My last post discussed nostalgia, and the recurring joy it can foster. Interestingly, over the past few months I have been considering a different aspect to nostalgia. One that I am becoming ever more aware of when browsing social and digital media. Namely, how our feelings of the past are blinded by the passing of time and how nostalgia can cause bitterness in the here and now.
Perhaps my own interpretation of the word nostalgia is to blame. It is often defined as an excessive yearning to return to the past, with a melancholy undertone. I instead have always personally considered it a recollection of key times or events that brought about a heightened sense of joy or pleasure. This, combined with a willingness to try to recreate or remember those times. Nostalgia to me is being thankful for those times, rather than being disappointed that the now is not as good.
The key trigger for me to consider this in greater depth was the recent release of the Obi Wan series. My friendship group, as could be expected, includes a significant number of avid Star Wars fans. The discourse that followed the release of this show surprised me. Whilst the debate about whether new Star Wars movies are any good has been going for many years, this show appeared to me to be a turning point in how profoundly people who did not like it felt the need to criticise the show.
I believe criticism is a key part of all media forms, and highly important. But what surprised me is that the criticism had at times moved away from personal opinion on content, to being critical of people who decide they liked the content. The discussions I have witnessed on Obi Wan have made me acutely aware of how much negativity now permeates all aspects of nerd culture. Whether it is the trading card, wargaming or board game communities. Or the comic book, manga or pop culture fandom. Forums and social media posts are now more frequently about what is wrong with the current state of these things, or full of judgement and complaints. It can at times feel like saying that you like something will lead to vilification or cause you to duck, for fear of flying tomatoes!
It does at times appear that we have reached a point where I rarely see content discussing the positives of something. Such content tends to generate heated and sometimes unpleasant debate. I recall as a child that to talk about your favourite hobbies amongst like minded kids was a true joy. Back then, being a nerd wasn’t cool, it made you a target for bullying! We banded together and took comfort that we had superheroes, dungeons and dragons and other games to enjoy. Today, most of these things have become highly popularised and no longer hold much, if any, stigma. I am unsure if this has had an influence into why a larger degree of negativity has appeared. But I find it odd that so many of those who would have been labelled nerds as children have become so judgmental of others who attempt to show their enjoyment of pop culture.
I do feel that nostalgia has had an impact. In particular, a belief that the things we loved as kids were better then, than they are now. Whilst this may be factual for some things, the dark side of nostalgia is that the yearning we have to return to the past is blurred by too many factors. In nerd culture specifically I believe a strong factor is that as children we had very limited content to consume. Therefore we were forgiving of flaws. As well as this, I do believe that children will actively focus on the things that they like when watching or reading something. Small problems will be less likely to bother them and are washed out by the moments of joy whilst watching their heroes destroy the Death Star. What this ultimately leads to is those strong feelings of nostalgia when we are adults, which focus on the good aspects and forget the bad. With these thoughts, anything new will always struggle to compete.
This nostalgia will make it very difficult for modern things to live up to the expectations we have built from childhood. Obi wan may just be a great example of this because it takes such a beloved character and attempts to create a new story for him. Perhaps the nostalgia for this character is so overwhelming in some that seeing a story not to their liking creates a sense of outrage. Thinking about this, I do understand why the show has been so divisive, and led to such strong feelings. But I do think that we might all benefit from remembering that whilst the Dark Side of nostalgia might ruin modern content for some of us, we should never stop encouraging others to show how much they like something. This is what all cultures should strive for.
Let’s be more willing to agree to disagree. Rather than breeding discontent, let’s pivot and talk about the things that we love. Nostalgia can be a tricky thing. Maybe we all need to be a bit more aware of how it influences our opinions.