A historical materialist cannot do without the notion of a present which is not a transition, but in which times stands still and has come to a stop. For this notion defines the present in which he himself is writing history. Historicism gives the “eternal” image of the past; historical materialism supplies a unique experience with the past. The historical materialist leaves it to others to be drained by the whore called “Once upon a time” in historicism’s bordello. He remains in control of his powers, man enough to blast open the continuum of history.
- Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History”
I watched Better Off Dead for the first time in a few years. I was struck once again by how well it is aging. It is aging well in part because its cultural references—Howard Cosell, Rocky, Frankenstein, Flintstones, Stalin, cute European exchange students, pernicious Asian stereotypes—never go out of style. The film is not burdened by an abundance of stale 80’s tropes. The car-repair montage is its lone major misstep. We can forgive Elizabeth Daily at the school dance because, well, Dottie.
It is three plot elements that would have at the time seemed like sturdy cultural touchstones—skiing, paper boys and space shuttles—that make the film feel distant to me. If the movie were made today I cannot imagine it including any of those things. Replace with snowboarding, [I don’t know do even have jobs these days] and something something internet.
The 30-year-old soundtrack in this film sounds less dated than the notion that we can send a space shuttle into outer space! We lost. We are left with memories of the future.