Thanks to one of the few email newsletters I receive, I learned about the Cultural Tutor, who’s become quite the sensation on Twitter (or X as it’s known now). His stuff is really good, but because I refuse to visit that platform, I instead signed up for his email newsletter. In this week’s edition, as he does every week, he asked a critical thinking question that I simply couldn’t ignore.
The question: Is the idea of the “Golden Age” just nostalgia, or was there really a time in the past when things were better than they are now? If so, when?
Feel free to sound off with your own thoughts on this question in the comments below. Now, below is the email I sent to him:
Dear Cultural Tutor,
When I think of the term “Golden Age” I think of a time in one genre of human creativity or another, be it in film, literature, music, or visual arts, in which there were an exceptional amount of great popular works being released that have since stood the test of time and are still appreciated today. I myself do not believe that Golden Ages actually exist outside of the considered opinions of critics and enthusiasts, because I’ve noticed that while there are generally agreed upon Golden Ages for certain periods of arts and culture, I’d argue that every age has both its popular works and its underrated gems.
In my experience, one’s “Golden Age” shifts from person to person based on their own life experience. I know many Millennials who consider the 90s a “Golden Age” of pop culture, while some that are slightly older than me think the same of the 80s. Many consider the Golden Age of films to have ended in the 60s but I believe that many of the best films in history are from the 70s and 80s. But this is because these are the films I grew up with and informed my opinions at a formative age. Any perceived “Golden Age” is all about one’s perspective and is certainly a key artifact of nostalgia.
I also have never believed that there was a time in the past where things were objectively better overall than they are now. Yes, you could argue that there’s a significant decline of quality in the arts in the 21st century. But having grown up in the 90s, I remember there was plenty of crap that was extremely popular at the time that people by now have forgotten about. Now we just remember the best of each decade because we are viewing those works through the lens of nostalgia-colored hindsight. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, but by focusing on so called “Golden Ages” you can end up overlooking great works being created much more recently or even right now.
Speaking of now, I could argue that we are living in the middle of a Golden Age of creative works in the 2020s. For all of the recycled mishmash and unimaginative sequels, reboots, and spin-offs, with technology being what it is, anyone with a smartphone and an internet connection can produce works worthy of being published for the world to see. We just can’t see a Golden Age in progress because we’re living in it, and are very likely at its inception. Twenty five years from now I may be proven correct, but subjectively I’ll likely have more people disagree than agree with this potential future. In any case, I think that Golden Ages are overrated, and while they can be useful for preserving the best of a given era for future generations, I believe that people worship them far too much for their own good.