An era of nostalgia: how we’re using culture and social media to bring back the past

By Alex Ogle, Contributing Writer — We are living in an era of nostalgia. Whether it’s politics, relationships or noticing the poverty that surrounds us, people are looking for an anchor of hope and happiness. The easiest way to find this lies within ourselves and our memories. With the aid of social media, our need for nostalgia is wrapped more intricately around our society now than ever before. It’s showcased in clothes, TV shows, social media hashtags and product branding.  

According to Alan R. Hirsch, author of “Nostalgia: A Neuropsychiatric Understanding,” nostalgia is “a longing for a sanitized impression of the past, what in psychoanalysis is referred to as a screen memory — not a true recreation of the past, but rather a combination of many different memories, all integrated together, and in the process all negative emotions filtered out.”

If going by Hirsch’s definition, one would conclude that nostalgia is focused on the emotional state of an individual at a certain time, rather than the actual reality of an event. In other words, nostalgia is an ideal of how we want to remember things.  

Jeanette Leardi of the Huffington Post writes that nostalgic tendencies are most common in young adults in their teens to twenties. Nostalgia is often used as a coping mechanism, and these are times of major transitions, such as beginning new jobs and leaving for college.

It makes sense, then, that a leading contributor in this era of nostalgia is social media. The main form in which it does this is with hashtags. There are at least two hashtags a week dedicated to reminiscing on the past. Throwback Thursday (#tbt) and Flashback Friday (#fbf) are used interchangeably as an excuse to post old pictures. There is also Transformation Tuesday, which showcases one’s aesthetic transformation over time.

“When I think of the 90’s, I think about the punk aesthetics clothing. It’s those bold statements from different decades that get transferred to today – all of the iconic symbols and moments,” Jora Burnett, a junior from Maryville, Tennessee said.

Even marketers have picked up on the nostalgia kick. A popular way many marketers tap into the nostalgic emotions of consumers centers around pop culture and television. One of the most successful examples of this is the popular app Pokemon GO, a game that requires players to catch Pokémon by having the app open at different geographic locations. “Forbes” magazine called the game “The perfect combination of past and present, Pokémon GO links a beloved story with the first real-life example of augmented reality.” Commercials are using this tactic as well. In 2013, Microsoft released its “Child of the 90’s” ad for Internet Explorer, featuring tamagotchis, ying yang necklaces, the hungry hippo board game, etc. – basically showcasing all the fads of the 90’s. More recently Adobe featured an ad showcasing the popular PBS painter Bob Ross, whose fame has reemerged since his series “Bob Ross: The Joy of Painting” was added to Netflix.

Today’s fashions trends, however, could be one of the biggest tells of our love for nostalgia. One UTC student, Olivia Haynes, from St. Louis, Missouri, describes today’s style as a mixture of all the eras.

“It’s not just one era coming back. There’s stuff from the 90’s, 50’s, 2000’s, 70’s, 80’s, it’s a little bit of everything combined.”

Angela Dominessy, a junior from Maryville, Tennessee, also notices this, often incorporating it into her wardrobe. On any given day, one might find her in high-waisted pants, bell bottoms, overalls and/or a choker necklace.

In addition to fashion, Netflix has inched its way into this age of nostalgia. Netflix revived the popular 2000’s show, “Gilmore Girls,” ten years after its original end and rebooted “Full House” for a new generation. On top of that is the 2016 original Netflix series “Stranger Things.” “Stranger Things” is unique because its attention to detail, style, nods to movies and homages of the era, transport viewers straight into the 80’s.

But Netflix isn’t the only network to catch onto this trend. Fox has renewed its hit series “24” not once, but twice since its nine year run [2001-2010]. In 2014, they renewed it for a mini-series – “24: Live Another Day” – focused on the shows original protagonist. In 2017, they brought the franchise back under a different name, “24:Legacy,” and a brand new cast.  Fox has also renewed the television series “Prison Break” after initially ending in 2009.

Perhaps more subtly reaching to the young adult demographic is Disney. Seven years ago, Disney released its first live-action remake, “Alice in Wonderland.” The company was quick to realize the success of live-action remakes. Today Disney has 22 live-action remakes currently in the works. Typically these remakes explore different aspects of the characters and story’s origin. Even with its differences to the original, it can often feel like watching one’s childhood come to life. In addition to movies, Disney Channel rebooted the beloved 90’s show “Boy Meets World” as “Girl Meets World.” The show, which ended in 2017, followed the life of Riley Matthews, daughter of “Boy’s” power couple Corey and Topanga.   

When all of these factors are taken together, it’s hard to deny the blatant effect the past has on our culture today. In what ways have you noticed nostalgia shaping our everyday lives?  

Addie Whitlow

Addie Whitlow

Assistant Features Editor

Addie is a Chattanooga native majoring in Communication with a minor in English: Writing. If she isn't reading or watching movies, some of her favorite pastimes include spending time on the lake, taking way too many photos of her dog, Ripley, chasing after sunsets, and eating pasta salad. To get in touch, email her or tweet her at @mirage_hall.

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