I grew up watching shows like The Brady Bunch, The Monkees, and The Little Rascals, not because I longed for the past but because cable hadn’t come to Lake Zurich yet, and we only had like six television stations. I didn’t have much of a choice.
Today, I absently scroll through the myriad of television shows looking for something to watch. You know the joke, 100s of stations and nothing on. So as I’m searching relentlessly for anything worth watching I become aware of how many shows are being rebroadcast, shows from my childhood. And I’m not even talking about those I’ve already mentioned.
I go through periods where I want a certain type of program, detective show, comedy, sports program but I wonder what the obsession is with the old programming. Is it longing for a simpler time?
But it’s not just the programs made in the sixties, seventies and eighties, it’s the numerous shows filmed today, but set in the past. I’m not talking about The Tudors, Outlander, Spartacus, or Di Vinci’s Demons because these shows are too far in the past for any of us to recognize the places, people and the culture. I’m thinking of shows like Magic City, Mad Men, The Astronaut Wives Club and Pan Am.
They’re all set in the late fifties and sixties, close enough in time for the audience to remember what it was like to live in those decades and yet far enough away that the dress, food, roles of women, transportation and music were decidedly very different.
We all do it. We all say things were better when. We relay this as pictures on Facebook stating “Do you remember when,”, people recreate pictures they took as children, the desire to buy and play albums is becoming more than a passing fancy. And now Hollywood is making new shows set in the past.
It’s called nostalgia, the sentimentality for the past, for a period or a place.
But as I spent the day watching Magic City, Mad Men, The Astronaut Wives Club and Pan Am, I become fascinated by the retelling of history through the eyes of both real people and fictional characters.
This issues are still the same, the conflict between women and men, the business owner vs. the union, a changing culture fighting the old ways, the cheating husband. Only now, these problems are seen through the backdrop of the past, with fashionable clothing, cool cars, furniture and music. It’s a gentle reminder that the past wasn’t better and now isn’t worse. It might have been easier, a slower pace where information and news was more difficult to disseminate without the internet and cell phones. We knew less and in a way, some of that ignorance is confused with being better.
But there’s something to these shows, that old nostalgia that’s not making me long for the past, but to remember with fondness for what time was like and think, “Did we really do, think, see that?” I’m thankful to be in this here and now, where I have choices, options and a whole big world to explore. But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy reliving the past, at least on television where I can leave all the craziness behind.
The Astronaut Wives Club is on Thursday at 7pm CST on ABC.