The Corner

Time Passes

Ross is meditating on the passage of time. He writes:

Via Tyler Cowen, Jason Kottke has a post that vividly illustrates how music and movies from your childhood become “oldies” and “classics” without your even noticing it. To wit:

Watching Star Wars today is like watching It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) in 1977 …

Listening to Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit today is equivalent to playing Terry Jack’s Seasons In The Sun (1974) in 1991.

Watching The Godfather today is like watching Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936) in 1972.

Ross goes on to muse about Back to the Future being a disturbing example of this sort of thing. He writes “here’s the more frightening point: In just seven years, we will be as distant from the Marty McFly Eighties as that era was from the George McFly 1950s. Which means that to achieve the same narrative effect, a Back to the Future remake that came out in the Obama Administration would have to send its leading man hurtling back through time to … 1985.”

It’s funny this all came up because I’ve been thinking about this very thing for a while. Though my touchstone is the TV show Happy Days which is supposed to be about America from roughly 1955 to 1964. When I watched Happy Days as a kid (as pretty every other kid in America did), the fifties seemed like Jurassic Park. I think this is in part because there were few places where the 1970s were more acute than the New York City of my childhood (if you’ve seen Panic in Needle Park or Taxi Driver you have a sense of the zeitgeist, if not quite the reality). But in 1975 Happy Days’ 1955 was only 20 years earlier. Today, if you were to make a Happy Days type show about life 20 years ago, it would begin at the end of the Reagan years.

Bonus depressing thought: the 1950s were more recent to the 1970s, when Happy Days was on, then the 1970s are to today.

Of course, Family Ties was in its own way a contemporaneous Happy Days but that’s a discussion for another time.


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