Even though these (pictures) aren’t my memories, I still feel nostalgic when I see them. Its vicarious nostalgia, if that’s even possible. I wasn’t there, I wasn’t even alive. In my head there’s this vague concept of “before”, a time when everything seemed simpler than today. Old home movies are a perfect symbol for such times. It’s weird, this nostalgia for other people’s memories. But there’s a universality to these home movies as if the warm tones of old grainy footage compose the language of longing and memory, harking back to a past I don’t remember and didn’t experience but still feel drawn to. These home movies, along with other cultural artifacts like vinyl records or the potent combination of neon and synth, represent collective memories, shared ideas of the past, beyond our personal experiences, another time, another place, before. This of course ignores all the negative aspects of the past, favoring instead a romanticized dream, granting bygone time, a manufactured appeal. It’s a cynical sentiment that the future can only be worse, and the best is always behind us, receding away as we speed into the abyss of the future. The past has a potential energy to it, the idea of existing in pre-nostalgic times, before everything that’s happened since.
Past future, in retrospect, seem bright and sunny and attractive when compared with today, but the grand shame is that we can only see this by looking back, it’s invisible when right in front of us.
Research, the origin: In the 17th century nostalgia was a disease, severe homesickness first diagnosed in Swiss mercenaries fighting in France. They longed for their familiar mountain homeland, and sending them back was the only effective cure.
Since then, nostalgia has evolved from a longing for place, to a longing for time, somewhere we can’t go. There is no cure for nostalgia as it exists today. There is only a treatment: escapism, reveling in all that was had of the past, the trinkets and souvenirs, home movies, television shows, and the shared experience of growing up in the unique atmospheres of our respective childhood decades. We’ve surrounded ourselves with the past as a cushion of sorts, incubating us a womb that shields from the harshness of reality. As a results, time doesn’t go away anymore, instead it’s just put on the shelf, where it persists in syndication, a perpetual ambience to modern life, a coping mechanism in the face of rapid change. Culture nostalgia, as we may call it, isn’t new, but our current relationship to it is. The internet has proved unhindered access to an exhaustive archive of cultural memory, eliminating the scarcity of the past in a pre-digital age and replacing it with sheer abundance. The 2000s were the first truly digital decade and the first decade that saw widespread use of the public internet.
So alongside the spike in innovation and globalization, the nots were also characterized by intoxication what came before, simultaneously shoving us into the future, and tugging us back into the past. This isn’t bad or good, because nostalgia isn’t necessarily or strictly derivative; it can also be productive and creative, evident through some recent original series with nostalgic undertones. Still, this beg the question and consideration of how our own time will be defined and remembered. The archival power of the internet has given a rise to a movement of temporal and culture preservation. Now that we have the power to capture time in a bottle and re-examine it whenever we’d like, we don’t really have to let it go. It’ll be interesting to see how the first digital generations relate to nostalgia and the past, given its abundance in today’s culture. With the modern world-changing so fast, we find ourselves hurtling into the uncertainty of the future at an ever accelerating rate.
We’ve thrust into tomorrow where we’re unwilling immigrants from yesterday, pining for the comfort and familiarity of a homeland we can never revisit.
Nostalgia in moderation maybe a healthy indulgence; a comforting lie we tell ourselves and willingly buy into, in order to adapt to increasingly globalized, ever-changing world. It’s an inevitable product of our time. When we outgrow the shell of childhood innocence and must face the harshness of the world, in times of despair and uncertainty, when we’re overwhelmed with feelings of hopelessness. Nostalgia provides a valuable escape. It’s natural for us to take solace in the past and it’s perceived simplicity and relative innocence, and in its certainty.
It’s become essential to this digital day and age, and in the shadow of a 24-hour news cycle, that we find a viable means of coping, and that has been, among other things, through nostalgic escapism.
So it isn’t good or bad. It can heal when called upon to heal, and it can deceive when too much trust is placed in its warm embrace.
Many of us feel that, if we could re-live a memory dear to us, we would cherish it more. If we can transport ourselves back and live it again, we’d relish its warmth and its brevity, we’d breathe it in before it yet again disappears, as time always does, without much warning and without much care.
The funny thing is, nostalgia requires separation, a distance in time, and an acceptance that what’s gone is irretrievable, otherwise the spell doesn’t work. All we can do is examine our memories, a souvenir, a song, a home movie, a comforting glimpse of the way we were through a window, separate, distant, and with a longing that can never be cured, and remind ourselves that we’re an infinite product of where we’ve been, that memories are real, even if they no longer exist, they happened and disappeared and we kept something from them. Some token of their passage through time, and only in that way we can revisit and what can’t be retrieved, before the tape runs out, and it goes back on the shelf.