I ruffled a few feathers earlier this week with a post on how Doctor Who needs to stop mining its past so much - and there were a lot of great counter arguments. One repeated point of defense was that we all love the warmth of nostalgia, and it interested me. Can our Nostalgia be too much of a good thing sometimes?
Now, I'm not a soulless monster - I'm not going decry people's nostalgia for anything, because I love a bit of it myself. It's something that binds us, a sort of shared memories of moments and images from pop culture past that we can link to certain times of our lives. Nostalgia is a sort of emotional time travel we all bask in every once in a while. If anything, it's part of what makes Pop culture, well, Pop culture. Pop culture is essentially all about tapping into our memories of media gone by and capitalising the shit out of it. It's about taking that nostalgia and essentially making it timeless.
And that's great! Nostalgia is vital to creating a lasting legacy for books, TV shows, movies and games - it gives us huge, long running franchises like Star Wars, Doctor Who, the Final Fantasy games, comic book heroes like Batman and Captain America and the whole rest, icons of their industries that we hold dear to our hearts. The nostalgia we have for these stories and characters is such that their modern day incarnations have that nostalgia built into them. Every time Doctor Who brings back an old baddie or character (hell, even locations - the BBC put out a press release just because they were going back to Lanzarote for Series 8 filming!). Every time a Marvel post-credits teaser reveals the return of an old hero or a hint to a plot device from the comics. Every time a piece of Star Wars media takes a nod back to the original films. That's all our nostalgia in action, hitting us in our fuzzy feelings and making us all hark back to that thing we once liked.
Let's take that last example and take another look at it - Star Wars, or more specifically the upcoming Episode VII (née The Force Awakens, apparently). Almost everything we've heard or seen about Episode VII has been a direct play to our nostalgia - after all, it's the direct sequel to those movies. Han, Luke and Leia are back. Talk of abandoned AT-ATs on location, the Millenium Falcon on set, X-Wings! Stormtroopers! Maybe Tatooine and Hoth! Even the hiring of JJ Abrams was just about how much a fan of the Original Trilogy than it was what a big, accomplished director he is. It was all laser-guided to get us right in our Nostalgia. We didn't question whether we really needed the old cast back, or what was new to these stories, or anything else about the new trilogy. Honestly, we weren't meant to - rejoice! That thing you liked is back, and just like you remembered it.
But at what point does Nostalgia stop being a warm fuzzy feeling, and start being a bit of a limitation on the creativity of these properties? Well, it's sort of hard to contextualise. We love nostalgia so much that it takes a certain level of egregiousness from a piece of media for us to realise that it's not being used as a callback to make us feel good, and more of a cheap shorthand to try and get us to feel something about the drivel being thrown our way otherwise (in fact, we recently had a very good community discussion that offered examples of when such shameless ploys went too far in the bid for Nostalgia fuzzies).
But it's not just the sometimes shamelessness of Nostalgia grabs that can be a detriment to a piece of media. Sometimes it denies us the chance for a series to shake things up or try something new every once in a while - because what the creators want, and what the fans want, is more of that old, same goodness. It can be such an alluring pull that we forget to have something new amongst all the callbacks to times and stories gone by. It can mean creators can be scared to try something out of fear that fans will kick up a storm. Nostalgia can become so powerful that it almost becomes the elephant in the room, the shackles that means a property becomes a cycle of calling back to times gone by, always looking back instead of looking forward. Nostalgia overload was partly why I wrote that Doctor Who post - the thing I loved was slowly becoming a little too callback-y for my liking.
It's hard for us to find that balance though - or even to realise when it's tipped too far in one direction. It's a deeply personal thing, nostalgia, and like I said earlier, we kind of don't realise that we've had too much of it until it's far too late. But that's not to say it's a bad thing whenever it does show up though - done just right, it's the perfect dose of warm fuzzy goodness that does the heart good. As pop culture fans, it's to be expected that we delve into our nostalgia with the things we love.
All my love to long ago, Nostalgia. Just try not to show up too often.
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