next:now – Strategies to Resample the Future

„Once upon a time, pop‘s metabolism buzzed with dynamic energy, creating the surging-in-to-the-future feel of periods like the psychedelic sixties, the post-punk seventies, the hip-hop eighties and the rave nineties. The 2000s felt different. (…) Instead of being the threshold to the future, the first ten years of the twenty-first century turned out to be the ‚Re‘ Decade (…): revivals, reissues, remakes, re-enactments. Endless retrospection. (…)“

– Simon Reynolds – Retromania (2011)i

Atari emulators, electro-swing, Polaroid replicas, or Hieronimus Bosch’s triptychs in Virtual Reality: everything nostalgia related sells better than ever, and we’re not just talking about pop and mainstream. Every obscure fraction of a subculture had also its 15 minutes of …revival in the past 18 years.

An obsessive (therefore unhealthy) attention to the past is influencing all aspects of cultural production in these days. This is certainly a “Sign o’ the timesii.

Times of “Liquid fear””iii, that tangible feeling of anxiety that has only vague contours but is present everywhere. Dangers can strike anytime, everywhere: no matter what’s your job, tomorrow you can be fired, like those guys at Leeman Bros carrying their stuff out in cardboard boxes; you can be shot while you sip your cappuccino, in the name of god or the N.R.A.: or you can be killed by some multi resistant bacteria, and you have the same chance to get infected on a safari looking for the big 5 or in your local hospital having a proctology check up. To quote Bauman’s favorite metaphor:

We’re walking on a mine field, we are aware that all is full of explosives, but we don’t know where there will be an explosion and when. There are no solid structures to rely on, nothing in which we can invest our hope and expectations.iv

Or, using the words of Comité Invisible:

“From whatever angle you approach it, the present offers no way out. This is not the least of its virtues. From those who seek hope above all, it tears away every firm ground. Those who claim to have solutions are contradicted almost immediately. Everyone agrees that things can only get worse. “The future has no future” is the wisdom of an age that, for all its appearance of perfect normalcy, has reached the level of consciousness of the first punks.”v

In this context the past can be seen as a cozy and warm nest, a perfect world that we can control as it is shaped by our selective memory, a safe place. And so, as thinks are like that, instead of struggling to build up an uncertain future (to go for an Utopia), a very common choice is to aspire to return to a golden past, to go for a “Retrotopiavi. The spreading of this approach is another “Sign o’ the times”, but one with very scary implications. [Read more →]