Endless Loop: Video Games

lanadelreyHave you ever had one of those songs that gets stuck in your head for days…weeks…years? Sure you have. These are the songs that always make the cut. The songs on repeat. We all have them. I have a ton. Welcome back to Endless Loop.

“Video Games” by Lana Del Rey

Nostalgia.  I write about it in some form or another a lot here on Joup, as do our other contributors.  It’s this ever-present thing, a constant hum in our pop culture that surfaces in the music we listen to, the TV and movies we watch, and the books we read.  It’s in our advertising, our fashion, our cuisine, forever coloring our senses and perceptions in that rose-tinted fuzz of fond memories.  For better or worse, nostalgia is everywhere.

I don’t think it was always that way, or at least if it was, it was more subtly so.  But for the last 50 years, American culture has just been awash in the stuff.  Beginning in the 1970s when the Baby Boomers started to come of age, entertainment and popular culture shifted their focus to that generation’s viewpoint and experience (for white people at least), a trend that would continue into the next decade with a veritable explosion of ‘50s-tinged art.  The Boomers’ love of that decade brought us wave after wave of nostalgic entertainment, be it television (Happy DaysLaverne & Shirley), film (Back to the FuturePeggy Sue Got Married), music (Sha Na Na, George Thorogood), literature (Stephen King’s It and The Body), and more.  Eventually the ‘50s buzz gave way to the ‘60s buzz, giving us bell bottoms again and a revival of psychedelic pop with the Paisley Underground in California.  And as the Boomers continued to age, so too did the nostalgia, gradually shifting the focus again to Gen X and the Millennials, which in turn brought us pop culture steeped in the vibes of the ‘70s and then the ‘80s.

Meanwhile, the 90’s continues to threaten its imminent comeback.

What I’m getting at is that at least for the last five decades, our insatiable taste for that nostalgic high, that constant drip of warm fuzzies, the result of our fleeting feelings and memories of childhood innocence and wonder, has been THE dominant cultural force in our media consumption.  I’m guilty of it just as you probably are, getting sucked into the recent movements of ‘80s-inspired pop paraphernalia, be it the homages to the old Amblin movies I watched as a kid or the recent revival of synth horror scores.  I guess it’s kind of cathartic.  An escape from our present.  A screen to hide away our reality for a little while.  For our parents, it was Vietnam, Watergate, the recession, gas shortages, and so on that ran through multiple bursting bubbles, drug wars, AIDS epidemics, corruption, and the disintegration of the middle class.  And now, it’s housing crises, endless war, climate change, authoritarian government, and that motherfucker Trump.

We need our escapism, but it’s kind of like we’re stuck in a cycle, the bad shit hidden by good memories over and over and over again.  Whether or not that’s benign or ultimately harmful or stunting, I have no idea.

Somehow, this all brings me to Lana Del Rey.

In 2011 while sifting through some music blogs, I came across what appeared to be a homemade video compiled of a bunch of random pieces of pop ephemera: old super 8 footage, clips of old movies, cartoons, celebrities, and skaters, and soft lit shots of a chanteuse, looking aloof and feeling seemingly out of time.  The melancholy melody playing alongside these images, and the soft and yearning vocals singing themes of undying, obsessive love; the grainy camera shots, the aesthetic that felt like five decades colliding all at once, and the pouty, botoxed lips…it was all too much.  “Video Games” hit my psyche like an atom bomb.  I wasn’t alone.

Upon the viral success of the “Video Games” video, Lana Del Rey (nee Lizzy Grant) went through an epic cycle of fascination, hype, praise, more hype, backlash, criticism, and aplomb with greater speed than probably any artist ever before her.  She was adored.  She was despised.  She was accused of inauthenticity, of being a corporate creation.  And she was everywhere, be it appearing in another vintagy video for a new song or bombing spectacularly on Saturday Night Live.  But what really got lost in all this hype and backlash and blogger drama, was that the song is really damn good.  It swims in nostalgia, every aspect of sound and vision feeling like an homage to something, anything, everything.  It invokes memories you didn’t even know you had.  And it makes me wonder if some people got turned off by it because maybe they felt like it was manipulative.

Who knows?  Her career certainly didn’t suffer from any of it.  And the better part of a decade later, her whole aesthetic has remained pretty much intact since that video arrived in 2011.

As for the rest of us, we’re going to ride this nostalgia train into the sunset, the cycles of homage and remake and revival turning again and again until our kids and our kids’ kids are all nostalgic for different versions of the same thing, an endless desire to grab hold of something lost or forgotten, something pure.

That is if the planet survives.  (Cue the warm and fuzzy childhood memory here.)


Thomas H Williams

Thomas H Williams

From a bunker somewhere in Central Texas, Thomas H. Williams spends most of his time with his wife, his two sons, and his increasingly neurotic dog. He listens to a lot of music, drinks a lot of excellent beers, and gets out from time to time. For even more shenanigans, visit heavenisanincubator.blogspot.com.

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