The Art and Musings of Felix Quinonez Jr.

On Nostalgia

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Felix Quinonez Jr.

What is it about Nostalgia that is so intoxicating? Why are we so obsessed with revisiting our past?  

Judging by the movie posters plastered on billboards, the TV shows on the lineup, and even the bands touring, it’d be hard to know what year it was. It seems like everything old is new always.

Movies like Blade Runner and Star Wars are products of our past, and yet they’re also slated to return to cinemas this year. The remake of It recently hit theaters and quickly became an unqualified success, grossing over $300 million domestically in just under a month.

The Last Jedi Poster

The Last Jedi Poster

And nostalgia is also taking over the small screen with TV shows like Will and Grace, Twin Peaks, X-Files, Full House, Gilmore Girls, and MacGyver, all returning, in one form or another. Twin Peaks was one of the most popular TV shows and a cultural landmark almost 30 years ago. But even before going off the air it had lost its luster. After the central mystery of Laura Palmer was resolved, viewers lost interest and changed the channel. And without its once fervently devoted fan base the show was unceremoniously cancelled.

But now enough time has passed that people are reassessing the show. As usual, we choose how to remember things, often rewriting the past in the process. And because of this, the show's drop in quality is overlooked by fans hoping to revisit an old favorite.

The rose colored glasses used to evaluate the past has convinced people to only remember the first season, and that's what was zeroed in on when people decided the show needed to return. But we also didn’t just forget about how terrible Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me was. As think pieces populating the internet show, it's become fashionable to retroactively label the flop as a misunderstood or overlooked gem. 

At the same time, the Will and Grace revival was renewed for a second season before it even aired. But it isn’t just our TV shows and movies that are stuck in the past. So much of our popular culture is an amalgam of childhood signifiers. Even once popular drinks are being brought back to satisfy the nostalgia bug that bit everyone.

It’s like everyone’s childhood is being brought back simultaneously to satisfy our collective need to relive the "good old days." It seems the past continues to haunt us, not because it refuses to leave but because we can’t let it go.

Still from the Twin Peaks opening 

Still from the Twin Peaks opening 

The reason why we hold onto nostalgia is because it's addictive, and it triggers both negative and positive emotions. It’s a longing for something from our past to return. There's nothing inherently wrong about wanting to remember sweet and innocent experiences. But nostalgia is a bittersweet because it also produces feelings of loss and sadness because those moments are gone.

The older we get, the more we start to see doors closing. One day our lives stop being defined by all the things we will do and what we will become. Instead they're defined by our acceptance of the many things we will never get to experience. We start to realize that we won’t ever be rock stars or movie stars. The older we get, the more the past starts to look brighter. And the more we start looking to it for comfort.

And according to Psychology Today, “When people get nostalgic, they are living in the past. In those moments, the past seems rosy, and often more positive than the present.” Not surprisingly, many times nostalgia comes at moments when we are feeling low or even just bored. When we’re unhappy about the current states of our lives, we yearn for the innocence of youth and to return to it.

That’s why we find ourselves constantly looking back. We long to relive the past that we’ve romanticized. We want to return to the time when our lives were full of promise, and it seemed like we could do anything. But most importantly, we want to feel the way we did.

Maybe living in such commercial society has trained us to associate those feelings with the products and entertainment we used to consume. We imbue importance on the toys and video games of our past. We look to them with the hope that they can transport us back to more innocent moments in our lives.

We think that if we bring back the clothes, movies and TV shows of our childhood, we can go back to that time. But we ignore the fact that those things were only a part of why that time of our lives was so special.

Hordes of people line up and log on, hoping against hope to be the so-called “lucky” ones who get their hands on whatever piece of limited edition nostalgia is being marketed this season. But ultimately they find out that the magic of youth can’t be recreated by buying a Super Nintendo classic edition.

In the memories we have of the Super Nintendo, or whatever system you chose, the video games themselves were only a fraction of what made those experiences so special. The real reason why we cherished those times was because we were young, carefree, and shared those experiences with the people we loved. It was our friends and siblings who helped make those the “good old days”. We stayed up all night with them, and that minor act of youthful rebellion was a big part of the fun. It seemed like there was no world outside of the walls of our houses. But as the world got bigger, the smaller our places in it became.

Now when you buy the game now and you plug it in, that's all you get. You’re not suddenly going to be a kid again. Your job and problems won’t disappear. Your friends won’t sleep over and play the new video game with you until late at night or early into the morning. They all have their own lives to lead.

And stripped of all those other external factors, it’s just a video game. It entertains us for a while but it’s ultimately a hollow shell of the experience we had as children. Eventually it winds up on the shelf, collecting dust, leaving us feeling empty and searching for the next relic of our past that we hope will make us feel young again.

Although it’s nice to see old TV shows return, that’s not really what we’re trying to recover. We want to bring back the way we felt when we watched those shows. We want to relive those moments. But we can’t recreate the magic that comes from youth.

Part of the reason we loved a lot of the shows we watched as kids was precisely because we were kids. Just because an old TV show returns doesn’t mean we can become the viewers we once were. We can’t view it through the same eyes. And what we see is no longer filtered through the same outlook we had as children.

And sometimes it’s the actors themselves that played a big role in our enjoyment of the shows. Some of those actors became our first crushes. And watching the shows through the eyes of a kid with a crush can shape the level to which we enjoyed them.

Larisa Oleynik as Alex Mack

Larisa Oleynik as Alex Mack

But when shows come back we often times don’t see the actors the same way. Maybe it’s because we’ve learned things about them that changed our opinion of them, or maybe just the simple fact that they and we got older. 

As much as we love those old shows, sometimes they are relics of a bygone era and are better left in the past. All the constant revivals and reboots also stifle creativity. It makes it harder for original property to get made because everyone is more interested in making movies or shows that come with a “built in” audience.

Just as it appears that 80s nostalgia is finally starting to subside, people are now longing to return to the 90s. The window for nostalgia is getting even smaller.We barely get the chance to miss things before they come back.