This week’s New Yorker has a piece about the phenomenon by which the forty-somethings who act as the gatekeepers for popular culture like to examine events “forty years past… the potently fascinating time just as we arrived, when our parents were youthful and in love, the Edenic period preceding the fallen state recorded in our actual memories.”
Some thoughts inspired by this:
- My own current fascinations are indeed more often not things I actually experienced, but those that I was too young to appreciate; the OD&D and Judges’ Guild stuff I didn’t own has more of a hold on me than the AD&D and TSR stuff I did.
- The writer, Adam Gopnik, talks about a 20 year cycle riding within the 40 year one, “by which the forty-somethings recall their teen-age years”. This could be used to point at any number of things in the OSR, and the fondness I felt for the movie Detention, which involves time travel to 1992. (Nick Mizer liked it too and is not a forty-something. The actual teens in the audience were not impressed, despite the reviewers who thought you’d need to tweet a thousand times a day to enjoy the film.) She Kills Monsters also combined ’90s and D&D nostalgia.
- Gopnik uses Mad Men as his example, which is a good a reason as any to point out that the ’60s science-fictional predictions of roleplaying invariably involve hallucinogens – Thomas Disch’s “Everyday Life in the Later Roman Empire” and Philip K. Dick’s “The Days of Perky Pat“. SF about RPGs after 1974, like Dream Park or “The Saturn Game“, clearly seem to be talking about D&D instead of altered states of consciousness.
- From the article: “It is the forty-years-on reproduction of a thing that most often proves more concentrated and powerful than the original. Dixieland gets played more often than archival jazz.” Likewise I find it hard to believe that the way we approach games that were played back in the day does not achieve the old-school ideals more often than people were able to at the time, given how many more years worth of experience we bring to the task. (This is not to say that experience with wargames, which I lack, is not as important to good RPG play as anything else; it’s more that I have the advantage of having grown up in a culture in which games and fantasy of whatever kind were more prevalent .)
- Also from Gopnik: “If we can hang on, it will be in the twenty-fifties that the manners and meanings of the Obama era will be truly revealed; only then will we know our own existence.” I’ve already seen this happen with decades I lived through, and remember waiting for the ’90s to end so someone would explain what they were about.
- I think that Gopnik’s argument about the Beatles doing ’20s pastiches because it pleased/teased George Martin holds true the more you’re in a domain with a gatekeeper. With TV and contemporary art exhibitions, I am fully convinced.
- With fantasy specifically, I still think that there is something about the looking back to an idealized past that is endemic to the endeavor – we may be nostalgic for the D&D of our youth, but even in our youth it spoke to a nostalgia for the never-was which is perhaps something else altogether. However, thinking about the popularity of Mad Men helps pin down how much of our thing is this appeal of fantasy vs. the general pop-culture retrocycle.