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The Good Old Days were Goddamned Terrible: The Dangers of Nostalgia

Warning: rant ahead.

I belong to an FB group about old timey advertisements, anywhere from the 1920s to the 1980s. This is helpful to me in my work, which includes exhibiting past visual culture and Americana in a way that (we hope) helps people see how part of society used to live and what sort of ideals part of US society was expected to try to aim for.

Only, being FB, any post includes commentary on how wonderful life in those years was or must have been. (Maybe if you were a white man of a certain social class and sexual orientation, sure.) Like, a recent post on women’s lingerie ads during the 1930s included comments on the longer slips that were in style and how “classy” bras and underwear used to be, unlike now where, apparently, wearing a bra and underwear and being female=slutwear. Or wearing pants=slutwear. Or buying fun lingerie for sexual roleplay or exploration of sexuality = slutwear. Or perhaps having been born after 1970=being “forced” to wear slutwear. What, you didn’t know?


Please. You can find different kinds of bras and underwear with a little shopping around and hunting online. No one is forcing you to buy a certain style of bra. Truly. And would you enjoy having your wardrobe restricted by social convention? Hmm.

Or, in another example, an ad for maternity fashions from the late 1960s, which was fine until the comments weighing in on contemporary maternity clothes, which are somehow always skintight and include leggings. You mean that you’ve never seen a pregnant woman dress any other way? Huh. I have. What’s wrong with leggings, or comfort, or wearing t-shirts during the summer when you’re likely to be uncomfortable? Oh, and the inevitable comment about how women back in the day never had “baby daddies.” Perhaps that’s because women (ok, mostly unmarried white women) who got pregnant unexpectedly were treated as something to be ashamed of, and were often coerced into going through with pregnancies and giving their children up instead of terminating the pregnancy or keeping their children. Are you saying you’re fine with being pressured into that kind of situation?

And let’s not forget about alllll the invisible people, the ones who may as well not exist when it comes to nostalgia about the “good old days.” And silly posts about old consumer history doesn’t even begin to include how damaging the good old days were in terms of politics, economic security, physical safety, and general well being for so many people.

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