand why people are nostalgic for the ’90s. But since about 2000 there’s been a cultural stasis we haven’t seen over other periods.”

Crouchback: “There’s an interesting book by Robert Gordon ‘Rise and Fall of American Growth’ that argues we had rapid technological change from 1870 to 1970 or so and it’s slowed since. So the world may just be changing less from year to year. Which weakens nostalgia.”

3. The Internet means the past is no longer the past

Ted Gehring: “The internet has given us a constant connection to the past. 2005 is easily accessible on YouTube, etc. So nothing goes away, really. Even forgettable trash is there constantly. When the 50s turned into the 60s turned into the 70s turned into the 80s, the prior era was gone.”

Andre Kenji de Sousa: “The thing about the aughts is that it’s not difficult to find material like archived webpages from that period, Youtube has lot of material. Technology is making this sense of nostalgia obsolete by simply absorbing the nostalgia in our daily lives.”

4. The aughts were a brutal decade, so nobody remembers them fondly

Daniel Larison: “Probably because they were terrible.”

Based Oracle: “The aughts started with one of the worst attacks possibly wince pearl harbor and ended with the worst economic downturn since depression (both arguable but they bad). That probably contributes to the lack of nostalgia for those times.”

Dr. Holly A. Bell combines the two: “There just doesn’t seem to be that much difference between 2002 and now. It’s been one long nightmare.”

Ditto Sometimes Softly: “As a teenager in the aughts I should be the demographic most nostalgic for them but it doesn’t feel like that much has changed. A nostalgic show about my high school days would be soundtracked by ‘apple bottom jeans and the boots with the furrrrr.’ Stirs zero emotion in me.”

5. It’s the goddamn Boomers

(((Sarah))): “I think this is related to how old people think they are, which probably stems from both majority privilege (Baby Boomers always outvote everyone, so if they say they’re young, they are) and from actual health factors. My 75-year-old uncle looks like a 1980s 55-year-old. And Boomers have dictated what ‘nostalgia’ means since around 1964 (when they started turning 18). And they’ve been in charge of Christmas since around 1975; in both cases their parents and descendants have all nodded our heads and said ‘yes, dear,’ because it’s easier this way.”

6. I’m actually just wrong: there’s plenty of comparable nostalgia and I’m just oblivious

Corvus Andronicus: “Stranger Things is ‘Wonder Years’ for Gen X. Except it’s got monsters.”

To which I replied, “And that may be the thing: Whereas pretty much everyone saw Happy Days and Wonder Years, That 70’s Show was comparatively niche. And Stranger Things something altogether more narrow.”

RogueWPA: “Everybody Hates Chris. Fresh Off the Boat. The Goldbergs. Stranger Things. Wandavision.”

When I wondered whether they were nostalgic in the same way, Dan Drezner answered in the affirmative: “The Goldbergs and Stranger Things are 1980s. Fresh Off the Boat (and here I’d add Yellowjackets) are 1990s.”

Others in the thread mentioned other shows I haven’t seen: Derry Girls, The Americans, and Pen15.


The threaded nature of Twitter conversations means I’ve doubtless missed some good insights but I think they’re a good starting point.

I was born in late 1965, near the beginning of what came to be known as Generation X, and have pretty clear memories of the 1970s and 1980s. I remember when “Happy Days” debuted in 1974 (and probably saw the 1972 soft pilot on “Love American Style”). So, nostalgia for the 1950s has pretty much always been a thing.

By the late 1970s, when I was in junior high and starting to gravitate away from my parents’ choice in music, I was listening to the album rock format that was depicted on “WKRP in Cincinnati.” Music from the early rock era of the 1950s was old, even though there were ongoing revivals like “Grease” and Sha Na Na. But British invasion bands were being played right alongside Tom Petty and REO Speedwagon. I knew the older music was ten or fifteen years old but it was still part of the zeitgeist in a way that Elvis and Buddy Holly weren’t. Again, I got plenty of that through nostalgia shows. I liked a lot of it. But it seemed old in a way that the Stones and Zeppelin didn’t.

That speaks to both a relatively slow evolution of tastes and the existence of a monoculture. Certainly, popular music has continued to evolve. Rap and hip hop have arguably become the predominant genre and a decided break from the past, arguably more than the Beatles were from Elvis. And rap has been around a lot longer now than rock and roll had been when hip hop entered the scene. We’ve had punk, new wave, grunge, and all manner of other genres and subgenres of rock and pop. Still, the stations that play or stream modern adult contemporary will also play everything from Blues Traveler to Nirvana to the Who.

As hinted in the tweet that started the post, I do the “this is as old now as that was then” comparative a lot. I don’t know if it’s something I adopted as a college professor to help me understand the perspective of students (the annual Beloit mindset list did this, enough so that it eventually became something of a joke) or is just a quirk of my wiring.

So, for example, the songs from my sophomore year in high school, now four decades old, are as old now as the stylings of Bing Crosby, Glenn Miller, Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, and the Andrews Sisters were then. But here’s the thing: while those songs, from the year before my parents were born, seemed positively ancient to me then, they also seemed that way to my parents. Conversely, while “Pac Man Fever” and a handful of other top songs from 1982 have aged extremely poorly, my kids actually like “Eye of the Tiger” and quite a number of other songs on that list. They’re not their music but they’re nowhere near as old as even Bill Haley or Chubby Checker were to me.

At the same time, the monoculture has been over for a very long time. It’s hard to escape hip hop or Taylor Swift but, on the other hand, I’m only vaguely familiar with the artists of the day. Partly, that’s simply a function of being old. Mostly, though, it’s a function of having access to hundreds of television channels and more streaming content that I’d want to watch than I’ll ever get around to.

I had SiriusXM for a while but got rid of it because I simply have no tolerance for commercials or the inability to skip songs I don’t like. Streaming solves that problem: I get plenty of new-to-me songs and can upvote the ones I like. But, of course, it also means that I’ve created a music bubble for myself.

My girls, aged 13 and 10, have never known television or music in the way that I did. They really have no concept of “channels,” much less schedules. With rare exceptions for hyped-up releases, they have always had video and music on demand. We still watch television together, just like I did with my parents, but it’s essentially never a show that’s on now. (I did endure one season of “The Masked Singer” a couple of years back but, if they’re still watching it, they’re doing so on demand.) Sometimes, it’s a current streaming show on Disney (mostly MCU stuff like “Hawkeye” or “WandaVision”) or Netflix (“Umbrella Academy”). But sometimes it’s new-to-us shows that are relatively old, like “Once Upon a Time.” We’re now streaming “Agents of SHIELD,” which ran from 2013-2020. To them, it makes no difference—they either like it or they don’t. And, with rare exception, they’re not talking about what they’re watching with their friends at school, since everyone is watching their own thing.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kathy says:

    I miss the 90s.

  2. CSK says:

    “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” — William Faulkner

  3. JKB says:

    There’s a book, ‘The Big Change: America Transforms Itself 1900-1950’ (1952), Frederick Allen Lewis, that I found more than a decade ago that illustrates a lot of this. The author describes the changes from the horse culture of 1900 to the ICE automobile, telephone connected, country of 1950. And even then the 1950s were a period of great daily life change with the “modern” kitchen full of thermostatically controlled ovens and “automatic” laundry appliances. And that doesn’t cover the social changes and suburbanization.

    I’ve yet to see a book that does similar for 1950-2000, much less 2000-2020. America changed in those periods, but technologically the changes weren’t so dramatic to daily life, even moving to mobile phones and now Smart phones, which cut the cord and consolidated a lot of devices compared to getting electricity, or a phone, or a car you never had before.

    Consider this comment regarding the first idea of what became radio, then television. 1915 is as far from 1968 as 2022 is from 1968. The transistor radio was the focus of a Dobie Gillis episode 5+ years before 1968.

    For that matter, as late as 1915, when David Sarnoff, assistant traffic manager of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company, proposed a “radio music box” and suggested the future possibilities of public broadcasting, he spoke to deaf ears. But the seeds of the radio and television industries had been sown.

    The internet and streaming were just new ways of distribution, not the same as moving from live performance to music at the flick of a switch.

  4. Andy says:

    I think most of it is marketing. Gen-X is currently the non-old demographic with the most income, so our nostalgic impulses are being targeted, focusing on the 80’s and 90’s. But a lot of it is really bad – see Wonder Woman 1984 for an obvious example.

    I’m unusual in that I’m Gen-X (born 1968), my brothers and sister are all boomers, my parents are greatest generation and my grandparents were whatever generation was born around 1900. (I was a late arrival – adopted in an attempt to save my parent’s marriage and much younger than my siblings)

    I remember as a kid going to my grandparents house and being annoying at being forced to watch Lawrence Welk. That generation seemed very nostalgic for 30’s and 40’s music. My parents were much more eclectic, enjoying some modern music, but mostly they liked classical as well as old-time country and bluegrass – think Burl Ives. My siblings were prototypical boomers and still talk about the Cream concert they went to. My nearest brother, however, got the classical bug and is now a concert pianist.

    Meanwhile, when I was a kid I liked the popular music of the time- late 70’s. As I got into my teenage years, I branched out to 80’s sub genre’s many of which are now categorized as EBM music. But I also loved a lot of popular music, New Wave as well and grunge when the 90’s rolled around. I spent a lot of the 90’s overseas and much of that time I was exposed to popular UK music – which was an interesting experience.

    Anyway, I don’t have much nostalgia. I have no love for 80’s fashion and today only enjoy some of the music from my youth. Like the Dukes of Hazard, A-Team and other shows I watched religiously as a kid, so much of it is crap, stuff I only liked because I was a dumb kid. But many of the cartoons are still great! If you were like me, James, I bet Saturday mornings were special in terms of TV watching.

    My own kid’s tastes are very eclectic thanks to streaming. My son – somehow – got into ELO (Electric Light Orchestra), a band I liked for a time in my preteen years. His playlists are a mishmash – Fleetwood Mac, Lil Nas X, the NF, Hamilton soundtrack, and a variety of smaller youtube and gamer-related music that is actually quite good. I’m really glad he has such diverse tastes, but he doesn’t seem unusual compared to his peers. The only thing he doesn’t like is modern country, and I’m with him on that.

  5. charon says:

    Back when I was little, people mostly watched 3 TV networks, although indie stations did exist. So pretty much all kids watched Howdy Doody, Hopalong Cassidy, Captain Video. Adults were familiar with I Love Lucy and the Ed Sullivan show. CBS showed Hollywood movies late at night, about the extent of movie availability on the TV machine.

    I watch a lot of TV, but most of the shows I see mentioned above I am not familiar with. Between my satellite subscription and two streamers (Netflix, HBOMax) there is more content available to me than I can watch more than a small fraction of. So what people are familiar with is now pretty fragmented, although “water cooler” shows like Sopranos, Game of Thrones, Succession, Yellowjackets still exist. But if you look at the statistics, the viewership of even watercooler show are a small fraction of the population..

    As far as matching up today’s stuff to specific earlier periods – so what? Pick some show today, you can probably find lots of stuff in lots of periods to match it to, that’s like starting with your conclusion and finding a way to get there.

  6. Sleeping Dog says:

    Can’t say that I’m particularly a nostalgic person, though cultural touch points can bring back a fond memory. But nostalgia has a dark side that we see manifested politically by trumpism.

    Bringing it down on an individual level, I cringe when I hear some adult tell a teen that is struggling with his or her life, that “these are the best days of your life, you should enjoy them.” I have two reactions, one is empathy for the adult whose life as turned out so miserable that they pine for their teen years and the other is anger, how dare you crush the hopes of a miserable kid who is hoping that their life will improve. Nostalgia can be a narcotic that provides escape from the need to effect change.

  7. inhumans99 says:

    Without having read the entire post (it was a long one, lol; but I read enough of it to be the typical internet poster that now feels I have a right to indulge in sharing my opinion with the world) I would say that Nostalgia is a bit overrated, but far from a non-existent thing or construct.

    Heck, I just received my Ghostbusters Ultimate Set yesterday and that puppy was limited, but not so limited that folks did not have a fair shot at ordering it at Walmart, BB, an Amazon before it sold out, and the speed at which it sold out and admiration expressed for the set including alternate cuts of the original Ghostbusters, yeah…folks still look to the past to when it comes to embracing what makes them happy. Not to mention how giddy I am that Alligator will be out on UHD soon, another cult film from the 80s that I love and makes me happy to watch.

    The thing is that it has been pointed out that everyone puts on their blinders when it comes to the past, love the 50s and want your woman to be back to being a housewife who is barefoot and preggers in the kitchen, okay, but if you get that you also get your kids being sprayed with DDT in the streets (I think there is a youtube of children playing and being sprayed as the pesticide truck does its thing driving down a street blasting out poison, maybe that happened in the 60s), and you get segregation and even if you are a racist, in the back of your mind you had to know it was an untenable situation because treating a group of humans as second class beings was never going to be a permanent statues in the life of a U.S. citizen as the times were a changing.

    The 60s had great musicians and cars, but oh yeah, tons of political and social unrest, you get that too if you really want things to actually go back to life in the 60s. Heck, I was born in 71 and that year there was a nasty earthquake in Southern CA (I was 2 when my parents moved from Vegas to Southern CA in 1973), the Vietnam War was going strong (I think I was not even 5 when the war ended, but my Dad is a Vietnam War vet who shielded us young ones from the news about Vietnam), and I believe that during the first 8-12 years of my life I was witness on the news to political assassination’s or attempts to assassinate Presidents, and other major social and political unrest in the U.S. and around the world.

    The 80s was a time of a mega banking crisis, and I know that talking to my parents the past few years that how this effected their lives was shielded from me at that time as best they could. Sure, I still love watching some TV and films from the 70s, 80s, and 90s (but mostly I like to revisit films from the 80s and 90s, less dated than some TV shows I used to love) but naw, I love that time moves forward and we get progress like folks being more accepting of the folks who are LGBTQ+, much less racism, no photos in magazines of two folks drinking at a fountain with one labeled Colored Folks Only, and other stuff.

    Heck, folks will be nostalgic about the years 2010-2020 eventually, but on comes the blinders as folks will talk about the golden age of being able to stream so much media content, not having to watch commercials, all those great Marvel films we got to see when they first hit theaters, stuff like that, but the Trump years and how that jacked up the U.S. politically and socially, oh yeah…it will be like all that stuff disappeared down a memory hole.

    I love Pop Culture, and pop culture embraces a lot of the past but since you need to accept the good with the bad if you want things now to be the way they were 30-40+ years back, perhaps it is best to accept that we all need to embrace the here and now and put in the effort now to prevent things from completely falling apart in the near future. Tons of folks claim they want to leave a better future for their kids, but in the past few years their words do not match their actions.

  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    I have zero nostalgia, there’s no part of my past I want to relive aside, maybe from that first kiss with my wife (Awwww. . . retch) and it’s not that I’ve had an unpleasant life, quite the contrary. If I drop dead five minutes from now: thank you life, great ride, no complaints.

    I think our good friend @JKB underestimates the degree of change that’s occurred in the last couple of decades. We’re in the midst of a dramatic revolution in human affairs, as a consequence of the internet and the iPhone, but perhaps even more as a result of status shifts in society. It’s this change that has led to the panicky meltdowns of people like, well, @JKB. While racism is certainly a core component of MAGA, I believe it’s the shift in sex roles that’s caused the greatest panic, resulting on the Left in relatively harmless Civil War general beards, and on the Right in fat, stupid old men LARPing as freedom fighters.

    The nice thing about ’50’s nostalgia was that in the 80’s all we had access to from that era was early rock music, cool cars and the Donna Reed Show. The 1950’s had been sanitized and idealized as this uniquely blessed period when The Depression was over, WW2 was won, and the 60’s had not yet come along to invent gay people, Black people, brown people, you know, all the people who never appeared on Leave It To Beaver.

    The ’60’s are still controversial, the decade when a lot of things changed profoundly. The Right still isn’t over it, still can’t reconcile with the fact that they lost that culture war to a bunch of dirty hippies. They still want to go back to the 50’s and this time, somehow vanquish the ’60’s.

  9. Mikey says:

    Others in the thread mentioned other shows I haven’t seen: Derry Girls

    That show is fantastic, and very funny. You should put it on your watch list.

  10. charon says:

    I think nostalgia for the 1950’s is nostalgia for things neat, tidy, orderly, predictable. That is how the lack of diversity of 1950’s America is perceived, which is the appeal for some people.

    Derry Girls is on my list at Netflix, so much other stuff I have not gotten around to it.

  11. Michael Reynolds says:

    I love Derry Girls. From a writers’ perspective the detailed delineation of so many indelible characters in just the pilot episode is like watching close-up magic. I see it, I’m watching it closely and. . . still don’t know how Lisa McGee* did it.

    *DG showrunner.

  12. Andy says:

    The only thing I’m nostalgic about is how much freedom kids had when I was younger. Now that I’m a parent, helicopter parenting is enforced by the threat of someone calling child protective services or the police if kids are seen out playing on their own. And with so much media content and electronic devices, it’s harder to get kids to go outside anyway.

  13. Stormy Dragon says:

    This could tie into the Strauss-Howe Generational Theorem:

    50s/early 60s was the High part of the cycle and was the last societal High we went through, so it’s not too surprising there’s more nostalgia for it than the 80s/90s which were the Unravelling part of the cycle

    (We’re currently in the Crisis part of the cycle where the old social compact has failed and different groups are vying to determine what the new social compact for the next cycle will be)

  14. grumpy realist says:

    I suspect that people are nostalgic about their childhood periods because they were kids and didn’t have to worry about food, shelter, taxes, etc. and all the other things that an adult living in the very same period would have to think about.

    There was a big brouhaha many years ago in Libertarian circles. One of the writers at Reason wrote an essay analyzing which period in the US was the most “libertarian” and had to say that it was back before 1900. (He was realistic, pointing out that for a lot of the populace the result sucked.) Then a law professor (who really should have known better) wrote a follow-up essay pining over how wonderful it would be to go back to those days and how lovely and freedom-filled it was for everyone… which point he was immediately jumped on by a gaggle of historians who pointed out “yeah it’s fine if you’re a rich male WASP, ONLY!” and slammed him over the head with things like couverture, marital rape, and Jim Crow laws.

  15. Mister Bluster says:

    Stumbled on this looking for something else.
    Daddy’s Little Girl
    Olivia D’Abo

  16. Kathy says:

    @grumpy realist:

    I suspect that people are nostalgic about their childhood periods because they were kids and didn’t have to worry about food, shelter, taxes, etc. and all the other things that an adult living in the very same period would have to think about.

    I guess that’s part of it, but one also tends to remember the good things about earlier eras.

    The 90s were a period of low international tensions and regular economic growth. The Internet was getting started, and over a short span of time there was a lot of content, most of it free. Online shopping was also starting. Free trade was on the march.

    On the other hand, there were the ethnic cleansing wars as Yugoslavia broke apart, the massive devaluation in Mexico in 1995. Al Qaida was quietly ascendant, Russia was imploding as former Soviet republics were rising, etc.

  17. Scott says:

    My wife and I were just discussing this just a couple of days ago. It was instigated by my latest obsession with researching family history and then imagining living in those time periods. My family basically went urban/suburban in the 1880s. Quite frankly, not much has changed since then materially. Electricity, telephones, cars, the basic industrial age start then. We still have them now only better.

    I can’t say my material standard of living is that much difference than in the 50/60s. (BTW, am I the only one who sees the 50s as being kind of dark? Or at least a dark and violent undercurrent?)

    However, in the 90s there was a change and that was the internet and the rise of data. That was new. It is more than just communication. And I think that paradigm shift is still being played out. Other material stuff is still the same, only more so.

  18. just nutha says:

    @grumpy realist: Need a definition for “couverture” s’il vous plait. Merriam-Webster make reference only to a method for making chocolate.

  19. gVOR08 says:

    I think pretty much everyone, commenters and James’ Twitter followers, has a piece of it. I’ll add a political/economic note. What Piketty and others call Les Trente Glorieuses was 1945 to 1975. The period of economic growth after WWII here and in Western Europe and Japan. One can argue endlessly about the causes, as we have in these threads: recovery after the World Wars and Depression, greater equality and democracy, rebuilding, the Marshall Plan, strong unions, whatever. A number of economic measures showed steady improvement, with a fairly clear flattening in the 70s and onward. In the U. S. that coincides with Republicans breaking back into national politics. Hacker and Pierson note that it was in the 70s, in reaction to OSHA and the EPA, that corporations got more involved in politics.

    I’m an early Boomer, I grew up believing life would get better every year, for myself and for everyone, because it was. I don’t believe that anymore. Does anyone? It’s easy to see why nostalgia would have a preference for what was a happier time for most of us.

  20. gVOR08 says:

    @gVOR08: Having mentioned being an early Boomer, I’ll add that I did duck-and-cover drills. Even as a little kid I couldn’t see what good it would do as the movies that went with it showed buildings being obliterated. My point being we were hardly free from a feeling of impending doom. People really did think Russia might launch the Bear and Bison bombers over the pole any day.

    On the other hand, we knew nuclear war might not happen and the authorities were dealing with it. AGW, on the other hand is happening and the authorities are doing nothing.

  21. MarkedMan says:

    Wow. I don’t know who Charles Cole is, but I couldn’t disagree more. 2001 is radically different from today. Just picking one thing, the always on, virtually free and instant connection available anytime and anywhere is in the process of dramatically changing the world. This change may have as dramatic effect on society as the telegraph or telephone, as the railroad or the steamship or the private car. And sure, like those changes, at first they were just used to do the same old things faster or cheaper, but eventually they changed how nations worked, and cities and towns and communities and families. And how individuals saw themselves and the possibilities of their lives.

    I was born in 1960 and spent the first half of my adult life pointing out that all the amazing discoveries of the 60’s – mid 90’s were not having fundamental impacts on our lives. Rather, the changes in our society during those decades were really just the playing out of the radical technologies of the 20’s through the 50’s. The birth control pill spawned the sexual Revolution and women’s lib in the 60’s and on, but it became available in the 50’s. The first transistor was developed in 1947. What was its impact in the 50’s? Almost nothing. 60’s? Some novelties. 70’s? It made things that already existed cheaper and smaller and faster and so available to more people. 80’s? Now it gets interesting. But it really wasn’t until the 90’s that we were doing different things because of that technology.

    Likewise, today we are just starting to play out the radical technologies of the 60’s through the 90’s. Just as the X-ray machine and antibiotics transformed families and societies by (just naming one factor of many) transforming old age from something were a person fell into ill health and died within a handful of years at most, usually of pneumonia, to what we have today where aging, unemployed people can spend 10, 15, even 30 years of increasing decrepitude. Huge, huge impacts from that alone. I don’t have a crystal ball but I gotta think that bioengineering and genetic medicine, first created in the 70’s, is about to have as big an impact on the next 20 years as the x-ray and antibiotics had a half century ago.

    The history of technology mostly boils down to this: it sounds so promising but then it hardly changes anything for a long, long time and then, all in a rush, it changes everything.

  22. CSK says:

    I always figured the Russians weren’t going to waste a nuke on my small elementary school, and if they did, crawling under a desk wasn’t going to save me.

  23. Kathy says:


    I don’t have a crystal ball but I gotta think that bioengineering and genetic medicine, first created in the 70’s, is about to have as big an impact on the next 20 years as the x-ray and antibiotics had a half century ago.

    They already are.

    Aside from the mRNA vaccines, there are also the virus vector vaccines, and various types of immunotherapies for cancer. Not to mention diagnostic tools like PCR tests (not just for the trump virus).

  24. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    unemployed people can spend 10, 15, even 30 years of increasing decrepitude.

    From my perspective–knowing, because of my health history, pretty exactly what qualities that increasing decrepitude will have–the benefits of “increased health/longevity” has been greatly exaggerated. Then again, I’m not one of the “70 is the new 50” cohort either.

  25. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK: Growing up in Seattle relatively close to Boeing Plant #1 (where, IIRC, the air defense/missile research division of the company was housed) we grew up expecting our schools to be in the blast radius. My greatest sense of discomfort about MAD came when I realized that the hill between the Boeing plant and where I lived might shield our neighborhood from the blast, so I was likely to survive. On the other hand, we were only a few blocks away from what is considered the highest point in the city, so maybe my future was doomed after all.

  26. gVOR08 says:

    @CSK: We were 60 miles from a major SAC base, and the Russians might be inaccurate.

  27. Jax says:

    @CSK: Yeah. Exactly. I think I’ve mentioned before that my classmates and I decided it would be more effective to dig a bomb shelter, so we kept ourselves really busy during recess digging a VERY large hole. It was a country school, only 12 of us in the whole school, K-8, so we had some room for holes. 😛

  28. Kathy says:

    I’m fuzzy on nukes, but there is a a kind of electromagnetic (including light and X rays) and thermal shock wave that precedes the blast wave. I think the former travels farther, and it surely travels faster (at the speed of light). At enough distance away, outside the blast wave radius, it may set things and people on fire (you can see the effect on films of A bomb tests). A desk might not protect you from that, but it would be better than nothing.

    Overall, though, the duck and cover exercises were more like just doing something, even if it’s pointless. A more realistic exercise would have been “bend over and kiss your a** goodbye.”

  29. CSK says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: @gVOR08: @Jax:

    Even at my tender age, I was a hell of a lot more worried about radiation. And I knew the desk wouldn’t save me from that, either.

  30. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    Yeah, Cracker and I both presumed we’d die in the blast, being just over the hill from Boeing Field. OTOH, I worried about surviving first strike of WWIII while living in rural Whatcom County. That attitude bit me on the butt 20+ years later interviewing for a job at Boeing.

  31. Maybe it’s the manifestation of nostalgia that has changed.

    In the 1970s we got “Happy Days.”

    Now, our generation is getting “The Book of Bobba Fett” and like properties.

  32. I also wonder if 50s nostalgia wasn’t the outlier in the sense that the 50s were seen (for some) to have been this true American Golden Age.

    Note that the MAGAs are looking for a restored idealized 1950s.

  33. CSK says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    If I’m not mistaken, Patrick Buchanan has always promoted the 1950s as the pinnacle of the American Experience.

  34. Slugger says:

    The 1950s were the age of anxiety;
    Miltown was widely used. The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit was the emblematic novel, and, yes, we were instructed to hide under our school desks to avoid H-bombs. We watched nostalgic TV shows about the old West where a tough guy like Marshall Dillon could solve problems with his gun.
    Nostalgia has always been bullpuckey.

  35. MarkedMan says:

    @Kathy: You’re right about those technologies being present today, but what I was focusing on was the transition from, “Oh my god, we can do this!… but, realistically, it only affects a tiny fraction of one percent, to “whoa, this means that virtually everyone who would have died of pneumonia lives, even if they are otherwise debilitated. Sure, we take the technology for granted. But how is this going to change the social order?”

  36. charon says:


    But how is this going to change the social order?”

    There was much less diversity of all sorts, at least in what was visible.

    Much less visibility of non-European immigrants and their descendants. Gays were in the closet, trans people did not exist. Much less cultural diversity, no cable or satellite TV, people watched over-the-air in black and white, color TV barely existed. Mostly movies were from Hollywood, foreign stuff just a few art houses. The Catholic church still had its index, it would freak out over movies like “Baby Doll.” IOW, totally different culture.

  37. charon says:


    color TV barely existed.

    (When I was in college in the late 1950’s, which technology to use for color TV had yet to be chosen/settled).

  38. grumpy realist says:

    @just nutha: Couverture, or coverture is a legal doctrine from Anglo-Saxon law basically saying that a woman loses her legal identity to that of her husband when she marries. Hence the inability of a married woman to hold property, be the party to a contract, etc. Comes from the Norman French feme covert.

    The one “advantage” the doctrine provided a married woman was that she couldn’t be accused of certain crimes since she was automatically considered to be under the control of her husband. (I don’t know whether this was for all crimes. The example usually given is that of treason.)