The Nostalgia Trap of COVID-19

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Illustration by Yasmin Ghaemmaghami

Ethan Yu & Natalie Mifflin

Staff Writer & Contributing Writer

Let’s face it, we’ve all fallen into the nostalgia trap. Our media consumption reflects an intense longing for days that seem far away. Perhaps you’re re-reading “Hunger Games” or “Twilight” again now that you have more free time. Maybe you started binge-watching “Avatar: The Last Airbender” on Netflix recently because it was one of your favorite shows as a kid. Or maybe you’re playing the new Animal Crossing game during Zoom lectures because it reminds you of sneakily playing on your Nintendo DS under your desk in class.

Now more than ever, our favorite entertainment providers are giving us the content we deeply crave: remakes, reboots, and rewinds. Especially during quarantine, what else can you watch on a Friday night after all the forum posts are submitted?

On a normal Friday night,  you might go eat with friends, party on Del Playa, or just hang out. But with our entire lifestyles and habits changing because of the pandemic, there’s a gaping hole in the time slot where our social gatherings used to fit.

With lots of movies that were supposed to be released earlier this year being pushed back to 2021, production is at a near standstill. Instead, people are stuck at home with too much time on their hands, facing an onslaught of nostalgic media. It’s a perfect storm to ensure that the media directs our consumption to past well-loved stories that remind us of better times. 

While nostalgia was first diagnosed as a mental disorder, nowadays there is nothing wrong with coping by remembering the past. Studies have shown that nostalgia can counteract loneliness, boredom, and anxiety. According to the New York Times, while it is a bittersweet feeling, it tends to make “life seem more meaningful and death less frightening.”

However, these studies also show how nostalgia can make us feel a stronger sense of belonging and home when we are optimistic and inspired by the future. But what happens when a pandemic shuts down the entire world and it is no longer safe to see friends? Can nostalgia be dangerous and escapist once we have lost the ability to see clearly and be optimistic about the future?

Nostalgic movies give people an opportunity to relive the same experiences, but movies that market nostalgia offer people a chance to live through that time period by creating new experiences with the familiar mental images and ideals of the time.

Companies in the past decade or so have developed a strategy to target vulnerable groups of people who are uncertain of the future and want to return to simpler times called nostalgia marketing.

Nostalgic movies give people an opportunity to relive the same experiences, but movies that market nostalgia offer people a chance to live through that time period by creating new experiences with the familiar mental images and ideals of the time. However, many reviews for remakes say that recreating the originals don’t always do justice to the original or feel like a new, different experience. And those that don’t complain about being baited into watching a bad movie are often seen as being stuck in the past without the ability to move forward.

The 2016 “Ghostbusters” movie reimagined the cult classic with the main characters as women and ultimately, the movie flopped. Despite being praised for being “daringly progressive” by BBC and  “not bad at all” by Go London, its real claim to fame was the main plot remaining intact which hardly shows that the movie had anything going for it as its own entity. Many of the more favorable reviews commented on how it revitalized the franchise, but nostalgia is not enough to distinguish a movie for its merits.

During quarantine, there is a lack of new media to compete for our attention; without marketing, audiences take their media consumption into their own hands and make do with what games and shows they have readily available. They default to things they know they like to guarantee a small degree of happiness. Rather than trying something new and being disappointed — like how life often feels during the pandemic — we manipulate the outcome of our emotions and feel a small sense of control over our lives. 

Being nostalgic has its time and place, and maybe quarantine is the place for it. As long as we do not use nostalgia to forget the importance of our efforts today, it seems to serve its purpose in keeping us entertained and anchored to a reality we can hope to return to. Especially with upcoming elections, it is important that we do not spend all of our time reminiscing about the past when we can allot some time to applying ourselves to make a change we want to see today.

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