Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Past Perfect

We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.” 
Anaïs Nin

I can remember sitting in English classes years ago learning about “tenses”.  My eyes would cross while my brain performed exotic, snake-eating-its-own-tail type of maneuvers, as I struggled to fully appreciate concepts such as, Future in the Past.
“I knew you would do it.” is a sentence that conveys somehow, that in the past, you were aware that something would happen in the future, and yet the sentence happens all at once. For me, it was as much a study of Einstein’s relativity theory as it was English grammar, but I suppose both can only be truly understood intuitively.

The tense that seems to command attention these days is Past Perfect.   Ever since the past happened we haven’t been able to go backwards fast enough.
We worship the past so much that nothing from now seems to count. We admire the past and its perfective state through the haze of mass media filtered nostalgia.   

“Retro” is the rage and we have jumped through the rear view looking glass.

 Take the car companies for example.  They are recycling old name plates on vehicles that bear no resemblance in form or function to the originals because of the marketability of the brand.  When you see new versions of the Chrysler K Car, the Chevy Chevette, or Ford Granada, head for the hills, for surely the end of the world is nigh.  Certain things were meant to be sacrificed to the trash heap of history.   Some of the new cars with old names have been designed in ways that suggest their former glory, (Seen the Dodge Charger lately?) but it is becoming politically incorrect and downright expensive to own a real muscle car.

Despite all of the wistful longing for past perfection, we now actually live our lives in Present Continuous. 

History has stopped happening.  

Thanks to the internet, and websites like Facebook and YouTube everything that has occurred may perpetually continue to occur, on demand.   
Attention spans have shriveled because we are so distracted. Past and Present exist simultaneously and history is easily manipulated merely by updating a Wikipedia entry. George Orwell lives among us. Big Brother doesn’t have to spy on us as we once feared. Now we report in voluntarily. 

I first knew for sure that the time continuum had become distorted when a recently deceased friend posted something on my Facebook page.  Whether he had been reincarnated or resurrected was hard to determine but it has become apparent that though we may die, our digital souls have infinite half lives.

Shifts in the scale of time have blurred the edges of our own epoch as well.
Usually when I watch a movie determining the setting is simple.  One image of a panoramic scene, a close up on the technology or clothing and the century, continent or planet is revealed.  Each decade from the turn of the 20th century through the 1980′s all had their distinct and clear iconic images. 

That no longer seems to be the case.

What if you were to film a movie today? How would you establish the time and place visually?
 So much time has been spent retro-fitting our lives, we no longer have much of a present.

 How would you make a distinction between a movie from 2007 or 1995?  Noting changes in cell phone technology or perhaps the widespread use of ever smaller and sophisticated computing devices is about it.  Will saggy pants and tattooed everything be our legacy?  When it comes to this generations’ stamp on our visual memory, there’s nothing that really sets apart the past 20 years.

1970’s fashions weren’t my favorite.  I didn’t like bell bottoms then and I didn’t like them when they were recycled in the 90’s.  I’m not asking for disco to stage a comeback either, but at least those years had a unique character and flavor. 

My parent’s generation had the humility and honor to call their music from the late 50’s - the dawn of the rock and roll era, “oldies".  It was at least a full acknowledgement that their childhood was over and in the past.  Starting in the early 1970’s movies like American Graffiti, the TV shows Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley signaled the beginning of our backwards longings and regression. 
 Baby Boomers managed to create a protracted adolescence for themselves and are now refusing to grow up.  They cling to their childhoods and label every artifact that defined it as “classic”.  Ah, The Wonder Years...The word classic has been dragged around so much lately it’s lost its true meaning.  I’m not sure how they decided that their memories are particularly precious and set some sort of standard.
My personal definition of “Classic Rock” is any popular band that has at least 1 dead member.  Somehow baby boomer stuff never gets old; the past is perfect and present all at once.  You can turn on the radio and  “Classic Rock” from the 60’s, 70’s and even 80’s  still dominates commercial airwaves, even though that music is further in the past now, than my parent’s late 1950’s era music was in the early 1970’s.   During the 1980’s the Woodstock generation did their best to continually rehash the 1960’s, pun intended.  The drugs obviously affected their ability to properly mature.
Surely I was not the only person to note the irony when The Who performed “My Generation” at the Super Bowl in 2010.   I was deeply embarrassed for myself, as well as Roger Daltry and Pete Townsend while they sang the lyrics, “Hope I die before I get old” as both were well into their 60’s at the time.
I don’t want anyone to get the impression that I think getting older is a negative thing.  I’m all for a healthy, mature outlook.  I would just like to see a more graceful means of embracing the changes wrought by age.   What was edgy and rebellious 40 years ago now sounds like the pathetic refrain of denial. 

Perhaps it is well past time we all grew up, looked to the future and changed our tunes just a bit?


23 Skidoo said...

Just released today...

Doesn't look a bit like my old Dart...

Dalai said...

One of my favorite "retro" products...

A $4000 remake of the old Accutron Spaceviews that sold for less than $100 in the late '60's and early '70's. I still have one that I need to fix...

ehowton said...

This is the most moving, and gorgeously well-written thing I've read in a long, long time.

Thank for you writing this.

I would like to quote it from time to time, as applicable, because nearly everything you've said here will almost always be forever applicable.

Nurse and Hospital Stories said...

"What was edgy and rebellious 40 years ago now sounds like the pathetic refrain of denial."

I agree. Many people want to grow old when they are still children, yet when they are old enough, they refuse to age and become stagnant with the present. Love this post entry. A good thought for a reflection, eh.

Peny@scrub uniforms

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

There can't be a future without a past and there is no real past. The past is excised and ridiculed, then dragged back in as a pale shadow of itself when it becomes clear that there is no future.

The young rebels destroy the past over and over again but are unable to create a future from their new blank slate.