Thursday, April 12, 2018

Nostalgia: A Weird Heat Companion

The snarky sentiment in pop culture today is “Nothing is new.” More and more new releases—in any form—are sequels, spinoffs, remakes, and remasters. We applaud any new idea for being original. Meanwhile, the massive amount of repeated stories exist because they are safe. They play off nostalgia. An audience has a built-in sense of enjoyment which naturally extends to the newer edition. Even if the new form is not any good, it does not need to work to get a following (which translates to money). How many atrocious sequels have we seen make boatloads of money for no reason other than the preceding name? Nostalgia is safe.

As the line between originality and retreading becomes increasingly blurred, what will become of this concept? Essentially, every iteration of follow-ups will bring in fewer fans. It’s the basic law of diminishing returns. Star Wars is a wonderful example. The films released in the early-00s, known commonly as the Prequels, are critically panned but well attended because of the fond remembrance of the original series. There is still a sense of nostalgia for those original films, but whatever feeling of affection for the Prequel trilogy will be markedly less. Since the Prequel film is generally seen as being of less quality, there is naturally less nostalgia for these specific films. Instead, that nostalgia is transferred to the older, better films, or it begins fading away altogether.

The Star Wars example is an extreme one. The sheer amount of materials in the franchise ensure that it will never truly fade away. For something with less of a foothold in cultural literacy, the sense of nostalgia will disperse even after newer versions. The original Robocop film was mostly excellent; the 2014 remake was mostly forgotten (as well as the original sequels, for that matter). Copies merely transfer nostalgia towards the original (at best), or deaden nostalgia for the original (at worst). The perceived lack of original material is not destroying nostalgia altogether, but it is causing a shift.

This shift is away from our mutual sentimentality, and it is evident in the way we consume entertainment. Our exposure to pop culture has changed so much in the past few decades. Even twenty years ago, people had access to such fewer outlets for entertainment. There were fewer television channels; music was harder to come by on the Internet; video games were more or less limited to the technology at hand. It was easy then to have a shared, unified culture around one thing. With the Internet, we can cultivate our own interests to specific points. We have access to a glut of ways to stay entertained. Twenty years from now, it will be harder to summon the sense of nostalgia if there is so many niche markets. Sure, the sense of personal nostalgia will not change; people will still remember their youthful experiences fondly. The communal nostalgia, however, will be altered completely.

Consequently, there are two types of nostalgia: personal and communal. As much as I enjoy the warm and fuzzy private feeling, I do still lament the probable loss of the public. Meeting people of a similar age later in life—in college, for instance—is about exchanging common threads. I wonder how different such an experience will be.