Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Pop culture’s strange fondness for nostalgia

Why events of the past carry a much greater heft than what’s going on today in terms of mainstream coverage.

Kurt Cobain: the 20th anniversary of his death shows up pop culture's fondness for nostalgia

Fri, Apr 11, 2014, 10:05


High-profile anniversaries always get attention. Last week, for example, you couldn’t escape the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death. Every media outlet had their take on the singer, his band, the music and the fans. The fact that he died on the date he was supposed to be playing a show in Dublin provided many Irish angles.

Such a focus has several effects. It certainly made many feel rather old (yes, you are old, especially when you think of how you would have reacted if someone went on at great length in 1994 about an event from 1974).

It also served to remind us of pop culture’s strange fondness for nostalgia, anniversaries, reissues and revivals. More importantly, it showed again how such coverage focuses attention on the past rather than the future.

Of course, it’s much easier for many commentators and journalists to focus on past events because that’s when they were at large and truly engaged with the culture. For many of the current crop of critics, the 1990s and 2000s was their time in the limelight so it’s perhaps inevitable that they can talk and write at great length on, say, Britpop or grunge.

However, it’s a much different matter when it comes to the coverage given to today’s music. While there are a whole crop of brilliant writers who can sweep you off your feet with opinions and treatises on the musical and cultural machinations of now from far and wide, the biggest spreads and profiles still appear to go to the established acts or anniversary-led outbreaks of nostalgia.

It often feels as if events of the past carry a greater heft than what’s going on today in terms of mainstream coverage. You have to wonder if there’s any actual will to address that imbalance or should we simply wait for the 30 years of Cobain experience in 2024.

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