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Maybe it’s because millennials are doing a lot of mainstream writing right now, but it seems like nostalgia is popular these days. Are reboots a good idea?
I watched the new Indiana Jones film, with Harrison Ford, age 80, running and jumping and being shot and doing fight scenes. There’s a new Mission Impossible film coming out in a few weeks. I also saw the new Top Gun: Maverick film earlier this spring. Then I read an essay revisiting Bridget Jones’ Diary, 25 years later, and reread Judy Blume’s book, Are you There God? It’s Me, Margaret. There’s also a film version of Blume’s book that is recently out. As a historian, I’m always studying the past. But as a millennial, I’ve noticed my past rebooted and repackaged for a Gen Z audience. Apparently the 1990s are cool with young people right now. Too bad I didn’t keep my iconic jean jacket. Thankfully I did keep some epic GAP jeans and my Radiohead cd. And I still know all the words to too many Brittany songs.
Sometimes students ask for “old” film or music recommendations, and that makes me chuckle. Personally, I think films from my childhood like Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, The Sandlot, Almost Famous, and The Princess Bride have mostly held up over time. Many films, songs, art and literature from the 90s and early 2000s don’t hold up and are dated, meaning they are ‘problematic’ by today’s standards. A friend told me she’s been rewatching The Cosby Show and we discussed how the point of view of the show is fascinating and sometimes very funny, but also not at all funny, in light of Bill Cosby’s treatment of women, more recently exposed. But some things hold up, in that they are still enjoyable and have a point of view and connect with the viewer, though they were created in a different time and place and for a different audience.
I read Madeline Miller’s short story, Galatea, as a version of Ovid’s version of the Pygmalion myth in the Metamorphoses. Ovid tells the story of a sculptor, Pygmalion, who is horrified by prostitutes and condemns them as obscene and shameless. He rejects all live female companionship, instead sculpting the perfect woman out of ivory. Pygmalion makes this woman perfect, in his eyes, and falls in love with her. He prays to Venus and the goddess brings the ivory woman to life. Pygmalion holds her and the woman, feeling his kisses, blushes deeply (unlike the prostitutes), and they marry and have a child. And they live happily ever after, according to Ovid. Miller explains that this story has been told and retold in music, dance, poetry, film, and literature. My Fair Lady comes from this story, as are versions of makeover films like Pretty Woman. Some see Ovid’s story as a story within a story, narrated by a bitter and grief-stricken Orpheus. Some see it as a romance and relate to the makeover aspect of the story. Many have seen Ovid’s story as a metaphor for how artists fall in love with their art. Others have seen the story as deeply disturbing. According to Miller, it’s only a happy ending if the reader accepts that the perfect female has no self aside from pleasing a man. Galatea, the ivory sculpture who becomes a woman, does not speak in Ovid’s story. Nor does she have a name and is called only “the woman.” For Miller, Ovid’s story of Galatea is about transformation: “on finding freedom for yourself in a world that denies it to you.” This is, of course, a more modern take on Ovid’s story.
Miller ends her short story with these words: “but that is the mark of a good source myth; it is water so wide it can reach across centuries.”
What holds up over time and why? What is forgotten and why?
Madeline Miller, Galatea: A Short Story, (New York: Harper Collins, 2013); 2022 afterword.
Photo by Nida: https://www.pexels.com/photo/retro-photo-camera-and-vintage-telephone-placed-on-wooden-bedside-table-7810405/