Friday, December 18, 2009

Nostalgia about Childhood

From a review on Spiked of a BBC program about the history of children's play:

If you depended for all your information on tabloid newspapers and late-night Sky 3 programmes, you could be forgiven for thinking that territorial teenage gangs are a recent phenomenon, but Hop, Skip and Jump demonstrated otherwise. Another Glaswegian, Tommy Smith, remembers the city’s clearly delineated gangland borders in the late 1950s and early 1960s, talking of the relief at returning home after venturing into a fierce rival gang’s territory. Colin MacFarlane saw a man get his throat cut, after which the killer approached him and threatened: ‘If you tell anyone about this, there’ll be trouble.’ A few days later, the mark drawn around the body by the police had been covered by that icon of childhood innocence: a chalked hopscotch court.

These accounts suggest we should regard childhoods of yesterday with ambivalence – and sometimes even appreciate the often paradoxical nature of society’s nostalgia. A frequent lament by those who grew up in the 1940s and 1950s is that back then there were so many wonderful bombsites and ruined houses to explore, which is tantamount to thanking the Luftwaffe – who possibly killed these children’s parents – for a happy childhood.

Another puzzling phenomenon is that today’s nostalgia was foreseen at an early age, as many folklorists in the 1960s began tape-recording traditional playground songs, fearing they would be killed off by 45s and cheap transistor radios disseminating commercial pop music, much as recorded pop music was indeed helping to kill off much English regional folk music. Yet, as Hop, Skip and Jump illustrated, these traditional songs have survived into the twenty-first century. Many songs sung in playgrounds today would be recognised by our children’s great-grandparents. And, to add yet another twist to this tale of misleading nostalgia, because these songs have been transmitted laterally to second- and third-generation immigrants, such songs would be utterly unfamiliar to the grandparents of these children.

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