Thumbing by previous images could be a dependable manner of evoking nostalgia. And these black-and-white Independence Day images, pulled from The New York Times’s archive, provide a potent dose.
We see vacation crowds, marches, amusement parks, parades. We see associates and households at the seaside and of their backyards. We see communal pleasure. We see the Twin Towers, whose lofty top competes with that of the sky-high fireworks. We see a pre-9/11 world the place low-level flybys close to Manhattan don’t set off citywide anxiousness.
But as we speak, within the grip of a pandemic, there’s one other dimension to the nostalgia that’s evoked whereas viewing these images.
It’s evident within the informal human contact, the shut quarters, the shortage of social distance.
You’ll discover it within the appearances of palms held towards naked faces, the unconscious proximity of strangers, the enjoyment of seen smiles. You’ll discover it within the obvious freedom of motion. You’ll discover it within the relaxed posture of individuals who aren’t accustomed to — or serious about — maintaining their distance.
Patriotism and nostalgia are inextricably linked. Perhaps that’s what makes these images so compelling: the juxtaposition of archival expressions of American delight with our up to date actuality — when, from a world perspective, the idea of American exceptionalism is being challenged on multiple fronts.
In the face of great loss, our celebrations persist. Some Americans have even begun to travel again.
But in a year when Easter, Eid and Memorial Day have largely been celebrated without communal gatherings, Independence Day will be another holiday that many of us spend away from our families and friends — another shared tradition deferred to the future, and relegated, for now, to the past.