Nostalgia Ain't Like It Used to Be

"Remember when nostalgia used to be great?"
"Yeah, nostalgia used to be so great. I remember the first time I remembered Are You Afraid of the Dark?"
“Oh, that was the Golden Age of Nostalgia. That was when you were actually remembering things. Now, it’s just Jimmy Fallon and Buzzfeed remembering things for you.”
“And the saddest thing is kids today will never know how good nostalgia used to be.”

One of the reasons for Hollywood History is the average scriptwriter or executive having a very cursory understanding of the era in which they're setting the story. Usually, they just want to take advantage of the basic 'theme' of that period, and figure that most viewers won't be able to tell the difference, anyway.

The other, equally onerous culprit for simplifying history is nostalgia, especially where dealing with recent history. For example, you almost never will find a movie or show set in The '60s that does not paint the time as an idealistic period. In that period, we're told, every person below the age of 25 was a free-thinker and activist, kids cared about the future and were willing to fight for it, everybody had orgies all the time, and revolution was just around the corner ... or that's how nostalgia would have it seem.

It gets worse with The '50s. Since many writers grew up in the Fifties, it's rarely shown as anything but wholesome and brilliant, with Nothing But Hits blaring out of every radio and every teenager playing rock'n'roll. Despite the continuing mistreatment of black people, the lead in paint, gasoline and food cans, and the threat of nuclear war, the Fifties is often considered something of a golden age as much as the jazz-heavy party overdose of The Roaring '20s (The Klan was experiencing a revival and you could die if you drank bootleg) or the glitter and grandeur of The '80s (There was a point where the Cold War was about to end badly and music since then has been mostly done by computers). The worst parts of these decades and even earlier eras) are similarly not brought up or even totally ignored.

The reverse is also often true; later decades such as the late part of the aforementioned 60s (if set around the Vietnam War) and The '70s — which, not entirely coincidentally, many of these writers were no longer growing up in, being adults — will be painted in a very negative light, with all innocence lost and the dream most definitely being over: Cities are living hellholes, young men are sent to a sure death and the government uses dirty tricks against its people. The same for The '90s, which will be portrayed as a time everyone was either moping or panicking about Y2K. The Oughts also being a time that paranoia was all around and an economic meltdown was just round the corner. And The Thirties are just that, the 30s (aka Great Depression and Hitler) The negative aspects of these decades will be stressed, and any positive things quietly ignored (except for Gen-Xers and Greatest Generation-ers, respectively, for whom the Nostalgia Fiter will be in full effect). Also, the creativity and experimentalism of such decades is often understated in favor of overemphasis on the camp, cheesy, and kitsch aspects of their popular culture (with all of the Pandering to the Base and Lowest Common Denominator that entails). This causes later generations to not take these decades seriously.

This is so all-pervading that it affects even younger writers who weren't even alive during the decade in question, as a kind of "proto-nostalgia". This could have something to do with the way pop-cultural output is treated; between the 20- and 30- years ago mark is when the clothes go from hideously dated to retro chic, the TV shows from ubiquitous reruns to material that has to be sought out, the cars from clapped-out clunkers to seldom-seen, cherished classics and the music from stuff the "new music" stations play on the commercial-free Sunday afternoons to bona-fide oldies. Similarly, the cultural output that is remembered and stands the test of time tends to be the good stuff (or at least, the stuff that the majority of people enjoyed), with the rubbish being quickly left behind or forgotten; as such, we tend to remember The '60s as being a time of great music because the stronger music of the decade keeps getting played and covered and included on soundtracks, whereas the rubbish music (or at least, the music that no one listened to) has been quietly forgotten except by vintage music geeks (who, of course, will be casually looked down upon as Hipsters.

Nostalgists will always insist that they want a return only to the "good stuff" of the past, not the "bad stuff" (notwithstanding the difficulty of reaching a consensus on what exactly was "good" or "bad"). They will most likely condemn the regrettable old stuff vehemently, declaring that it was a "betrayal" of the "true", unvarnished ideal of the past and that decent people disapproved of it back then. At worst, they will (neurotically) defend bad things from the past as necessary evils - the price one somehow had to pay for the good stuff.

Of course, there are plenty of (often younger) writers who happen to like the present fine, thank you very much, and can be quite keen on skewering this trope by pointing out exactly what they think was wrong about the past (often with a none-too-subtle 'screw you' directed at the perpetrators of this kind of mindset in the process). This is not surprising, as all the writers mentioned above did the same thing when they were young. Suffice to say that these young, hip writers so eager to take the past down a peg will in twenty years' time be as irrationally nostalgic for the 2010s as George Lucas is for the late Fifties or Michael Bay is for the Eighties.

This trope is not nearly as awesome today as it was in past centuries. For example, to Stendhal (1783-1842), everything went downhill after the fall of Napoleon, but at least he lived through Napoleon's reign, unlike Gibbon, who thought the world went to hell after the death of Marcus Aurelius, in 180 AD. Hesiod insisted things had been going wrong at least since the invention of iron. Even ancient Sumer has clay tablets dating to around 2500 B.C. with similar complaints, making it Older Than Dirt

See also Ye Goode Olde Days and Nostalgia Filter.


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  • Kentucky Fried Chicken's 1970s-style TV commercials of the 2000s/early-10s invoke this trope. Colonel Sanders (portrayed by an actor) declares that baseball will always remain free of corruption, and that a tank of gas costs $5. Even in the 1970s, neither of these things was true.

    Comic Books 
  • Averted in DC: The New Frontier, with both comics and cartoon adaptation showing (briefly, in the latter's case) the fate of John Henry, who survived lynching (his family didn't) and took revenge on The Klan, only to be caught by them near the middle and murdered as well. The story also dealt with the McCarthyism paranoia of the 50s. On the other hand, JFK in the coda is all but treated as the saintly embodiment of everything good, virtuous, and true.
  • The first arc of ‘’Phonogram'', “Rue Brittania”, explores this trope. The story basically involves the protagonist, a magician and music lover, coming into conflict with 'retromancers' who are attempting to magically rewrite Britain's cultural scene in order to ensure that their musical tastes don't go out of fashion. This eventually results in him facing an Anthropomorphic Personification of the musical genre of Britpop, resurrected by the retromancers as a decaying zombie-like figure, to whom he makes the point that it’s ultimately better to be a fondly-remembered relic of a much-loved time that’s been and gone rather than become a decaying corpse that keeps on going because you can’t admit it’s all over and you don’t know how to stop. The story is ultimately about the protagonist accepting that his particular music tastes aren’t the cutting edge any more because that’s the nature of pop music, and learning to move on from his nostalgic memories of the era to a still-fond but more rounded memory of the time.
  • Averted again with Sandman Mystery Theatre, which actually dealt with issues like the rampant racism of the 30's and 40's. This is notable since in general, most DC Universe publications seem to have a serious Nostalgia Filter when it comes to the Golden Age.
  • Planetary subverts this trope at one point; one issue takes them to a funeral for an Expy of John Constantine which is attended by other homages to the Vertigo Comics characters of the 1980s and 1990s. Although Jakita is a passionate champion of them, the Affectionate Parody nature of the scene is pointedly undercut when Elijah bluntly points out that, divorced of their original political and social contexts, they can't help but look a bit ridiculous. Jakita is forced to concede that he has a point.
  • During the Hands of the Mandarin crossover in the Iron Man books, a spell conjured by the titular villain negated all modern technology. War Machine briefly considered allowing things to remain as they were, by pointing out that things like the atom bomb, pollution, and militarized dictatorships would no longer be an issue, only for his friend Su Yin to counter by mentioning that horrible things, all the way to full-blown atrocities against humanity, existed long before modern technology was around.
    Su Yin: And what about smallpox? Sewage in the streets? Slavery? Never, ever delude yourself that the past was better. Ignorance has always been mankind's greatest enemy.
  • The Superior Spider-Man Team-Up tie-in to Infinity revolved around an Inhuman teen named Fulmina, who wanted to wipe out all the technology in the world in order to bring mankind back to a "better time". Spidey defeated her by forcing her to realize that the past was not actually better than the present, and that the time period she idealized actually had tons of issues like The Black Death, class and race discrimination, and extreme religious intolerance.
  • The "Last Days" tie-in to Ant-Man reveals that Mary Morgenstern, one of Ant-Man's financial backers, is actually the retired superheroine Miss Patriot. When it's brought up that she used to use the name "Mary Morgan" back during the 40's, it's heavily implied that Mary is Jewish, and that her family changed their surname to avoid the rampant antisemitism of the era.
    Mary Morgenstern: Well, don't ever let them tell you the good old days were all good, kid.
  • Paper Girls is a love letter to 80's kid adventure movies like Stand by Me and The Monster Squad, but doesn't shy away from from the less desirable parts of the decade. There's a lot of casual homophobia, and one of the underage characters smokes without any regard for what it'll do to her health. In the words of the writer:
    Brian K. Vaughan: When we look back at that period, we either look back with rose-colored glasses or we think about the kitschy, fun elements of it. There's a lot of dark sadness of the late '80s. I just wanted to be honest about that period.

  • Across the Universe is a film that eulogizes the passing of the 1960s.
    • May actually be a bit of a subversion, since (for example) the hippy spiritualist is a massive dick, the antiwar protester is a mad bomber, and the general veneer of "man, the 60's were awesome!" is relatively thin over rather more realistic depictions of the era.
      • Actually that stuff is a reference to the perception that the anti-war and hippie movements lost their "innocence" when the seventies rolled around. The "mad bomber" is a reference to the Weather Underground, and the asshole spiritualist is meant to represent the "movement" selling out and moving to the west coast.
  • Back to the Future plays with this. At first, shows the Fifties to be extremely bright and happy. But then some darker aspects show up. Racism is mentioned, for instance. Marty's mother is shown to be a somewhat promiscuous smoker and drinker, and Biff Tannen is a Grade A bully and attempted-rapist.
  • Played with in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day; the movie is something of a pastiche of 1930s screwball comedies, and so is set amongst a wide array of glitzy fashion houses and nightclubs and glamorous apartments, with everyone having lots of fun and living it up, and everything's swanky and wonderful... but it's set in 1939, and there's plenty of ominous foreshadowing that World War II is on it's way and about to really shake things up for these people. Furthermore, the titular protagonist starts the movie homeless, and her miserable situation isn't entirely glossed over.
  • Appears in Boogie Nights, which is set in the Los Angeles porn scene during the late seventies and early eighties. Whilst not exactly perfect — it is the porn industry, after all — The '70s are depicted as being a colorful and carefree time, and considering the setting quite innocent as well; everyone's largely happy, everything's going well, and everything's bright and cheerful. Then along come The '80s. The Eighties suck for all concerned. Truth in Television, the porn industry took a hit in the 80's with the onset of AIDS, VHS replacing film and the Reagan administration declaring war on it.
    • The movie follows a similar plot structure to Goodfellas, which depicts The '70s as being a time when everything's going pretty well, and The '80s as a really sucky time for everyone. Although even less rosy than Boogie Nights - Goodfellas, after all, deals with The Mafia - the similar structure nevertheless paints The '70s as a time of optimism for its characters, and The '80s as a time when everything came crashing down. In both cases cocaine (and the main characters' increasing addiction to it) plays a strong role in the misery that follows.
      • The '60s are portrayed even more idyllically, with Henry describing it (in almost those exact words) as the Golden Age of Wiseguys.
      • It actually goes as far to deconstruct The '50s as a time marked by postwar trauma.
  • The specific idealization of The '50s is parodied and ultimately subverted in Pleasantville; the Leave It to Beaver-style television show is initially an innocent and 'wholesome' reflection of the 1950s and the elements of which that are usually yearned after (the nuclear family, clean and pleasant suburbia, etc). Then, when the 'color' that the two real-life kids who have entered the world of the show begins to spread, the resulting tensions between the citizens who are in color and those who are still black-and-white begin to reflect and demonstrate the uglier side of the decade that is often played down, such as racial discrimination and political repression. However, the movie does this in such an anvilicious fashion that some believe it acts to the detriment of the film (the town literally has no world outside it at first, sex literally doesn't exist instead of happening offscreen, etc).
  • The Richard Curtis film The Boat That Rocked (Pirate Radio in the US) is a nostalgic celebration of the The '60s counterculture but also notes some of the less pleasant elements, especially the way 'free love' could morph into selfishness and amoral hedonism. As one character puts it: "the dark side of rock and roll."
  • In the René Clair film Les Belles de nuit (1952), Gérard Philipe's character has vivid Walter-Mitty-like dreams which always start out romantically but which end with him getting into trouble. In them he always meets an old man who tells him how bad this particular era is and how much better things were in the old days, setting up that the next dream will be set in the "good old days" referred to. Thus the first dream is set in the Sahara before World War 1, the second during the French Revolution etc. In the end he dreams of being in the Stone Age and even there the old man shows up to tell him how things have gone downhill since the good old days.
  • Dazed and Confused both plays this straight and subverts it. It portrays, for the most part, an idealized, nostalgia-inducing view of the 1970's, yet also shows how people are often discontent with a period simply because it's the present. At one point in the film, a girl is shown talking about the "every other decade rule"; the 50's were lame, the 60's were great, and the 70's obviously suck, and maybe the 80's will be awesome. Additionally, Pink says "If I ever start referring to these as the best years of my life, remind me to kill myself."
  • Played with and ultimately subverted in No Country for Old Men. Throughout the plot, Sheriff Bell despairs for the modern world and how it could let someone like Anton Chigurh live unmolested in it, and generally holds the belief that nobody like Chigurh would have been able to do so much evil in the old days. However, towards the end Bell talks to his Uncle, who relays the story of how his grandfather was killed - Shot on his own porch by a group of Native Americans, who stood and watched as he bled to death on his own steps. Bell's uncle tells him that men like Chigurh have always existed and always have done evil, and bluntly tells Bell that thinking the past was any better is no more than vanity.
  • Explored in Midnight in Paris: Owen Wilson's character is transported back to the 1920s, a time period he idolizes. While there, he meets a woman from that time period, and both of them are transported back even further to the Belle Époque, which time period she idolizes. The artists there, however, idolize the Renaissance. Owen Wilson realizes that it's better to just make the most of the present than try to live in the past.
  • Averted remarkably in Far From Heaven. Roger Ebert notes the great pains the filmmakers took to film it like a movie from 1950s Connecticut, which is an extraordinary accomplishment. note  Gender roles are paralyzingly rigid for both men and women: sex is a chore for housewives to giggle at over martinis, and they work hard to maintain an outward appearance of flawlessness and gaiety only to lash out in infinitely subtle ways. White people are generally in favor of some nebulous concept called "equal rights for the Negro" but openly criticize integration. Black people are hardly champions of racial harmony either - when a Black man brings a White woman to a Black establishment for dinner and dancing, the other patrons see it as a violation of their safe space. A doctor gently tells his patient he has a modern view of homosexuality - if you're willing to work hard enough, there's a small chance you can be cured. And there's no scene where people defiantly flaunt their liberal views, and everybody has a change of heart from The Power of Love. The Black love interest decides to put on elephant-sized blinders and simply ignore the way everyone else sees his friendship with a White woman (in the dinner scene everyone is staring at them angrily, making comments, and he smiles and says, "See? This is a welcoming place!") and he and his family end up paying for it dearly.
  • A Bronx Tale is rife with aversions. While the narrator does fondly remember his youth during the 50's and 60's, the movie doesn't shy away from showing the racial tension and violence of the era. Even C's father, one of the nicer and less-bigoted characters, states that people should only marry within their own race. That's not even getting into the horribly racist attitudes displayed by C's Italian-American buddies...

  • Bill Bryson's childhood memoir The Life & Times of The Thunderbolt Kid really wallows in 'fifties nostalgia when it comes to the stuff of 'Kid World': comic books, crummy TV, small Iowa farming towns and their many 'Mabels', Atomic Toilets, rocket-powered mail, electric football games and Dick & Jane books. More serious stuff is handled more objectively.
    • Even the nostalgic parts are qualified with a cheerful acknowledgment of how lame most of "Kid World" seems in retrospect, Bryson seeming to take the position that nostalgia should exist despite the flaws of the period, rather than because of their perceived absence, subverting the usual Nostalgia Filter.
      • Consider the fact that he wrote about many of the same subjects in The Lost Continent with a decidedly anti-nostalgic bent.
  • Kim Newman's Diogenes Club story "The End Of The Pier Show' skewers nostalgia for World War II; a group of old veterans have used magic to force an old seaside town to be as it was during the war because they don't like modern times and preferred the war, when everyone 'pulled together' and things were 'much better'. Curiously, the 'modern times' they can't get the hang of are the 1970s, and the hero bluntly tells them that whilst the decade isn't perfect, they have to suck it up and move on; they have no right to force their outdated ways on the present just because they can't get the hang of decimalisation. He also notes that in their rosy-eyed view of the war years, they've conveniently forgotten the rather nasty group of people over the channel who were the whole reason for the war in the first place — and who also have a presence in their little fantasy-land...
  • The King by Rudyard Kipling makes fun of the retroactive romanticism with "Nostalgia is Older Than They Think". The author projects this trend into the Stone Age and 20 Minutes into the Future, thus predicting Steam Punk just as a natural continuation of this.
  • Older Than Feudalism: The Greek epic poet Hesiod put the myth of the Golden, Silver, Bronze etc. Ages into writing. The term "Golden Age" is applied to anything from national history ("the Golden Age of Spain") to popular media and genres ("the Golden Age of Superheroes").
  • Nostalgia Isn't What It Used To Be is the title of French actress Simone Signoret's memoirs (first published in 1975 in French as La nostalgie n'est plus ce qu'elle était). Signoret said the title was inspired by a graffiti she found in New York City.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Averted in Carnivŕle. The 30s seem like a craptastic world where America is replaced by a wasteland that actively tries to kill anyone, no institutionalized justice exists, bigotry is rampant, the poor are callously abused and imprisoned, and even Messiahs have to harm people to perform miracles. This makes sense since probably the only people who have ever idealized the Thirties were those who were actually there, and for the most part they probably only did it while they were actually happening - because, after all, how else are you supposed to get through such a rough time?
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
    • Lampshaded and then some in one episode. Sisko called out a holodeck program specifically for being period inaccurate with regard to the various prejudices of the day. It was then immediately pointed out to Sisko that it wasn't supposed to be an accurate representation of the era, but the era as it should have been.
    • Another episode brutally averted it by depicting the crew as living in pre-Civil Rights Movement New York. Racism, sexism, and police corruption and brutality are portrayed as ever-present threats and the word "nigger" is used to shocking effect for a TV show that aired on prime time in the 90s. The episode's ending leaves it ambiguous over whether or not it was Only A Dream.
  • An episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch has the title character travelling back to the 60's via a Timey-Wimey Ball. She's initially fond of the era for extremely shallow reasons (the "groovy" music, culture, and fashion), but ultimately decides to return to her own time after experiencing the rampant sexism of the period.
  • Actively averted in Foyle's War, which attempts to explode the myth of wartime Britain being a rosy place where everyone pulled together for the common good by showing just how desperate, venal and damaged people were by World War II, a common theme being that war changes people, usually for the worse. Corruption is rife, as people attempt to exploit their positions to either profit from the war or avoid it altogether, people are at times cowardly and incompetent and scarred by the necessities of war (namely hundreds to thousands of people being killed by or killing hundreds to thousands of other people on an almost daily basis) both physically and psychologically, and in the early seasons particularly there's a sense of defeat as the Nazis seem to be an unstoppable, omnipotent war machine crushing all in its path, with Britain likely to prove no different. Furthermore, the government is quite willing to let people get away literally with murder if there's a chance that they can help kill even more Germans, thus raising the question of what the point of investigating murders and other 'trivial' crimes during wartime actually is. Of course, it's not an entirely hopeless place, and there are decent, brave and even heroic people around as well.
    • People who were around at the time, on the other hand, think Foyle's War went much too far in the other direction, portraying Britain as more hopeless and venal than it really was. Most people at the time didn't really change that much: war just highlighted the best and worst of what had already existed. (And no, the government wasn't so soft-headed as to let murderers get away, even to kill Germans: they knew that would be a disaster in the long run.)
  • Averted by Mad Men. Set at the transition point between The '50s and The '60s (culturally, it's the 50s; JFK isn't dead until the end of the third season), the people behind the show go to great lengths to avoid the nostalgia factor. And not with mere background details; what appears often serves to make situations that would be easily resolved in our time hopelessly complicated. In other words (the show is trying to say), although The '60s weren't that long ago, they really were incredibly different, and were not by any stretch of the imagination "better" than our time. Nevertheless, the characters are so engaging and the visual style so distinctive that the series really has to work hard to avoid Truffaut's Theorem.
  • Savagely mocked in this The Daily Show clip, in which John Oliver satirizes conservative pundits harking back to a simpler, better America than the one they believe is being ruined. After interviewing several people from each of the periods that pundits such as Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly grew up in which they discuss how things weren't really that great, Oliver comes to the conclusion that the reason these pundits constantly look back to and reference these times as happier and less complicated is because they were children then, and the world usually seems happier and less complicated when you're a child.
  • A Running Gag on Mystery Science Theater 3000 was for Joel, Mike and the Bots to frequently quip about the darker aspects hiding behind over-sanitized contemporary portrayals of life in the 50's and 60's, especially when it came to instructional shorts from the era:
    Narrator: That's right, Billy; give it a good scrubbing!
    Servo: You keep scrubbing and scrubbing, but nothing can cleanse the stain on your soul!
  • Averted on The Red Green Show when Red talks to teenagers and advises them not to listen to older people who become nostalgic for The '60s. Giving viewers the real story from someone who was there, he explains that a lot of people did in fact try free love...but then they went to the free clinic. And yes, a lot of people did try new stuff...but then they had their stomachs pumped. And yes, half a million people showed up at Woodstock...but a lot more than that went overseas to Vietnam. And yes, the decade did have a lot of great protest songs...but they also had bands like the 1910 Fruitgum Company. He concludes by advising today's youth that, whenever an adult rips on them for not being born in the 1960s, they can just hum back "Yummy Yummy Yummy/I Got Love In My Tummy."
  • Both subverted and played straight on Married... with Children. Al Bundy relishes The '60s and the classic oldies songs from when he was in high school, but another episode has him ripping on The '70s, claiming that the fashion, music and culture all really sucked (this doesn't actually stop him from trying to cash in into the 70s nostalgia craze of the 90s).
  • Humourously played with in an episode of The Goodies where Tim drives Britain to a ridiculous 50s nostalgia wave to the point even television returns to its fifties' tiny black-and-white screen self. The flip-side is that the gang has to report for National Service for two years as it has become mandatory once again.
  • Dad's Army mostly averts this, although there are times when things are glossed over.
  • Thoroughly deconstructed in Penn & Teller: Bullshit! where over the top nostalgia was presented as being at best misguided (the fans of Leave It to Beaver preferring The '50s to modern life) to actually harmful and an indicator of psychological problems.
  • Mocked in an episode of Modern Family, where Jay talks about how great things were when he was growing up in the 50's and 60's. His Latina wife Gloria says things were certainly great... unless you were African-American, Hispanic note , gay, or a woman. Jay acknowledges her point and amends his previous statement by saying things really were great... as long as you were a heterosexual Anglo white male, like him.
  • Occurs in-universe in Game of Thrones when King Robert fondly reminisces of when he was younger and he was a warrior instead of a king, and Renly calls him out on glorifying a period when the empire was torn apart by civil war and a senile, destructive king.
  • Averted in Cold Case many of its cases date back from 1900's to the present, and they usually show the mentality and attitudes in those days. From racism, misogyny, or just plain asshole-ness.
  • The Brooklyn Nine-Nine episode "Old School" centers around Peralta's idealization of 70's police work. Eventually, Captain Holt ends up informing him that the 70's were a dark time for the NYPD, and that in addition to the drug epidemic and high crime rates, the department itself was a hotbed of racism, misogyny, and homophobia.

  • Don McLean's famous "American Pie" is more or less the narrator lamenting the moments that marked the metaphorical "deaths" of first '50s (the deaths of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, three of the rock icons of the decade, in a plane crash in 1959) and then '60s (the disastrous 1969 Altamont Concert that was seen by many as the point that the Counterculture crossed the Moral Event Horizon) culture.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Candorville demonstrates this trope for less than a strip during a bout of Mental Time Travel, then subverts it in the last panel. The time traveled to is the U.S. right before Lincoln's assassination, and while the American Civil War may be over, the prevailing attitude towards blacks hasn't changed much.

    Stand-Up Comedy 
  • Comic Joe DeRosa concedes the often-raised point that complaints about contemporary society's downfall are Older Than Dirt, but he doesn't take that as a reason to dismiss them:
    "People have been saying that shit for thousands of years, and the fucked-up thing is: They were all right! We've been sliding downhill ever since the beginning, it is the worst it's ever been right now, and it's gonna get even worse from here. Neanderthals were basically the only decent people in history!"

    Video Games 
  • The Fallout series inverts this, showing a United States where culturally the Fifties never ended as a shallow, corporation-run nightmare that barely hides the fact that democracy fell by the wayside to Red Scare paranoia. The Federal Government basically became the Nazis.
  • BioShock, BioShock 2, and BioShock Infinite are all full of this trope. The third game in particular drew a lot of attention for its very frank and honest depiction of the rampant racism found in the early 20th century. Expect a lot of Deliberate Values Dissonance, especially when it comes to matter of race or gender.

    Web Original 
  • The CollegeHumor clip, "Remember When Nostalgia Was Good" (quoted above) satirizes this trope.
  • The entire point of The Nostalgia Critic and The Nostalgia Chick is deconstructing this trope. It's argued, however, that all they really do is deconstruct it for what they don't like.
    • Similarly, The Angry Video Game Nerd. Though he tends to mostly review things that are already widely considered to be bad for the sake of watching him suffer, they're still almost exclusively old games.
  • Cracked did an article where Adam Tod Brown outlined things people needed to stop feeling nostalgic for. They included Cassette tapes (Impossible to fast forward accurately and easy to break), mom and pop stores (How many people actually use them?), talking instead of text messaging, and neighborhood crime (That's right, there are actually people who think being able to walk through the streets of Manhattan without the very real fear of death is a step down from the old days).
  • At the end of Red vs. Blue: The Revelation, Church ends up trapped in a memory unit and decides to look for Tex by reliving the events of Blood Gulch, because, "If you're going to be trapped in a memory, it might as well be a good one." Come Season 9, and the first we see of Church has him bitterly complaining that he forgot how much he hated working in Blood Gulch.

    Western Animation 
  • This trope is called out in one episode of The Real Ghostbusters. Ray reminisces on the Fifties and notes what a simpler time they are. Egon tells him that there's no inherent proof of that, and that each decade has its own individual challenges.
  • An episode of Justice League does this when some of the heroes end up in a Golden Age-style alternate universe. Green Lantern doesn't quite know how to take being called a credit to his race. The episode could also be viewed as a more pragmatic look at the comic books released during that time, free from the usual Nostalgia Filter fans look through with them. The catchphrases and corny lines are often painful to listen to and the villains behave in such absurd ways you get the sense a story like this would never be published today. On the other hand, all those elements were a ton of fun to watch due to how goofy they were and ultimately, sacrificed themselves for the second time to save the world, being real heroes. Notably, the original draft of the script had the Justice Society of America as characters, but the creators were forced to change the characters to Captain Ersatz versions of the originals called the Justice Guild, apparently because DC Comics was hesitant to have the real characters shown in that light.
  • Stan Smith and Hank Hill are both very nostalgic for The '80s, due in no small part to the fact that Ronald Reagan was President at the time.
    • Stan, despite not having grown up in the early 20th century, longed for the "simpler days" where men ruled everything and women had no say. When his boss sends him to Saudi Arabia, he is reluctant until he realizes they hold the "old fashioned values" he held dear. This eventually backfired when Francine was about to be executed for singing and dancing in public while wearing lingerie and kissing other men.
      • Of course, Saudi Arabia makes American culture even at its most puritanical look pretty open-minded. The Saudi government bans women's underwear ads, for example.
    • His basic attitude is summed up best in an episode where he makes friends with a man who, in his own words, longs for the days when straight white men held all the power in society instead of just most of it.
  • The Venture Bros. is a whole show built around this trope. It's both a love letter to and a brutal Deconstruction of 60's animation and the Silver Age comic books, and takes pains to illustrate "No, the 60's weren't necessarily the paradise people built it up to be." The flashback scenes almost always contain Deliberate Values Dissonance, such as shocking instances of casual racism or misogyny that were deemed perfectly okay back then.
  • The South Park episode "Member Berries" has the titular berries, which are talking grapes that spout off about how great something from the past was (primarily Star Wars references) used to help alleviate the stress of today. However, after a while they talk about how great things like how marriage being exclusive to men and women were, to the disgust of Randy. It turns out that they're central to Season 20's Story Arc: They intend to use unchecked nostalgia and the Creative Sterility it induces/encourages to convince people to vote for the hideously unqualified Mr. Garrison as the President of the United States in order to ruin the world, a parody of both Donald Trump's presidential campaign and the tendency of mainstream pop culture in The New '10s to be built around adaptations, sequels, remakes, reboots, and Genre Throwbacks instead of fresh concepts due to laziness and greed.

    Real Life 
  • The Trope Namer is a popular aphorism of unknown origin; suggested sources include satirist Peter de Vries and, of course, Yogi Berra; also sometimes attributed to Stan Kenton. Used by French actress Simone Signoret as the title of her autobiography: "La nostalgie n'est plus qu'elle était" ("Nostalgia Isn't What It Used To Be").
  • Most of the nostalgia towards the past is based on Nostalgia Filter. The good stuff is remembered and the bad stuff ignored, forgotten or not even taken in account. When it's about a time period Two Decades Behind people will be nostalgic for it because they experienced it themselves, but from the viewpoint of a child or a teenager, when they didn't have to worry about all the adult stuff that depresses them nowadays, because the grownups took care of all that: taxes, work, bills, tragic news events,... If the nostalgia is about a time period people didn't directly experience themselves the romanticism is even more rampant. People will base their rosy posy image of that time period on stuff they have seen and read in books, comic strips, cartoons, TV series, films, old photos and/or fond memories of older family members. Usually they aren't aware that many things they now take for granted didn't always exist back then or were still considered highly controversial.
    • The glories of Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome are exemplified by the idea that you could see magnificent buildings and civilizations built from scratch. Everyone is able to enlist in the army (well, if you weren't a woman or a slave, of course) and see the world while doing so. You can go and enjoy watching Olympic Games, a play in the theater or watch exciting gladiator battles in the arena. (Not taken in account: class systems, people dying early of diseases we nowadays have proper treatment for, slavery, democracy only for rich upperclass males cityxens, bloody battles, Roman military service had to be fulfilled several years! before you could retire and start a civilian life, women having no rights and not even allowed to watch sporting games,...)
    • The Middle Ages are usually romanticized as a glorious past with chivalrous knights fighting for the honor of beautiful princesses, proving their worth in tournaments, stuffing themselves at royal buffets with the kind old king, and defending castles against malevolent invaders. (Not taken in account: The Plague, wars, mercenaries and soldiers plundering farms and villages, filthy streets, people dying at a young age because of insufficient knowledge of diseases, the injustice of the feudal system, monarchs and the Catholic Church being oppressive towards people with other viewpoints, high illiteracy, people executed and tortured for audience's pleasure and often without anything resembling a fair trial, women considered being lesser in status than men, famine whenever harvests failed,...)
    • The Renaissance and The Enlightenment are the time when society finally got out of the bleak, primitive and God fearing Dark Middle Ages and gained wisdom by discovering a lot of stuff. Kings and queens never looked more magnificent. Artists and sculptors painted the finest works and humanists, philosophers and Protestants learned humanity to think for themselves. You could enjoy a Shakespeare play, listen to baroque classical music or have a swashbuckling duel. (Not taken in account: A lot of new thought and discoveries in the field of science were very slowly adapted into society. Mostly because a lot of royals, religious authorities and other government officials suppressed these "dangerous" new ideas. Compared to those "primitive" Middle Ages more people have been hanged or burned on the stake for their beliefs and/or on the assumption that they were witches during the 1500s, 1600s and 1700s than in the centuries before! The Reformation and Counter-Reformation divided Europe and caused many casualties. All the great books and art works created during this era were only enjoyed or experienced by the very rich. Wars still ravaged Europe, colonization exploited other continents, slavery became a real industry and absolutism made the monarchy and nobility so powerful and decadent that they didn't care about the lower classes. Duels weren't glorious at all, just a matter of killing off your opponent.)
    • The Golden Age of Piracy is one big adventure where you could go on a boat trip with pirates and have fun attacking other ships, taking gold and bury or search for treasure on some Deserted Island. Men were real men with a Badass Beard and cool looking eye patches, hooks for hands and wooden legs. (Not taken in account: scurvy, people forced to do what their captain told them, your ship being attacked by other ships and losing, keelhauling, loot just being spent instead of buried, anti piracy laws could get you arrested and hanged, storms could destroy your ship, all the cool looking eye patches, hooks for hands and wooden legs were just practical solutions for grievous injuries suffered during fights,...)
    • The Wild West is a fun era where you could roam the prairie on a horse, visit saloons and shoot outlaws and Indians. (Not taken in account: slavery was not abolished until deep in the 19th century and still going on in many colonies or remote place in the American South, cowboys took care of cattle and didn't engage in gun fights, gun violence was just as illegal as it is nowadays and could get you arrested by local sheriffs, outlaws could actually remain on the loose for several years, Native Americans being massacred by white settlers and armies, black people having no basic human rights, The Ku Klux Klan was a respected organization, ...)
    • The 19th century and The Edwardian Era were a classy time period where everybody was impeccably dressed and had good manners. You could take a coach ride or (later on) test the "horseless carriage", read some of the greatest novels in history, listen to the first records or even the great Caruso in person, admire the wonders of electricity and enjoy a world still untouched by modern industry. Life in the colonies was even more fun because you so many countries were still unexplored territory and the ideal place for adventure. (Not taken in account: Victorian values were dominant, women couldn't vote, poor people couldn't vote, industrialization didn't have any health, safety or ethical rules to obey, child labor was rampant, workers had no rights, factories were very harmful to people's health and the environment, city rivers were open sewers, upper class had all the advantages upon the lower class, people could be sent to the poor house when they couldn't pay their debts, many novels were just pulp (think of it as the 19th century version of Internet) and music was strictly symphonic, the first automobiles were as dangerous as electricity, colonization was great for white Europeans but not as much for the oppressed native population, animals were still hunted down as trophies, people who looked different were exploited in freak shows and circuses for spectators to Come to Gawk,...)
    • The Interbellum (1920s and 1930s): Between the two world wars life was great. Everybody went to night clubs and/or revue theaters where they could enjoy great jazz and big band music while denizens of girls dance as comedians make their act. Movie theaters were a great place to be, because fantastic cinematic masterpieces were made. On the radio you could great music and serials, and newspapers published the best and most engaging comic strips ever printed. (Not taken in account: From 1920 until 1933 alcohol was prohibited in the USA, so having an alcoholic drink was impossible without getting arrested or dying because of bad homemade brew. Crime was able to organize itself in a way that will probably never get untangled again. Many people got murdered in gangster violence. Jazz music was initially seen as "barbaric" just because it was made by blacks, and it had to be adapted to symphonic music to make it well-known. Hollywood in its early years was subject to more scandals than ever since, leading to a industry-wide censorship that lasted until the 1960s. The Great Depression between 1929 and 1940 caused major unemployment and poverty in many civilized countries, also forcing quite some people to start a life in crime. The "Dust Bowl" generated a desertification of the Midwest. Germany was particularly struck hard, because the country was still paying huge war debts to other countries, causing mass poverty and the ideal atmosphere for Nazism to gain voters. Many countries during this time period suffered under either Nazism, Fascism or Communism. From 1933 on Jewish, homosexual, Romani and left wing people were already persecuted in Nazi Germany, at the same time disagreeing in anything with Stalin meant a one-way ticket to Siberia. War was already brewing in Europe and the Far East, when Japan invaded China and South East Asia. Many countries were still colonies, which wasn't a great deal for the natives there. Afro-Americans were still second class citizens and the Ku Klux Klan was still quite powerful in many political circles.)
    • World War II, the time where the entire world was united against a common evil foe and soldiers could still fight a just cause. Everybody worked together to defeat the Nazis or Japanese, while enjoying great Hollywood films and jazz and big band records on the radio. (Not taken in account: Not everyone was united against the Axis. Numerous people (even Lindbergh and Ford) didn't consider Nazism or Fascism anything bad or felt their country should stay neutral in the war. During the occupations many people were arrested, deported and murdered. People couldn't trust anyone, because your neighbour might be a Nazi collaborator or a spy who would turn you in to the authorities. The Nazis banned American and English music and films in Europe, so you could get in big trouble if you tried. Also, you know, there was a big war on. Millions of young soldiers were drafted and died on the battlefield, cities were bombed and occupied by enemy armies, you could die any day, shortages were rife...)
    • The '50s: The last truly great time period in history. Music, films, politicians were nice, clean and decent. There was a general optimistic feeling about the future, exemplified in sunny fashions, interiors and technology. The youth enjoyed some great rock 'n' roll on their transistor radios and the early TV shows show how happy and pleased everybody was. (Not taken in account: The Cold War, The Red Scare, anti-communist witch hunts, the Korean War, the War in French Indo-China, many European countries tried violently oppressing the inevitable independence of their colonies, Afro-Americans were still second rate citizens in the USA and had to fight for human rights, homosexuals were forced to keep their sexual identity silent in many countries, the traditional role of women as housewives was still encouraged in many Western countries, a lot of music in the hit parade was still the bland, square, formulaic and sappy crooner music popular since the 20s, adults were scared of early rock 'n' roll and actually did everything to suppress the youth from listening to it and becoming teenage delinquents, the TV shows and films of that decade were so escapist that they ignored every controversial element,...)
    • The '60s and The '70s, a great time when everybody was a beatnik or a hippie and enjoyed fantastic rock music, marijuana, LSD and free love. People chased bad guys with their own hands with cool funk and disco music playing in the background. The young demonstrated for more democratic rights and everything changed for the better. (Not taken in account: the older generation looked down upon hippies, the Vietnam War cost many lives, The Cuba Missile Crisis nearly caused a nuclear war between the USA and USSR, Afro-Americans still had to fight for civil rights, just like today there were just as much idealistic but naïve demonstrators who merely wasted time smoking pot instead of actually doing something, drug casualties were just as rampant back then as they are today, people took the law on their hands because of the alarming crime rates, not helped by the extreme corruption of police forces, psychedelic rock, funk and disco are now confined to sit in the shadow of both rock-and-roll and modern pop music, not to mention they are considered to be the most cheesy genres created by man, not all demonstrators were pacifistic in their approach and it's an open question whether everything actually changed for the better, ...)
    • The '80s: Oh yes. A great decade for pop culture after the sordid 70s and before everything went to the gutter: Everybody felt a bright future coming along, as demonstrated by good TV shows, groundbreaking technology, computers and videogames, colorful clothing, simple yet catchy pop music and finally a TV channel that showed your favorite bands 24/7. The Cold War came to an end, the Berlin Wall and Apartheid fell. (Not taken in account: The early 1980s had many people fear the Cold War wasn't going to end well. President Reagan wanted more nuclear missiles in Europe, envisioned the Star Wars defense system and the "Evil Empire" speech reflected the "Red Scare" at a time "the Bomb" was making everybody nervous. The Cold War, Berlin Wall and Apartheid did fall, but only near the end of the decade. Unemployment and economic crisis were a huge problem in many Western countries and the high speculation led to a bubble which fatigued in 1987 and burst in 1989. AIDS caused many victims because governments were slow to inform the general public on this disease as most people at first dismissed as just a problem for blacks, gays and drug users. TV shows and movies were extremely escapist and P Cs and video games were prohibitively expensive. MTV did bring music videos on TV, but the downside was that how a pop star looked and danced became more important than the music, which was now created by computers, becoming increasingly sappy and repetitive as samples became the norm, becoming a disadvantage for those who still wanted to use actual instruments, chords and tunes. Metal and rap were seen as crime-mongering and even "satanic" as a whole. Also drugs went artificial during this time, turning Florida into a Crapsaccharine World. The nuclear power plant explosion in Chernobyl caused another major fear among people about the dangers of nuclear power.)

  • The 'Dark Ages' are still seen as a bleak and decrepit period where human advancement stopped dead....despite the fact that there is no evidence for this and historians have considered the idea bunkum for around eighty years. The reason we think of them as the dark ages at all? Nostalgia inspired by the grand works of the ancient Greeks and Romans. The idea that the Church suppressed learning? While it's true that a lot of stuff that went against the Church's teachings was considered blasphemous at the same time many monks actually preserved very many Pagan writings and ideas and encouraged literacy (among other things).
    • Note also another idea central to the 'Dark Ages' being a block to 'human advancement' - that Europe was inevitably going to lead the world into the industrial era. Not because a centuries-long, highly complex tale of economic factor forces saw investments in instruments and mechanisation which almost accidentally led to unprecedented scientific breakthroughs (encouraged by rising labour costs, the result of mass-migration to the New World at a time when north Europe's regional economies were growing). Not because of conflicts, political intrigue and social trends (along unforeseen events like the Black Death or the Fall of Constantinople) further encouraging the environment that made the Renaissance possible. but because the innate superiority of Christian European civilisation made it inevitable.
    • Made worse by elementary schools' equating of "Middle Ages" (a period of roughly 1000 years) with "Dark Ages" (the first few centuries of this period, called "Dark" because there is proportionally little written information compared to earlier and later periods).
  • Almost ubiquitous in the message of political "culture warriors": apparently, the arrival of The Beatles is roughly when either (a) everything worthwhile started, or (b) it all went to hell.
  • As noted in the Phonogram example above, Britpop curmudgeon Luke Haines is famous for decrying nostalgia in all its forms, because of the way it warps people's perceptions of things.
  • The Hagakure, by Yamamoto Tsunetomo, notes the futility of nostalgia, saying that it's necessary to make the best out of each generation. However, Yamamoto not only claims that the good old days were actually better, he notes that each generation is less than the one before it because the world is coming to an end.
  • With crime rates declining in the US, some criminals have begun pining for the good old days. In the words of one former crack dealer: "These few blocks here were the murder capital of the world, and right here's where I did my business. Made a lot of money too. Even sold it down by the White House. Could do anything back then. We owned this city. Now it's like everywhere else. One giant coffee shop."
    • Speaking of crime rates, crime has steadily decreased in America over the past few decades, but a large percentage of people are convinced that crime has risen to out of control levels. The rise of the 24-hour news cycle is probably at least partially to blame.
      • Despite the belief that they're a recent phenomenon, mass shootings (and persons killed in mass shootings) in the US peaked in the 1930s, the golden age of violent bank robbers.
  • Invoked by many pages on Facebook claiming "Only a real nineties kid would remember X" (where "X" is something nostalgic to the era, regardless of when it actually originated) or that "If you were born in the years 1990-1999 you're in the last generation with common sense." Ignoring the fact that in 2013, if you were born after The '90s you are thirteen at the oldest, this is probably the most confusing example of No True Scotsman ever.
  • This New York Times article discusses "rockism", which is the common belief that rock music is more "authentic" than other genres. It basically says that many critics have an idealized version of the heyday of rock music and rock stars that never actually existed, which they then compare unrelated genres such as hip-hop or electronica to.
    • Something related to this is the idea that metal is more manly than other genres, which is largely based on the image it represents, not the demographic it appeals to (often socially awkward people who think listening to it makes them tough).
  • Much of the popularity of pixel art and chiptunes stems from the nostalgia of 8-bit video games.