There's a long walkway at the San Francisco Airport which leads to the United Airlines gates. And it has become a museum of sorts, with fascinating exhibits of varying kinds displayed there throughout the year; an entertaining and educational diversion for travelers passing by.
Over the years I've seen exhibits of kitchen-ware, computers, furniture, and much more as I passed by on the way to catch a flight. It changes about four times a year - and is always interesting.
As I walked through the current display a few weeks ago, I initially smiled and thought "How cool !" It's a collection of 1950's television and public media memorabilia. There were the faces and programs I had grown-up watching.
I knew them all quite well, and had specific memories involving each. For anyone over 55 - this was a walk through our own personal history. There was Howdy Doodie, and the Honeymooners. The Lone Ranger, Davy Crockett, and Hop Along Cassidy.
There were the old TV's from the 50's too. I can still remember when they seemed quite modern to me. Now they looked unbelievably old, and primitive. And over it all hung the air of nostalgia. My initial reaction was one of a sense of fondness; a sense of missing the joys of this simpler, happier time. I think it's a fairly common reaction to seeing images from one's childhood.
But as I neared the half-way point, I noticed that I was no longer feeling the warm and soothing glow of sentimentality that I'd experienced when I first approached the exhibit.
A Detour to Reality
As I got deeper and deeper into the displays, that wistful sense of homesickness that is the core element of nostalgia was suddenly gone.
I stood staring at photos of the Mickey Mouse Club, Ozzie & Harriet, and Wagon Train - and I gradually became overwhelmed with the inverse of my initial sense of nostalgia. I was becoming depressed and uncomfortable.
And as I arrived at a photo of one of my all-time favorite childhood movies - Old Yeller - I was completely consumed with a sense of lamentation and annoyance. I caught a reflective glimpse of myself in the glass of the display case - and was shocked to see a look of pure, undiluted disdain on my face. In the space of twenty minutes I had gone from dreamy nostalgia to utter contempt - and sadness. And I knew why.
For as I looked at all those happy faces and scenes from the 50's, it was suddenly very clear to me that in none of them did I see a reflection of who I was during that time. Indeed, these images and that culture were a very clear and obvious negation of me - and everyone like me. These images said to me "not only do you not count - we wish you weren't even here."
You see, in none of those happy faces and scenes of life were there any images of people of color. There were no Asians. There were no Latinos. And there were certainly no black faces - nor black lives - featured in this compendium of American happiness. None. Not one.
And as I stood there, I realized that as a child in the 50's I had absorbed thousands of images and messages that said "You don't matter. You don't count."
Yes - we've come a long, long way from that America - though we still have many challenges in front of us - and barriers to overcome. But the America displayed in those exhibits disappeared a long time ago. And as I strolled toward my flight that morning, my overriding feeling was "Thank God those days are gone." My homesickness had evaporated in the realization that that America had never been my home. I had never been invited in. For me, that walk down memory lane had grabbed nostalgia by the throat - and shoved it into the grave where it so justly belongs.
So RIP 50's nostalgia. I miss you Not.