In case you didn’t notice, there is a tinge of facetiousness in the title of this post. People always seem to speak about how much better the old days are. We as people tend to view memories through rose-tinted glasses, exercising revisionist history on a repeated basis.
A couple months ago, I saw the film Super 8. I was not a huge fan of the film (I would probably give it 2 1/2 stars for the record), definitely not as much as many other critics attested. That being said, the crowd I saw the film with ate it up. I also noticed much of the audience was older, averaging my parent’s age. It is no coincidence that the film is set in the 70s, painstakingly taking turns expressing the period of the film. This includes musical cues (“My Sharona”), fashion, and references to films at the time (Dawn of the Dead, for one). It also owes a large debt to Spielberg’s fetishization of the suburbs.
The film is a crowd-pleaser, but is it because of the quality or the ability to tap into the powerful phenomenon nostalgia?
When you think about it, nostalgia has a huge influence on American culture. Movies such as Super 8 use the feel of the era to create familiarity and financial security for studios. The endless reboots, remakes, and sequels coming out of Hollywood these days also attests to this (as do the record box office grosses).
Recently, Nickelodeon came to the realization that 90s programming could be lucrative, cashing in on the nostalgia of generation x (and y). Based on the suggestion of a few interns at the company, Nickelodeon’s TeenNick channel has begun to re-air many of these shows in a block of programming called Nick ’90s Are All That. As a result, the channel has experienced record ratings.
Further, politics are guided by nostalgia, looking back at the strong family of the Leave It To Beaver era as a reference point (never mind part of the reason families were so “strong” was an ignorance of racial and gender-based issues). Ronald Reagan did a brilliant job eschewing a back to basics approach, using the nostalgic tone of his “Morning in America” ads to a landslide victories in 1980 and 1984.
The interesting thing about nostalgia is its sheer strength. Watching a film or listening to a song without the proper context can completely alter one’s opinion.
I’ll admit I never saw The Goonies as a kid. Watching it in my twenties made me realize it’s a sheer chore to get through. It’s somewhat akin to being locked in a room with a bunch of yelling, screaming kids. For 1 1/2 hours. Torture.
Nostalgia is such a strong tool. Just look at some youtube comments for an older song.
Quality often doesn’t change. People do…well, unless they’re handcuffed by nostalgia.
John is hoping that you don’t think he’s a grouch for thinking nostalgia is lame. He also hopes you don’t think him saying lame is lame. John can be reached via Twitter or watch him wax nostalgic on last.fm.