Friday, September 23, 2011

Leisure Before Television

The following is an excerpt from a work-in-progress called The Town I Live In.

The word “nostalgia” usually refers to a fond remembrance of or yearning for the past. However, the origin of the word suggests something different. It comes from two Greek words (nóstos), meaning "returning home” and ἄλγος (álgos), meaning "pain, ache". So, nostalgia literally means “a painful returning home.”

I prefer this definition to the commonly used one, because I am too much of a realist to think about the past as “the good old days.” The past was never all good. Like the present, there was good and there was bad all mixed up together.

One good thing about the past is that television used to not exist. C. Stanley Chapman recalls how people used to spend their leisure time in Fullerton: “We had parties and picnics. To have fun, it was not necessary to have mechanical equipment.”

Before pre-packaged entertainment like television, people had to think about ways to entertain themselves. Chapman reminisces, “All of the entertainment had to be mutually prepared and mutually enjoyed.”

What did Chapman think about the advent of television? “Television has completely changed everybody’s life and for better of worse, I would not venture to say,” he said, “ I know that there are many pleasures that are missed by the fact that people don’t enjoy one another like they used to.”

I was born in 1979, so I have never lived in a time where television was not a pervasive aspect of my culture. I’m not so naïve as to completely dismiss mass communication like television and the internet as “bad.” They have made for a more informed and interconnected society. But the great irony of mass communication is that, while connecting people in an abstract way, they also promote a culture of isolation, of individual, as opposed to mutual, entertainment. Perhaps this gets at another element of nostalgia. Looking back can be painful, because we remember how things have changed, for better and for worse.

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