Nostalgia has always had a strong pull on the human species, but in the age of technology it is more powerful than ever.
Most of us have grown up with TV. The rest of us have had it most of our adult lives. It has kept us in vivid intimacy with our times.
Thus all we need to recall the sentiments of any recent decade is a photograph, a film clip, a video flash. Suddenly we are filled with the sweets or horrors of the past.
Our baby boomers are old enough now to be nostalgic for the 1950s, a decade we all suddenly see through rose-colored glasses. In previous centuries nostalgia was fed only by memories, without the graphic reminders of technology.
I have received the first issue of a magazine called Memories, which makes an unabashed appeal to the current epidemic of nostalgia. "The magazine of then and now," it calls itself.
If I wondered what kind of memories the magazine would stir, the cover told me. Under a picture of the smiling John F. Kennedy, the caption--"If JFK had lived." Under a picture of a uniformed young Ronald Reagan and wife Jane Wyman--"Why Jane Left Ronnie"; under a picture of a cop examining the body of Johnny Stompanato--"The Killing Hollywood Can't Forget"; and under Eddie Fisher and Elizabeth Taylor cooing in swimwear on the beach--"Heartbreaker! Eddie Leaves Debbie for Liz."
There is a story in the magazine, and more pictures, detailing the passions implicit in each of those pulsating vignettes.
The first layout shows four pictures that none of us who saw them in our newspapers, not on TV, will ever forget. A South Vietnamese general aims a pistol at the temple of a cringing prisoner (in a second picture, unpublished here, we saw him fire). . . . A cop bends over beside a Washington parade to talk with a lost little boy. . . . A sailor celebrates the end of World War II by vigorously kissing a nurse in Times Square. . . . A 15-year-old girl, followed by her joyous mother, sister and two brothers, flies open-armed to her father, who has alighted from an airplane after four years of captivity in Vietnam.
A page lists 21 people who, according to Andy Warhol's cynical prediction, were famous for 15 minutes; among them: Alan Bakke, Marilyn Chambers, Mary Cunningham, Maureen Dean, Rita Jenrette, Elizabeth Ray, Frank Sturgis, Anthony Ulasewicx. Remember them?
We are regaled by stories of the conquest of polio, the sexual revolution (from Dr. Kinsey's sensational report on male sexual behavior and the Pill to the surgeon general's repressive pronouncement on AIDS), the sack dress, Elvis Presley's Army service, Martin Luther King's crusade, the student revolt, the Boston Strangler (with the conclusion that the cops may have caught the wrong man), and the feminist movement.
I won't say that the magazine has been edited to give the impression that the past 50 years have been a ball, but I do have the feeling that I wouldn't mind living through them again, as long as I didn't have to go to Vietnam.
We feel close to all these happenings because they were so thoroughly reported by the media. Many, to my mind, are overdone in the magazine--like the mobilization of Elvis Presley, the killing of Johnny Stompanato, a parasitic mobster and ladies' man who was stabbed with a butcher knife in Lana Turner's bedroom by Lana's 14-year-old daughter, Cheryl, and the breakup of America's most romantic couple by the temptress Taylor. But they were overdone at the time, and there is no reason why the magazine shouldn't remember them with a kind of reverence.
I never met Presley, but I was at the coroner's inquest when Lana gave her passionate testimony; the verdict was justifiable homicide by Cheryl. And after Liz had lured Eddie from Debbie, I met Liz and Eddie coming in at the airport. I felt sorry for the little guy, walking a couple of steps behind his new mate, awkwardly carrying her dog and her bags. He didn't last long.
I don't know how long Memories will last, but if it keeps digging in the gore and slime of the past 50 years, it will never run out of material.
I'll bet we soon see the picture of that Frenchman weeping as the Germans march down the Champs Elysees, the one of Hitler doing his "jig" and, sooner or later, Challenger.