the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

The Queen Mary

I’m going to utter the one statement that will single-handedly ruin my career in the media business: I’m getting old. I’m not just talking about physical age, but in personal interests: I’m more interested in the Queen Mary than the latest ship from Disney.

Last night, I was watching the awful Lifetime movie, Liz and Dick, the “story” of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, and trying to decipher why the movie was so bad.  Was it the poor casting? The stunted dialogue? The slow direction? Then it hit me — I was expecting a movie about Elizabeth Taylor when the film was about Lindsay Lohan playing Elizabeth Taylor. This was not a secret; the producers were open about the fact.  It was advertised as “Lindsay Lohan IS Elizabeth Taylor.”  The film was created for an audience obsessed with the trainwreck exploits of Lindsay Lohan. And since my fascination over Lindsay Lohan runs shallow, I found the movie dull.

Modern consumer culture is hard on the past. Selling requires “the new.” If everyone kept driving their 1995 Honda Civic until it died, the auto industry would collapse.  We are taught from an early age to convince our peers that an old car is an embarrassment to our friendship.  This consumer culture has a lot to do with the persistent racism and sexism in our society, since we become friends with those who can afford the same status class car, or send their kids to the same private school.

It was funny to see so many bloggers wringing their hands last week over the blatant consumerism of Black Friday, especially the mocking of all the ugly fat Americans waiting in line for hours outside Best Buy to buy a cheap Microsoft Tablet.  WE are the media now, obsessed with the new — even the Betas and Updates!  We make our money hawking products in sponsored posts!  If anything, we should pat ourselves on our backs for having the “influence” to convince our poorer friends to wait in line at Best Buy for a cheap tablet, just so they can become as cool as us!   The point of this rambling post is not to knock consumerism. I am as guilty as you in buying into the system. I am even PISSED that Sophia now has an iPhone5 while I am stuck taking photos with my Iphone4.

That said, I hope our love for the new over the old — the Lindsay Lohans over the Elizabeth Taylors, the iPhone5s over the iPhone4s, the under 30 over the over 30. the beauty of youth over the glamour of maturity, doesn’t turn us AGAINST that which isn’t easily commodified.

Sure, the Queen Mary, docked in Long Beach, CA, is a mediocre tourist attraction, a pseudo museum/hotel/brunch spot. It tries to be relevant, but the old ship is more like your Aunt Bessie who thinks she is a teenager because she watches The Voice. But I love the old. The old have stories.

I love old cars, old airplanes, old planes, old sewing machine, and old people. I’m getting older by the second, and I have no choice. I can feel my own connection to modern culture ossifying, as I find more joy in listening to songs of my youth rather than the latest hit. Sure, I fake my interest in Lindsay Lohan, because she is what we discuss.

But I’m more interested in Elizabeth Taylor.


  1. Marie A

    I’m with you, Neil, but I do find that many young people are genuinely interested in the “old.” There’s such quality and mystique–it can’t be ignored forever.

    In fact, I see a lot of interest and reverence for previous eras in young people today. As a for-instance, I just saw “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” and there are nods to a variety of eras–80’s emo, David Bowie, crooners, clothes that could have stepped straight out of the Fifties, even old fashioned suitcases.

    These days, I find myself serving as the village elder, being asked by younger people (and younger includes anybody under 40) about one thing or another from my past. Recently I mentioned to a young woman that I used to be in a typing pool, using typewriters just like those on Mad Men, and rather than be appalled that I was so ancient, she seemed to think it was very cool.

    So, hang in there, Citizen–our day may come again!

    • Neil

      I suppose there is always a market for nostalgia, usually twenty years later — Happy Days in the 1970s, That 70’s Show in the 90s. Soon, kids will be using pagers again out of nostalgia.

  2. Wendy

    This spoke to me. And I absolutely love the photos. (PS: I could only watch 2-1/2 minutes of Liz and Dick. And that was painful.)

    • Neil

      Yeah, that TV movie was plenty awful.

  3. Amanda

    I said to my mom the other day as I groused about being a small business in a world where people want it cheaper, faster and with less human interaction, “No one knows how to cherish any more. It is all coveting and discarding, no cherishing.”

    I truly do cherish this post, Neil. Beautiful.

    • Neil

      Thanks Amanda. I just spend a long time admiring everything on your Etsy shop!

  4. sarah gilbert

    I too love old things, and things that are analog, and I too am constantly conflicted with the on-one-hand desire for a new piece of technology / new idea and the on-the-other-hand desire to sit with an old book and read it again. I am on the lookout for old cameras and old sweaters and old pottery. But the only way I can buy it is by writing new personal finance articles which, while they may be about frugality, are ultimately paid for by credit card ads. I’m not quite sure where I land on this.

    The hardest thing for me about The Old is the creative life — I’m almost 40, I’m never going to be a prodigy again, if I publish a book next year even it will be a mid-life book. I can never be promising. An ingenue. As someone who has gone through her life being the young one in her grade, being the first to go to business school, being a rising star, accepting mid-life with a set of aspirations that I should really have set about in my young twenties, is hard.

    • Neil

      I hear you about the creative life. The traditional way of the world is to make a big splash when you are young, and then rest on your laurels and fame as you age, until you are forgotten or dead. No one knows how to deal — or market — mid-life creativity.

  5. Bon

    my grandfather taught me to love Elizabeth Taylor. there used to be a giant larger-than-life headshot of her in the old Western-themed steakhouse he took us to once a year when i was a kid, and every time he pointed out her violet eyes.

    i have trouble imagining any man currently 45ish doing that about Lindsay Lohan twenty years hence.

    things are changing fast these days. you’re right about it all being the engine of the economy and most of us complicit in some way or another. and any time anybody tries not to be, on some front, they get called a hipster. there’s no winning.

    i wonder if there’s a way to play the game while truly not caring about the game, because the game cannot be won? maybe you’re almost there, my friend.

    • Neil

      I notice you and others using the word “hipster” a lot lately, and I’m not sure if it is a word of endearment or scorn. Haven’t there always been “bohemians?” Is that what we are talking about?

  6. Schmutzie

    You used the word “ossify”, and this pleases me very much.

  7. the muskrat

    I saw the Queen Mary when I was little, and our family drove out west to Disneyworld. I think it was close to the Spruce Goose, right?

  8. Daniel


    I was at a flea market yesterday and came SO close to buying an old record playing and a few records. Walking around the place I could hear Neal Diamond crackling through those old “crappy” speakers and thought how awesome that would be in my house, in place of the shiny USB speakers I port around with my various gadgets. having LP listening parties and such. i still may do, regardless of how hipster it may be taken as.

    you mention losing touch with modern culture, which happens to all of us at some point. for me, having lived the entire past decade abroad, i cant remember the last time realizing or thinking on losing touch with these things. of course i saw certain currents from a distance, but when you’re not in it you “miss” a lot.

    to touch on liz: i think everyone interested in dramatic arts in any fashion should be forced to watch cat on a hot tin roof, cleopatra, and who’s afraid of virginia woolf. the complexities of elegance and ruin across those 3 films are amazing. (sorry to go off topic a bit there).

    thanks for the post neal. oh, to be clear: i didnt even know lohan was going to be taylor.

    that clearly shows how far out of it i am.

    • Neil

      Although in this media entrenched world, there are fewer generation gaps than in the past. My mother, in her 70s, currently has an iphone and had to tell me who “One Direction” was, since she watches more Entertainment Tonight than I do. It wasn’t too long ago that kids would listen to rock and roll while everyone over 30 would be watching Lawrence Welk. I sometimes wonder how teenagers can now rebel when their parents listen to the same music and watch the same Twilight movies as they do. I wouldn’t be surprised if in 10 years, teenagers abandon Facebook completely, thinking it a place for their parents.

  9. Sara Foley

    Who is Lindsay Lohan? 😉

    • Sara Foley

      By the way, I did not publish Free Custom Design with a Premium Theme Purchase on Black Friday! wtf? And what is Black Friday?

  10. Shannon

    I find myself being drawn more to the old than I ever have in the past. I think this is because I am afraid that it will be lost or forgotten if I don’t give it some attention. I, too, am drawn to the music of my youth because, with it, comes the memories.
    But I also have a serious relationship with my iPhone and the iPad is calling to me. So, I get it, the conflict.
    Maybe it’s our job as the “middle-agers” to preserve and appreciate the old, while also accepting and welcoming the new.

  11. V-Grrrl @ Compost Studios

    I am a woman who makes notecards by HAND so people can express themselves by HAND and have their words and warm wishes delivered by HAND. Now you know why I don’t make money.

    I go into antique stores and see things I grew up with and still use.

    Sometimes when I’m in the antique stores, I buy old letters and legal documents, written by hand. I add them to the boxes of personal letters I have, the albums of old photos.

    I am shocked when I want to buy tablecloths (because I use them EVERYDAY), that very few stores even sell them. Brides don’t register for china, crystal, and silver. No one really cares about setting a beautiful table…

    I am nurturing. I like to cook from scratch. I miss my husband when he’s away. I feel like a walking anachronism, even if I’m stepping through life in a very cool pair of cowboy boots.

  12. MissingMolly

    My husband took me on a date to the Queen Mary when we first moved up here. We both love old things, too. My husband is especially attached to old (“proven”) technology–in fact, he only just gave up his outdated flip phone earlier this year. (He wears his Old Fuddy-Duddy badge proudly.) Not to say that we don’t ever take an interest in new things, but old things have *stories.* And it’s true, too, that products are no longer made to last. Durability is a thing of the past. How would anyone make money otherwise? I’m not much of a consumer, I have to admit. I’m a hard sell. But I wasn’t wringing my hands on Black Friday–I simply kept out of it.

    I’ve also been thinking about our youth-obsessed culture a lot lately. I’m starting to relate less and less to the young ones, especially since I’m almost completely disconnected from popular culture. A few months ago, I overheard a couple of 20-somethings discussing “The Voice” and had no idea what they were talking about. Of course, I *have* been living under a rock for the past year or so.

    I’m sooo nostalgic for the 70s, but I’m sure it has more to do with the fact that I was a kid (mostly) naively enjoying my childhood and has less to do with what the world was actually like at that time. I tell ya, though: Sit me in front of a 1970s-era movie or TV show, and I instantly feel like I’ve been given a dose of Valium. Well…what I imagine Valium would be like since I’ve never actually taken it.

    Gorgeous, gorgeous photos as always.

  13. Megan

    I much prefer Elizabeth Taylor to Lindsay Lohan.

    I love the new, but I love the old too. I have one foot in the past and the other in the future. As it should be.

  14. Alma

    I never thought that I would feel turning 40. But I dont feel 40, but I do have a fascination with the old and an appreciation for a good story. I have no interest in prime time tv of any popular show (unless its Downton Abbey/or any PBS show). I had a taste for this before but now I dive in with no apologies from me. For thanksgiving we fed the homeless and for black friday we went to the beach. We live in a world with a lot of extroverts and “see who is the loudest”…
    I knit and crochet and love creating by hand… I fear at some point it will be a lost art. I love the way I am growing “old”… but for me its cliche …but its growing wiser.

  15. Lily from It's A Dome Life

    These photographs are fantastic. I have the same problem with culture these days. We only get three or four TV channels with out antenna, the local radio plays songs from at least eight years ago. I had to YouTube that song “Call Me, Maybe” just to find out what everyone was talking about. Even then, I chose to watch the Cookie Monster version. I just found out who Honey Boo Boo is. I don’t recognize any stars under 40…I feel like an aging housewife, parent at the ripe old age of 37. A lot of this “stuff” just doesn’t interest me and yet not caring about it makes me feel old. I’m not really ready to be old, but I guess nobody is. It’s sort of like being in cultural limbo. I am waiting for a shift that may never come.

  16. ozma

    This is very strange but I was JUST THINKING about the Queen Mary.

    My grandparents took me to see it. And I was feeling this wistful sad feeling about how wonderful it was to be with them when I was young and go to see dorky things old people loved. Now I take my kid to those things. Presidential libraries. And don’t forget The Spruce Goose!

    I signed up for Cunard information for some insane reason and got a pamphlet and really wanted to go. Then I did become materialist and want to be rich. I want to take the Queen Mary to England y’know?

    But I agree with you wholeheartedly about how worthwhile it is to free ourselves from these desires. I’m terribly far from that. I’ll keep working on it though. (I don’t really lead, outwardly, the upper middle class lifestyle of which you speak though. So I don’t think it is creating a barrier between me and the rest of humanity. Although the fact that I never want to speak to most of humanity might be!)

  17. kkryno

    I’m a sucker for all things old. I learned to drive in a 1956 Cadillac, lust after old cook ware, utensils and dishes, and don’t even get me started on my love for 1950’s appliances.
    While I love my iPhone, Kindle and computer, I still find it hard to pass up buying a real, live cook book. I have close to two hundred of them now and that addiction is clearly out of hand! I guess it all stems from my wanting to nurture and preserve recipes made from scratch with love rather than what I consider crap from a box. All one has to do is read the labels to understand my misgivings about what we as a nation are putting into our bodies. I can’t imagine doing it any other way and actually feel a bit guilty when I try to cut corners. This may also be from being fed Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and corn dogs continually as a kid.
    We have gotten rid of most of the cable for the telly and now have literally eight channels which is four more than was available when I was a kid. I don’t miss it at all! I think that in our quest to be innovative and connected via use of the latest & greatest, we’re losing touch with each other in the tangible sense. How many times do you see a table full of people who barely look up from their gadgets to have a lively and fun conversation anymore? I think that all of this technology has created a form of ADHDD for society. Some may call it multi-tasking, but I call it interrupted attention span.
    I can’t seem to hold it together long enough to complete a blog post these days.

    As for Lohan–bleh!

    As for the Queen Mary–oh, the tales she could tell!

  18. kkryno

    Sorry; that was pretty long-winded! 🙂

    • Neil

      Long winded is my favorite!

  19. Marcy

    Just commenting to say I think this whole set of pictures is breathtaking.

    • Neil

      Thanks Marcy! I really do love art deco transportation.

  20. Elizabeth Aquino

    I’m new to your blog through The Squashed Bologna (Varda), and I need another blog to read like I need the proverbial hole in my head, but I’m hooked, I’m snared, I’m in.

  21. Stacey

    I’ve had the same experience as V-Grrrl, walking into an antique store and seeing things I grew up with. I’m in my thirties. I didn’t think I was that old!

    I really blew some minds when I closed my (homemade) wedding invitations with wax seals. A couple people asked me how it was done, like it was some amazing mystery.

  22. Kevin

    The interesting thing is that the very idea of old is losing some meaning. The Internet is disrupting the dimension of time. It doesn’t allow things to get old and fade away. I still run into ex-girlfriends on Facebook. I can see more videos of interviews with the Beatles now than anyone could’ve seen during their hay-day. Culture from the past is now extra accessible and as a result it’s being recycled into the culture of now. Though that won’t do anything but continue to slow down your iPhone 4.

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