Where did all the new ideas go?

ELLE (Canada) - - Trend - BY ALIYAH SHAMSHER

aco-worker re­cently asked me what decade I wish I had lived in, and, with­out hes­i­ta­tion, I said, “The ’70s.” She coun­tered, “The ’50s or the ’70s?” “The ’70s,” I replied again. Testing me once more, she asked, “The ’20s or....” This time, I didn’t even let her fin­ish—I al­ready knew the an­swer. I’ve al­ways loved the ’70s. Not for the icons (Bianca Jag­ger, Lau­ren Hut­ton) or pho­tog­ra­phers (Hel­mut New­ton, Guy Bour­din) or even de­sign­ers (Yves Saint Lau­rent, Kenzo) who con­tinue to cap­ture the world’s imag­i­na­tion. I love the ’70s be­cause of my mother: It’s the decade in which she came of age. And through the images of her that I ob­ses­sively col­lect, which cap­ture her wild, care­free smile as she posed, lounged and danced her way through ado­les­cence, I’ve come to know the el­e­gance, ro­mance and de­tached cool­ness of the pe­riod as if I had lived through it all my­self.

I’m not the only one. The fash­ion world is cur­rently hav­ing its own love af­fair with the ’70s, and for the past few sea­sons—cul­mi­nat­ing with spring/sum­mer 2015—de­sign­ers have been cre­at­ing near-lit­eral it­er­a­tions of looks and styles from the era: patch­work jean bell-bot­toms at Tommy Hil­figer, suede shirt­dresses at Ralph Lau­ren, wooden plat­form clogs at Prada and a bo­hemian rhap­sody of dresses at Just Cavalli. And while many of th­ese de­sign­ers can say they ex­pe­ri­enced the ’70s first-hand, oth­ers cham­pi­oning the re­vival, such as Stella McCart­ney, Hedi Sli­mane at Saint Lau­rent and Phoebe Philo at Cé­line, were just ba­bies dur­ing the decade.

On a re­cent visit to Toronto, designer Karl Lager­feld was out­spo­ken about fash­ion’s in­ces­sant im­pulse to ro­man­ti­cize the past. “It sur­prises me that young de­sign­ers are not do­ing things from their own time but an­other era,” he told ELLE Canada edi­tor-in-chief Noreen Flana­gan. “I have dif­fi­culty un­der­stand­ing why th­ese peo­ple would be sat­is­fied by a ret­ro­spec­tive recre­ation. The ’70s were okay, but not as great as peo­ple who have not known them think they were.”

Bri­tish mu­sic critic Simon Reynolds was one of the first to ques­tion our un­fet­tered love of the past in his sem­i­nal book, Retro­ma­nia: Pop Cul­ture’s Ad­dic­tion to Its Own Past: “Is nos­tal­gia stop­ping our cul­ture’s abil­ity to surge for­ward, or are we nos­tal­gic pre­cisely be­cause our cul­ture has stopped mov­ing for­ward?”

We are living in the most tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced era in hu­man his­tory. And yet, as Reynolds notes, as our high-tech ca­pa­bil­i­ties evolve, our cul­tural land­scape is, para­dox­i­cally, be­com­ing over­run with the re­cy­cling, re­viv­ing and mim­ick­ing of al­most ev­ery decade h

pre- 2000. More re­cently, art critic Peter Sch­jel­dahl ques­tioned whether there’s any­thing left to paint, while Amer­i­can fash­ion jour­nal­ist Cathy Ho­ryn bluntly de­clared that we might just be run­ning out of ideas. And they’re not en­tirely off base.

In 2015, Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe, Ray Charles and Elvis Pres­ley are still be­ing used to sell Co­caCola, while some of our most popular TV shows ( Mad Men, Down­ton Abbey, The Amer­i­cans, Game of Thrones) and re­cent Os­car win­ners ( The Grand Bu­dapest Ho­tel, The Imi­ta­tion Game, Amer­i­can Hus­tle, Dal­las Buy­ers Club) were in­spired by the near or dis­tant past.

York Uni­ver­sity English pro­fes­sor Mar­cus Boon be­lieves that the cur­rent pro­lif­er­a­tion of re­vivals can be traced back to the rise of In­ter­net cul­ture. “It’s a ques­tion of speed and au­to­ma­tion,” says the Toronto-based au­thor of In Praise of Copy­ing. “As ideas and images are be­ing repli­cated ad in­fini­tum be­cause of com­put­er­i­za­tion, there’s a cer­tain kind of fake ‘re­turn to orig­i­nal­ity’ hap­pen­ing.” Why is it fake? Boon notes that we’ve cre­ated a cul­tural land­scape in which our pre-In­ter­net past has be­come the bench­mark for au­then­tic­ity and orig­i­nal­ity— hence the mis­placed no­tion that we need to copy the past be­fore we can cre­ate our fu­ture.

Toronto-based cu­ra­tor and writer Philip Monk echoes Boon’s thoughts. “Within this new sys­tem of hy­per-con­nec­tiv­ity, I find my­self re­treat­ing into the past,” says Monk, who ex­plores nos­tal­gia, re­vival and par­ody in his book Glam­our Is Theft: A User’s Guide to Gen­eral Idea. But he doesn’t see a prob­lem with this. “Re­vivals are a way of re­cir­cu­lat­ing cul­ture and a nec­es­sary part of our re­la­tion­ship to the past.”

He does, how­ever, ar­gue that tech­nol­ogy is vastly shap­ing the way we in­ter­pret and use the past. “The In­ter­net has forced us all to be­come ar­chiv­ists, but be­cause cul­ture is be­ing shared so quickly via so­cial me­dia, we are shar­ing what is familiar and sim­i­lar. Th­ese are ar­chives of the same rather than dif­fer­ence.”

But wait—wasn’t the In­ter­net sup­posed to of­fer us a plat­form for dif­fer­ence? Where new ideas could be con­ceived and found within sec­onds? “There is no room for new un­der­stand­ings of the world when the In­ter­net and so­cial me­dia have col­lapsed the space be­tween the ‘un­der­ground’ and ‘main­stream,’” coun­ters Monk. “Tra­di­tion­ally, the ‘un­der­ground’ has been an in­cu­ba­tor for new ideas. This al­lowed ideas to be fully ar­tic­u­lated be­fore they were even­tu­ally em­braced by main­stream cul­ture. If ev­ery­thing is shared im­me­di­ately, it can only be through a com­mon lan­guage that al­ready ex­ists.”

So is there re­ally no space left for new ideas to take shape? And—for the fore­see­able fu­ture—are we doomed to just copy, re­cy­cle and re­vive? “I think copy­ing is in­ter­est­ing and not some­thing to be afraid of,” says Boon. “I think you see a lot of peo­ple to­day try­ing to rein­tro­duce el­e­ments of slow­ness, dif­fi­culty even, into the process of copy­ing.” Boon points to the for­ma­tion of col­lec­tives that blend dig­i­tal and ana­log prac­tices, such as the ac­tivist move­ment Oc­cupy Wall Street and the resur­gence of board games and Etsy-style crafti­ness. “The irony of the sit­u­a­tion is pro­found, but my wa­ger is that, what­ever comes next, prac­tices of copy­ing and re­cy­cling are go­ing to be very im­por­tant and are ul­ti­mately telling us some­thing about the fu­ture that is not yet re­al­iz­able but def­i­nitely on the hori­zon.”

Monk laughs at the no­tion that we may be run­ning out of ideas. “We have to bal­ance an un­der­stand­ing of the past on its own terms and in terms of what still in­ter­ests us,” he ex­plains. “Most cases of re­vival only deal with the lat­ter— with a time pe­riod’s more su­per­fi­cial as­pects. But re­vivals are also a means of dis­cov­er­ing the fas­ci­nat­ing things we have ar­ro­gantly forgotten. We need to dis­cover what is mean­ing­ful within nos­tal­gia. To do this, though, we need to go be­yond the com­puter screen.”

I’m re­minded of a quote from film­maker David Lynch that has al­ways res­onated with me. He once said, “The dif­fer­ence be­tween re­al­ity and imag­i­na­tion wasn’t ever clear to me at all.” Some­where be­tween what was and what could have been lies a hazy ex­er­cise in re­mem­brance and make-be­lieve—and this is pre­cisely where nos­tal­gia lives. But as eas­ily and com­fort­ably as we can find nos­tal­gia be­tween “re­al­ity and imag­i­na­tion,” it’s also the birth­place of new ideas—and I refuse to be­lieve there aren’t any good ones left.

“Re­vivals are a way of re­cir­cu­lat­ing cul­ture and a nec­es­sary part of our re­la­tion­ship to the past.”

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