Apparently, I know a number of people who long for the bad old days. The disconnect between the bad experience they describe and their positive attitude about it seems lost on them. Maybe they are expressing a sense of pride at having survived and are confusing the survival with the thing survived. I would understand, for instance, if someone felt that living through a tornado had made them stronger, that the experience of coming to grips with loss and then rebuilding their lives gave them confidence that they could overcome whatever tragedy befell them later in life. Something like that. Maybe in retrospect, they are thankful that they were challenged in such a way. I get that, too. Here’s what I don’t understand: saying you miss the tornado. Man, if only a tornado would come through here again like back in the day. Remember that freight-train roar and all of the flying glass? Remember when that 2 x 4 lodged into a tree like a spear? You young people need a good ol’ tornado in your lives.
I’m talking about memes like this:
If I give the posters of such memes the greatest benefit of the doubt, I would have to imagine that they are hoping to convey a message like “kids need more discipline.” I wasn’t very confident in that explanation even to the end of typing it. Sure, one of the messages they are hoping to send is something about the decline of discipline, but I don’t think they are using the objects shown in a purely symbolic way. They feel they benefited from having actual wooden spoons in their asses. Because they enjoyed wooden spoons so much, they want to pass on the favor. “Hey, Biff, you seem to be walking strangely today.” “Don’t worry, Ms. Oblitska, it’s because I have a wooden spoon in my ass.” “Oh, good. You’ll pay attention in class today. Thank goodness for parents like yours.” The whole thing makes me a little leery of stirring now. I won’t grab a strange wooden spoon without wondering where its been. To summarize: silver spoons are for eating, and eating is for the rich and spoiled. Wooden spoons are for ass insertion and discipline. That’s where you find real nutrition.
The second example expands upon the spoon motif with a number of items easier for non-cooks to find around the house. After all, it was easier to menace kids with wooden spoons when more meals were prepared at home. Now you can do it with a non-callused hand, a gender-neutral slip-on, a thin belt or a palote. Yes, we all have a palote around. To be honest, I didn’t know what that was. My best guess was that it was a police baton or a chair part. The Internet tells me it is a tool to roll tortillas with. Oh, back to the kitchen. At least the tortilla roller spanks rather than impales.
Another batch of similar memes doesn’t speak exclusively to nostalgia for pain. They expand the theme to include various other dangers survived. It seems that in the good ol’ days when you left your loving home full of bruises and various discharges from your instructive beatings, you entered a world in which those adults who weren’t trying to directly poison you were remarkably indifferent about your well-being. Good times.
I’ve seen a lot of shows about various decades and generations which focus on hair styles, funny clothing, music, toys, political missteps–the normal pop culture sorts of stuff that we use as a substitute for greater unifying forces in our society. This next meme list includes toy guns, but none of the other popular artifacts. Yes, it was a kinder gentler time, when we shot at each other with realistic toys and pretended to kill each other several times each afternoon. Kids today waste their time indoors killing monsters with unrealistic video game weaponry. No amount of palote pounding can save those kids.
The other things on the list are all real, but I’m not exactly sure why one would long for lead poisoning, tetanus, early-onset lung cancer, and head injury. Hose water, I understand. That stuff is great. I snaked a hose through the window, so I could drink it all day long. Want to impress guests? Mix their drinks with hose water. “What’s that special flavor?” they’ll ask. “Oh, my secret ingredient,” you will say. Garnish with a lead paint chip and a cigarette butt, and you’ll get your own show on the Nostalgia Channel.
There are other memes that don’t reminisce about the joys of having your hand stapled to a desk, getting hit with a trash can by your principle, or being sprayed with DDT on a warm, summer night. Instead they talk lovingly about having to call adults sir and ma’am, taping crap off the radio on cassette tapes, going to bed early, and having only three channels on TV. Yea, every kid loved having to go to bed early, and the most requested cable or satellite package is probably “just them three channels I had as a kid.” God knows that adults hate good reception on their TV sets. That’s why you almost never see anyone over the age of 20 in front of a TV.
So, if it can’t be possible that anyone really wants to revisit these horrors and inconveniences, then why do some pretend to? I don’t think they want to go back in time themselves. One explanation would be that they want young people to suffer, since it isn’t fair that someone has it better. “I want kids to suffer like I did and grow up to be as bitter as I am,” they think. I’m guessing these people who once were kids with rusty slides had it a lot better than their grandparents who didn’t get to ride around with no seatbelt and eat lead paint, since they were too busy working on farms and in factories. Life should get better for each generation. Most parents state this as their primary goal. I suppose that’s why those that are posting the memes raised their kids differently than they were raised.
My explanation, then, is simple. There is no logic behind the stated longing for something no one really wants. There is no analytical thought behind the nostalgia for corporal punishment and nerve-agent environments. Instead, the posters are tied to their irrational nostalgia by something akin to Stockholm Syndrome. Let’s call it Generational Stockholm–a great cover band name, as well.
I remember hearing about Stockholm Syndrome when I was a kid during the coverage of the Patty Hearst kidnapping story. (Between beatings and recitations of the Pledge, I was allowed to watch one hour of TV a day–but only in an uncomfortable position). According to the controversial theory, captives develop a positive emotional bond with their captors. Over time, hostages can find themselves supporting the people who have threatened their lives. Patti Hearst tried to use this theory as a defense to explain how she found herself participating in high-risk bank robberies with the people she claimed kidnapped her against her will.
So, the people who have the power to take your life as a captive also hold the key to any pleasure and life you get to hold onto. It’s a mixed up situation where ties are bound to happen. Even as an adult, you become a baby clinging to your pseudo parents that the captures have become. In my stretch to make a connection, the culture we are raised in is our maniac kidnapper. We are the hostages. Even if the culture sucked, we support it. Without thinking, of course.
Of course, it is possible that I will do anything to make a connection to Patti Hearst, because she seemed so cool to me as a kid. Rebel rich kid, all in black. Revolutionaries look so good on grainy TV screens. And it is possible that people really do miss getting rolled out like a tortilla and butt struck with a spoon. That would explain a lot of what I see on the Internet. Who am I to say? My dad used to make me sit on the shifting piles of garbage on the back of the truck we took to the festering pile of banana peels and car batteries at the city dump every year.