Forget Nesting

Are we turning into a bunch of risk-fearing, backward-looking, sunlight-averse hermits? Are we becoming the Eloi of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, growing fat, pasty and dull-witted in our quest for security, familiarity and the good old days?

Look at the data. Yankelovich says 36 percent of us have slowed down our lives since Sept. 11 to reassess our priorities. Sales are up 7 percent at Williams-Sonoma and Pottery Barn. They’re up 17 percent at Home Depot. The Guggenheim has been exhibiting Norman Rockwell. Our living rooms are filling with big-screen TVs, DVD players and PlayStation2s, leaving restaurant, airline and theater seats empty. Last year, the videogame industry made more money than Hollywood.

Cocooning. Nesting. Comfort food. Nostalgia. Welcome to the wimpy new “era of retreat.”

Marketers are all over it. Pepsi has Britney playing Marilyn. Cadillac dusted off its ’59 convertible for the Super Bowl. Ford has brought the Thunderbird back. “Hippie chic” is the hot new fashion. Yankee pot roast is hip fare at trendy restaurants.

But for those slightly less agile marketers rushing to catch the boat, here’s a tip: Skip it altogether. Why? Because it won’t last. Why not? Because every great novel, film and biography has told us as much. We’ve been through what writers call an “inciting incident.” A bad event, but one that ultimately drives the story and characters forward.

They don’t always do so immediately. Like a turtle hiding in its shell after a startling sound, they retreat at first. That’s what we’re doing now. Upgrading our home entertainment systems, remodeling and redecorating, listening to Frank Sinatra, watching That ’80s Show, baking brownies, eating meatloaf, gardening. But in time all this will pass, and our story will move forward.

Not just because Hemingway, Shakespeare or Spielberg say so. History says so, too.

We’re at war. A pretty major one. Consider trends spawned by previous major wars. World War I gave us the Jazz Age, flappers, motion pictures, the assembly line. World War II paved the way for tail fins, rock ‘n’ roll, TV and cool, swoopy furniture. Vietnam gave us bell-bottoms, women’s lib, drugs and kick-ass music.

It turns out real life is a lot like art. Humans move forward.

Right now, we’re stuck in a holding pattern, staring in the rear view mirror. Look at our movies: Ocean’s Eleven, Black Hawk Down, Hart’s War, Lord of the Rings, Ali, Rollerball, Spiderman—all old material. No wonder we prefer videogames.

Of course, some of the trends have been positive. Appreciating cul tural differences, spending more time with family and friends, reassessing our priorities. Oddly, a sort of balance seems restored in our lives.

But as for the other trends, hey, see ya. I personally can’t wait for the story to move on. Until then, think twice before jumping on the “era of retreat” bandwagon. Something bigger will eventually pass it by.

It’s hard to say what. But with history as our guide, one thing’s for sure. It won’t be boring. History says we’re in for a hell of a decade.