Now-stalgia: Faculty Talk Nostalgia Trends
March 22, 2021
SHSU Media Contact: Hannah Haney
With the outbreak of COVID-19, trying to plan for the future has been a challenge for many. Suddenly, time came to a halt and any expectations for tomorrow went by the wayside. For this reason, the resurgence of nostalgia in our popular culture became a coping mechanism as individuals found ways to weave nostalgia into games, fashion, marketing and all-over social media. Today@Sam spoke with Sam Houston State University faculty on why we are seeing this sudden boom in nostalgic content.
Why might the pandemic fuel a new cycle of nostalgia?
Assistant professor of Media and Culture Grant Wiedenfeld contends that nostalgia is by definition, an old trend.
“More than anything, the pandemic has isolated us from the living communities we spend time with. The memory of more vibrant times has shone strongly, especially for artists who seek inspiration. With contemporary events cancelled, they had to turn to older movies, games, music, and books for inspiration,” Wiedenfeld said. “If there's nothing happening in the present, there's always lots happening in the world of the past!”
The modern definition of nostalgia is “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.” But its history is much more complex.
“Nostalgia, which historians once largely ignored, is now a hot topic of historical research. This is largely because of a growing trend toward the history of emotions, which started with base emotions, like anger and love, and has come to engage with more difficult to pin down emotions, like nostalgia,” Zachary Doleshal clinical assistant professor of History said. “We can see just how slippery nostalgia is by the varied definitions that exist of the term (which has gone from a mental illness from the 17th to the 19th centuries to one that connotes a warm and fuzzy feeling in the present). I like to think of it as a longing for an imagined past that we have filled with positive feelings.”
Katharine Hubbard assistant professor of Mass Communication agrees with Doleshal’s definition. She believes when people look back on the past, they tend to focus only on the good memories – as if they were wearing rose-tinted glasses.
“Nostalgia works because people tend to filter out the bad stuff. It’s easy to think things were better in the past, but we are living in the safest and most prosperous time that has happened in history to-date. Things are getting better all the time. Less people dying from war, homicide, and poverty than ever before in history, and overall life expectancy has increased across the globe. The most recent BLM movement has shown that our tolerance for violence in America has also decreased. There is still poverty, racism, sexism, homicides, domestic terrorism, and other atrocities happening right here in the US, but overall, we are still safer than ever before—not that it’s easy to tell if you read the news headlines on a regular basis.”
Researchers usually distinguish between ‘personal’ and ‘historical’ nostalgia; the former tends to be studied by social psychologists, while the latter tends to be studied in marketing.
“Nostalgia is nothing new for marketing and advertising. It’s an emotion, and good advertising should make people feel positive,” Hubbard said. “Nostalgia can make people feel positive emotions about ‘the way it was’ (historical nostalgia) or ‘the way I was’ (personal nostalgia). Studies have shown that nostalgia can positively effect consumers attitudes and purchases intentions.”
Many companies have adopted nostalgia as a marketing tool by bringing back a popular product or service or by reviving an old successful ad campaign. Sam Houston State University’s Department of Athletics mirrored this same trend last spring, when they even unveiled a new logo design with an updated ‘Walking Sammy’ mascot logo that resembles a throwback from the 1950’s.
“One of my earliest memories of SHSU is ‘Walking Sammy.’ Bringing him back in a new and modern way has been one of the most exciting aspects of this project. He’s got a little bit of attitude now, battle tested, ready to fight,” said Russell Martinez, associate athletic director for External Relations. “As soon as the logo was released, we heard excitement from alumni about seeing a past era come back to life. We want to introduce ‘Walking Sammy’ to a new generation because this brand belongs not only to the university, but also our fans and the community, and we want them to be proud of it as well.”
According to Tiffany Russell, assistant professor of Clinical Psychology, these yearnings for the past are normal and are relatively healthy, comforting behaviors, especially during a pandemic.
“Put simply, nostalgia is comforting. When life is hard, painful, scary, or uncomfortably different, remembering the “good old days” makes you feel better. By nature, humans usually want life to be predictable and safe. For many people, our childhood and teen years were exactly that, mainly because our caregivers provided that safety and shelter for us,” Russell said. “All generations go through this as they progress through life transitions.”
Is there such a thing as too much nostalgia?
Russell warns that staying trapped in nostalgia can be related to depression. At some point, we must come back to today. While Doleshal believes that reflecting on the past offers a welcome retreat for our modern minds.
“In 2013, psychologists in England found that nostalgia alleviates feelings of boredom, stress, and negativity,” Doleshal said. “Given our past year, that seems exactly what the doctor ordered.”
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