Nostalgia porn - the grass was greener in the past

by 2.5.17 0 komentarze
For those of you who were unable to take part in SerialCon 2017's first day, here is a rough text of my presentation. It was titled "Nostalgia porn" and talked about a trend in TV series that could be observed in recent years: being inspired by the past.

I thought about exploring the theme deeper after my last year's presentation at Polcon in Wrocław. I talked back then about superheroes as the answer to generational fears and mentioned "Marvels" as pure nostalgia porn - but the term itself is applicable to many, many things.

So please buckle up and let's take a ride.



According to Wikipedia, it's from the Greek "nostos" meaning "returning home" and the Homeric "algos," meaning pain, or ache. It is argued (by the academics, they love to argue) that the first nostalgic hero was Oddysseus, who was missing his home - but not enough to get back home

Nostalgia is a sentimentality for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations. Term was coined by a 17th-century medical student to describe the anxieties displayed by Swiss mercenaries fighting away from home. Nostalgia can refer to a general interest in or wistful yearning for the past, its personalities, and events, especially the "good old days" from earlier in one's life.

What I would like to stress out is that nostalgia and melancholy are two different things. Although nostalgia is often triggered by negative feelings, it results in increasing one's mood and heightening positive emotions, which can stem from feelings of warmth or coping resulting from nostalgic reflections. There was a study conducted that literally proved that nostalgia (memories) can raise your body's temperature. You literally feel warm when feeling nostalgic, it's not just a figure of speech.

Another question that needs answer is: how far can nostalgia go? The definition states that it needs to cover the lifespan of a given individual, but often people claim that they have been born in a wrong decade or even century, when men were chivalrous and maidens pure (like in Jane Austen's books). Basically, we cannot feels nostalgic for what we have not personally experienced. Yet while watching "Mad Men" we feel nostalgic, don't we? The explanation is simple - the media has presented literally every era and the media coverage of the past in enormous. There is of course a question of its "reality" - like in "Belle Epoque" and I will get back to the topic a bit later. We feel nostalgic not for the real times, but for the ones we have seen on silver screen.

Today I am mainly concerned with TV series, but it is worth mentioning that although the nostalgia reneissance on TV screens is fairly new, the whole retro digging is nothing new. In the past few years we have witnessed the return of Tamagotchi toy from 1990s, indestructible Nokia 3310 is back, my colleague bought Nirvana Unplugged on vinyl in Biedronka, Nintendo NES Classic Mini got announced with a selection of 30 retro games, Marks&Spencer let a model Alexa Chung roam their warehouses to curate not one, but two Atchive collections. Heck, even James Bond movies (the ones with Daniel Craig) tapped into the nostalgic feeling of the brand more than Pierce Brosnan's movies ever did.

But what about porn? (I know you have been waiting for this!) Well, it is a very important part of the term, in my personal opinion even more important than nostalgia. Porn is about two things: making the audience feels good (just like nostalgia does) and exploitation, in this case of the aestethic and our own brain. Yes, the brain is against us, or at least against our wallets when it comes to nostalgia porn.

When I was doing research for my presentation, I started to notice the divide in the nostalgic TV series. I divided them into two categories: "nostalgic" and nostalgic. The first are the reboots/remakes of franchises that were popular in the past 3 decades:


These are all very succesful, both financially and medially, titles and their remakes make sense from the marketing point of view. They were already tried (so market research is cheap) and liked (with enormous fanbases). Some of them make no sense (like "Sailor Moon"), some of them exploit youth of the characters ("MacGyver"). some tie up plots ("Gilmore Girls"), some show the next generation "Fuller House"). All of them rely on the power of nostalgia to draw the audience to the screen.



The second category is more complicated. These are TV series set in the past and they use the past for different things. For them, the past is a tool to tell a story or revisit a social problem while enjoying the costumes, design and the retro vibes. Some of those "re-tell" the past as well, making things better than they really were. In order to be succesful, though, they need to rely on the strenght of the plots as well.

There are some titles that don't fit into either category. There is "Riverdale", based on Archie comics, but set in the present times. Funnily enough, "Riverdale" uses nostalgia sublimally, by casting Molly Ringwald and Luke Perry and the main character's parents. This way they appeal to John Hughes and Beverly Hills 90210 fans a bit, who are Archie's parents' age.

There are also "Doctor Who", "Star Trek" and "Pokemon", but they are all ongoing franchises. They may not always be present on TV screens, but books, games, movies etc. were being published all the time.

How does the nostalgia actually work?


Well, it heightens positive emotions, helps us cultivate relationships with people from the past, make us feel better about ourselves, provide meaning to our lives. It also helps us embrace change, avoid historical truths and help mental health.

It's no wonder nostalgia has been deemed a perfect advertising tool, as it creates a sense of connectedness between consumers and products with the goal of convincing the public to consume, watch, or buy advertised products. The feeling of longing for the past is easily communicated through social media: just check out the Hendricks Gin new Messenger campaign about cucumbers. The more we see "the past" in social media: Tumblr, Instagram or Facebook, the better we feel about it - and it gets way easier to sell us something. Our brains just like repetiveness and nostalgia prompts your brain to do three main things:
  1. Use less brain power.
  2. Associate the experience solely with positive memories.
  3. Misremember how much you actually liked something.
And this is a perfect recipe for spending money.

Furthermore, this is ersatz nostalgia. It means we are longing for the times we haven't personally experienced. We think we know them because we have seen them on TV. The creators of "Stranger Things" were born in 1984 - no way they could remember that decade. But they have seen movies like "Stand by Me" or "Lost Boys", played D&D and they loved its retro vibe. They appealed to a vast target range: both youngsters who enjoy old school and people in their 30-40s.

Let me finish with a quote I found on the Internet:

“We’re too busy to pay attention to new music, so we commemorate the anniversaries of seminal album releases, read oral histories of TV shows that were canceled a decade ago, and go to a theater to see a film that we’ve watched a thousand times. (..) Nostalgia: it’s the best kind of subliminal messaging there is."


Basically, we are all engineers Mamoń.

Rusty Angel

Fangirl

Ola. Fangirl. Matka smokom. Żona pisarzowi. Lubi czytać, pisać i uczyć się nowych rzeczy. Uwielbia wielkie roboty.