Nostalgia explained

By Travis Hunter
On October 19, 2018

Nostalgia is a complicated concept. The immediate connotation of the word brings about feelings of happiness and pleasant memories, but the denotation cuts much deeper.

In the first season finale of the television show Mad Men, Don Draper, the creative genius of 1960s advertising, is tasked with presenting an idea to Kodak for their new photo slide projector. Draper leans heavily on the concept of nostalgia and defines the term somewhat accurately from the original Greek.

"Nostalgia literally means the pain from an old wound," he says before launching into one of the most memorable and heart-wrenching scenes the series ever offered. Nostalgia isn’t about the memory itself, but about that vague ache we feel inside of ourselves as we revisit it, Draper argues.

The scene hits like a freight train to the heart because nostalgia is universal. Everyone has felt that desire to return to some distant time or place in their lives. Advertisers strive to create campaigns that stay with consumers, but their main goal is to sell a product. While it’s understandable for advertisers to leech off something as relatable as nostalgia for financial gain, it has unfortunately become the current trend in entertainment.

I’m not naïve. I know that no form of entertainment is immune to commercialization, but the commoditization of nostalgia has become unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

The revivals of old sitcoms, the reboots of film franchises, musicians aping the sounds of their predecessors. Large swaths of creators fall back on ideas that worked in the past without paying any real respect to them. I find nothing wrong with entertainers being influenced by earlier works, but it has become less about borrowing from the past and more about outright plundering it. It goes far beyond the notion of everything old becoming new again.

Their goal is to monetize our collective yearning for a better, simpler time. They’ve placed a price on that vague ache we feel. When we allow them to get away with this, we’re fostering a world devoid of artistic merit. It’s much easier to remind an audience of something familiar than to conjure up something fresh.

Sadly, there isn’t much we can do about it. Society has already voted with our pocketbooks and overwhelmingly decided we would rather wax nostalgic than patronize the marketplace of new ideas. We can’t be blamed for it, though. Nostalgia is a powerful thing.

Ironically, the current state of entertainment has me looking to the past and finding comfort in works wholly original.

Remember when that was a thing?

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