Generation Retro: Percy Hynes White and the Carousel of Nostalgia

Garon CockrellMiscellaneous


For most of us, the joys, fashions and melodies of earlier years live in our memory as an oasis, a refuge from life’s present-day burdens and complexities.

Looking back, those times were exciting and vibrant. Better yet, we experienced them as younger and perhaps more idealistic versions of ourselves.

Nostalgia is a timeless sentiment — certainly not a new concept. Proust set out to write Remembrance of Things Past in 1909, and ended up with seven volumes. Paul McCartney pined for Yesterday in 1964. Frankie Valli had December of 1963; Bryan Adams remembered the best days of his life in the Summer of ’69.

By the late 70s, even Quebec’s vehicle license plates were looking back, stamped with a sentimental new slogan: Je me souviens.

Mad Men’s fictional Don Draper may have given the best explanation for the compelling pull of memory, while pitching an ad campaign for Kodak’s iconic Carousel slide projector: “Nostalgia. It’s delicate, but potent. … In Greek, nostalgia literally means ‘the pain from an old wound.’ It’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone.”

Gesturing toward the glowing Carousel, he promised: “It lets us travel the way a child travels. Around and around and back home again to a place where we know we are loved.”

That closing pitch is a key insight into nostalgia: It’s not really about our longing for simpler times; mostly it’s about our longing for the simpler life we remember, optimized by Technicolor, Dolby sound and lots of special effects.

Nostalgia is a magic that reimagines youth. Given that, when today’s teens and twenty-somethings suddenly become enchanted by nostalgia, you have the final proof of its power, its relentless kinetic appeal.

Canadian TV and film star Percy Hynes White is one intriguing example of the phenomenon. In October he will turn 22, but his social media features a kaleidoscope of images from earlier eras.

If it was once cool, Percy is there: Bowling on the weekend like The Honeymooners’ Ed Norton, circa 1955. Snapping Polaroids like an excited parent at a high school graduation in 1970. Posing against a background of avocado green walls accented by knotted wood paneling. Doing donuts with an AMC Gremlin, or attempting to start a ’74 Chevy Vega.

Percy Hynes White embodies the cultural contradictions of his generation. Obsessively plugged into the World Wide Web and social media, many in this demographic are fascinated by pre-iPhone cultural rituals.

Like wide-eyed archeologists examining a fossilized Neanderthal encampment, they are thrilled to find such relics as a spherical typing element from an IBM Selectric, a HAM radio console, a civil defense “duck and cover” poster, a McDonald’s 15-cent hamburger menu, a slide rule sheathed in its original pocket protector, a cache of Swatch watches, or a rusty campaign button cryptically proclaiming: Trudeau 1968.

Returning to these remote eras offers not just simplicity, but also freedom — and fun. When you go retro, you can wear anything you want, listen to anything you like, be passionate about any cause or celebrity that once attracted a crowd. You can be a character of your own creation in an exciting cinematic retrospective.

For the best retro experience, cherry-picking is essential. We want the British Invasion without the Tet Offensive. We long for carefree Leave It to Beaver childhoods without the social inequality or eve-of-destruction anxieties. We still admire the stainless-steel glint of the futuristic DeLorean, but hope to someday forget the Chrysler LeBaron.

In the end, that is one of the great joys of retro. You alone assemble history’s most pleasing strands for your tapestry of memory. Skipping from era to era, you are a curator, a time traveler. You capture what fascinates you the most, and project it onto the panoramic screen of remembrance.

Slide by slide, the Carousel slowly turns.

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Garon CockrellGeneration Retro: Percy Hynes White and the Carousel of Nostalgia