The Vickers family, played by Jeremy Lindsay Taylor, Claudia Karvan, and, front, Ed Oxenbould and Ashleigh Cummings.
The Vickers family, played by Jeremy Lindsay Taylor, Claudia Karvan, and, front, Ed Oxenbould and Ashleigh Cummings. Stephen Baccon

Those were the days, my friend

ASTROPHYSICIST Stephen Hawking reckons humans are capable of time travel. And certainly, the July 4 discovery of the "God particle" suddenly propelled the tantalising concept off the movie script pages and into virtual reality.

But is there really any need for time travel when everything from fashion, television and movies to lifestyles and philosophies is simply "rebooted" and churned out for a new generation to marvel at?

All of a sudden high-waisted jeans, oversized reading glasses, big messy hair and fluorescent brights are not fodder for sniggering eyebrow-raisers. They are desired.

The Big Brother contestants have christened a section of the house the "Ron Burgundy room" and a local discount shop is advertising a retro turntable that not only plays vinyl records but has a USB port.

It has the word "Nostalgia" emblazoned in silver across its front and can be yours for just $69.

Less than $70 to walk those Velcro high-tops down memory lane - albeit with some modern-age comforts slipped into the inner sole.

Australian TV networks are firmly riding the 1970s and 80s bandwagon, part of a convoy led by the ABC which screened its Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo in April, a showcase of garish 70s nylon, women's lib and gutsy Buttrose sass.

Channel Ten recently launched its eight-part series Puberty Blues, based on the 1979 book by Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey.

And Nine has only just premiered its Howzat: Kerry Packer's War, about the creation of World Series Cricket in the late 70s - back when brands like Benson and Hedges ran enormous billboard signage around every cricket ground in the country.

Dig past the superficial crust, though, and what does this endless decade-recycling reveal about ourselves?

"People always love to look back and remember aspects of their past with fondness," said Karen Brooks, associate professor of cultural studies at the University of Queensland.

"In fact, the further back you go and the older you get, the deeper the rose-coloured glasses become. This is particularly evident through popular culture - TV and music especially - but the remakes of films and the drive to turn popular comics of last century into movies is also an indication.

"And, I think the level of nostalgia has increased recently. It's natural when the present becomes difficult, whether that be at an individual, social or national level, to yearn for what suddenly becomes recalled as simpler, less complex times."

Ms Brooks said selective memory warped many people's recollections of the past.

"What was once conceived as hardship or tough times when they were being endured, say, childhood or adolescence, when money was tight, when you missed out on a job, had your heart broken, becomes viewed through a distinct rosy patina and the context of current crises which, while you live them, always appear worse.

"On the other, they were literally simpler times. Technology didn't dominate, and choice, in terms of everything from food, clothing, pop culture etcetera was less.

"Rules were fairly black and white. Politics didn't appear quite so grubby and information and thus knowledge came from select sources, not everywhere. Nowadays, we live in shades of grey - more than 50."

She said that yearning for a simpler life happened in every generation.

"You can go back to the sophists and orators of ancient Greece and Rome and discover they pine for and bemoan the same things. But it is generational as well.

"There are multiple reasons for the appeal (of these retro TV shows). For the generations taking centre stage it's a wonderful revisiting of the past - and, because we're not experiencing it, we can vicariously enjoy it in ways we may not of at the time. These shows also highlight aspects we may not have appreciated while in the moment.

"They are fabulous trips down memory lane. Even if they're not your memories, they are, for older people, the foundations from which their own recollections were formed. For younger generations, it's a fun history lesson and an opportunity to gain an insight into the past and what makes their own parents or grandparents tick."

 

DO YOU REMEMBER WHEN...

  • Milk was delivered in glass bottles to your doorstep. They had foil lids you could lick to get the cream.
  • People used phone boxes to make calls. And they cost a few silver coins.
  • $1 worth of mixed lollies bought you an enormous amount you could share.
  • Garbage collection on your street involved garbos actually running alongside the truck and emptying the metal bins.
  • The Google of the day was called Encyclopaedia Britannica.
  • You didn't Skype, email, text or Facebook message: you wrote a letter that took three days to reach its destination.
  • You didn't Tweet. Details like what you had for breakfast, how tired you were and where you were going on holiday were kept mostly to yourself.
  • You would talk to your school friends for hours on a chunky landline phone. They were most likely coloured beige or gumleaf green and had a dial you spun around with your finger.
  • Playgrounds were full of potentially dangerous equipment. There were no safety standards and no one thought about suing the council if they got hurt.
  • The most expensive showbag was $5.
  • No one knew what low-fat foods were, and yet very few kids in your class were overweight.
  • Every kid in school wanted: Polly Pocket, a Coca Cola yo-yo, Pound Puppy, Cabbage Patch Kid, troll doll, an Atari, Glo-Worm, Masters of the Universe, Transformers, Star Wars figurines, Sony Walkman.
  • Music came courtesy of crackly vinyl records, cassette tapes or watching Video Hits on a Saturday morning.
  • Video players cost hundreds of dollars and you could choose between Beta or VHS format.
  • If you wanted to change channels on the TV, you got up off the lounge and turned the dial.
  • There were no seatbelts in cars and drink driving laws were just coming in.

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