Alternate title: Remember the good ol’ days when society didn’t pander to people’s fond memories of boring, trite shit?
Okay, obviously the title is a bit of an exaggeration, given that–y’know–anger and hatred have done a lot more terrible things for the human species than nostalgia has, but I’m not saying nostalgia is atrocity-free, as I delve further into my madness-fueled ramblings. Merriam-Webster defines it as either homesickness, or “a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition”. Geez Merriam-Webster, that was needlessly vicious. Couldn’t have said it better myself!
Most of the time, getting into nostalgic conversations with people is pretty enjoyable, sometimes boring, but always a little cute if nothing else. Like listening to older people discuss their favourite early to mid-20th century era movies, and the impact they had in terms of story, special effects, and magnificent acting chops. Their memories of that time period are about how wonderous it was to have a window into parts of the world, in their very own living room. As someone who did not live in that time–looking at it only retroactively–my thoughts tend more towards how it takes my eyes around 10 minutes to adjust to a black and white movie, and wondering why every audio recording of any man’s voice from before the 1970’s sounds like Superman talking into a tin can. Truly we each live in our own worlds.
Like everything in the world, nostalgia is good in an appropriate dosage. A little bit re-establishes your history, and brings some warm comfort. A lot can be bad, it might to someone taking drastic, questionable measures to make their nation great “again”, or worse, make a career out of satirizing popular movies on YouTube.
Movies. Movies, movies, movies. I was going to go somewhere with that.
Ah yes! You notice how basically everything that comes out in theatres is a remake, sequel, prequel, adaptation or other form of
plagiarism inspiration of a previous work? It’s logical: less creative effort, capitalizing on nostalgia as a marketing ploy, and if people keep buying it, it works. So as an internet and media-based culture, we’re constantly being bombarded with coldly designed, corporate packaged nostalgia trips. Even for things we didn’t even give a shin guard about when these things were in their hey day.
It’s like I’m browsing the internet [suspend your disbelief, I know], and Hollywood texts me using an inescapable pop-up text, reading, “Hey Callum, do you remember the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?”
“Yeah,” I reply, “But I never watched it. My mom thought it was too violent for me to watch cartoons about martial artists beating people up. So instead, she put me into Tae Kwon Do class, and my sister did Kung Fu.”
“Uh, so you did watch it then?” Hollywood asks persistently, sweating at the thought of another $100 million dollar investment going down the drain.
“No, although I did watch Jackie Chan movies and all the Karate Kid entries. I guess my mom thought that if I ever had to fight, I at least would know how to properly fight, instead of dressing up like a Renaissance-era painter and–”
“WATCH THIS MOVIE IT WILL BRING YOU BACK TO YOUR CHILDHOOD!” Hollywood interjects, bombarding me with images of CGI’s characters oozing fake charisma. And then I see the ad again. Over, and over, and over.
But it’s not just the Adolescent Erroneus Members of the Family Testodines*, it’s our entire pop culture. Star Wars came back, every Disney movie is being remade into a live action version [just like the original!], Harry Potter came back, Batman and Superman came back. TV shows, YouTube [which I definitely watch more than TV, and is definitely much more infested with the nostalgia blight], newspapers, everybody’s talking about things they loved back in the day, why it was so great, and why I should spend some of my limited time on this Earth thinking about it. It’s madness.
*barely longer than their actual name
I could go on about the pop culture angle, and I guess I should touch on it briefly before moving on to the bigger picture. Nintendo–while also in many ways more creative than other video game companies–has been using the same characters, settings, and gameplay mechanics for years; even when they create something new, it still uses a lot of very familiar archetypes and tropes. While I appreciate the artistry, creativity, and truly all-ages nature of their work, this aspect has made me a little uncomfortable for a while. Except I haven’t really put it into words until now.
[By the way I’m a playstation and mobile gamer. And I honestly do not care what you or anyone else chooses to game on, Nintendo or otherwise.]
It’s also important to remember that, at least some of us, care way too much about pop culture. It’s all a money making enterprise based on exchanging our money and our time to consume whatever media they produce for us. That even goes for the endless amounts of internet articles, newspaper articles and snarky YouTube videos intended to merely discuss a singular or multiple work of fiction. Ad revenue, it truly makes the world go round.
So you watch or read one article for about 10 minutes, enjoy the creator’s content, and then spend time on another article that takes 20 minutes. Or maybe you’re more interested in learning more about a particular game/movie/book/moisturizing product, so you digest a different creator’s piece discussing that same work. The cycle repeats. I mean, hey, it is your and my free time, right? It’s not like you’re foregoing work or personal improvement to enjoy this nostalgia binge, right? Well no, you’re not, but you are letting them get into your head, and pilot the emotional centre of your brain for profit.
Well, I could’ve ended it there. Probably should, but I never really know when to quit, do I? Here goes.
Politicians use nostalgia as well. I would argue that since Conservatism can be summed up with “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, and learn from the past”, while Liberalism is more like “let’s improve the system, and what’s new it usually better”, the former are easier to trick with this than the latter. Not that both aren’t completely force-fed nostalgia.
I joked earlier about how Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan banks on nostalgia. But, doesn’t it? I imagine the “again” refers to sometime during most voter’s lifetimes, since America had slaves before the 1850’s, and women were only given equal voting rights in 1920. But, and I’m not just saying this to fulfill my duties as a Canadian, America was never great.
When it wasn’t in a depression, it was fighting some kind of war, oppressing people of colour/sexual minorities/disabilities/religious minorities/you get the picture, on the brink of creating an extinction-level event due to a little disagreement with Russia, and things have generally been improving since then until around 2016-ish. Don’t get me wrong, The United States is a beautiful country full of good people and vibrant culture. It’s also a nation with amazing potential. But that potential can’t be built off falsehood, or mis-remembered truth.
Outside of being yet another pointless discussion on American politics, I hope that’s a message that you and I can walk away with. To use in our daily lives.
I believe that we should learn from the past, but we shouldn’t love the past. The past is an old spirit, perhaps like the memory of a past family member, or the dead author of a beloved book. They’re gone, they’re never coming back, but they left us a legacy to cherish and work with. The future is more like a new born baby, it exists only in what it’s potential could be, and if we don’t give it enough attention–if we care more about what was than what could be–it’ll die. And then we couldn’t revive the future anymore than we could rebuild the past.