Collective Nostalgia

When John Travolta starred in a low-budget film called Pulp Fiction back in 1994, it reignited the much-maligned actor's career and catapulted him back to the top of Hollywood's A-list. While John was a huge star in the 1970's with musical and dance hits like Grease and Saturday Night Fever, he was never celebrated for his wonderful acting. In the 1980's, with the fall of disco,  the Stayin' Alive icon had gone completely out of fashion. The only reason we even know what happened to him is because of Bruce Willis's take on the inner-baby monologue in the horrible Look Who's Talking series of films. After Quentin Tarantino featured him as the stoic hitman Vincent Vega, people began to remember they had always loved Travolta's acting.

There's a certain part of us that loves to get nostalgic about our yester years. We romanticize the past and remember events as more fun or significant than they perhaps actually were. It happens to me almost every day. Sometimes, however, this phenomenon happens collectively with the general public and pop culture.  It becomes fashionable to get overly nostalgic about things and inflate their actual sense of worth. That's how John Travolta was able to make movies like Get Shorty and Primary Colors after a decade of playing second-fiddle to Kirstie Alley.

Another example of this collective nostalgia happened with music in the late 1990's. Women vocalists were back! Not that they'd ever really left, but you'd think they must have. Now they were finally getting their due. Singer/songwriter Sarah McLachlan started a concert festival called the Lilith Fair where all of these unsung feminine heroes would gather together and perform. It was a great thing for artists like Jewel, Tracy Chapman, and Shawn Colvin. If you were a girl with a guitar, you had a good chance of making it big. For me, however, it started to get out of hand when VH1 created a show called Divas where people began bowing down, literally doing the "we're not worthy" thing, to singers like Gloria Estefan and Chaka Khan.  It's one thing to celebrate the amazing careers of Tina Turner or Aretha Franklin, but I don't think the Miami Sound Machine or Rufus were ever on that level. Nevertheless, VH1 was capitalizing on pop culture's nostalgia fever, digging up has-beens from the past and parading them out on stage so we could all remember how legendary they really were (or weren't).

I like John Travolta. I like Gloria Estefan. They're entertaining performers. I think Chaka Khan's take on "I Feel For You" is way better than Prince's original version. However, I think these artists were given more credit than they deserved because they capitalized on the sentimental nostalgia of the public at the right time.

What does this have to do with booze?

I think collective nostalgia happens when people as a whole begin to tire of the status quo. They say things like, "when I was a kid, they made real movies," while watching some Lindsay Lohan flick with their daughter.  We start to celebrate the past when the present doesn't provide us with the same satisfaction. It might be that present day movies do stink, or it might be the fact that we're older and out of touch. Nevertheless, I'm wondering: when is it going to be cool to enjoy blended Scotch whisky again? When is this bubble going to get so out of hand - bottles that are hard to get, prices moving ever skyward - that we start looking back at cheap blends and remembering how much fun we used to have pouring a glass and chatting with friends?

I used to go through Scotch bottles in college like water.  It was such a blast. I'm getting nostalgic just writing about it now. The whisky wasn't that great, but the experiences were. That's ultimately what we're looking to recreate. Seeing Travolta back on screen reminded people of the old disco days that they were supposed to forget, just like I'm supposed to be proud that I've graduated to more sophisticated liquor.  Sometimes, however, it's fine to admit to yourself that the embarrassing experiences from the past weren't really all that embarrassing.  When everyone admits this together, it's cathartic. 

So come on.  Shake your body.  Do that conga.  Let's pay some respect to the great blends of the past, that maybe weren't all that great, but at least provided us with some fond memories.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll