Nostalgia is an emotive term. One may feel nostalgic, something can evoke nostalgia. The word itself sounds medical; its etymology is Greek, a compound for ‘home coming’ and ‘ache’. This origin evokes the physicality of the term. Nostalgia has place and location. Nostalgia is sited in a memorable and recent past.
I am coming to the end of a three-year, undergraduate degree. My peer group are flinging the term ‘nostalgia’ about in reckless abandon. They’re nostalgic about being single, they’re nostalgic about loud and long nights, they’re nostalgic about anything that could pass as a formative experience, educational or otherwise. Beyond this, they’re nostalgic in the true spirit of the term, nostalgic for their childhoods. This is repeatedly evidenced by various fancy dress events, Facebook posts about cartoons and 32bit video games. It seems that there’s a need to be nostalgic. Nostalgia is desirable and affordable.
I can only be presumptuous enough to speak on behalf of my own generation, so I will note that since adolescence, I have lived within (what I am terming as) a ‘culture of nostalgia’. Childhood, and particularly the 90s have been phrased to me as something of a promised land, where culture was at a glorious peak.
There is some sense to this. As was the case for most of the western world, the 90s in Britain was (for the most part) a time of economic prosperity. For the first time in modern history, Europe was at (a relative) peace. Charity became a matter of public importance. The culture industry was booming. From 1997, New Labour funded cultural regeneration projects across the country for a post-industrial age. Service industries rose along with the computer. The Blair government promised ‘education, education, education.’ We were told that we could be anything we wanted to be. As Noah Cicero put it, the worst thing that happened in the 90s was when Bill Clinton got a blowjob.
It is no coincidence that our nostalgia is focused on a period of hyper-rapid technological development and economic promise. The 90s are something of a diametric opposite to the reality of my graduation. I am entering a working climate where I would be lucky to receive any level of employment. The 90s promised that boom and bust had been stopped. We bust anyway. Nostalgia presents itself as the purest and most socially approved form of escapism.
Now, the most visible television personalities on the BBC and ITV have graduated from their roles as 90s children’s television presenters.
Musicians are praised for their ability to evoke nostalgia.
Movies only two decades old are being remastered in 3D and branded as vehicles of nostalgia.
Election campaigns promise a cocktail of ‘change’ along with ‘a return to traditional values’.
This phenomenon of 90s related nostalgia is made available, prevalent and insistent because of the technological revolution. During the 90s, cameras and video became affordable. Culture was retained like never before. Much 90s culture is now available through the internet. Youtube offers an unrivaled form of dissemination for nostalgia. In many ways, the internet is the home of my generation and nostalgia is our ‘home coming’.
I find myself buying in to the culture of nostalgia with a grim self-awareness. I find myself buying in because there’s no alternative. I find myself buying in because Pokemon might well still rule. I find myself buying in because in a digital age, the 90s might end up being the only decade I ever really got a chance to truly experience in any traditional sense.