Initial Thoughts on Nostalgia

If you are an American, it is likely that you produce nostalgia. Of course, there is the top-down flavor of nostalgia, which runs from television shows to the auctioning off of vintage brand names. The “directors and programmers and gatekeepers” have a solid grip on the production of big nostalgia, with a near-mythical forty-year time delay. While it’s high-profile, it’s not where the action is.

The photography duo Birdhead is known of constantly documenting the banality of their daily lives in Shanghai in the way we all do on Facebook and Instagram, but they do it with older techniques, because they “prefer the tactile appeal of analog film,” and “the current digital cameras look too ugly.” The combination of facebook-esque subject matter and an old-school vibe fit in perfectly with the way we make our own nostalgia. In addition to fitting in with the hipster’s infatuation with things retro, if not straight out old-timey, what we see is the production of nostalgia by each and every person using social media, where every picture, post and link is “a potential document to be consumed by others,” which turns the present into the past, fast.

Birdhead, The Song of Early Spring, 2012

The Brooklyn/Hipster aesthetic does the same thing, but on a much larger scale, especially in food, but also in other goods. The whole thing has become a brand where nostalgia is packaged and sold as fashionable luxury goods. What generation but those born into the digital world could produce such waves of nostalgia for profit and for pleasure? Nostalgia, more so than being a product of honchos in Hollywood, is a deeply social act, performed on a small scale by an entire generation.

Supposedly a bad thing, some researchers are now saying that our constant stream of making the present the past is good for us: it reinforces our connection to others through a common meaning of “the past,” but compared to honest-to-god homesickness (it used to be a disease of which you could die) nostalgia is fairly harmless, if not a great way to make a profit. In a dust-up between designer Jeremy Scott and stylist Ms. Fitz over who could claim the rights to 90’s nostalgia, the point was made that “it can simply belong to whoever most wants to claim it.” The reality is that there’s always plenty to go around because we all make nostalgia. All day, everyday.

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