Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be

Millennials are hardened, battle-scarred and savvy. We’ve received fake Pokemon cards in school-yard trades, we bought fake Beats headphones, we’ve been tricked into downloading a few too many viruses on Limewire, and we’ve been “hustled” out of quite a few “K” on Runescape – but, now we know better, we’re not easily fooled.

Yet, there’s one simple trick that’ll knock down any millennial’s gates of better sense and judgment, it’s nostalgia. In fact, I bet as you thought about Runescape you remembered a time in which life was simpler, a time when you had to connect to the dial-up Internet in order to kill crabs and level up your cooking in a pixelated MMORPG. It’s not just a young-adult weakness specific to today’s generation, however, it’s a weakness of humans in general, felt even stronger by the media-drowned adults that we have become.

But why is nostalgia so powerful? Further still, why does it have such power over us?

According to Alan R. Hirsch in “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 these were personal memories and associations that could be thought on, romanticized and remembered, there wouldn’t be much of a problem, but the fact that nostalgia can be shared by groups of people in collective, cultural and national memories makes it both volatile and dangerous.

Donald Trump for example, presents an ideological argument for his re-election based on nostalgia. Trump claims that he will “Make America Great Again” (and sometimes, in Tweets, “#MakeYouTubeGreatAgain”), but the actual time in which America had been great in the first place, is still very much open to debate. But, rhetorically, and as a discourse, it doesn’t need to be based on fact or quantifiable evidence, it’s just an emotional response to a stimuli that’s been ingrained through repetition from, no-conservative mouthpieces.

The potency of a discourse of nostalgia comes from its relative latency, through the convoluted psychological web of memories, just remembering the show “Cow and Chicken” fondly can automate a response that maybe the 90s were a lot more innocent, and kids really were kids back then, and cartoons were a lot better made back then. Nostalgia is a slippery slope, and without realizing the vulnerability to our own emotional reactions and screen memory, we lose the savviness and ability to critically reflect that empowers our generation.

It’s dangerous that politicians can so effectively rely on totally irrelevant, trans-historical, narrow-minded, fabricated generalizations of a romanticized state of being to inspire hatred. So much so, that the host of The Celebrity Apprentice might actually be hired to work in the Oval office. Whether it’s the 1990s, or the 1890s, the past is a powerful concept and a field of emotional manipulation that can distort the present.

Beyond just the world stage of politics, just think of the industry that capitalizes on nostalgia. The Star Wars franchise owes most of its success to entrenching itself within the quintessential 80s experience, much like the Internet has done with the “only 90s kids remember…”. Nostalgia has been used so light-handedly and so masterfully, that we consciously acknowledge our own identity and life experiences through a lens of consumption and mass media.

Of course, no one should blame generation Y for its predisposition to emotional manipulation through nostalgia. Theoretically speaking, with an uncertain economy, a job market that yields no opportunity, a world on the brink of ecological collapse: we have no future, why wouldn’t the past be all the more compelling?

- Steve Nadon

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