Why are we so obsessed with nostalgia?

Why are we so obsessed with nostalgia?

The good old days… “When I was a kid”… For everyone who waxes lyrical about their childhood and what they did and didn’t have, there’s someone who doesn’t know what a Walkman is. Seriously? And cassette tapes. What?

And even nostalgia itself is subjective, for everyone who fondly remembers the K-Tel Record Selector, there is someone else who had a Cabbage Patch Kid or Teddy Ruxpin. But it seems that nostalgia is becoming more and more prevalent in culture. The further away we get from the 80’s the more things from the 80’s are cool or are being rebooted, rehashed or just plain repurposed.

Just thinking about how many TV shows that have been rebooted like MacGyver, Dynasty and Fantasy Island, boggles the mind.

With yet another installment of Jurassic Park coming out this year, nostalgia buffs certainly have their seat at the buffet. And the less said about the multitude of Star Wars TV shows coming out the better.

Even music is experiencing a bit of a time warp. One of the most popular artists — who recently won three Grammys — has built her entire brand on the nostalgia from her infancy. Olivia Rodrigo (who currently has her own documentary on streaming service Disney +) is bringing the Y2K lifestyle back in an aggressive way. An impressive feat for someone who was born in 2003.

But it does seem like the old adage “there are no new ideas, only recycled ones” is true when it comes to prepackaged pop culture artifacts.

Is there a deeper meaning?

We could be cynical and look at the surface of pop culture and see some creative bankruptcy in the decisions made, particularly across the entertainment landscape. After all there is so much content avaialble to consume across mutliple streaming services, there is a constant need to appeal to a broad demographic.

There is nostalgia for the cash grab and then there are the more nuanced throwbacks which frame storytelling. Stranger Things is an excellent recent example of this. Who doesn’t remember their bowl cut and playing D&D with mates, while riding around the neighbourhood on our Dragsters.

Stranger Things creators the Duffer Brothers designed these elements as ornaments more than scaffolding for their creepy story about the Upside Down. They connected us to our collective childhoods, all the while telling a deeply nuanced story about a family with connections in both the real and supernatural worlds.

But digging deeper what does this influx of redos and retreads and reruns say about us? Why do we love the experience of re-experience? What is it about our past that we find so appealing?

Nostalgia’s a funny thing precisely because it’s entirely subjective. Every persons’ experience — like our taste in music, movies and television – is different and unique.

Sometimes a piece of music or a smell can transport you back to your childhood. But one persons’ joy can be anothers’ pain, loss, fear or even trauma or depression.

Even now, it’s likely your mind just traveled back to some of those places—happy or sad, depending on where you were in the paragraph. When all is stripped away – artifice and entertainment — this is the human experience, moved by the power of suggestion.

Why look back?

The song by Natasha Bedingfield – Unwritten- has the lyrics, “Live your life with arms wide open. Today is where your book begins. The rest is still unwritten.”

This song explains that looking ahead is uncertain, but we need to embrace it, after all this is where the book begins, and what lies before us is comforting as we chart our journey through life.

Perhaps we return to certain stories from our past—the reboots, redos and needless resurrections—because we desire a return to certain selves—rebooted, redone and happily resurrected because the future is still unwritten.

There is a Biblical precedent for the re-boot. Take The Passover for instance. It’s a kind of divinely ritualised reboot in which God calls his people to remember his salvation (Exodus 2:24).

What’s more, Paul says in an extended plea to the Corinthian church, that they would flee from former sins that had previously ruled over them. A few chapters later, in 1 Corinthians 10, he employs a similar tactic, exhorting these Christians to remember the rebellion of Israel and thus avoid their eventual judgment.

We might be prone to misuse nostalgia as a vehicle for escapism rather than a means of remembering God’s generous dealing with us and our pasts. Or perhaps we find ourselves remembering a prior season of life too much or too happily. Moving on can be difficult if the present is challenging.

Going back to the idea that nostalgia is part of the human condition we also recognise that being trapped in the past can have other implications, after all as Bedingfield says the future is unwritten.

We have comfort that what lies ahead are experiences that won’t hold us in the past.


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