Is Nostalgia Culture a Sign of Societal Decline?

Nostalgia and remaking of popular trends is indeed a sign of societal decline because it exemplifies laziness and complacency.

Nostalgia shows itself in movies, fashion, and any medium of art. It is meant to reflect a more aesthetically pleasing time in history from which great things emerged and the media praised and popularized new concepts for being unique and creative. While these time periods might have been the pinnacle of their respective artistic movements, the repetition and lack of inventive drive produced by nostalgia culture inhibits and actively hampers the pursuit of a new artistic movement in the modern setting. In short, it creates a vacuum of creative expression by comparing something that would have been classified as “era defining” to something that would either be mediocre and new or something lacking popular backing. Nostalgia art in any form creates a placeholder in a culture that cannot be surmounted because of its deep roots in society and its likeability. This idea of nostalgia culture both stunts and simultaneously regresses a society because it compares the greatest parts of each generation to that which has yet to gain similar praise. This creates gaps in creativity and causes creators to be dependent on nostalgia because it guarantees that their work will be accepted by society and thus turn a profit. 

Like most things, nostalgia art does serve a purpose in society; it is a good medium to explore new ideas, such as time travel movies and docudramas. I believe, however, that nostalgia culture should not permeate so deeply that it influences modern fashion or music, which are cultural expressions characterized by risk. Some may wonder why film does not fall into this category. It is difficult to dissect film as a whole, but it is apt to say that any film classified as a remake or as a resurgence of a popular film franchise serves only to turn profits off of the nostalgia for great original works, such as the Star Wars or Indiana Jones franchises. Currently, many large corporations such as Disney and Illumination Studios have stopped experimenting and creating unique pieces of work, and instead repeat the same concepts over and over because it is easy and a reliable way to guarantee money for the company. There is no medium for passion projects or artistic expression in film because it will not guarantee profit.

Similarly, the same can be said for music. Most popular music is recycled or mimicking an older generation. Pop music of the modern 2010’s and even 2020’s is indicative of a loss of independent voice or iconic features. Whenever a popular artist releases a new song or album, it is played into oblivion to guarantee it will sell, regardless of the song’s merits. This is why popular music is slowly becoming abandoned for other genres such as Alternative or Indie, because this alternative music represents the last strongholds of creative expression. The problem with popular artists such as Taylor Swift adopting these trends in music is that Alternative music no longer becomes as easily accessible for less popular artists, it instead becomes an increasingly insular market that will be exhausted by the mainstream until it is indicative of nothing more than repetitiveness and profiteering. 

In fashion, one of the main characteristics of our generation’s womens fashion is “vintage” or thrifted looks. This reflects the economic recession and money insecurity similar to the 1930’s when it was popular to sew one’s own garments from household items. The main difference is that while that was looked at as shameful, it is now glorified. My grandmother was frequently bullied as a child for wearing clothing that was made from feed sacks or calico. Now, it is considered stylish to repurpose or sew your own clothing. This is due to the favor of originality on a lower scale to the point where it is the job of the individual, not the society to foster something new or aesthetically pleasing to themselves. This explains the loss of customers to many brick and mortar stores as well as the expansion in online enterprises. Most people who go to old standbys such as Macy’s or Kohl’s are feeling themselves more and more ostracized by the lack of creativity and the regurgitation of the same fashion trends. 

All of these things lead me to believe that nostalgia and remaking of popular trends is indeed a sign of societal decline because it exemplifies laziness and complacency. The 1950’s were associated with Americana because Americana was a celebration of individualistic attitudes and principles of working hard to achieve a goal. While it is dangerous when society is no longer reminded of this attitude, there is even more danger when it merely circles around it in hopes that something new will emerge. Risk-taking is a symptom of creativity and should have a viable platform to be expressed. We as a society should be more open to different things because by doing so we allow creation to make America great. 

We should strive to make America great with values that are uniquely ours and principles that allow capitalism to flourish, but we should do so in a way that is unique to the new generation and includes methods that have made Americans advantageous as a world superpower. It is the job of the American society not to become complacent or collapse in on itself because it is the duty of the people within our country to expect exceptionality from their culture. 

Dear Hollywood: Less Shot, More Plot, Please

As the demand for aesthetics increases, the actual content of the film seems to become devalued.

The lights in the room are turned off. Everything is silent, save the mechanic emissions from the screen. My vision fades into darkness just beyond arm’s length. Suddenly, the screen turns on, casting a net of blue and yellow lights around me. At the same time, the theme of one of cinema’s greatest goes off with a proud blast. My excitement lights up like the screen: my anticipation to see this film’s special edition was reaching its climax. 

Now, you may be wondering what film I was watching. Cinema’s greatest? A bold label to describe recent movies. Perhaps Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit? Notable theme song? Harry Potter? Fantastic Beasts? Possibly one of the new versions of Star Trek?

Well, that last one is somewhat close. But then again, not really. The film I was experiencing was Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

I know what you are thinking: no, I was not born before 1997, the year this film’s version was released in theaters. I bought the special edition online a couple of years ago, and watched it through my computer. But turning off the lights in my room really did give it that special effect.

Now you might think I remember this moment fondly because I am a fan. Although this is true, there is another reason: the experience of re-watching this movie in my room is better than any experience I had watching a film within the past decade. 

Now, I like going to the theaters. The food is usually good, though expensive, the company of friends is a treat, and the ability to watch a film on a 60 foot wide screen is always nice. 

The problem hasn’t been the theatergoing experience, but the trend of films themselves.

The emergence of cinematic special effects has been one of pop culture’s most significant moments. Modern special effects, namely CGI, allowed for greater immersion into the screen, distancing film from theater and raising our standards for suspension of disbelief. But the advancement of special effects within cinema would always be a slippery slope. As the demand for aesthetics increases, the actual content of the film seems to become devalued. 

The fundamental role of a film is the ability to tell a visual story. “Story” is the key word in this phrase. Barring aesthetics, the contemporary film seems to have lost this goal.

Why do I want to watch an old Star Wars movie instead of the newest blockbusters? I’m certainly not the only one. The Empire Strikes Back hearkens to an age when the best of special effects consisted of well-crafted costumes, make-up and green screens.

I will concede that compared to modern films, The Empire Strikes Back definitely lacks in the aesthetic department. However, the look of the movie is not why I fell in love with the original Star Wars films. I enjoyed those movies because they told an entertaining, compelling and profound story.

The original trilogy was basically modeled after a Shakespeare play. From the inevitability of destiny and fate (Luke’s path), the presence of family tragedies (Luke and Darth Vader), and the conflict between emotion and reason (the balance of the force), Shakespearean themes are heavily present throughout each film. Even the dialogue, embedded with subtle profoundness and filled with impassioned tones, alludes to the dramatic and compelling scripts of Shakespearean literature. The presence of Shakespeare in Star Wars shows how important storytelling was in its creation.

Unfortunately, it seems like each new movie values story less and less.

Take for example James Cameron’s blockbuster, Avatar. For a long time, this film was the highest grossing movie in the world. You would think that this success was due to exceptional story-telling and visual content. Nope, just the latter. Besides decent acting, the plot was unoriginal, using the “foreign savior” trope but in space. Yet critics paid no attention to the story of the film, instead praising the revolutionary use of CGI. In other words, the film’s aesthetics inflated the positive reviews.

Our culture only seems to care about the artistic side of film, focusing on uniquely aesthetic ways to visually tell a story rather than the actual story itself. Because of this, films nowadays suffer from bland dialogue, unoriginal plots, stagnant character progression, and insincere themes.

But the direction of the film industry is only in response to society’s demands. If there really is a decline in quality, it may be our fault, as we seem to prioritize aesthetics over substance. The only way to improve this trend is for us to recognize the ultimate purpose of movies: quality story-telling through visual art.