Gary S. Cross is Distinguished Professor of Modern History at Pennsylvania State University. This interview is based on his new book Consumed Nostalgia: Memory in the Age of Fast Capitalism (Columbia University Press, 2015).
JF: What led you to write Consumed Nostalgia?
GC: For many years, I've explored in a number of books 20th century childhood and consumer culture. More recently, these interests led me to consider how modern memory is shaped by fast-changing childhood experiences with goods and media. This topic has given me the opportunity to go beyond documentary sources to include findings from conversations with enthusiasts at car and toy shows, pop culture museums, and much else concerning how memories and longings for the past are shaped by the things that these enthusiasts collect and the old music and TV that attract them.
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Consumed Nostalgia?
GC: The uses and meanings of nostalgia have changed for many since about 1970 as longings for places of origin and vanished societies, cultures, and regimes have given way to longings for consumer goods and media moments associated with early childhood (toys, dolls, theme parks, and domestic period Kitsch) and the transition to adulthood (cars and oldies music). This new type of nostalgia, based on memories of fast changing consumer culture divides many Americans into narrow groups and can deprive them of deeper engagements with their pasts.
JF: Why do we need to read Consumed Nostalgia?
GC: This book may reveal how many Americans understand the past, not as historians do, but through concrete attachments to things and the media. It offers a way of understanding the impact of TV, popular music, heritage and theme parks, cars, and playthings on modern life.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
GC: I began my career as a modern French social historian in the late 70s and came to American history in a quest for students (and jobs) in the 1980s in a seven-year journeyman’s trek that led to a job at Penn State. Eventually I shifted my research to American topics because my interests in consumer culture, childhood, and technology all could be more richly explored using American sources. I wanted to write retrospectively on the world that I live in.
JF: What is your next project?
GC: Currently, I’m following up interests developed in my recent work on men and maturity and an fascination since I was in high school in the early 1960s in teenage car culture (maybe because I didn’t have a cool car). The book will be called, “Growing up with Cars.”
JF: Thanks, Gary!
And thanks to Abby Blakeney for facilitating this installment of The Author's Corner