Nostalgia, the ultimate moneymaker

Words by Paul Waxman
Art by Liam Grant

When I’m scrolling through my Facebook feed only to find yet another timeless Disney film is being remade, there’s a feeling in the pit of my being that says this change, well, this adaptation, has somehow “ruined my childhood.”

This is a human reaction and is a reaction I think many of us feel on a daily basis. We see the warm and welcoming drawn colours of our favourite classics replaced with computer-generated figures brooding in murky and colourless frames. Although that feeling in my stomach is warranted, this is a problem I have with nostalgic remakes or adaptations. When it comes to adaptation, or sequelisation, or prequelisation, at the end of the day the original will still exist, perhaps not in its lonesome context, but remains in its authentic glory.

Nostalgia is ripe and, sometimes, inescapable in 2018. All of our favourite Disney classics like Dumbo, The Lion King and even Winnie the Pooh are being remade. Playstation powerhouses Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon have a fresh coat of paint, and surprise hit Lost In Space is the second reboot of an old 1960s sci-fi spectacular. It’s a force for connecting, reflecting and not to mention selling, but why is this? To look into this further we first need to understand what exactly nostalgia is.

Nostalgia manifests itself in a variety of emotions, generally linked with looking back on a time in the past. Nostalgia can be regretful, nostalgia can be joyous, nostalgia can be melancholy – everyone has a different nostalgic outlook, and it’s all personal and circumstantial. In general, the nostalgia related to media experiences is a complicated mixture of aversion for the present and longing for the past. While also being an aversion to change, nostalgia is also dictated by, of course, reflection. Before assignments and uni fees, there was sense. The glow of the old CRT, not the glow of the computer screen with that essay grinning back at you. The sounds of whatever CD your parents picked this time, not the drab music they play these days. Everything was simple and everything was done for us.  

For everyone this is different, as fans of Stranger Things are clearly polarised into a group of people who lived out the ‘80s, and a group of people who wished they lived through the ‘80s. At the end of it, this is what dictates our love for nostalgia: wishing we could go back to a place we were or wishing we could go back to a place we wish we were. This phenomenon is usually referred to as the “30-year rule.” This is why Bruno Mars sounds a lot like Michael Jackson. This is why films like It, Call Me By Your Name, and Thor: Ragnarok were so popular. This is why 8-bit graphic games are making a comeback. All of these things evoke a feeling of what was popular 30 years ago, in a way that makes both the people who did and didn’t live out that time period, nostalgic.

None of this for one second ever means that we are running out of ideas. Human storytelling is, at its core, a recycling of ideas. We all know that The Lion King is just the story of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in furry dress, West Side Story is just an Americanised Romeo and Juliet. But, that’s the nature of how we tell visual and written stories: adaptation. If anything, adaptation shows that Hollywood and its creatives still have an ability to inject life into the pages of a book, or to gift new life to an older film that lacked our technological advancement. And even so, this means we can enjoy our nostalgic media more authentically. Although all the ideas that are screened for our entertainment aren’t entirely original; the way they are adapted for the screen through new visualisation, recontextualisation, and recharacterisation is what makes them intriguing and interesting.

This form of adaptation is more often than not stamped with the inevitable title of “cash grab,” a harrowing term that is thrown around so often it’s lost its meaning to me. To be honest, films as cash grabs aren’t such a foreign concept and ashamedly, their exploitation of nostalgia isn’t new either. The now incredibly infamous and most definitely racist The Birth Of A Nation, was a box office success in 1915, and its pretty dramatised depiction of the then nostalgic 1861 American Civil War earned the film what historians estimate to be over $50 million. Let’s be real, cash grabs aren’t a new thing; film is a business and we are its consumers. Being upset that a film is trying to make a lot of money is like being upset your favourite football team is trying to score a lot of goals. It’s how the game works and we should welcome that. You can be angry that a remake of your favourite movie is coming out, or you can be furious that they’re making a sequel to Toy Story 3, but nostalgia gets butts in seats and you’re lying if you’re saying you haven’t been drawn into its slightly malicious, but ultimately affirming hold at least once before.

Nostalgia is a weapon of mass production, but it helps us feel, it helps us reflect. So don’t turn your nose at Hollywood or Netflix or Billboard. In 2048, when Disney owns every single thing, you’re going to be nostalgic for how you feel now. Maybe while you’re idly waiting on the Disney bus, on your way to Disney work, sipping out of your Disney coffee cup, listening to your Disney phone’s Disney music, you’ll reflect on 2018 and remember how cynical you were about films and media. Maybe you’ll wish you were just a little bit more nostalgic and gave in to those urges.



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