Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Good Ol' Days

TV, television, black and white, family, children, parents, old school

by Andrew Thetford

Doesn’t it suck to live in this modern society, so filled with corruption and sex, violence and greed, enslaved to technology? According to the generations who have gone before us, it should.

A couple of months ago I was sitting in an airport terminal when an older gentleman sat down beside me. On the monitor overhead, CNN was keeping us linked to the world outside Concourse B. Then up came a story about three women in the Cleveland area who had been held as captives in a suburban basement for years. 

We watched for a moment, and the man gave a huff of bewilderment. “This world has gone mad,” he said. And then he turned to me. “I’m sorry for you, son. Things just aren’t like the good ol’ days.”

I began to do as my people-pleasing self does; I agreed with him. Nodding my head, I gave assent to his proposition that things are going to hell in a hand basket. As he continued, he ranted about the homosexual agenda, how kids have no need for social skills anymore, and how “yes, ma’am” and “yes, sir” are going the way of the dodo.

Later, as I sat on the plane, I began to ponder these “good ol’ days.” I realized that my whole life, I’ve heard that the past was so much better, that we’re on a downhill slide - that the world of yesteryear would have offered me a better life. But really, these “good ol’ days,” are they just a myth?

field, wheat, sunset, sky, waves of grain

The “good ol’ days” don’t refer to some golden age where the world was objectively better.  They refer to a subjective evaluation of history that has been “cleaned up” by memory. They are past times remembered with nostalgia. And if that is true, then the “good ol’ days” weren’t really all that “good.” They are nostalgic memories that remind someone of a time when they felt more at ease in the world around them.

First, it’s a natural defense mechanism to remember things that are good, and try to repress or forget those things that are painful, or frightening, or cause trauma. This helps us cope, but it gives us a rose-tinted view of the past. 

Second, as adolescents become adults, they establish a certain set of social norms, generally commensurate to the norms of the culture at that time. So, as these views of “how the world works” are being formed, let’s say from age 15-25, more or less, this is the way they expect the world to remain. But time advances, and society changes. As those changes move well outside of what someone came to understand as normative, it’s little wonder that the “good ol’ days” seem better than the here and now.

Often we may look round and feel that times are getting worse and worse, that things are spinning out of control and nothing can stay this dark momentum. Sometimes we give up on a brighter future, a better tomorrow. We may have known couples who had the desire to create a family and have children, but decide it wouldn’t be right to bring children into a “corrupt world,” a world with such a dangerous future. But is this world so much darker, so much worse than the world of the past?

hollywood, sign, landmark, hillsideLets break this down. Here are some of the things people miss about the “good ol’ days” and my response, calling out the bullshit underlying each:

Movies didn’t have sex, and Hollywood wasn’t the purveyor of poor morals 

Movies didn’t show as much nudity in old Hollywood, but sex was there. It always pushed the boundaries of censorship; it only appears different to us because those social boundaries have changed. But there’s something even worse: sex was institutionalized, part of the system; most actresses had to sleep their way to the top. Marilyn Monroe only made it into the movies by sleeping with directors until her resume was thick enough (at least, according to Lois Banner’s The Passion and the Paradox). Hollywood has always been sex driven; it’s just that the social norms that govern “sexy” have shifted over time.

Homosexuality wasn’t celebrated and marriage was between a man and a woman  

The desire for love, no matter one’s sexual orientation, isn’t a new thing. And it isn’t a bad thing, either. But in the past, gays and lesbians had to hide a part of themselves from the world. It’s hell living a life in secret, denying one’s true self. But now, these men and women are freer to openly be themselves, and be loved for who they are. This change is for good, not ill. 

Not only that, but in the past, the “homosexual lifestyle” was misrepresented and misunderstood, in large part because gays and lesbians were forced to keep their orientation hidden. They were painted as sex-crazed, indecent people, each taking multiple lovers and opposed to monogamy. As the walls that blinded heterosexuals to the “lifestyle” of homosexuals have come down, we have seen the deep desire for monogamy and life-long commitment. 

American politicians were decent and had strong moral values 

This one is ridiculous and laughable. From Andrew Jackson’s genocide of Native Americans on the Trail of Tears, to Nixon’s Watergate, our government has hosted corruption most all of its existence. Political scandal is nothing new, and the scheming and self-preservation of our politicians goes back to our very founding.

millennials, phones, young people, smart phones, wall, standing, cool kidsTechnology had not taken over people’s lives 

Progress is not a bad thing. Enlightenment is not a bad thing. I’ll grant you, some kids are stuck in their phones too much, but this is not the fault of technology. Technology helps us connect to others, to remain in contact with people that would formerly have disappeared from our lives. And as the world becomes a closer, global community, we learn from one another; we become a more enlightened people. Connection to mankind is a positive step forward.

Divorces were much more infrequent 

No, divorce is not a good thing. It punishes children and spouses and does damage to the social fabric. Having said that, I continue – before divorce laws were liberalized, abused spouses struggled to escape inhumane relationships. The stigma surrounding divorce kept people trapped in situations that were immoral and unjust. Better to divorce than to stick around with a dangerous, or utterly incompatible person.

There are more, but these do nicely to exemplify the arguments made by past generations as to why we live in the suckiest of times.

Now lets get real. For those who follow Christ and his teachings here’s what he says:

Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.” – Luke 17:20-21

There is now no time in which it is better to live than any other. Because the Kingdom is here; it is now. It is here in our midst; we just have to step into it.

Charles Dickens wrote of “the best of times and…the worst of times.” And so it is today. Yes, there are so many things that are wrong with our present time. But even so, there are so many things that are wonderful and good in these days. There will always be corruption, injustice, hunger, poverty, greed… and all the other dark things in this world. But we are not called to lose heart; we are called to do good, and to see good – to set our minds to things which are good, and noble, and just. Set your eyes on the good that surrounds us.

cool, field, dark, hope, lightWe are called to focus on the now, and the tangible Kingdom that is amongst us.

Let us begin to take “our day” by the horns and make it good. No longer shall we listen to the oppressive words that tell us we are doomed from birth. We have the ability to shift social norms, to deconstruct poverty, to fight injustice, and do the good that is within our grasp.

Rather than fear the thought of bringing children into the world, let it excite us, because if we impart this gift of hope to our children, we can parent a positive, loving, and accepting generation.

These are our days, and when some call them doomed we will just smile and brush it off.

And when our children and our grandchildren come, we will tell them how great their days shall be. And we will not tell them how they should wish only to have lived back in the “good ol’ days.”

Andrew is a native in Nashville, TN. He is also the editor's cousin. Finally, he would like to remind everyone to Wang Chung tonight. You can follow him on Twitter @andrewthetford.

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