Nostalgia: Nothing is more popular than things that don’t exist anymore.
Nostalgia’s time is now. It’s hard to explain, the love of things from just a little bit in the past. The I-remember-that affection that you can’t bottle, but you can stream. It’s a groundswell of devotion to things from before that makes liking something from now feel significantly cheap. This isn’t a sock hop, it’s not swing dancing, but rather coffee shop banter and teenage antics and a little touch of 90s angst and nail polish bottles with plastic rings. The recent past is present.
But you can’t fake it. You either have to go all-in and make a period piece done properly, (Stranger Things) or try to make something modern with nostalgic themes like silly, shallow plots, cheesy dialogue, and an overtly happy ending that only worked in the 90s and risk going viral for the wrong reasons (A Christmas Prince). Not that they care, I’m sure being popular for being terrible isn’t hurting Netflix in the least.
Even remakes are risky. It’s almost like the excitement for the announcement of a remake is greater than the affection for the remake itself. Full House springs to mind. We don’t want our nostalgia to live in the now with us. The now is awful, don’t do that to our friends. If you want to successfully remake something, remake it in it’s own time. Keep it safe there. I don’t want to know what apps Steve Urkel would have invented.
No one had to remake Friends. (Can you imagine the cost?) They simply had to add it to Netflix, and watch it live its second life. Those who devoted Thursday evening after Thursday evening to 10 seasons of a show they loved are now rewarded with the luxury of selecting their favorite episodes with the push of a button. Or if they’re really serious, the epic rewatch. No waiting, no taping, no commercials.
Even actors themselves can get in on the action. Who among us isn’t loving the Kurt Russell Renaissance? Who didn’t actually scream at the site of Bette Midler on Halloween in her own goddamn character’s costume? It applies to immersion spaces (or just like…rooms), too. A Saved By The Bell cafe stops traffic. A “Central Perk” installment and a recreation of the Seinfeld apartment become more popular tourist attractions than Times Square.
What is it exactly that we miss? I’ve long held the theory that we miss a world without iPhones. We miss how things were when we all looked up instead of down and we took 24 photos on film rather than 240 photos of our own faces. There’s irony in suddenly having everything you need in the palm of your hand while longing for a world powered by AA batteries and telephone cords. We didn’t plan on this world being so much more involved and consumptive than the one before it, and I think we’re a little exhausted. Technology can’t take us back, but entertainment can.
Maybe it’s that we attach ourselves to things that happened before in a way we simply don’t in the present. There’s a cold rarity about being that obsessed with something new, attachment is something that has to steep over time. Just like with people, you can’t rush genuine affection. (Though good lord Game Of Thrones is taking its goddamn time.)
For those who can’t possibly “miss” anything (because they were too young or–save me–not even born yet when a lot of the “nostalgia” they love was new), how is this stuff popular? Is it voyeurism? I have no idea what makes the kids these days love something. I find it impossible to communicate with someone whose mother never forced them to wear a pager.
I imagine it’s all a little unfair to the entertainment industry, who for so long has been on a constant quest to improve quality and capability and now has to face an audience hungry for CGI-free content shot on film. You don’t have to make Lord of the Rings again, just make a big deal over its availability to stream. What an insult.
There’s a chance we’ve made too much content. There’s a chance that in an assumed appetite for more and more new, our eyes were bigger than our hearts. I don’t think we can keep up, and I think the dazzle of new movies and television scooped up our attention before we were done loving what came before. Life moves pretty fast, and every day we prove how much we miss it.
I think nostalgia culture is a reminder that we never have to say goodbye to what we love. Not in the age of Netflix. The most genius thing Netflix ever did was allow everyone to consider it their own personal dvd collection. You don’t have to worry about losing anything anymore. It’s all right here. The world isn’t producing too much for you to keep up with. Go ahead and watch the new Wormwood documentary. Party of Five will be here when you’re done.
In the end I think it’s simple: We want what we can’t have. Modified for 2017, maybe we love what we can’t have. In a time where a dead person can be digitally resurrected to play an actual role in a film, maybe we just want to see kids ride their bikes around a neighborhood while their moms have no idea where they are, and that’s okay. Maybe we want to love a terrible plot and ridiculous antics guilt-free. Maybe reverting to something that can’t be reviewed in the present is the only way to avoid getting ripped apart in the comments.
There’s a word we’re not using to describe The West Wing when we wish President Bartlet was real. When we watch Hocus Pocus on repeat on Halloween. Or when we Instagram Miss Congeniality on April 25th. The word is “old.” Casablanca is old. It’s A Wonderful Life is old. Anything 1980 and up isn’t old, it’s perfect.
I am fascinated by this phenomenon because I’m fascinated by its content. It’s my content. I was born in 1982 and My So Called Life is life and I sit next to girls at work who don’t know the name Jordan Catalano. I am a participant in nostalgia culture, and gratefully so. It means I get to have both. It means that right now, we have everything .The genius and convenience of today’s technology and the shameless innocence and pure fun of years past, and the ability to compare the two, and participate in each one whenever we want. We need something from back then to make right now better, and there isn’t anything better than back then, right now.