Escapism Through Nostalgia

Given our many shared burdens in these challenging times, there is a rising propensity for diversion. And while entertainment can transport our worried minds, some might feel that indulging any distraction will invoke a touch of guilt. This is unfortunate, because I feel that intensifying responsibilities require equally powerful recreation. I believe that nostalgia might be a fitting coping mechanism for such purposes—in proper quantities.

Nostalgia is commonly regarded as a negative force in entertainment, particularly in the film and television landscapes. Countless remakes aside, blatant nostalgia has been steeped in the eighties, and continues to climb towards even more recent years. And yet, many viewers can distinguish outright manipulation from authentic love letters. Particularly the target demographic—those who are actually familiar with the nostalgic references at hand. So, nostalgia has often garnered a lesser reputation as something exploitative. 

Further, some might feel that nostalgia is dangerously safe, allowing us to ignore current issues. Busy, motivated people can feel guilty when they aren’t perpetually exercising defensive driving on the road of life. However, nostalgia rarely consumes us altogether, and can be measured out in healthy doses like any other form of escapism. Distractions all share the same drawbacks and rewards alike, and they are manageable. Chances are, they were already neatly tucked into our routines before the pandemic.

The greatest distinction is that nostalgia does not merely transport us to other worlds and moods, but also through time. Wandering down memory lane can be especially powerful during these days of such widespread isolation.

Revisiting just one playlist of music from your childhood can feel like a treasure hunt, unearthing long forgotten rhythms and voices. The sense of discovery itself is considerably thrilling, since it will surprise you just how many tunes were safely stored away. Personally, I have also found a number of hits that I genuinely couldn’t stand during my actual childhood, but now appreciate for memory recall or simple amusement. Note that a designated playlist will help you manage your time, ensuring beforehand that you won’t over-extend your stay.

Nostalgia is such a powerful diversion, it can function properly even when you are alone or isolated, making it a perfect fit for current demands. In fact, sometimes it can be even more enjoyable to revisit private treats without company, keeping favorite films and songs intact from negative experiences. These selections can vary greatly, but with abundant streaming services, the likelihood of availability is high.

Another outlet may include gaming, including everything from the tabletop to the computer. So many of them are single-player already, allowing some delight even in solitude. Revisiting old games can only be fun, no matter how challenging they might have been. Because it won’t matter if you play well, or can’t quite keep up these days. That particular world of loveable music and characters will very likely feel immersive enough, thanks to its cozy familiarity. Hollywood has recognized this too, investing deeply into Detective Pikachu and Sonic the Hedgehog.

Role-playing games will be particularly ideal. They are often especially absorbing, and allow players to frequently save their game, which again equips you with time management. For my fellow millennials, a common contender will likely be of the Pokémon variety, and there’s no shame in that whatsoever. Still, from arcade classics to the lonely consoles that lay dormant in your closet, all gaming is a totally natural and manageable way to enjoy nostalgia.

Reaching into childhood itself, through any avenue, will recall a time of many ubiquitous truths. For example, friendships could be born of mere proximity, back then. Such things emphasize our unity. Further, rediscovering our inner child can even generate some sympathy for ourselves, as times grow more rigorous. And sharing nostalgia together, as family units or friends, can help heal strained relationships. Watch parties alone, as popularized on YouTube, can also defeat distance and time zones.

We should treat our mental diet as we do our bodies—with thoughtful balance. Snacks can have their place, too. Nostalgia doesn’t have to make us feel lazy or guilty, and it isn’t just some corporate tool. Fun memories can be approached properly. They can help remind us who we truly are, by highlighting the best that we can be, and the best that life can be.

~by: Anthony Fertino

Anthony is a frequent contributor to both The Gamer and Screen Rant, and the author of two novels. His film analysis and suggestions are part of our regular column, “Making The Day,” here on This American Quarantine.

The Science Of Nostalgia

According to Dr. Clay Routledge, Social Psychologist and Associate Professor of Psychology at North Dakota State University,  nostalgia “increases positive mood, self-esteem, feelings of social connectedness, optimism about the future, and perceptions of meaning in life. Furthermore, nostalgia motivates people to focus on cultivating meaningful relationships and pursue important life goals. In addition, as people get older, nostalgia makes them feel youthful and energetic. Nostalgia also reduces existential fears about death.”

Nostalgic activities, such as reminiscing, looking at old photographs and scrapbooks, etc, can be both a wonderful for of “escapism,” while also connecting us to the past in a positive manner. Studies have shown this to be especially effective with older citizens.

Psych Central has a good article here.

And, Psychology Today has a particularly poignant article on nostalgia as it directly relates to our coping during the pandemic here.

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