We’re all familiar with nostalgia. Sometimes it seems like Hollywood, and really the rest of the entertainment industry, is leaning heavily on the nostalgia fad, rebooting anything and everything they can (with mixed results, of course). I’m definitely guilty of wallowing in nostalgia, and have been doing so pretty much since I started approaching adulthood. In high school, I went through a second My Little Pony phase, and started buying up various old VHS tapes from dollar bins at video stores (we still had video stores back then, although it was the beginning of the end). And a lot of my current hobbies rely a lot on nostalgia.
But recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the context of nostalgia.
Back around 2010, I was a big fan of this website called That Guy With the Glasses (which is actually still a thing, albeit with a different name), run by the titular creator. His main series was the Nostalgia Critic, but through that website, he took on a lot of other creators as well. They all had their own focus, ranging from movies to comics to popular music.
A lot of these creators have also uploaded their work to youtube, especially as they’ve gone on to do other projects, and recently I’ve fallen into rewatching some of my old favorites. Weirdly though, these videos don’t make me nostalgic for their source material so much as for the website itself.
I think the interesting thing about nostalgia surrounding things on the internet is that, unlike the thousand rereleases of kids movies we get, some things are just hard or impossible to recreate. Yes, I can go back and watch these videos, but the context is missing. There are countless cameos that I just can’t explain to new viewers. It makes them a little less watchable now, but it makes them uniquely special.
I guess where I’m going with this is that even in this age, when it seems like everything is being remastered or remade or repackaged, some things still aren’t reproducible. And maybe nothing ever really is. I can rewatch Mighty Morphing Power Rangers from the comfort of my own couch, but it’s not the same as illicitly watching it in my best friend’s front room in first grade, or desperately wondering what episodes I’d miss during TV Turn-Off Week. I can still log in to Gaia Online, but I can’t jump back in to the “newspaper” I was running with other teenagers, or watch sponsored movies with my friends, because we’re just not all in that place any more.
I think nostalgia is powerful not so much because of the things that inspire it, but because of where and when we were when we loved them. I loved some really horribly made shows when I was a kid, and many of them I still love now, not because there’s really any value to them, but because they remind me of being young and still learning about the world. Sometimes they were a happy escape from unhappier things, and sometimes they were a model for how I wanted adulthood–at least as I understood it then–to be. Watching these old youtube videos reminds me of being in college, when youtube was just taking off, my friends all lived within a five minute walk from me, and “summer” still guaranteed some time off.
But nostalgia can be dangerous. I think it’s easy to keep looking back, to keep trying to retread old patterns or chase old dreams, when instead you need to look at where you are now, and evaluate where you’d like to be, realistically. The bitter-sweet tang of nostalgia can be a captivating drug, but you have to learn to process that into new projects. At least, that’s what I hope I can do.