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Nostalgia Ain't Like It Used to Be

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"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", historical events, or cool outfits 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 community-oriented free-thinker and environmental 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, fun 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, all-night dancing at posh hotel and partying at a boozy speakeasy life that is depicted for The Roaring '20s (the Klan was experiencing a revival and you could die if you drank rotgut bootleg, and mobsters were killing each other) or the glitter and grandeur of The '80s is shown as glamorous, high-fashion beautiful people doing "blow" at Studio 54 (there was a point where the Cold War was about to end badly and the AIDS epidemic was either ignored or cheered on by homophobic world leaders). 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; the late '60s (especially 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 subject to an inverted Nostalgia Filter, being 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 Noughties also being a time that paranoia was all around and an economic meltdown was just round the corner. And The '30s 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 those who lived in those eras, for whom the filter will be in full effect). This even applies to decades once portrayed positively: the 1950s are now often presented as a nation-wide repressive prison for everyone not straight, white, cisgendered, and male (complete with ironic sitcom trappings). 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 2000s and the 2010s as George Lucas is for the Fifties or Michael Bay is for the Eighties. And in 50 to 70 years, people will start pointing out what they view as what's wrong with the 2010s and 2020s and take jabs at people holding nostalgia for that period, continuing the cycle.

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.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Billy Bat: the series takes place throughout the years as a conspiracy action thriller used as creative material to write the titular Billy Bat comic book, but even as the comic invokes nostalgia of comic books from the 1950's to the 2000's, we can see the negative effects of racism, sexism, conspiracy, fraud, and poverty that were rampant in these times during the 'real-world' portions of the manga, even as they practically write the plot of the seemingly non-bigoted comic.

  • 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!"
  • Jasper Carrott did a whole bit in the early 1990s about nostalgia for the 1960s and how, as someone who was a teenager at the time, how amusing and misplaced he found much of it compared to what he experienced. In particular the perception that everyone was doing recreational drugs and enjoying the benefits of the sexual revolution, when the reality was that "Swinging London" didn't mean much changed in suburban Birmingham. Having a 'Spaced out feeling' was probably "bleedin' hayfever" rather than weed, and he was so clueless about sex that he thought men could take the contraceptive pill. He called out the Nostalgia Filter for remembering the good music and cool fashion and forgetting the lamer stuff ("'I'm a rubber ball and I'm bouncing back to you'... ooh we used to meditate on that"), how nobody locked their doors not because society was somehow more innocent but because there was "bugger all worth nicking", and how laughably parochial and naive he and his friend were when they rode mopeds to Hamburg - they simply followed a car towing a caravan to get to Dover Docks ("it's how you thought in those days") and had no idea how to handle the Reeperbahn at all.

    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 itís ultimately better to be a fondly-remembered relic of a much-loved time thatís been and gone rather than become a decaying corpse that keeps on going because you canít admit itís all over and you donít know how to stop. The story is ultimately about the protagonist accepting that his particular music tastes arenít the cutting edge any more because thatís 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.

    Comic Strips 
  • 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.
  • For a strip that often depicts the joys and wonders of childhood, Calvin and Hobbes also doesn't hold back about the frustrations, disappointments and difficulties that come with it. Calvin is a smart kid with a vivid imagination and an expert at making his own fun, but he also has practically no means to impact the events that unfold around him or the relationships he has with other people, almost all of his decisions are made for him but he still has to suffer the consequences, real-world problems are much bigger to him because his world is so much smaller, and even when he's 100% right about something, he gets shut down by the adults in his life simply because they're the adults and he isn't. Calvin himself sums it up in one strip where he's knocked into a mud puddle by resident bully Moe, just because Moe felt like doing it:
    "People who are nostalgic for childhood were obviously never children."

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • 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...
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • Fear Street:
    • The first film 1994 naturally has a series of 90s pop and grunge every few minutes, references to My So-Called Life and iconography evoking the likes of Scream (1996) and I Know What You Did Last Summer. But the homophobia of the era is highlighted, as well as Gen X cynicism. Director Leigh Janiak was a teenager during the time, and based everything on her own experiences.
    • The second 1978 does likewise with 70s hits and a cheerful look at the hippie and drug culture, as well as positioning itself as a fun throwback to horror like Halloween (1978) and Friday The Thirteenth 1980. But one of the main characters is implied to be a closeted lesbian who's trying to escape her life by passing for straight, contrasting the two in 1994 who are at least able to be a couple. The drug culture is also shown to be a shallow escape from an empty lifestyle.
  • A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints initially looks like a nostalgic Coming of Age Story set in The '80s, opening its flashback with Journey and portraying the Astoria neighbourhood violence as harmless 'kids will be kids' stuff. Then we see what a Wretched Hive it is, with gang warfare leading to the protagonist being assaulted in the street and having his house graffiti'd, his hooligan of a best friend dealing with an abusive father that no one takes notice of, and racism and homophobia being far more casual. The protagonist returning to his home as an adult in the 2000s is marked by a majority of improvements in the area.
  • It (2017) is a lot more nostalgic than the book. The book was set in the '50s but the film updates it to the '80s, so that it will be nostalgic for the current audience of grown-up '80s kids. New Kids on the Block fans, a character who resembles Molly Ringwald and plenty of '80s Hair galore. But the adults of the town are blissfully unaware of the malevolent force that's attacking and kidnapping the children.
  • Last Night in Soho: The protagonist, Ellie, is an aspiring fashion designer who loves the music, movies and fashions from The '60s, causing her to idealize the decade. She starts having dreams about another girl her age, Sandie, who lived through that decade and wanted to be a singer. Ellie realizes the decade she idolizes wasn't all that great as she watches Sandie's dreams being crushed by the sexism of the era; namely, a man promises her what she wants, but actually tricks her into sex work and abuses her and manipulates her so that she doesn't try to escape.
  • The Lovely Bones is far more nostalgic to the seventies than its book counterpart - with period appropriate music and a color palette that evokes works made in the decade. This only serves to highlight the tragedy of Susie's murder; she even says that it took place in a time before people thought children actually did go missing.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • Downplayed by Remember Me, which is a 2010 drama that appears to be a slightly nostalgic look at the early 2000s. But then the lead character dies in the 9/11 attacks.
  • A Royal Night Out is at first a harmless Roman Holiday-esque comedy in 1945 London, showing off the fashions and music of the period as the citizens celebrate VE Night. But then it shows what a transitional time it was, with another character reminding everyone "there's still a war going on in the Far East", the male lead is a Shell-Shocked Veteran who had his idealism shattered by the death of his best friend and even when the celebration start - you still see weeping couples mourning the friends and family they lost.
  • Stand by Me serves to deconstruct the wholesome 1950s Everytown, America in the lives of its four child protagonists. Gordie's parents favored his dead brother and his dad secretly wishes he had died instead. Teddy's father likewise is an abusive traumatised World War II veteran, and Chris' father is mentioned to beat him hard.

  • 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 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 Steampunk 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.
  • In the fifth sphere of Dante's Paradiso, Dante's great-great grandfather paints Dante a picture of a heroic, chaste, and Christian Florence from the time of the Second Crusade. This beautiful society Dante never got to know contrasts with the corrupt and sinful Florence that banished Dante in favor of a corrupt Pope, leaving Dante to imagine what his home could be if it only followed the example of its dead heroes.
  • In 11/22/63, Jake Epping's trip into the past leads him through some of the darker and uglier sides of the 50's and 60's, which he reminds himself of every time he starts to romanticize about the era. It gets to the point where he can't stand waiting for Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas, finding the city ugly, smelly, racist, and generally miserable. And it turns out the romantic idea he and Al had about saving John F. Kennedy and fixing history's mistakes ultimately proves untrue, as Kennedy's survival results in a truly hellish Bad Future.
  • When Lazarus Long learns he has the option to go back in time to relive the era of his childhood in Time Enough for Love, he's practically skipping with delight as he heads down the ramp from his ship. His feelings of elation remain undiminished even after his first encounter with a local is a small town sheriff explaining they have simple rules in said small town: "No tramps or n—-ers after dark." Even after he establishes himself in the city where he grew up as a child, and is forcibly reminded of the vicious intolerance and sanctimonious hypocrisy of "upstanding society." Even after he belatedly realizes that World War I was a thing that went on while he was a small child. It isn't until he finds himself peer pressured into enlisting (rather than be shamed in the eyes of his own grandfather, whom he'd befriended under his assumed identity, as well as his mother... whom he'd fallen in love with...), forced to train recruits in inferior methods despite having clearly superior technical expertise with both bayonets and unarmed combat, and ultimately gets mortally wounded in No Man's Land alongside a poor soldier under his command, that Lazarus acknowledges that he's glad to be heading back to the 41st century, courtesy of a last second rescue.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Anne with an E serves to deconstruct the idea of 19th Century Canada as an Arcadia as famously portrayed in the 1980s Kevin Sullivan adaptations of the books. At first shown with beautiful visuals highlighting the scenery of Prince Edward Island, and showing the community as a peaceful place, the series soon plays up some of the biggest fears of the period. Anne is sent on the train back to the city, Matthew has to chase after her and Marilla is at her wit's end waiting around for them, with no way of knowing if they've even found each other yet. The series also plays up the abuse Anne suffered in her previous homes because orphans were seen as lesser humans at the time.
  • 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 that plagued the city, the department itself was a hotbed of racism, misogyny, and homophobia. Holt, who's black, specifically tells Jake that when he arrived at his precinct for his first day of work, the other (white) officers believed that instead of him being their new colleague, he was there to turn himself in.
  • Averted in Carnivŗle. 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?
  • Charmed:
    • The episode "Witchstock" subverts the peace and love aspect of the 60s when Paige gets sent back in time. She meets the younger version of their grandmother, who was once a pacifist hippie. In the past she was betrayed by a fellow hippie friend who got her husband killed. She had to abandon her pacifism in order to protect her loved ones from demons, and become the strict witch who raised her granddaughters to become the Charmed Ones.
    • The episode "Show Ghouls" does likewise with The Gay '90s. When Drake and Phoebe travel back in time, he points out how it was considered The Gilded Age. But the fun and frivolity just provided easy ammo for the demon to attack and trap their souls in a time loop.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. Of course this can come across as very hypocritical of Renly considering he then tries to usurp the throne himself after his brother's death.
  • 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.
  • This is basically the concept of Horrible Histories, where they inform people of historical events and periods that are often idealized by bringing up how they are often violent and disgusting.
  • Legends of Tomorrow tends to be good about addressing racism and sexism in the past. When Martin Stein (an elderly straight white male) tells his companions how great The '50s were, they immediately point out that it wasn't so great if you were black, a woman, or LGBT. Indeed, both Sara and Kendra end up getting treated with the same disrespect most '50s men afforded women. In addition, Kendra and Jax had to deal with the overt racism of that time. Sara did her best to convince a lesbian nurse that there was nothing wrong with her preferring women over men. As for what happens when the Legends travel to the Civil War-era South...
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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!
  • 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. They show this by having the aforementioned fans meet the man who played Eddie Haskell. They gush about how great the 50s were, and then he reminds them of things like segregation and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • 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."
  • Sabrina the Teenage Witch has an episode where everyone gets sent back in time to the 60s. She at first loves the peace and love aspect of the era - but then she discovers the blatant sexism of the day when colleges won't accept her because of her gender. She likewise realises how shallow the hippie lifestyle is - Harvey's ambition is simply to travel the country in a van "following the music" after school is over.
  • A running theme on The Sopranos. Tony often laments that the then current Mafia (late 90s/early 00s) is nothing like it used to be. He imagines the mob in the days of his father (mid to late 70s), picturing loyal mobsters who would never turn state's evidence and instead just take their prison sentences like "real men", as a period where the mob was "honorable" and well respected by the community. Flashbacks indicate that if anything, his father's day was just as bad or even worse.
  • 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 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.
  • Stranger Things serves to highlight some of the biggest fears of the '80s - particularly when Will disappears and his mother is at her wit's end trying to find him with the limited technology of the era. It's also considerably easier for the villains to cover up their dirty deeds than it would be these days. The racist and homophobic insults the school bullies casually throw at the child protagonists also are a reminder of how intolerant the '80s actually were.
  • In the same vein, Timeless did not hide the racism and sexism of the past, which popped up fairly often, given that one of the protagonists is black, and the other is a woman. Rufus actually initially refuses to go into the past, pointing out to his Black British boss that there is no time in the American past where his skin color wouldn't be a problem. The only time, where his skin color actually saves the team is when they are captured by a Native American tribe during the French and Indian War, and their chieftess is about to execute Lucy and Wyatt, while letting Rufus go (assuming him to be a slave and thus not free to be there). Rufus's staunch defense of his friends impresses the chieftess enough to release them all.

  • 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, Ritchie 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.
  • The Hold Steady take aim at the '80s nostalgia so common in the New York early '00s indie scene they grew out of with the lyrics "the '80s almost killed me, let's not recall them quite so fondly" and "at least in dying you don't have to go through New Wave a second time". Their song Positive Jam goes through each decade of the 20th century and lists why it sucked.
  • Gaslight Anthem built their fan base on nostalgia: their breakout album was The 59 Sound and their songs are filled with references to 30s, 50s and 60s music and movies. They eventually take aim at themselves with the line Ďdonít sing me no songs about the good times/those days are gone and we should just let them go/God help the man who said if youíd have known me whení

    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 Animation 
  • Homestar Runner has the song "No-stalgia" by Fake Band sloshy, which criticizes the idea of nostalgia in general. Ironically, the music video is chock full of clips showing nostalgic toys from the 80s and 90s, and the black and white portions of the video were shot on a Fisher-Price PXL-2000 video camera, which was first released in 1987.
    They keep remaking my favorites
    But they no longer resonate
    They re-released all the greatest hits
    but now they're disconsolate
    And they're not so great
  • Red vs. Blue:
    • At the end of 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, and for good reason. Back then, the Reds and Blues were Armed Farces in every sense in the term, and the camaraderie they developed during Seasons 6-8 doesn't exist. When Church tried to negotiate with the Reds, they shot him in the foot, with Tucker and Caboose not caring enough to help.
    • In "Not-So-Good Old Days" of The Singularity, Wash uses Mental Time Travel to return to his days when Project Freelancer was in full swing- and is immediately reminded that back then, he was "Bottom of the food chain", and Agent Carolina was a total hardass.

    Web Comics 
  • Terminal Lance takes this trope and runs with it all the way home. The author takes every opportunity to take big steaming dumps on the idea that everything was better in the old days, calling it a romantization of some truly vile aspects of Corps culture like hazings that were indistinguishable from murder attempts, complete disregard for mental health issues and the deep innate hypocrisy of DADT. He holds a special reserve of bile for Clinton-era Marines who insist that the Corps was much tougher in their day.
    Uriarte: "This mouth-breathing idiocy completely fails to acknowledge the fact that Marines of today have been engaged in war for over 10 years straight now. My Marine Corps was a culture of war. Your Marine Corps was a culture of drill maneuvers and liberty risks."

    Web Original 
  • 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).

    Web Videos 
  • The CollegeHumor clip, "Remember When Nostalgia Was Good" (quoted above) discusses and satirizes this trope.
    • Another CollegeHumor video, "no, you weren't 'born in the wrong decade' also deals with this trope. With one individual claiming they were 'born in the wrong decade' and having nostalgia for several periods they weren't even around in while trying to bring her friends around to the same way of thinking; Starting with the 1960s, then the 1920s, and then the 1770s. Only for one of their friends to constantly point out all the bad parts of each period: the racism and segregation of the 60s, the polio epidemics and the widespread organized crime of the 1920s, and the slavery and countless horrific diseases of the 1770s; until eventually they give up out of sheer frustration.
  • 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.
  • RedLetterMedia have brought up personal nostalgia for "Old" Star Trek (ie: pre-2009 JJ Abrams reboot movies) several times, mentioning how ever much they love the older movies, TNG, DS 9 or Voyager. They know that in terms of technical details and acting they are dated, and that "slow" cerebral storylines without much action are unlikely to become major big budget movies anymore. When doing Star Trek: Discovery on "Re-View", Mike mentions how despite all the problems they have with it he still prefers it to The Orville because it is new and original while the latter is too-much like Next Generation in terms of retro production feel and the recycled ideas used in the stories he literally could not watch more than five episodes.

    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 the Justice Guild 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 instead of 'most' of 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.
    • The only reason he's sympathetic is because he's outright nostalgically deluded; his "white male" childhood was as a low-class criminal's abused son, yet he worked hard and succeeded in life by having a dream of what his life should have been and then striving to make that dream for his children. In almost every episode featuring his childhood, he has convinced himself that since he is American, he had a loving family and was filthy rich compared to people in many other countries (which is sadly, Truth in Television), but his kids see through it and it's clearly shown how much it affects their lives (his daughter is a Soapbox Sadie New-Age Retro Hippie, his son is a Jock Dad, Nerd Son, almost exactly the opposite of what he wanted them to be).
  • The Venture Bros. is a whole show built around this trope. It's both a love letter to and a 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.
  • South Park:
    • The 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, or how much they liked the real stormtroopers. 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.
    • However, Season 20 suffered by several rewrites caused by the fact that Parker and Stone based the whole plot on Hillary Clinton's victory, and when that didn't happen several plot threads became irrelevant or went nowhere. The Member Berries' storyline itself was never resolved, and the idea of nostalgia being harmful becomes disconnected from the story or outright hypocritical (for example, the characters ranting on how the new Star Wars films suck becomes moot when the Big Bad's demise is based on Han Solo and Kylo Ren's confrontation in The Force Awakens).
  • Lampshaded in an episode of Daria where Daria's friend Jane starts dating a guy who into retro fashion of 40s and such. He tried to compared those "real and authentic" times to the "shallow and declining" aspects of modern trends.
  • An episode of Big City Greens has the family at a drive-in theater, with Nancy eager to show Tilly her favorite movie, a comedy about a scientist who gets turned into a monkey, but while theyíre watching it, she realizes itís a lot more casually sexist than she remembered and fears Tilly will learn all the wrong lessons from it.

    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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Invoked by Vincent Bennett with younger musicians who have cited various lower-level acts that Vincent either played shows with or was aware of in the early days of The Acacia Strain as long-lost classics, as Vincent has gone on record to state that he couldn't relate to their sentiment, as he never liked those acts or thought they were any good. As far as Vincent is concerned, they may see it as Vindicated by History, while he still sees those acts as third-tier bands that often never went anywhere for a reason.


Video Example(s):


Joel remembers his childhood

While waxing nostalgically about the 1960s to Crow and Tom, Joel winds up being reminded of his own childhood. To the bots' surprise, it turns out Joel had repressed quite a number of things...

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / HilariouslyAbusiveChildhood

Media sources: