That "things sure ain't what they usta be!" has been a complaint of the elderly since time immemorial. This nostalgia for the past and hostility toward the present are usually a defense mechanism by the elderly to hide from their sad, abused lives. You see this well in my parental generation (circa 1900-1920) who would tell you how lovely their parents were, and in the next breath will come the truth, "But Dad would tolerate no back-talk, we'd get a real bejezus whippin' if we cheeked him." Behind the nostalgia lies the unspoken message that those were the days when children, women and people of color "knew their place".
But complaints about the present cannot be simply reduced to reactionary nostalgia or defence mechanisms. Along with all the obvious benefits of modernity; higher living standards, plumbing, human rights, medical care, have come a host of genuine problems. That the "skies were bluer" might well be true with the spread of pollution well beyond the city core, that "folks were friendlier" due to the community now destroyed by suburban sprawl. And indeed, they probably did "have a lot more fun" since pleasures were DIY, now replaced by what I call KKK. (Kommercial Krap Kulture)
Now when it comes to my cohort, War Babies and Boomers, born say, 1939-1960, I suspect that we have little nostalgia for our childhood. Any positive feelings we have are rooted in reality, for unlike the previous two generations, who saw a marked improvement in their lives, post-WWII, we, later in life, have experienced a period of reaction. We definitely have not forgotten the authoritarianism and conformism of our up-bringing, nor the Cold War, nor the vicious racism and sexism of the period. But our childhood and adolescence was not just this catalogue of horrors.
Living standards have either stagnated or shrunk since the 1970's. Government services (remember the notion of service?) once free, are now expensive, or non-existent. Thanks to the evil of suburban-sprawl-shopping mall anti-culture which came on heavy in the 1970's, we have had an ever-greater decline in community, destruction of the down town and all the attendant social ills. Thanks to outsourcing, decent jobs are disappearing. A union job used to be the norm, not any longer. Thanks to Walmart, we are inundated with cheap junk that breaks and is too expensive to fix, thus ending up as landfill.
Thanks to the CIA's kindness of shipping in tons of cocaine to pay for terrorizing the Nicaraguans, we now have a real drug problem. Prior to the 1980's there were no small town drug problems and the only addicts were a handful of junkies in the inner cities.
Then there are those little needling things. Why are shoe laces so long now? Why does it cost so much to mail a letter or a parcel (13X price rise since 1968 compared to 7X for a litre of milk) How about hollow shoe heels? They wear out long before the uppers and since they can't be repaired the shoes have to be thrown out. Why is seemingly everything designed so ineptly? Is it just greed alone, or are products now designed to deliberately irritate the customer? I could go on and on...
People born in the 1970's, or after, have never known a time that jobs weren't precarious, government services functioned badly or were non-existent, a "drug problem" existed or when greed and corruption reigned absolutely. The Class Warriors of the ruling elite count upon loss of social memory to kill hope for a better world. For if life was better once, and in a society a lot less wealthy than today, surely the potential exists for a situation vastly better than now. So it is incumbent upon us elders – the veterans of the 60's struggles - to recall the way life was in our youth, to keep alive the memory of a time when working people were better off. Without sounding like grumpy old-timers, need I add?