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Applied Nostalgia Essay, Research Paper

Applied Nostalgia–A Parental Look Back

Without past memories, Americans lack a standard to base present conditions

upon. These memories lie carefully shuffled and categorized in the giant shifter called the

brain to crudely approximate the present standard of life. They hope to draw gratification

and fulfillment in the progression of the quality of their and especially their children’s lives.

This innate desire to compare the past to the present drives personal and political

decisions, especially conservatives who advocate a change to the policies and values of the


Today, the faded memories of an emerging group of parents of their post-World

War II upbringing, like cherished family dinners around the kitchen oak table and careless

excursions into town, against a perceived modern backdrop haze of random violence, date

rape, and single parent households, turned a group of parent’s hearts and minds to the

bygone 1950s. They hope to revive their cherished childhood memories. The Medveds,

parental authors, recall their upbringing: “The women enjoyed being home for the kids”

and “peers came over for basketball and homemade lemonade” (Paul 64). Shalit, author of

Return to Modesty: A Lost Virtue remembers when past women helped around the

community and raised their children with a unparalleled dedication (Paul 64). In the wake

of the Colorado school massacre such a move seems justified. Yet, even in spite of many

social ills of our “drug-addicted, sex-obsessed, morally lax and spiritually bankrupt

society” (Paul 64) parents remain skeptical. of such a drastic reversal in a drastically

changed time. For now, the skepticism over the reversal to the past merits further

examination before any drastic action.

The parents advocating a change to the past promote a bleak present and future

with problems ranging across the social, political, and economic spectrum, afraid that their

worries might mirror in their kids. Adult fairy tales that “marriage will last forever, sex

produces only pleasure, loyalty to an institution will be returned, and elected leaders are

benevolent and wise”(Paul 63) are to unbearable to be placed on the weak shoulders of

their children. Thus, they shield this information from the children.

Armed with reams of statistics, especially in the drop the number of nuclear family

homes in the United States (Two 1), they present a fair case for the reversal to the

parenting style of the aging baby boomer population. An incomplete list of their claimed

ills includes single parent households, an overly demanding work environment, influx of

undesirable media, and the feminist movement.

Fatherlessness, as David Blackhord president of Institute for American values

points out, is the most harmful demographic trend of our generation…and the leading

cause of declining child well-being in our society. It is also the engine driving our most

urgent social problems, from crime, to adolescent pregnancy, to sexual abuse, to domestic

violence against women. The evidence is now strong that the absence of fathers from the

lives of children is one of the most important causes [of the above problems] (UCSF 1)

In one augmenting study performed by the University of California at San

Francisco on California’s family makeup reported that twenty percent of children under

age eighteen are currently raised by a single adult.

Accusative fingers of these nostalgic parents turn like an vengeful hinged gate from

family structure to the work environment, citing statistics on the economic difficulties that

modern employers cause, or on personal obsessions with work that deters from the

infinitely more important job at home. “With parents trapped in consuming jobs, they leave

their kids to fend for themselves” (West 2).

The type of work and work environment changed in the last few decades with the

advent of new technologies and pressure on employers to cut costs. According to the

parents and researchers who advocate a reversal to the past, the modern work

environment is besieged with problems.

Reductions in real wages, corporate downsizing and the cessation of the ‘company

man’ ethos that governed American labor relations during the 1950s and 1960s has made

it impossible for parents to devote necessary time to their children because they have to

work harder than every just to make ends meet (West 1).

The goals of financial success have placed the goals of raising a kid to the back

burner. These impersonal parents scrape up the few extra dollars to buy the hearts of their

children (McCallum 2). “In our materialistic society, parents are more concerned about the

physical things they provide their children that about the values and habits that prepare

children for a life on their own” (McCallum 2).

The nineties have been defined as the information age and rightfully so. Any

individual who accesses today’s wide variety of electronic medium–computer, Internet,

television, radio, compact disks, CD-ROMs, and interconnected libraries–finds ample

information on any subject, regardless of content. The nostalgic argue that when these

kids contact this huge barrage of ‘objectionable’ material without guidance from parents,

the material acts as a surrogate mother, advising the children with undesirable choices.

Such choices include rash violence. TV permeates every nationwide household, and its

flickering light is the de facto babysitter for overworked and underpaid parents, who often

have to support the family without the spouse present.

Their version of a modern parent falls victim to the media’s hidden messages. The

media portrays dads in deadbeat ways that do not reflect on actual parents. In movies like

the Shining, the father was an abusive alcoholic and rap music epitomizes poor examples

of deadbeat dads and their crack addicted single mothers. As a result mothers are more

likely to ditch their boyfriend of husband for single parenthood convinced they will raise

the child in a better environment without the father. In conclusion, “what you have is an

all-out war on parents, the result of which is ultimately the decline of civic virtue and the

overall welfare of the nation” (Schaffer 2).

Tagging along with the nostalgia movement is a new women’s movement that tries to

reverse the effects of the first (Paul 64). Shalit, in her book Returning to Modesty:

Discovering the Lost Virtue, points out that the social progressions has left women is

poorer condition than before the movement started (Paul 64).

Our mothers tell us we shouldn’t want to give up all the hard-won ‘gains’ they

nave bequeathed us, and we think: what gains? Sexual harassment, date rape, slaking,

eating disorders, all those dreary hook-ups? Or perhaps it’s the great gain of divorce you

had in mind. (Paul 64)

The ramifications, at least to these overseeing parents, of living in the current

structured parenting environment of the United States is vast and include an increase in

the rate of crime, teenage pregnancies, drugs, rape, divorce, poor relationships, and abuse.

Those with a “proper” upbringing, a hopelessly undefinable and impossibly utopian word,

commit less violent acts.

The pivoting ramification, and a central pivot for both this paper and the emerging

nostalgia movement is the possible loss of “innocence”. Innocence to proponents equals

the lack of harming children (opponents deny the occurrence) by cutting children’s

exposure to all adult material. The word adult is not used in the traditional pornographic

sense, but as a general category defining all information that the average child should not

know. This includes such topics as sex, marriage, work, and violence.

Now, as information rapidly increases, the rush to protect kids from this incoming

blow increases. Today innocence, the isolated and lighted room in a mansion of despair,

could be defined as an escape from the informational age. Open the door, and the light

(innocence) escapes, forever departed. Knowledge is potent stuff; that’s why we keep it

away from small children. And its shy we must keep some of it for ourselves. In careless

of unscrupulous hands, knowledge is dangerous and the innocent are powerless to oppose

it (Paul 65).

A few adults are even becoming sick of the amount of information: “Our time’s

tree of knowledge is so heavy with apples that we’ve grown sick of tasting them” (Paul

65). The Medveds, authors of Saving Childhood: Protecting Our Children From the

Natural Assault on Innocence, say “the secrets of adulthood are harsh, morbid, oppressive,

and seamy,” bringing nothing but “obligations, troubles, burdens and the potential for

depression and gloom” (Paul 64) and Shalit says the loss of innocence causes most young

women’s problems including eating disorders and unsatisfying relationships. Jeffery

Schwartz sums up the argument: innocence is “the highest of human accomplishments”

and “the defining mark of those who have achieved genuine victory in facing life’s

innumerable challenges” (Paul 64). Many of the underlying problems remain constant

throughout the decade, including ensuring that the family had a reasonable standard of

living, taking care of their children’s growth and development, and maintaining their

commitment to the spouses they swore to remain with until after death, (West 1) yet the

average American family today cannot meet these new burden. The result? Just pick a

problem and fill in the blank.

An aggregate of these aforementioned problems may be justly deserved, but

without a comparison to the past then the present conditions cannot be analyzed. Each

decade is shaped by a series of events that often dictate the outcome of the resulting

socioeconomic conditions. An investigation begins with an inquisitive look into the events

leading up the 1950s.

The 1950s were an exclusive product of the great depression and World War II.

The great depression hit America like an oppressive summer heat wave, a constant

ominous presence of discomfort which is utterly inescapable. Unemployment rose rapidly

as job earnings decreased rapidly, thrusting families into severe economic hardship,

unrepeatable in America’s history. So, as with any abnormal circumstance, humans

compensated. People became fanatical financial savers. Every cent was spend on the bare

necessities of life. Only a few had the money to spend on superfluous items (Raasch).

World War II brought Americans out of the great depression. From the dusty dirt

bowl to the ravaging meat grinders euphemistically called the frontlines, trudged a line of

young soldiers dripping with ideas and courage, both of which would be brutally tested.

At home women entered the work force to support their sons and husbands across seas.

With posters like “Rosie the Riviter” spurring on the hardworking proponents at home,

women diligently assembled much of the machinery that eventually made its way over to

Europe (Raasch). These women began to accumulate money, but were unable and

unwilling to spend it, due to war shortages and conservation of popular goods and the

ideals inevitably left over from the Great Depression. Instead, families across the United

States began to accumulate savings (Raasch).

World War Two revitalized the American economy. Removed geographically from

the hell overseas and the years of painful rehabilitation of the landscapes, political systems,

and economies, the war scarred United States plunged lustfully into work. Factories

proliferated like fruit flies across the country, and citizens trailed the growth, pushing

America into the most powerful economic force in the world (Raasch).

Financial security allowed women for the first time in several decades to stay home and

raise the family planned during the hardship. Women could and did stay home with kids

during that decade–the resources existed for this. Women also found that with the return

of the men, most jobs were replaced by men. Women did not yet have the social backing

to continue in the typical male dominated jobs (Raasch). So far, an almost postcard perfect

picture. However, the 1950s, despite this facade of bliss, hid huge blistering problems that

surmount the 1990s difficulties and permanently cloud over the generation. Teenagers

formed huge gangs. A scenario plays our beautifully in the Movie Matinee as a gang

terrorizes the town, over a backdrop of missiles pointed at the Untied States from Cuba.

The movie is disturbing because this movie is a recreation of an actual event (Matinee).

Following World War II, Americans fell into the cold war. The cold war lacked the open

fighting and bloodshed; instead the cold war stirred a constant background stress. Nuclear

weapons proliferated exponentially in Russia and the United States, and the respective

leaders wove them around hoping the other country would back down. Instead both the

United States and Russia pulled new technology from their pocketbooks and forcing the

other to reciprocate (Raasch).

As the technology race continued, Americans geared for the aftermath and tried not to

think of the inevitable, utter, and complete annihilation of both the United States and the

USSR. Families spent weekends building a bomb shelter. Schools periodically held

practice drills where kids slipped under their desks, undoubtedly all wondering how the

thin sheet of plywood over their heads would save them from the destruction of the

nuclear bomb, a bomb that in Japan reduced great edifices to crumbles and threw the

permanent shadows of ashen-reduced people onto walls (Raasch).

Meanwhile in the South a civil rights battle loomed as blacks, tired of the apartheid

imposed by the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and average white citizens struggled to gain equal

rights, a guarantee under the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the constitution. Most

minorities struggled with oppression in a white male dominated society, an often

overlooked condition in the desire to switch back to the 1950s (Raasch).

Progress to 1999, the last year before the zeros roll around on the Christian calendar’s

odometer. Crime still besieges society, albeit of a different type, and the nuclear family

prevalence decreased. In the past decade Americans endured terrorist attacks and

countless school shootings. I one opens the newspaper, the tragedies spill forth. However,

in light of the problems of the 1950s the charge flickers, an apocalypse not.

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