Nostalgia and Anticipation

The relationship between nostalgia and coming of age in Dazed and Confused is quite different from that in American Graffiti. In American Graffiti there is a kind of "nostalgia for the present" which both Howard and Dreyfuss seem to feel as is demonstrated by their shared reluctance to leave for college. Represented in the "nostalgia for the present" that appears in American Graffiti is a nostalgia for the past on the part of the broader society. For the baby boomer audience who were experiencing their first serious economic crisis in the early 1970's (and who had just lived through multiple assassinations, riots and protests, cultural clash, and Vietnam) the period of the early 1960's must truly have seemed like a better time. Indeed, the movie makers encouraged people explicitly to fondly recall their own past experiences when they asked of 1973 America "Where were you in '62". This societal nostalgia was also fueled by the inclusion of such period details as classic cars and drive-ins. The degree of popularity with which the movie was received helps confirm that the society of the early 1970's as a whole was more than willing to accept with pleasure a vision of themselves during an earlier, perhaps happier, day.

While Howard and Dreyfuss did not really wish to leave for college and 'grow up,' the teens in Dazed and Confused generally can't wait to move on. The rising freshman leave their last junior high party, and react sarcastically when told that if they leave they won't be able to return. This contrasts sharply with the characters in American Graffiti who actually go back to their former high school's dance in order to "remember all the good times." These rising freshman also talk about how girls in high school will "put out" much more than before, while the older high schoolers share much the same sentiment with one student stating that he "can't wait to get to college, man." As this clip demonstrates, the only nostalgic sentiments for the past which these characters seem to feel is for the popular culture of their youth.

What does this apparent lack of nostalgia for the present on the part of the characters in Dazed and Confused indicate about the broader culture? In the first place it would simply seem to indicate a lack of nostalgia on the part of people who had grown up in the period for their own past. However, the fact that these characters seem to be enthusiastic about their futures problematizes this question, since the makers of movie already have knowledge of the "futures" of the characters they create. In the following clip the older group of high schoolers discuss how they rather optimistically see their own futures. With further economic troubles and the Reagan-Bush years being the reality of the period they had looked forward to, it is likely that they were largely disappointed. However, Dazed and Confused is still a nostalgic movie in the eyes of the youth generation of the 1990's. Richard Linklater, the writer and director of Dazed and Confused had earlier, in his previous film Slacker, portrayed the disenchanted and apathetic Gen X audience who would later flock to see his next movie. As many scholars of contemporary America have argued, this generation of Americans was, in many ways, denied the coming of age experience. They were nostalgic for a time when it was easy to come of age and to remain excited about the future. Indeed, given this interpretation, the differences between these two movies could definitely be said to be representative of significant changes in the society at large.

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Cultural Stories
The Historical
Coming of Age Genre
Dazed and
Nostalgia and
Time and Memory
American Film as
Cultural History
Rites of
History and