Thursday, March 15, 2007

Nostalgia: Good or Evil?

I’m a geek. I love the “A Prairie Home Companion” radio variety show and Garrison Keillor. Keillor’s brand of humor is usually what I’d consider healthy mix of nostalgia and satire. Usually, this allows for a particular and thoughtful critique on the subject at hand. Humor has a way of making those critiques accessible and has a place in doing just that.

Nostalgia is a tricky thing. Yes, nostalgia can be dangerous; it can create harmful myths and standards that are untrue and destructive. But I'd like to think that nostalgia can also be used as a medium to imagine what can be, too. (It is a very fine line, though. This is exactly why it can be so dangerous!)

That is why I am so bothered by Keillor’s essay, “Stating the Obvious,” posted to It sounds so snide and bitter. Not quite the Garrison Keillor I look forward to catching on NPR. The essay seems incoherent almost, and is not internally consistent. I didn’t get the point. If he is trying to be satirical, he missed the mark. He sounds outright enraged that monogamous households are not the norm. (A bit hypocritical, eh?) He chides mainstream America’s stereotypical views of gays but then rebukes gay parents. What?!? And the picture he paints of passive parents of this not-so-innocent nostalgic past is deceitful and infuriating. There were a lot of unhappy wives and mothers loaded up on Valium and gin in this past he laments. By waxing nostalgic for this fictional past, he also not-so-innocently disguises the fathers that resorted to violence and alcohol as a release of the pressures of the unattainable myth of the ultimate provider. I don’t think these behaviors were any less hurtful to the children of these parents than a second (and hopefully happier and healthy) marriage? Truly, I think the line has been crossed here, to a place where nostalgia is very dangerous.

Oh, and I wasn’t at all pleased with the methods used to determine the 10 most walkable cities. It turns out Prevention magazine rated the tendency of people to walk in certain cities rather than how walkable the cities themselves are. Not quite the kind of information I hoped to have on hand. I still don’t get why NYC isn’t on there. (Thanks for the great observations, B.!)

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