The Dangerous Power of Nostalgia
One of the strongest, and incredibly addictive feelings we have.
If you google the word nostalgia the Collins dictionary definition reads as, ‘an affectionate feeling you have for the past, especially for a particularly happy time’. Further definitions continue that it is ‘a yearning for the return of past circumstances/events etc’ or that it’s a state of feeling caused by something – ‘the evocation of this emotion, as in a book/film etc’. Simply put it’s the strong warm feeling you get in your brain when you think back on a fond memory, watch your favourite movie, or eat that favourite dish in your favourite restaurant. There is a dark side however. For when we get this feeling (or any feeling), there is a rush of Serotonin and Dopamine in the body which gives us this sensation of pleasure. But our bodies (especially our brains), can begin to crave these rushes, our sub-conscious driving us to seek out these things which cause this affect – which in no surprise can become addictive. However, what may come as a surprise is how much of it is around us, and how much it is sold to us through various ways and formats. For anyone who is a consumer and let’s be honest that’s all of us, whether it’s in movies, games, tv shows or foods will have experienced nostalgia in one, if not all these mediums. We are currently surrounded by remasters, HD remakes, reboots, sequels, prequels, etc.
How the brain feels when you are hitting up on those nostalic vibes
The games industry has seen a massive increase tapping into people’s nostalgia to replay old games from their childhood. There is a huge modding community within the world of PC gamers. Groups of people take old games, mod them and reprogram them to turn into HD remakes, with removal of old annoying bugs which used to ruin experiences. These are released for free for people to download and replay. Companies behind some of these games begun to see the potentially untapped market, and started doing their own in-house remakes, or licensed it to third-party companies to do officially. It has also spread to the console market too, with it now seeming like a month or so can’t go by without the re-release of an old classic. Final Fantasy VII, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Resident Evil franchise, Pokémon, Crash Bandicoot are to name but a few to have received the HD remastering in recent years. Most weeks we also hear of some ‘insider’ leaking that some other game is due to get the treatment, to the point now it doesn’t even seem like an ‘if’ more just like a ‘when’.
Games have been riding the remake train for quite a few years now
Movies are no stranger to the concept of remakes, sequels, prequels, or remastered editions of classic movies. However again in recent years there has been an increase, especially with the rise of streaming services. Just recently we’ve had Coming 2 America a sequel to the 1988 movie starring Eddie Murphy release on Amazon, we also had Borat subsequent moviefilm (Borat 2) from the same platform, and now it’s been announced they are to make a new Ace Ventura movie. We’ve had a new Star Wars trilogy in the last decade, a rebooting/sequel Jurassic Park (now World) franchise, another Avatar trilogy to come, as well as countless others. Remastered or anniversary editions are also another big feature – back in 1997 the original Star Wars trilogy was released in cinemas with all new CGI and editing to improve the originals. Later this year we will see the re-release of The Lord of the Ring’s trilogy in cinemas to mark the 20th anniversary of their original release (personally can’t wait for that!). Now I’m not having a go at movies for making sequels, prequels, or anything, but let’s be honest it is to make money and to play on the nostalgia factor. They know millions will pay money to see the continuation of a story, or to see something they remember vividly from their childhood on the big screen again, hoping to recapture that magic.
Hard to believe the Pokemon franchise celebrated its 25th anniversary this year
Tv shows also too have been at the milking of the nostalgia factor. Many people went in their droves to binge Cobra Kai on Netflix, a tv show sequel to the Karate Kid movies of the 80’s. This year will see the release of a new grittier grounded take on the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, simply titled Bel-Air, as well as the Mighty Ducks after the famous 90’s movie with Emilio Estevez. Another 90’s movie A Time to Kill (good movie btw!) which was a breakout hit for Matthew McConaughey, about a lawyer defending Samuel L Jacksons character for the murder of 2 white supremist’s who kidnap and rape his daughter, is to get the sequel treatment in the form of a series on HBO as well. Dexter is returning to screens again for all those fans, maybe to make up for what was considered a terrible ending, and there is also the long-awaited friend’s reunion which is due to happen as soon as CoVid restrictions allowing filming to begin. So again, we can see here tv doing its best to hop on the gravy train of bringing shows back, or series-sequels to movies to appeal to nostalgic fans.
Overall and without sounding extremely cynical the reason big companies do this with nostalgic content, is mainly for money. Much like I spoke about in my previous article on book adaptations there is the element of the baked-in audience. A community of people numbering millions strong who have such love and devotion for the subject matter that they pine for more, and will readily pay for it, irrespective if it’s well or badly done. Sometimes, and especially when it’s handled in part by industry insiders with huge respect, who are fan’s themselves then the results can be brilliant. Sometimes the subject matter, can grow and go on to be more than its original, or improve on and correct something that fan’s disliked about the original. However even with all the good intention in the world it will still make a ton of money.
Companies looking at peoples nostalgia = MONEY MONEY MONEY !!!!!!!!!
Without sounding too existential and philosophical, this verve for nostalgia can also be damaging. As previously stated it can be addictive, and we’ve all fell afoul of it. Maybe it’s symptomatic of the time we live in just now, with lockdowns and life being on hold to some degree, that we find solace, comfort, and safety in looking to the past. Going back to old experiences, as these are the only ones we can have for now. Some things are also better left in the mind, and not worth revisiting. Something I experienced myself when I went back and tried to play GTA: San Andreas. Yes, it was great for all the same reasons I remember, but the revolutions the series had brought in with the titles after it weren’t there, and so it felt like it was strangely missing something.
Also, not to sound too Black Mirror-ish but companies are going to keep serving up these slices of nostalgia, as they know they are a cash cow. But imagine a pharmaceutical company designed a drug which induced the ability of living through an experience again. Like something from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Jim Carrey in fine form), being induced into a catatonic state and experiencing again first-hand your favourite holiday, first time you had the steak at that restaurant, or seeing your favourite movie on the big screen. Can any of us really say that doesn’t sound like a dangerously addictive tempting proposition?? Who wouldn’t wash away the Monday blues at home, with a hit of nostalgia and a mental trip back to those 2 weeks in the Bahamas from 2007?
Thankfully, the realisation of something like this is still decades away, and ultimately over time I’m sure the novelty of revisiting these ‘memories’ would fade too. Life is ultimately for living, and the nostalgia that comes after an enjoyable moment in it, is nice but the importance of new experiences should never be overlooked, after all these past experiences which give us nostalgia were, once upon a time, new experience themselves. So embrace the new, respect the past, and don’t be too much of a prisoner to nostalgia!