Retro Culture: Welcome out of time!

The content of this page would at most times in the cultural history of Man seem exaggerated, novel and irrational.

So it is not today. The intensive, cultural reuse of the near, modern past is a sign of the times to a degree that we in the words of Simon Reynolds went into the new millenium with the ‘Re-Decade’ – the age of retro. The years 2000-2010 also given the name of ‘the noughties‘ – where we had enough of ideas of the future, but could not get enough of the past, from prestigious restorations of the far past to the ironic commemoration of the near past in retro. As the German-American culture critic Andreas Huyssen has noted the last decades have witnessed “a turning towards the past that stands in stark contrast to the privileging of the future so characteristic of the earlier decades of twentieth-century modernity” (Huyssen: Present Pasts, 2002, p. 11), marking a shift from ‘present futures’ to ‘present pasts’ in the collective imagination. The paradoxical thing about this ‘memory boom’ is that does not result in a sense of understanding or settledness about the past, but corresponds more with an experience of memory fatigue, amnesia and lack of history. An interesting background for the current retromania that I think can be seen as both being an obvious part of the memory boom as well as some kind of reaction, even counter culture to it.

Retro is itself a new term. First registered in use according to Webster’s in 1974 and in Danish in 1979. Before it was only in use as a prefix in words as retrospective.  And we must go up to the time around 1990 to see retro established in the sense it is understood today as a distinctive, aesthetic goal in itself. Maybe the most surprising thing about retro is that it has stayed on the scene to this day and thereby lasted much longer than its object’s original time in the limelight. Think about it: ‘Greaser-fifties-style’ can only have been credible for a few years from around 1958 to 1962 and the frowned upon 1970’s style only distinct and fashionable from 1972 to disco and punk took over long before that decade had ended.  The second life of these fashions have by far in longer than their first time around.


Returning to the dictionaries, I recently came upon Politikens Slangordbog from 1983. While I turned the pages of this mirror of the popular culture and discovered some 30 graphic slang expressions of ‘medisterpølse’ (for you from abroad see this delicatess here) and words as “pensionistkasse” (12-pack of beer), “Christianiatank” (the Citroën 2CV) and “sømandsballon” that would linguistically equip me for an Amager pub anno 1983, it stroke me, if our use of slang has also changed towards the present pasts: the slang use of today is much based on anachronisms and irony. Deliberately using a backdated word is a category in itself, supplementing the ones recognised by the authors of the slang dictionaries (see here).

With this little commemoration of Politikens Slangordbog of 1983 I will wellcome you to this blog. Here I will share ideas and impressions around retro and revivalculture, the topic of my PhD project “I Wish It Could Be 1965 Again – Retro Culture as Contemporary Aesthetic and Cultural Memory” at the Department of Arts and Cultural Studies at the University of Copenhagen.
Welcome and enjoy!
As a bonus from the slang dictionary, I can give you the following authentic retro slang for the new semester:

“Pædagogsolarium” – Overhead projector
“Agent 003” – Teacher
“Borgerspeed” – Coffee