Thursday, October 11, 2018

Time Travel Is a Discretionary Art

Downtown Flint, Michigan in the 1950s (Photo by Mary Fisher)

"I find these days that a wistful form of time travel has become a persistent political theme, both on the right and on the left. On November 10 The New York Times reported that nearly seven in ten Republicans prefer America as it was in the 1950s, a nostalgia of course entirely unavailable to a person like me, for in that period I could not vote, marry my husband, have my children, work in the university I work in, or live in my neighborhood. Time travel is a discretionary art: a pleasure trip for some and a horror story for others. Meanwhile some on the left have time travel fancies of their own, imagining that the same rigid ideological principles once applied to the matters of workers’ rights, welfare, and trade can be applied unchanged to a globalized world of fluid capital."

— Zadie Smith, New York Review of Books, 2016


  1. Most people tend to have a romanticized view of the past. Every time I hear my nieces and nephews (who are all millennials) talk about how much more difficult their lives are than previous generations it makes me want to laugh. They didn't have to live through the Depression, World Wars, Civil Rights struggles, skyrocketing inflation or massive unemployment. There has never been a better time to be alive than right now, but you would never know it if you turned on the TV news or looked at a political website. When it comes to the past, my only wish is that we didn't have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Getting rid of sexism, racism, xenophobia, and the like are all well and good, but it seems like we've also gotten ridden of good things like thrift, dedication, hard-work, and politeness. And, the automobiles look a lot worse as well. I would feel much cooler driving one of the cars shown in the picture than the boring looking crossovers that everyone owns now.

    1. Don't get me started on crossovers. What exactly is the point of those cars? There are a lot of things not to like about SUVs, but I at least understand why they're popular, especially now that I have a kid. But the's like the worst aspects of an SUV and the downside of a sedan.

      And I hear you on the lack of politeness. There are much bigger issues out there, obviously, but it's one that can wear you down when you have to deal with it day in and day out.

      And the millennials do have a right to complain when they see their student loan bills. And the problems climate change will bring. But having just finished a book about the Great Depression, they, and we, have it pretty good, all things considered.


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at