In recent times, there has been an increase of nostalgic themed movies, fashion, TV shows and music. We are being force fed nostalgia. This nostalgia-mania has polarized people; there are people who lavish it and there are people who are fatigued by this.

Nostalgia is defined as “a sentimentality for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations. Nostalgia is usually triggered by something reminding an individual of an experience from the past.” In simple terms, nostalgia is thought of as the memory of happiness and it is associated with happy memories from the past.

This is an effective method of engaging with the consumers, especially during these hard times that we are all experiencing. We are in the middle of a pandemic, recession and continuous turmoil. The feeling of nostalgia makes people forget about the chaos in the world and teleports them back to their childhood. For most, this was a time when people felt the safest, freest and when they were devoid of adulting issues. Kate Christensen stated that "Nostalgia is a powerful drug". These nostalgic feelings remind us of a bygone time when we were drunk with endless dreams of the future, before we were trapped in an endless circle of our humdrum lives.

In the context of the media, these nostalgic images are increasingly prevalent, as shows such as "Friends", "Gilmore Girls" and "Full House" make a resurgence. Remakes of Disney movies or continuations of movie series that ended years ago, such as The Matrix, are fueling nostalgia-driven entertainment. The insatiable appetite for nostalgia by the consumer's delight or annoyance is illustrated by the increasing rates of sequels, reboots and samples of old TV shows, movies and fashion. There has been a steady rise in sequels and remakes since 1993, with their number multiplying by 700 percent over 25 years.

Nostalgia has a monetary element attached to it; movie studios do not want to gamble with their money. When they recreate a winning formula they already know that they will make a box office hit. One school of thought suggests that the remake genre is so pervasive because for the production companies, actors and brands involved in the films, it's a safe bet. The media industry is a business which does not operate to artistically pique people’s minds; this may be a prosperous by-product.

Simply put, nostalgia can be argued as good financial logic. This argument is reinforced by the fact that, in September 2019, only a single movie in the top 10 grossing movies can be classified as “original”: Elton John’s biopic Rocketman. Creativity is an expensive gamble which movie houses are not willing to partake in.

Rocketman movie poster. Image courtesy of IMDB

This feeling is commodified. Studio executives know that when we watch these productions, we will be magically transported down memory lane to the magical place/time that brings us joy. These production houses are selling fleeting illusive feelings that we all wish we could preserve forever.

The nostalgia marketing utilized to catapult these shows' success also sells memories that we might not have experienced ourselves, but we wistfully wish that these times were better than what we are currently experiencing. They are selling a feeling that may or may not have existed or we may not have personally experienced. This can be witnessed with the rise of the 90s nostalgia fashion aesthetics amongst GenZ’s, who had not yet been born in the 1990s but are nostalgic about the era.

90s nostalgia collage. Image courtesy of Angus Crutcher.

Nostalgia has several benefits besides making studios obscene amounts of money. It can expose younger generations to stars that they did not know. Stars who may have faded into obscurity or whose stardom does not shine as bright as before, may benefit from people going down memory lane. This remarkable phenomenon is witnessed with the resurgence of Kate Bush's 80s classic “Running Up That Hill”, which has culminated in the song going to number one in the UK singles chart. Originally released in 1985, the song has enjoyed a new lease of life after being featured in the Netflix sci-fi show “Stranger Things”.

There are advantages linked to nostalgia, and there are positive byproducts that are associated with the concept, such as the higher demand of creative jobs—designers, makeup artists, set builders—as well as the revival of old stars' careers which align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of Decent Work and Economic Growth.

However, there is a drawback to nostalgia; it can lead to people being stuck in the past and not being innovative. There is also the issue that nostalgia has killed the creativity of the media. The studios are not gambling on new projects lately, because they know that reboots and sequels are more likely to make guaranteed money.

Another drawback of nostalgia is that it oversimplifies periods of times and glosses over them. People want to pick and choose what they want from certain eras and forget the atrocities, disparities and inequalities that took place during those epochs. People want the fashion and music of the 1960s but do not want the civil rights and racism that occurred during that era.

Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Image courtesy of IMDB.

Another disadvantage of these remakes is that some of these stories were created in a different climate, before the “woke movement”, so these stories come off as tone deaf. Many films that were once considered instant classics by critics or achieved major success at the box office have not withstood the test of time, from instances of overt sexism to racist costume and makeup choices.

Movies that have aged terribly include Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Forrest Gump, American Beauty, etc. These movies can be criticized, but, it should be taken into account that they were made in a different time and we cannot judge movies with 2022 lenses. The media has created a safe space for every marginalized group to challenge the status quo, which has resulted in the media having to take into account various angles of a movie so as not to offend any group. They may fail at first but it is a learning curve for everyone in society.

In the South African context, Leon Schuster has had a very problematic cinema history. Schuster is a very successful and problematic South African comedic movie creator, who reached his peak in the 1990s and early 2000s. His films raked in millions at the South African box office at the time of their individual releases—even surpassing Hollywood hits like Titanic and Harry Potter. His main type of comedy was to use derogatory stereotypes attached to Black people and exploit them for a few laughs. He was heavily reliant on blackface, which in the 1990s he should have known better. Excusing him for his horrendous actions by stating that he is a product of his time should not exonerate him.  

As a result of the international Black Lives Matter movement, people boycotted his movies and asked for them to be removed from streaming sites. On 19 June 2020, South African streaming service Showmax removed over six of Schuster's films, citing his content as being "racially insensitive". This was a victory for Black people, however, Mr Bones 3, a sequel of his successful movies was released in 2022. This is a regression and a slap in the face of many who have complained about his blatant exploitation of Black people as well as their culture.

The above mentioned information is meant to illustrate that not all things that happened in the past are good. Nostalgia is a bittersweet drug which should be consumed cautiously. Additionally, we should look at situations within their full context. History will surely judge all of us very harshly, and that is how we evolve. As people, we should be continuously evolving into our best version which aligns with the ethos of United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of Partnership for the Goals.

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