Ah, nostalgia. The year was 1999. I was sixteen years old when The Matrix was originally released. And it blew a hole through my acne riddled, tiny, man-baby face. The whole world was a simulation! Kung-Fu! Bullet time! Woah.
So naturally, I did what any self-respecting, impressionable teen would do after watching it. I went out and bought myself a long black trench coat. Every time I wore that coat I felt rebellious and powerful; that I could dodge bullets and leap across buildings, with the tail end flapping in the wind. At some point during those years I hung the coat up and never wore it again; such is life. You can imagine my euphoria, then, when I heard that my father was clearing out some old rubbish from the family home and came across a ‘long, mafioso-looking shredded snakeskin.’ (his words, not mine.)
I told him to hold onto to it.
‘You sure?’ he asked, uncertain. The next time my sister and I visited, I excitedly unpacked the box and held the coat aloft like some talisman of wonder and awe.
‘You wore that?’ My sister said, looking on in embarrassed disbelief. As I slipped it on, I guessed I’d feel the same way I did all those years ago. That I would hear ‘Spybreak!’ by the propeller heads and feel like I was in the lobby scene of The Matrix, that I could cartwheel and flip as chunks of pillar blasted away around me. Unfortunately, I overlooked how the same coat would feel on me 20 years later and 30 pounds heavier. Needless to say, the coat was tight, it was uncomfortable and ugly, and more importantly made me look like I had suffered some sort of breakdown and was about to go ‘full postal.’
Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing – it can be fraudulent and sympathetic at the same time, luring you into its web of deceit with yesteryear memories of ‘The Good ‘Ol Days.’ You remember those, right? The good. Old. Days. When everything seemed a little less complicated and happier. When powerful emotions could be triggered by anything from chomping down on a Curly Wurly to hearing the opening theme tune to Thundercats.
Nostalgia is a booming business right now. You can’t help but crane your neck in one direction without seeing a movie billboard for a beloved franchise film on its third or fourth installment, or a reimagining or reboot of said franchise. In 2020 alone, we’re going to be treated to Bad Boys For Life, Bill and Ted Face The Music, Fast and Furious 9, Bond 25, GhostBusters: Afterlife and Top Gun: Maverick, to name just a few.
So what is it about certain films from yesteryear that pander to our collective nostalgia to help us escape from our everyday humdrum lives? Has the entertainment industry ramped up its efforts to plunder our nostalgia for their financial gain for too long? It certainly seems like they’re starting to scrape at the very bottom of the barrel in order to keep our collective bums in their seats.
Throwbacks are all the rage these days. Eighties nostalgia has seeped into pop culture over the past few years, arguably stemming from the synthesized Duffer Brother’s Stranger Things. And it’s snowballed from there, rolling down the Hollywood hills like some type of over-inflated, Cthulhu-like flesh monster that absorbs everything in its path. Modern logic dictates that what was once popular and beloved must be so again. In 2017, there had been thirty-four TV spin offs of old franchises – new versions of Twin Peaks, Dynasty and Heathers. Of the top grossing movies for 2016, only two were new properties. Franchises that are now forty years old appeal to the nostalgic memories of those aged thirty-five to fifty-five, which is the demographic where earnings and spending power begin to peak.
“Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing – it can be fraudulent and sympathetic at the same time, luring you into its web of deceit with yesteryear memories of ‘The Good ‘Ol Days.’”
In every passing year, nostalgia gets more prevalent both in real life and online, and it’s with the internet that we engage frivolously in conversation with friends about cartoons or movies about our childhoods. And don’t forget about the podcasts! It seems that if during the 90’s the most ‘mid-life crisis-y’ thing to do would be to form a band with old friends – then in this day and age the band has been ditched to the side in order to set up a podcast channel.
Websites started popping up selling t-shirts of 1980’s cartoons: Thundercats, The Goonies, She-Ra, Visionaries and He-man and the Masters of the Universe, to name a few. And we devoured these with relish, nodding our heads like benevolent puppies because, as a consumer, we’re statistically much more likely to pay for the choice that is familiar and, moreover, gratifying to us. But the 80’s are done now – and Hollywood is catching on. It seems like an overdue 90’s revival is showing signs of being just around the corner, so get ready to go through the cycle all over again. It wouldn’t surprise me if The Fresh Prince of Bel Air got a gritty, hardcore resurrection (there’s already been a fan-made version not dissimilar to this setting) or if Buffy picked up her stakes to go another round with the vampires of Sunnydale. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is already into it’s third season, Twin Peaks and The X-Files also had a revival, so it won’t be long until some other classic TV shows get the reboot treatment, too.
And look, I can see why the numbers for reboots/reimagining and sequels are so prevalent In Hollywood. Humans are predictable creatures with predictable routines. I’m sorry, my special little snowflakes, but let’s face facts: we’re all as boring as my next bowel movement. We mostly choose the safe bet over a risky unknown. Let’s say you’re chilling at home with your beau. You’ve spent the last twenty minutes skipping through Netflix because you JUST CAN’T DECIDE WHAT TO WATCH. It’s an empirical crisis we’ve all been subjected to before. There’s the new TV show about a family that have moved into the cursed house hiding secrets, but it’s 18 episodes long and will eat up your whole week. It’s a commitment. And there’s the fact that you may get bored halfway through it.
Or…there’s that film you’ve seen thousands of times before but you’ll have it on in the background and it’ll be over in a couple of hours. While both are appealing, you’re statistically much more likely to opt for the choice that is familiar and gratifying to you. Or, in this case, the couple that don’t want to argue and go with the recognizable. This model is essentially turned into a large-scale trend we commonly find in film and TV today. Money talks, and Bullsh…well, you know the line. Investors are going to do their utmost to minimize losses with their monies whilst reproducing already-successful films with new gimmicks or trends, maximizing their rewards. If you take an already well-established franchise (let’s say Fast and Furious) consumers are much more likely going to pay and see what crazy shenanigans Dominic Toretto and gang are up to this time…
But nostalgia has a dark side. You can feel it, can’t you? Yes…it’s stronger now…your feeble skills are no match for the power of nostalgia. I’ve seen you scrolling through the Memories section of Facebook. Even if you don’t try to look, Facebook serves you nostalgia on your Timeline when you log in all the time. Didn’t want to be reminded of that former girlfriend that has gone off to marry your best friend? Too bad. That Matrix coat you thought looked awesome years ago when you were a teenager? Here’s a picture to show you the inadequacy of your fashion sense. There seems to be a bitter aftertaste with certain nostalgic themes, and I wonder if this is down to the fact that the audience are now starting to cop on to the fact that Hollywood are trying to ram down certain ‘political’ statements in their films, or whether we’re just looking for something else…something more original to focus our attention on. I mean, it sure seems like a whole lot of childhoods are being “ruined” lately. The rise of this trend continues with the tradition of “my childhood is better than yours,” as done by every previous generation to the next one. I look back at the A-Team with rose-tinted glasses, but when I watch an episode now it seems somehow a little…well…crap. My friends and I would wax lyrical about new cartoons and new action movies with the claim that our stuff was the best. Here comes the theme for Thundercats again…
Speaking of Thundercats, Cartoon Network has announced a new reboot called ThunderCats Roar, much to the chagrin of original fans of the TV show. Apparently, the design and tone of the animation struck people as far too kid-friendly and immature as compared to the original. In fact, they were furious to the new kid-lite aesthetic. Livid. Hashtags were created (#thundercatsno) boycotts and petitions were mentioned. The world as we knew it, was coming to an end.
I jest, but unfortunately, we see a lot of these kinds of hyperbolic reactions in fan culture all the time. In a deranged way, politics that were subtly shoehorned into films are now taking centre stage and damaging the overall narrative of a film – just look at the recent furore over Birds Of Prey that’s erupted online recently. Often though, it has to do with fans having an inappropriate sense of ownership over that which they love, along with an insidious and noxious outrage to all those who wish to damage that sacred connection. But the reactions to ThunderCats Roar speak to a deeper issue within the psychology of certain fandoms, one that we unleash when there are perceived changes to the “tone” of a group’s beloved property. Like a child’s perspective of a movie (and, in general, life), the child will see things differently from the adult. Adults now may bemoan the fact that ‘children don’t have the type of cartoons and films I did as I grew up,’ and that’s true – but the question is whether it’s for the betterment of our generation now or not. You just have to look at programs like Adventure Time and Steven Universe that make use of complex metaphors and display a level of thoughtfulness you don’t see in many other places on television. And they’re helpful messages, too. It teaches kids growing up about all kinds of facets of life – puberty, peer pressure and racism, to name just a few.
“[…] Has the entertainment industry ramped up its efforts to plunder our nostalgia for their financial gain for too long?”
But if there’s a chance, even the slightest modicum of one, that yet another beloved TV cartoon show from when I grew up will be rebooted, will I watch it? Of course I will. Because the allure of nostalgia is far too strong, and my will is far too weak. I’ll eat it up. I’ll dance in its entrails. Until there’s nothing left but pulp and pulverized bones.
And some of us have never really stopped doing just that. And that’s really what Hollywood bank on. This conclusion regarding nostalgia can be summed up by looking at the root of the word itself. Nostalgia comes from the Greek words noros, which means return, and algos, which means suffering.
The literal meaning of nostalgia is the return to suffering.
But let’s not end on a macabre note, shall we? Good memories, happy memories, are things to be cherished. They can provide comfort and relief in times of hardship. It may be easy to get lost in the myriad labyrinth of our pasts, and never think about the next steps, but it’s also glorious to reminisce with old pals about things that make us forget about the troubles, even if it’s just for a little while. Who wouldn’t want to think back to a time where responsibilities weren’t as demanding as they are now? Just remember not to get lost in that labyrinth, dear reader.
All month long we’re talking about the terrors of time, so make sure to follow along with us on our Twitter, in the official NOFS Subreddit, and in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook! Creepy reading!