Nostalgia and other drugs

There is an obsession amongst people in general and artists in particular that the past is infinitely better than the present. I am noticing that more and more writers, filmmakers and creatives are increasingly becoming drawn to the mysticism of yesteryear. It used to be that nostalgic tendencies were at once reserved for neurotic middle class Jewish New Yorkers, (Woody Allen or Larry David anyone?). However this seems to be shifting. We are seeing more and more voices become increasingly disillusioned with their present state. Over the past three years the air of socio-political creative optimism has reverted into a sustained state of nostalgia.

I am thinking of Nandipha Mntabo’s Faena exhibition which explores colonial ideology and its relation to traditions. Filmmakers like Julie Gavras and Paolo Sorrrentino in varying degrees have also touched on the subject in their films Late Bloomers and This must be the place respectively. 

This eminent shadow of events from yesteryear and the constant self destructive pattern of rehashing them if for no other reason than to appease one’s boredom is something that does not seem to be going away. Or as Fran Lebowitz so eagerly puts is. “The past always seems better, because when the past happened you were younger.”

Perhaps the time has come for us to say is this such a bad contention? I come from an era where lego and tazos were not something to be ashamed of. When Channel O and CNN ran on SABC one and a day off from school would contain hours of music videos or re runs. But this is not to say that things in their current state are all doom and gloom and we should all just run and hide under igloos and protect ourselves from the lack of originality in our popular culture. There are indeed pockets of success whether it be bands like Fruits and veggies or even initiatives like Pecha Kucha.

Recently I was speaking to a friend who eagerly pointed out to me that any credible creative society takes it direction from the generation before it. That artists engage in some sort of Freudian mechanism where they try and impress their fathers. This was the supposed explanation as to why Bra Hugh was on the first cover of Rollingstone South Africa and why we just can’t seem to stop looking over our shoulders.

I however do not hold this view. It is far too simplistic for my liking. I have trouble dealing with the idea that artists in a difference socio-political situations are at once looking at the guidelines of the past in order to validate and channel the creative output of the present. Do not get me wrong I have nothing against looking at creative output that was done previously. In fact I have been known to pull out a copy of Common’s Be every time I hear someone call another young money release “classic”. But I am however uncomfortable with the notion that creativity is just repetitiveness that is just thinly disguised by time. I refuse to believe that a South African Jazz artist in Soweto today must only use Abduallh Ebrahim or Bra Hugh as the only measure of his own excellence.

 If that is indeed the case, more worrying questions must surely be addressed. Is South Africa lacking new voices? Is our creative sphere saturated by old men who are morbid and morose about the pending doom of society. So worried are they about the sensibilities of an imploding culture that they have drowned out any new eclectic voice? I dare not think of what this could mean for the future of South Africa’s young creatives if it is true.

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