Friday 16 November 2012

Sorry, but who's memory lane am I strolling down??

One of the things I love about research is that sometimes, some concept or idea you're thinking about in connection with your thesis translates to something happening in your everyday life and makes you consider it differently. Thoughts sprout and connect and you reach conclusions that may previously have escaped you .... Whether they are in any way insightful or bare any relevance to your actual work is another matter.

At the moment I'm working on a paper I'm going to deliver at a conference next year. I've been reading and thinking about memory and nostalgia and the way they are constructed. Specifically I'm looking at media representations of the Women's Land Army and the way they affect our recollections of it. I've been thinking about the idea that within a cultural group there is always a dominant memory, always an accepted cultural discourse or version of events that is generally accepted and passed on. In the case of the WLA there is general fondness and pride in a group of women remembered to be selfless, hard working and eager to serve their country. Even those of us who are far too young to have actual memories of the WLA and are not related to anyone who served in it, if they have ever thought about it, would usually describe similar emotions and feelings about the WLA. This is not to suggest that the WLA isn't deserving of those sentiments by any means, but rather it got me thinking about the ways and reasons we accept memories, or perceived versions of events that aren't our own and even draw pleasure from them.

Two of my favourite programmes on TV recently have been 'Fresh Meat' and 'Mrs Brown's Boys' and part of their attraction for me have been the elements of familiarity and nostalgia that I draw from them. As far as I am aware whilst I was an under-graduate, neither I, nor any of my friends, slept with a lecturer, drove a housemate on a massive acid trip across the country to see a dying horse or drilled through a woman's cheek with a dental drill. However, when I watch Fresh Meat I am filled with a warm 'aaah uni' feeling.

Similarly, with Mrs. Brown's Boys, I have never experienced what its like to have an Irish 'Mammy' - my family is originally Irish but you have to go back a fair few generations to find any green blood in our veins. Neither my beautiful Mother or either of my wonderful Grandmothers get up to wild shenanigans or are nearly as foul mouthed - although they do come out with some cracking expressions - and I would imagine it is the same for the majority of the audience of that show.

None of the experiences portrayed in these two shows are my own and yet I relate to them as reflective and reminiscent of my own experience of family life and life as an under-graduate. Part of the appeal is obviously the farcical situations and exaggerated characters common to most comedies, however, for me there is more to it. Those on screen are not my memories or my feelings and yet I accept them almost as something similar and take greater enjoyment from them as a result. Of course there are elements that pretty much anyone could engage with whether the content of the shows bore any relevance to their actual life or not. However the secondary and I think deeper level of appeal of both programmes is the nostalgia factor - we look at the overblown caricatures and see traces or characteristics of people we know and so identify with them on a new level and almost accept them as a credible, if exaggerated, version of events.

There are exceptions to every rule and this case it is the exceptions that, prove the point. There will be people who find no relation with what they see on the screen, and declaim loudly that 'that's not what uni/family life is like!' however they are usually the minority - the fact that most people accept a version events that in all honesty cannot really relate that closely to their own experiences becomes more apparent in the light of those wont accept it. Is it just that we like to feel that our feelings and experiences are common ones and likely to be similar to those of other people? Is it that individual memory is never perfect and so we accept something vaguely similar to our own experiences even though it may not be entirely accurate? Is it that we like to construct narratives and order our life experiences in an effort to make sense of who we are and if those narratives are corroborated by others we feel more validated as a person? ..... I don't know. Thankfully I have until next March to get my thoughts in order before the conference and in the mean time, this is just an interesting thought cropping up from my research.