Can you briefly describe your book Consumed Nostalgia?
The uses and meanings of memory and nostalgia have changed for many Americans, since the 1970s especially. Up to then nostalgia was mostly about a longing for places of origin (homesickness), family or community ancestors, and vanished societies, cultures, and regimes. Without disappearing, these appeals gave way to nostalgia for consumer goods and media moments associated with early childhood (toys, dolls, theme parks, retro TV, and domestic period kitsch) and the transition to adulthood (cars and oldies music). Though rooted in the memories of the first generation who grew up with fast consumer culture (the generation after 1900), this type of nostalgia has accelerated since the maturation of Americans who were young during the full flowering of that culture in the 1950s (with TV, rock music, and the rapid change in car and novelty consumption). This new type of nostalgia, based on memories of fast-changing consumer culture, divides many Americans into narrow groups that can deprive them of deeper engagements with their pasts and other people, especially of later generations. This study highlights the central importance of fast capitalism and childhood in shaping modern experience, sensibility, and with all this, memory.
What initially drew you to your topic?
For many years, I’ve been interested in the changing meanings of consumer culture and childhood. The two were linked in my earlier work through the commercialization of toys and the ways that parents and children related to each other through consumer goods and commercial media. More recently, these interests led me to think about how modern memory is shaped by fast-changing childhood experiences with goods and media. This was a very different way to look at memory and its romantic stepchild, nostalgia. Most historians focus on nostalgia for lost places, eras, regimes, and even artistic forms. My approach let me look at nostalgia through the lens of modern consumption rather than politics, religion, or culture. This topic has also given me the opportunity to go beyond traditional documentary sources to explore the memories of enthusiasts at car and toy shows, pop culture museums, and much else. Like many documentary sources, these conversations often didn’t go to my topic, but revealed how memories are shaped by the things that these enthusiasts collect and the old music and TV that they experience. Continue reading