The Past is Overrated

Sure, old people are cute, but they’re right smug, too. To us youngsters, they make vague references to “the good ole days.” In fact, it’s been claimed that the best generation ever has already past, but I’m actually sure that the best generation ever must include me- so they’re wrong by default. But when you get right down to it, the past is overrated. Completely romanticized. Sure, some people may think that before the I-pod, those were “simpler times.” But you know what I think? I think watching HD movies anywhere on a tiny handheld device is pretty simple.

I wouldn’t be bragging to some kid with a Mustang about work ethic: about walking five miles up hill both ways to get to school. He’ll just shrug and ask why you made the effort. Maybe I’m a teensy bit jealous of the sixties- a sexual revolution on LSD sounds pretty great. But maybe all those hippie stories are romanticized as well. I mean, they were stoned for an entire decade, so of course they had fun. Those sort of acid trip/sex orgies happen every weekend in downtown LA: it’s called a gay pride parade.

A lot of girls talk about knights in shining armor, about the death of chivalry. But knights are way overrated losers. They didn’t shower and rode around looking for the Holy Grail. They courted young women, but that’s all they did. Even if a few of them wrote a couple of love ballads while using the word “thee” too often, it’s because they had so much time on their hands. Most people were starving during those days, anyways.

The only reason we hearken back to the past is because we’re afraid of the future. We’re nostalgic out of anxiety that our frail lifestyles will soon disappear. We buy old typewriters and rehash our memories again and again. But maybe we could just enjoy having Ipods. And television. Or electricity in general.

You know what we have that some people didn’t have not too long ago, relatively? Plumbing.

Liberal arts education.

Bowling alleys.

Netflix.

The present, sure, definitely has its flaws, but at least we’re not all working in industrial factories from the age of four. We don’t have slavery anymore. We don’t need memories anymore or need to learn anything, because we have a collective memory called Wikipedia. You can literally buy a commercial jet pack for a few thousand dollars, which might get you to Walmart on a couple hundred dollars of jet fuel. Worth it.

Maybe imagining how great it must have been to live in a cabin in the woods, half-freezing to death every winter is not something I aspire to. Did you know, for example, that people didn’t even have bottled water? They drank it out of a WELL. They pooped outside. These days, people have toilet seats that can warm you as you poop.

At one point, some people lived without the wheel. They just hunted mammoths all day. Your grandparents may have lived through that tragedy.

Even in old age, people talk about their childhoods. Especially about their high school years. But who really wants to go back to their high school years? The further we drift from it, the more we idealize it. We patch up its mishaps and gild its features into shiny brass. So next time a rambling geriatric asks you, “Don’t you wish we lived in the good ole days?” Well, show him your I-pad. He’ll probably crap himself.

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About Derek Berry

Derek Berry is a novelist and spoken word poet. Derek is the author of Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County (PRA Publishing, 2016). He co-founded and organizes The Unspoken Word, a literary non-profit based out of Charleston, SC, which provides an intendent home for the poetic arts through regular readings, workshops, and community fundraisers. He is on the Executive Board of the Charleston Poetry Festival, the inaugural production of which will be Fall 2017. His work has appeared in The Southern Tablet, Cattywampus, Charleston Currents, Illuminations, RiverSedge, and other journals.He has performed in venues across the United States and Germany. He has worked as a photographer’s assistant, busboy, and bookseller. He currently works at a curation facility for Cold War History.

Posted on July 9, 2011, in Old People, Past, Random and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. You have a lot of valid points. I like it. But I think the reason people idolize the past isn’t just because “we’re afraid of the future.” I think it’s because,as humans, we always want what we can’t have. We can make the future, but we can’t go back into the past.

    • As in, we want something we can never really have? Like how when someone dies, no matter what, they’re a saint. They lived a great life, because no one wants to badmouth a dead person. Better to edit down their lives to sainthood.

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