SOCIAL media loves nostalgia. Sometimes it is stirred into a boiled pudding with the wooden spoon of sweet regret. Sometimes it is hardened into a pointed stick. We’ve seen both sorts of reminiscence these past few days.
An unkind seam of sentimentality was uncovered after the footballer Marcus Rashford relaunched his free schools meals campaign. You couldn’t move on social media without falling over meals once eaten by people’s grandparents.
A typical example pictured a list of wartime food rations and the words: “My Nana lived through the war and raised 4 children to be healthy adults on these rations.”
Others said oats were cheap, let them eat porridge. One racist charmer clattered down his dinner plate containing a meal from the fag-end of a beef joint, saying we didn’t need “lectures about poverty from black footballers”. A Tory MP, rushing to join the saying stupid things queue outside the store of unrationed memories, wondered why poor parents didn’t just shop at M&S.
The wartime post was typical in suggesting that life was much tougher in the past, so get over it. It was also misleading, as assorted people complained. The historian Dr Charlotte Lydia Riley pointed out that the list of rations did not appear to be genuine, and the portion sizes were off.
She tweeted: “I don’t need to try to rebut this stuff every time but I teach WW2 a lot and man, it’s so tedious seeing it wheeled out like this over and over again.”
These ration stories are worthless, as poverty in the past has no relevance to poverty now. The comparison should be made with what people have today, and banging on about the past brings nothing relevant to the table.
Anyway, other countries had things much tougher. In the Ukraine, starving peasants were said to have dug up dead horses. There’s probably a Ukrainian tweet somewhere right now saying: “My grandmother brought up eight children on rancid horseflesh and it did them no harm.”
The history of rationing is fascinating, but shouldn’t be dusted off and used to berate people today.
Incidentally, a quick Google reveals that you can buy T-shirts with that suspect list of rations splashed across the chest. Tasteless and not true, but there’s money to be made.
Social media is full of old news dusted with the icing sugar of nostalgia. Newspapers love this stuff too, with some nowadays containing more memories than news.
Here’s a striking example of media weakness for nostalgia. Last week leading news outlets including the Mail Online and the Daily Mirror said Woolworths was re-opening. As Jim Waterson of the Guardian reported, this story was set rolling by a 17-year-old sixth-form student from York. It was “based on nothing more than a typo-strewn Twitter account with fewer than 1,000 followers”.
Waterson, who grew up in York, said the unnamed sixth-former had been practising skills learned while taking an A-level course in digital marketing. That lad deserves top marks. He accidentally showed that if you mix a weakness for wallowing in the mundane past with media laziness, a myth can be born without a fact being checked.
These days I no longer feel so nostalgic about nostalgia.