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Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be


A typical symbol of nostalgia. Who is over 30 can remember the effort to record the best songs waiting for the radio to air them

Nostalgia is a feeling relatively “recent”, as it was coined by the Swiss medicine student Johannes Hofer during XVII century, as a fusion of the Greek words νόστος (nostos= comeback) and άλγος (algos= pain). It was first to indicate the state of pain suffered by the soldiers when they were far from their homeland.

Although nostalgia evokes sadness because of places, people or activities that won’t return – at least not that soon – this sensation has a positive significance. The psychologist Constantine Sedikides of the University of Southampton asserts that reminiscing the good old days is an antidote to depression and boredom and pushes toward sociability and empathy. Furthermore, the warmth felt isn’t just metaphorical: it seems that remembering precious memories actually increases the body temperature with benefits for the mood. According the American psychologist Clay Routledge, professor at the University of North Dakota, nostalgic people think less about death.

The fact is that this idyllic past never existed, not in the proportions we remind it. Everything was better: music, movies, books, food, people. There wasn’t violence, rapes, drugs, today’s alienation. Well, not really. Maybe we were just younger.

Violence always existed. They might be just myths, but if Cain killed Abel and Romulus killed Remus, means that even brothers didn’t hesitate to murder each other. On the contrary, we give more value to life nowadays than hundreds or thousands years ago, paying more attention to the environment and the animals. In these times we just have more media coverage and awareness, let’s think about domestic violence. Only few decades ago wasn’t even reported and remained close among the house walls.

The tendency to get wasted always existed. Otherwise the ancient populations wouldn’t have celebrated gods like Bacchus and performed orgiastic parties. And most drugs were legal until the Twenties of XX century, even opium, cocaine and heroin. Amphetamine was created during World War II and the Sixties had a boom in the consume of acids, until cocaine and heroin came back in the Eighties.

Food was surely more genuine in a non specified past, but also less hygienic. Now we can say we have more concern on germs and pathogenic agents. The problem is how to feed much more people at an affordable cost. And even the alienation induced by technology replaced others. At the bus stop people didn’t have a mobile phone or headphones, but was isolated from the rest by the newspaper(as the picture suggests). Because we must admit that sometimes is nice to take a break from the surrounding world.

Technology is alienating, sure. But maybe we look for alienation, sometimes

Cinema and music are more subjective topics. Maybe we prefer something we related to our experiences, maybe there’s a generational gap. It’s also true that the production of movies and albums increased exponentially, with, statistically, more masterpieces and more garbage. Plus, we don’t remember all the creations which failed in the past, because our brain acts like a filter, deleting useless and unpleasant memories.

It’s a common mechanism, well-known in the scientific community with the name of Fading Affect Bias (Fab). In a nutshell, we tend to make negative recollections fade away. This unconscious manipulation makes nostalgia so popular, even for never lived epochs. For example, the Thirties are more alive than ever, thanks to a vintage trend which resurrected dresses, interior design, cocktails, mustaches, music and much more. This revival is only about good aspects, otherwise we should remember that in that age women, homosexuals or black people had basically no right and nice guys like Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin were in charge.

2Pac hologram in a concert. Nostalgia is so strong that we settle for a surrugate

The market, like it was an abstract identity, understood this desire for past and exploited it for advertising. Become young again, or child, live old emotions, if you have fantastic memories you can be optimistic about the future! As the consultant in marketing and communication Marianna Farese says, just naming time increases the possibility of a sale than 80%.

Many brands opted for an old-fashioned packaging. Movies like Back to the future has been restored, Ghostbusters has now a female version, Star Wars is going on and on. There are concerts with 2Pac or Whitney Houston holograms, at least the drummer of Queen refused to perform next to a virtual Freddie Mercury. Not only big companies, also the small barber shop it’s using this tendency for its own profit. Because nostalgia sells. Even if, as the author, writer and actor Will Rogers said, “things ain’t what they used to be and probably never was”.


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