“Change isn’t a bad thing.”
“--- as it was wasn’t a bad thing either.”
“But change proves that you are still alive.”
I read that and I thought, “Wow.” It’s a sentiment I’ve agreed with for a long time, but rarely have I seen it expressed so clearly, so succinctly, so beautifully or so positively.
Sometimes, I want to jump up and yell, “You can’t fight the future. You can’t put things back the way they were. And why would you want to anyway?”
Yet, despite my growing frustration, I love the way in which Robin Hobb framed the issue. She’s phrased it much more positively than I’ve been able to. Change isn’t bad.
But that doesn’t make the way things were bad either. Both can be good. The way things were could have been good, yet the time for those things has still passed. We can affirm both the past and the future. Furthermore, change is a part of life. It isn’t a necessary evil to be endured. Its part of our vitality; its part of life, part of how we know we’re alive. If we’re not changing, we’re dead. After all, isn’t that the definition of a dead language? Not one that’s no longer in use, but one that’s no longer changing.
”You glorify the past when the future dries up” – U2, from “God Part II”
U2 phrases this slightly more negatively than Robin Hobb. Yet they still put their finger on part of the issue. This resistance to change is partly due to two factors: a glorification of the past and a lack of hope in the future.
The glorification of the past is something we all do. We all look back at the things of the past through rose-colored glasses. We all think that the movies and television shows and music and comic books of our own youth were somehow perfect in a way that they weren’t perfect before and never will be again. That can be a good attitude, as long as it’s kept in proportion. It is okay to love the things of your own youth. It is even good and healthy and necessary. But we shouldn’t let that love can grow out of proportion. We shouldn’t begin to idolize or glorify the past to the extent that we denigrate someone else’s different experiences or to the point that we give up on the future.
I think that’s part of the reason why Bono sings the line about not believing in a golden age of pop. Labels like that lend themselves too easily to glorification. “The Glory Years.” “The Golden Age.” “The Silver Age.” Labels like that reveal the idea of a time when things were perfect and good. And that so often leads to the attitude that the further we get away from that golden era, the worse things become. That so often leads to a lack of hope in the future. “Nobody will ever make a good album again. Nobody knows how to make a comic book anymore”—that sort of thing.
And that latter attitude simply isn’t true. There is a future of unlimited possibilities. I’m not suggesting that everyone has to like every new album or comic book that comes out. That future of unlimited possibilities is going to include quite a bit of bad stuff as well as good. But when we shut ourselves off to the possibility of something new being good, we’re saying a lot more about ourselves than we are about the future. We’re indicating our own lack of hope. We believe that the future has dried up so we choose to drown ourselves in the past. But the future isn’t as bleak as we perceive it to be.
“You know the good ole days weren't always good
”And tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems” – Billy Joel, from “Keeping the Faith”
Billy Joel seems to confront this attitude as directly as U2, but again he phrases it a little more positively than they do. He recognizes that we tend to view the past through rose-colored glasses and he seems to be calling us to take the glasses off. Those good ole days weren’t always good. That golden age wasn’t quite as perfect as we remember.
I get this feeling a lot when I converse with fans of the Silver Age. There’s this attitude that comics were somehow perfect back then. They’ll complain that stories today are simply repeating stories from the past, but forget that the stories “The Secret of the Mystery Legionnaire” and “The Secret Power of the Mystery Super-Hero” appeared only two issues apart in Adventure Comics #305 and 307. They’ll complain about contemporary continuity gaffes, but forget that Stan Lee wouldn’t have had to invent the “No-Prize” in the first place if he didn’t have continuity gaffes of his own. That’s why I’ve been enjoying Mr. Silver Age’s recent Comics Buyer’s Guide columns about Silver Age Blunders. There were plenty of mistakes back then, too.
That isn’t to say that the Silver Age is bad. The stories were fun and silly. There were great ideas and great characters. There’s much to love about the Silver Age. But the Silver Age wasn’t perfect. And it certainly wasn’t perfect in a way that every subsequent age is flawed. The Silver Age was flawed, maybe in different ways from subsequent eras, yet flawed nonetheless. The good ole days weren’t always good.
And tomorrow’s not as bad as it seems. I’m not going to defend every change. There are bad changes. There are changes made for good reasons that don’t work. Yet I will defend the general sentiment: change isn’t a bad thing. We don’t have to be afraid of the future.
Who knows what the future will bring? It could bring something good as easily as something bad. It might bring new artists, new characters, new ideas. Isn’t that what so many fans loved about the Silver Age in the first place? I read the reviews of DC’s Showcase reprints. I noticed that one of the things that fans loved about the early Silver Age Superman was the number of new things that were introduced: new villains like Brainiac, new allies like Supergirl, new concepts like the Fortress of Solitude and the many shades of kryptonite. If change was a good thing in 1959 and 1960, then it’s certainly possible that change can be a good thing in 2007. It’s certainly possible that there are new villains worth meeting, new characters worth creating, new ideas worth sharing. It’s certainly possible that there’s something new to discover and yes, even to love.
The future may be different from the past, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It can even be a good thing. After all, change is one way we know we’re alive.
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Originally Published on: July 6, 2007