The Fallacy of Romanticizing the Past

By Chloe Jad


Midnight in Paris – Woody Allen’s 2011 romance film masterpiece – was my inspiration for this article. Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) vacations in Paris with his fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams) and, consumed by his current writing endeavor, begins to wander the streets of Paris at night. During one such midnight excursion, Gil is swept into the 1920s by a mysterious, old, black motorcar that transports him back to this glimmering period in Paris history.


During this golden age, Paris was the epicenter of many geniuses in literature, music, fashion, and art. Gil finds himself casually chatting with his icons, mingling with legends such as F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Dali, Picasso, Gertrude Stein, and Hemingway. More than anything, Gil wishes that this was his era, so that he could live among these enlightened and superior human beings during the best period of human history — until he discovers that they, too, wish to live in another time. The people he meets muse about the excellence of La Belle Époque (The Beautiful Age): the period from 1871-94 in French and European history filled with progress in every field, poofy dresses, and fancy hats.


Now, this synopsis of Midnight in Paris is to make a point, one that transcends time and people, a point that should be your mantra of life: live in the present. “Wow,” you might think, “that’s the most radical idea I’ve ever heard;” yet, it is something that is forgotten all too often, and applies to every modern era of humanity.


How common it is to romanticize the time periods we never saw, we never lived, and that therefore seem perfect? Personally, I can recall time after time (typically the post-rom-com mindset) wishing I was a teen in the 80s or 90s; if only there were still diners and drive-in movies and frizzy hair and scrunchies — but in their original glory, not the recycled and inauthentic fashion we have now. If only the aesthetics of the grainy 80s movie with Molly Ringwald were my reality. I know so many people who have the same musings about the 20s, 50s, 70s, and so on.


But, this desire is a blatant disregard for the simultaneous realities of each period: the rampant racism, gender inequalities, ignorance and hostility toward LGBTQIA+ communities. Sure, we want to live Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, or 10 Things I Hate About You, but the reality is that these people were all just like us – minus social media – and were all plagued with the same societal injustices, except worse.


We tend to forget the incredible era of innovation, interconnectivity, and genius that we currently live in. There’s AI that can synthesize art from just a couple of words, 3D printed bones, hyper-realistic art, mediums and genres never fathomed before.


It’s time to stop romanticizing the past and start seeing the brilliance of the present that is launching us toward the future. Plus, at least we got to have the Tiger Beat, Avril Lavigne, baby tee and low-waisted-jean fantasy of the 2000s! For now, let’s allow the past to preserve its glory within our favorite movies and shows as we bask in the glory of today’s genius.