Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Sharing nostalgia in an internet world

We all feel nostalgic from time to time. Often, it is triggered by something small - a smell, a sound, a snippet of song - that re-ignites a larger memory. Australian cowboy & indian outfit 1951is a case in point.

I wrote it because a photo from Cousin Jamie's collection triggered a memory. This led kvd to comment:

Jim don't know if you ever had one but my most treasured possession at that time was a Davey Crockett hat complete with tail. My brother's Labrador stole it then ate it and growled at me when I tried to take it off her. Vivid early childhood memory. Stupid dog. But anyway cowboys and Indians was very big back thereabouts as you say.

Anon responded with a correction and his own memory:

Davy Crockett much later; 1955. Also, who can forget the much desired (didn't have one!) Hoppalong Cassidy tent. We had a much loved and extremely patient ginger cat, who spent some years doubling as a mountain lion/couger/puma. Sat arvo matinees had much to answer for.

kvd responded in turn:

Anon is correct as to dates. "Me hat got et" in either 56 or 57 based on the house we were living in. I had a pair of H C chaps a little after that i think. Proper leather. Cost a fortune these days.

As I read the comments on Davy Crockett, the chorus from the song popularised by the 1955 movie came back into my mind: "Davy, Davy Crockett".

What I had forgotten until reminded of it by kvd's reference to the hat plus the reference to Hopalong Cassidy's tent and chaps was just how important merchandising was.

Today we talk of brands, a franchise, merchandising as though they were relatively recent. The first Hopalong Cassidy book was in fact published in 1904; today the various features are being re-released as DVDs.  

The peak of the HC franchise was directly associated with the rise of television in the immediate post war period. On June 24, 1949, Hopalong Cassidy became the first network Western television series, igniting mass interest.

Children have vivid imaginations. The role played by anon's much loved and patient ginger cat is an example. This shot shows brother David and I with our grandfather's dog Ben. Toys, animals and immediate surrounds are all incorporated into mental and physical games. Nostalgia is often associated with childhood memories simple because those memories are so vivid and often, not always, uncomplicated.

By it's nature, nostalgia is individual. It is our individual memories that come back to us. Usually, there are few if any people to share them with. However, this is where the internet has worked a most remarkable change.

When I look at my overall traffic figures over the last six years, the posts that attracted the highest visitor volumes all deal in one way or another with popular, often serious or current issues. A different picture emerges when I look at comments or email traffic. The posts or newspaper columns that attract the strongest individual reactions are nearly all connected with personal experiences, histories or memories. The internet allows us to share. Nostalgia becomes a shared experience.

Increasingly, I find myself writing consciously writing to this individualised audience.

I write about the need for change in management, public policy or public administration because I believe this to be important. The old Belshaw change agent, the reformer, is still there, still trying to contribute. However, the posts that give me the most intense personal satisfaction are those that strike a personal response in one or more readers.

One of the most important features of sharing nostalgia in an internet world lies in the way it has begun to record, reshape and rewrite what we might call social history, history seen through the experiences of individuals, families and groups that once lay below the surface created by formal history because the evidence was not there, or not easily accessible.

One personal challenge for me as an historian is to bring this alive.

The other day I was trying to work out just how I might manage, let alone use, the thousands of comments and emails I have received over the last few years.

One of the traditional challenges for the historian lies in identifying and collecting evidence. In my case, a large slab of evidence actually collects itself. My problem is to how to use the accumulating evidence that constantly passes my screen!

Perhaps I shouldn't worry to much. I have actually written more history in the last few years than the rest of my life combined. Perhaps I should just go with the flow, enjoying what I have now. After all, I really am privileged to share so much with so many people!     


I have added a short post on my history blog - Use of the internet in social history: an example


Anonymous said...

Jim this and your history post are very interesting, and caused me to stretch my mind back.

I don't think I was at all influenced by tv, more probably just an early form of peer pressure: everbody had a DC hat; everybody liked HC and cowboys and indians. My parents did not have tv until my father retired from the Army, and moved to the South Coast in 1962.

Explained to me many times that a tv was a "big investment, to last for many, many years", so they weren't going to buy one in Lithgow then move away some six hours by road at that time.

So my tv was gleaned from other peoples' houses - mostly Saturdays - with said cowboys and indians the favourite fare, followed up with a good dose of World Championship Wrestling - but all of which was unavailable in Lithgow until late 1959, or maybe 1960 - i.e. well after the various crazes came to be.

The local picture theatre - The Theatre Royal - was a once in a blue moon treat, and the only two films I remember distinctly are High Noon (probably a re-release from its 1952 original) and Oklahoma! which songs I knew by heart from listening to the LP record for a couple of years prior to the film's release in mid '50s. Could probably still 'mouth along' to most of them today if I tried..

Anyway, thank you for stirring up these memories.


Jim Belshaw said...

Interesting, kvd. Another TV deprived child. Did that lead to initial addiction when you did get your own?

Interesting case, for on the surface if you don't have TV and rarely go to the movies, it really must have been just peer group influence. I should remember, I think that you have mentioned it before, but when did your parents move to Lithgow?

Anonymous said...

Moved to Lithgow from Seymour Vic 1955 just in time to start school. Moved from there to here (within 30 miles) in mid 1962 when father retired. Just in time for the last six months primary school, then life as I know it actually began.

That's why I sometimes envy your deep family connections to 'place'. Not available to the itinerant soldier family. Esp. if you're 'The Major's son' - envied, but despised, and kids are good at that.

Addicted to tv? No. Sport and outdoors anything - yes. Night time - books and comics. Must have read Swiss Family Robinson five times over in those years, plus all the Biggles books. But there's a sort of veil over earlier stuff, because around the time dad retired and we moved, my then 20 year old brother who I basically idolised was dying of leukemia, and the family focus was that, nothing else. My 'good' memories are of dogs (including that one) and hunting and sports and blackberries - the edible kind.

Thinking back on it now, I don't think I went to 'the pictures' much at all in those years. But Saturday arvo tv at a friend's house was certainly a feature for maybe a year before we moved out.


Anonymous said...

ps remember 'The Tied Test'?

That is a vivid memory - glued to the radio in our kitchen beside the old fashioned wood fired stove. 1960, and 6-12 months before I first saw a television.

I don't remember where I was when some things 'happened' but that is clear as a bell.


Jim Belshaw said...

I always find other people's lives interesting, kvd. While I am older than you, there are quite considerable experience overlaps. I can imagine being the Major's son might have been difficult.While I do have connection with place, there were somewhat similar issues growing up in area with complex social structures with prominent father and grandfather.

I still miss our fuel stove.