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Don't look back

By Brad Wallace
Arizona Daily Wildcat
February 26, 1999
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Arizona Daily Wildcat

I recently went out for lunch. As is my custom, I flipped on the radio, hoping to hear some exciting new "alternative music."

Station One: "Video Killed the Radio Star." Station Two: "Video Killed the Radio Star." Station Three (a fuzzy Phoenix station): "Video Killed the Radio Star." I am not making this up. I did a brief time check, and confirmed that it was in fact, 1999 and not 1982.

I have to admit that the '80s throwback thing started off as cute. Once upon a time, I could go an entire month or so without hearing Duran Duran. Now, all I have to do is turn the radio on sometime between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. And the time gulf is getting bigger, reaching further back into the American past. One merely point at the success of Swingers, and the proliferation of Martini Bars to see that something is going on here. Don't even get me started on Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.

The point isn't that swing or synthpop is bad, as I enjoy both. They've just been done. The fact that a band can basically copy the popular sound of 50 years ago and end up at the Super Bowl (tm) earning millions of dollars deeply disturbs me. The ET commercial deeply disturbed me, as well. The 20s were really cool, but they were also 70 years ago.

Why are we, as a culture, turning backwards?

This is the last year that will ever start with a one. If anything, we should be suffering from future obsession, like in the 20s when everyone was planning for nuclear cars and jetpacks.

Now I can understand how the Spice Girls and movies like Dead Man on Campus may have soured the taste of modern pop culture, but the truth of the matter is that perhaps we're all just scared out of our minds that 2000 really is coming. We are afraid of a new millennium, recombinant DNA technologies, terrible weapons yet unimaginable and the emerging corporate megastructure that is replacing nationalism.

We have every right to be.

Nonetheless, rather than copying the hip-huggers, the felt hats and the vinyl of yesteryear, we should be copying the attitudes that drove the musical and fashion changes. Both the 20s and 60s were eras of intense political and cultural unrest among people our age. They changed the way sexuality was expressed, the way war could be tolerated and how alienated the youth of those transitional times felt.

If you're at all like me, you feel the same sort of things.

Although nostalgia is fun, at this juncture, looking forward is more important. We need new ideas, new voices and new ways of expressing discontent. If not, we will be doomed to repeat the 20th century in the 21st, laying spread-eagle before the driving forces of the world that have already written us off as "X." The fact that we buy their mass produced, recycled culture merely lines their pockets.

I'm not suggesting that everyone run out to the mall and buy brand new state of the art clothing or the latest, hottest techno band CD. If you run anywhere, run to the bookstore. We are entering the narrow window of time when our generation will have the greatest opportunity to shape the future: the time when we are deciding careers and defining our individual stances on ethical matters that will literally change the face of the world.

Someone born in 1920 has seen the development of the airplane, the destruction of Hiroshima and the use of genetic therapy to cure diseases. We can expect to see more, and we need to be prepared.

Look forward, friends.