U.S. Dept. of Retro Warns:
‘We May Be Running Out Of Past’
WASHINGTON, DC — At a press conference Monday, U.S. Retro Secretary Anson Williams issued a strongly worded warning of an imminent “national retro crisis,” cautioning that “if current levels of U.S. retro consumption are allowed to continue unchecked, we may run entirely out of past by as soon as 2005.”
According to Williams — best known to most Americans as “Potsie” on the popular, ’50s-nostalgia-themed 1970s sitcom “Happy Days” before being named head of the embattled Department of Retro by President Clinton in 1992 — the U.S.’s exponentially decreasing retro gap is in danger of achieving parity with real-time historical events early in the next century, creating what leading retro experts call a “futurified recursion loop,” or “retro-present warp,” in the world of American pop-cultural kitsch appreciation.
Such a warp, Williams said, was never a danger in the past due to the longtime, standard two-decade-minimum retro waiting period. “However, the mid-’80s deregulation of retro under the Reagan Administration eliminated that safeguard,” he explained, “leaving us to face the threat of retro-ironic appreciation being applied to present or even future events.”
“We are talking about a potentially devastating crisis situation in which our society will express nostalgia for events which have yet to occur,” Williams told reporters.
The National Retro Clock currently stands at 1990, an alarming 74 percent closer to the present than 10 years ago, when it stood at 1969.
Nowhere is the impending retro crisis more apparent, Williams said, than in the area of popular music. “To the true retrophile, disco parties and the like were common 10 years ago. Similarly, retro-intelligentsia have long viewed ‘New Wave’ and even late-’80s hair-metal retro as passé and no longer amusing as kitsch,” Williams said. “We now face the unique situation of ’90s retro, as evidenced by the current Jane’s Addiction reunion tour: nostalgia for the decade in which we live.”
“Before long,” Williams warned, “the National Retro Clock will hit 1992, and we will witness a massive grunge-retro explosion, which will overlap with the late-period, mainstream-pop remnants of the original grunge movement itself. For the first time in history, a phenomenon and nostalgia for that particular phenomenon will actually meet.”
“In other words, to quote ’90s-retro kitsch figure David Lynch,” Williams said, “’One of these days that gum you like is going to come back in style.’”
Anthropologists hold that retro began some 40,000 years ago with the early hominids’ mental projection of trace infantile-dependency memories into a mythical “golden age.” Continuing with the Renaissance's rediscovery of Greco-Roman homoeroticism and the mass “Egyptology” fashions of the Victorian Age, retro had, prior to this century, always been separated from the present age by a large buffer of intermediate history.
Since 1900, however, the retro parabolic curve has soared exponentially, with some generations experiencing several different forms of retro within a single lifetime.
“This rapidly shrinking gap between retro and the present day is like a noose closing ever tighter around the neck of American kitsch,” said Harvard University professor of American culture Louis I. Szilard, “or, if you will, a warning light, similar to the electric buzzer-nose of the naked fat man in the Milton Bradley fun and skill game ‘Operation.’”
The Department of Retro warning comes on the heels of its 750-page Report on Nostalgia Viability and Past-Depletion Reduction Strategies, which examined the effects of the ever-increasing co-option of retro trends by the mainstream.
According to the report, retro-kitsch aesthetics — previously the domain of a tiny group of forward-thinking, backward-looking alterna-hipsters, or “retro-cognoscenti” — have become so prevalent in the national pop-culture psyche over the last decade that they have been absorbed into the marketing strategies of major retail chains and mass-media promotional campaigns. Cited as an example is Entertainment Weekly’s “Dance Hits Of The ’70s” free-with-subscription CD giveaway, which boldly includes the slogan “Retro's Hot!”
Such mainstreaming of retro, the report warned, has forced the hipster-elite element that formerly dominated the retro world to seek increasingly current forms of retro, a trend which threatens to consume the nation's past reserves faster than new past can be created.
The severity of the coming retro crisis, Williams said, is compounded by the increasing complexity of modern retro, evidenced in current youths’ skewed perceptions of older generations who themselves were born and raised in a retro-aware environment.
“In the ’70s, baby boomers enjoyed an escape from turbulence and social upheaval through a ’50s-retro romanticization of the sock-hops and drive-ins of their teenage years,” Williams said. “Yet today, ’70s-retro-conscious Gen-Xers now look upon pop-cultural figures of that ’50s retro trend, such as myself and my close advisor, actor Donny Most, as ’70s retro figures in our own right, viewing us not as idealized youth archetypes but rather as irony-tinged whimsical representations of cheesy, “square” adulthood — a form of self-referential meta-retro that science still does not fully understand.”
It is hoped, Williams said, that such meta-retro recycling of older forms of retro may function as a safety valve to widen the retro gap.
“Department of Retro officials are closely studying new developments in meta-retro,” Williams said, “including a dance sequence in the new film Boogie Nights, which is simultaneously a ’70s retro allusion to Saturday Night Fever and a late-’80s retro allusion to the Beastie Boys’ seminal ’70s retro video “Hey Ladies” — an homage to an homage, if you will. While all the facts are still not in, this much is clear: Now, more than ever, we must conserve our precious pop-cultural past, for it is our future.”