Nostalgia and commodification

Brian Michael Howell (bmhowell@ARTSCI.WUSTL.EDU)
Fri, 1 Mar 1996 12:54:19 -0600

I am a research assistant for a professor working on issues of nostalgia
and commodification. I hope by briefly explaining the idea I might get
any resources of which people are aware, dealing with these issues, as
well as possibly start a discussion.

A number of lit crit and social theory types (e.g. Boudrillard) have
criticised "retro" movements as the (crass) invention of history in the
present for the purposes of a privitization and commodification typical
of late capitalism. Example (not Boudrillard's) - the Colonial
Williamsburg theme park or the marketing of "authentic" "Native American"
music. On the other hand, some cultural theory types (Gilroy) have
celebrated the kind of reappropriation of the past by various cultural
sub-groups (working class or non-Western/White groups) in creative
"hybridizations" in clothing, music, and other cultural forms,
representing a resistance to the past as constructed in the memory and
present of the dominant culture.

There are two questions I would pose:

1) Are the recreations of the past in supposedly authentic terms, always
to be characterized in the kind of commodification/privitization terms
used by Boudrillard?

2) Can members of the dominant culture perform the same kind of creative
hybridization and resistance to their own culture which is celebrated
when manifest by the subaltern classes/groups?

I apologize if I have been overly jargony. I have tried to keep this
short, so I realize that the point may be lost. I encourage any
questions to clarify my point and thoughts that may be stirred, whether
or not it seems to relate to the point I am trying to make.

Also, if there are people who are familiar with the authors and issues
mentioned, I would like to know of any studies which either address the
questions posed, or seem to apply the boudrillard-type analysis to
ethnographic data.