Secondhand Smoke: On Catching Up on Nostalgic Pop Culture

There were exactly three American pop culture exports which I found occupying a dead air in the last few months of 2015: Star Wars, Charles Schulz’s strip Peanuts, and rock band Sleater-Kinney. Depending on your degree of cynicism, all three of them bear a same DNA — as either shreds or fully-intact ones — in a way that the underlying asset capitalizes on nostalgia; warming up the footsteps they’d left years ago.

Here’s a brief data on the era which I think represent these three’s glory days: Peanuts, 1962; Sleater-Kinney, 1997/2005 and Star Wars, 1980. Respectively, I was -33, 2/8 and -15 years old. Scattered across 2015, they returned to the better part of 2015 when No Cities to Love, The Peanuts Movie and The Force Awakens came along. I could use some more convincing, but it really doesn’t matter whose nostalgia they all were.

One reason why I’m writing this essay is to make sense what it would mean to be on the front row at any Sleater-Kinney’s Olympia shows, wait patiently for Charlie Brown to fly his kite on a daily newspaper, and get squished on the opening night of Revenge of the Sith. On this side of the world where such luxury is relegated into facsimiles — I live in Jakarta, Indonesia — this is unequivocally frustrating and satisfying at the same time.

Overthinking aside, one question that persists is this: How would the communal sense of enjoying these things enhance the experience? How would nostalgia help? Or better yet, does it help?

On my weakest guess, yes it does. That feeling couldn’t be more pronounced by The Force Awakens. The movie was, for what it’s worth, a corporate/white slavers-approved, pretty regurgitation of A New Hope save for Han Solo not turning into a floating Jedi ghost. And that’s fine; great, even! Lots of people still valorized the characters, the sets, even the obvious parallels to the original trilogies no matter how overwrought they were thought to be. Some still put on fucking costumes at Comic Con.

Sleater-Kinney is a worse example, but the argument still holds nonetheless. Their recent record is, according to the band, not an attempt at forging a nostalgia. In an interview with LA Times, Carrie Brownstein didn’t even think of this one as a comeback per se. By the same token, none of their records sound like their predecessors; The Hot Rock barely sounds like Dig Me Out, No Cities to Love could only dream of sounding like The Woods (I was a little on the fence about that one. Man, The Woods is the shit). That being said, conversations that don’t mistakenly or correctly mention anything related to a ‘comeback’ are practically next to nothing.

On my strongest, no it doesn’t. At the very least, this is how I’d like to think of it. I’m not sure if nostalgia warrants a dichotomy (whether it matters or doesn’t), but you know, there’s always the six movies (discounting the other canonical works), countless strips and records to go over once you’ve discovered the most recent output. You can always rediscover and love things as if you were the first in line when in reality you’re the millionth. Basically, it doesn’t matter.

Alright. Screw the in/out group mentality, no? Subconsciously, I think I’ve known this for some time now, but it is easier said than done. So what gives? I guess there isn’t a square way to explain what a direct impact past legacy could do to the new one, you know in terms of psychology or whatever, but from my experience, I think it takes time.

But it sure was nice, wasn’t it?