Should you ever revisit the past?

L.P Hartley begins his 1953 novel, ‘The Go-Between’,  with the famous line: “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”

This is something that Jade Goody’s public relations advisors clearly didn’t consider as she has revisited her past in Big Brother, probably with disastrous results on her resulting career.

It is always tempting to look back – and wonder, what if?  In fiction, time travel occurs often, “time machines” as in Huxley’s 1895 novel include Dr Who‘s TARDIS, the unforgettable DeLorean in Back to the Future and another phone box in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, to name a few.   The marvelous Life on Mars series has reminded us of changes in the police since the 1970s.

Nostalgia ( a term dating back to 1678) is clearly big business – from reunion websites (eg Friends Reunited) and tracing your family tree , via interest in antiques and classic cars, to myriad retro products and fashion influences. 

As public relations practitioners, we like to look back – one of my projects this year is planning MIPAA’s 40th anniversary celebrations for next year.   Watch out for plenty of 1968 kitsch recollections – alongside predictions for the future.

But what is the fascination – and is it ever a good idea to revisit your past?  If you’ve had a defining moment, does that have a hold on the rest of your life?  Is that why many celebrities and older people cling to the past and their memories?

With our lives increasingly recorded for posterity – including online from MySpace and Flickr to blogs – will we ever escape our past?  Will it be possible any longer to do a Reggie Perrin?  Is that what Jade needs to do next?

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

5 thoughts on “Should you ever revisit the past?”

  1. We can’t escape the past, and as you say, its increasingly harder to do with online communities taking off at a fair old rate. I think it will mean that people will have to face the music far more than they ever had to do before. Saying sorry seems to be the hardest word for some.

  2. Does that mean we won’t be able to make mistakes – which seemed to at one point be the way that views of politicians were going (ie needed to be squeaky clean)? Or will society have to accept that no-one is perfect? This is positive on the one hand, but also means there are no expected standards of behaviour. This is the case in politics at present where no-one resigns anymore – and in celebrity, where Kate Moss and Pete Doughety are prime examples where anything seems allowed.

    There are some modern taboos – racism, denying global warming, child abuse – but drug-taking, lying, bribery and corruption, etc etc seem not to be decried any more.

  3. “Or will society have to accept that no-one is perfect? This is positive on the one hand, but also means there are no expected standards of behaviour.”

    I think people will have to accept that nobody is perfect, yes. But if I ever get bad service I take people to task indeed, but I expect them to do something to put it right before I get the really big guns out. Can the same principle not apply here?

  4. Yes indeed. Mind you, zero tolerance had a big impact, says the governor, in New York where crime rates fell rapidly. Human beings make mistakes, there’s no getting away from that. To err is human; to forgive is devine – if the perpretrator learns the error of his ways that is.

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