How Does Nostalgia Blind Us to the Past?

One of the things that makes us human is our ability to look into the past and see how we have changed as people. Sometimes we look and see that something we did in the past would no longer be considered to be acceptable. Sometimes we look back and remember something we really like about ourselves. Our ability to look to the past is not always accurate though, as seen by the phrase “Rose-Tinted Glasses”. Things in our past are seen as beautiful, like roses, and have a sort of cloud over them that prevents us from seeing things how they are. We look to see the best of the past, but not the worst. While this does provide a warm feeling when thinking back on childhood, it also warps our perception of the world as we know it. One of the fields where this is most seen is in animation.

Think about it, how many times have you seen a reboot or remaking of an old show from either the ’80s or ’90s? Everything from Ducktales (2016) to Voltron: Legendary Defender (2016) is being brought back. People who have grown up with these shows are adults now and might be trying to regain any part of their childhood, so companies are capitalizing on that. These shows, while I’m sure have some merit to their status, are not as legendary as they are said to be. Being able to see them from a more objective point of view allows me to tell when the quality of a show is not the same, and I don’t think these shows hold up as well as they are said to.

Arguably, nostalgia is the most present when watching television from our childhood. Shows that adults loved watching in their Saturday morning cartoons, or even younger generations after school haven’t all aged as well as we remember them doing. Take, for example, Johnny Bravo, which started in 1997, and followed the titular character through his day-to-day life. The largest joke that runs throughout the show’s lifespan is that Johnny is an egotist, and narcissist, who constantly is turned down by the women who he tries to “date”. The reason this show has not aged as well as it could have is not that it isn’t funny, but instead that the morals of humans have changed, and Johnny’s actions are no longer socially acceptable.

The funny thing about this is that even if you look now, you won’t find many reviews of Johnny Bravo that aren’t positive, and I believe there is one major cause for this. Most people who are reviewing shows are around the age that they would have watched Johnny Bravo growing up. The clouding ability of nostalgia prevents them from seeing the worst in the show, or even the objective flaws, but instead only the best it has to offer. It takes people back to a time before they had to worry, and the feeling is great.

Nostalgia, by motivating us to remember the past in our own life, helps to unite us to that authentic self and remind us of who we have been and then compare that to who we feel we are today”

— Dr. Krystine Batcho

This brings us to the main point though, How does nostalgia make everything from TV shows to food seem better? According to Dr. Krystine Batcho, Nostalgia was originally a feeling of homesickness, but it has changed over time. Although the meaning has changed, the uses are still growing. While being asked if Nostalgia had a psychological impact on us, Dr. Batcho responded “Nostalgia, by motivating us to remember the past in our own life, helps to unite us to that authentic self and remind us of who we have been and then compare that to who we feel we are today.” Nostalgia acts as a power for change that shows us who we used to be, and how we have moved on since then. Just like going back and looking through old social media, watching shows you used to love can be powerful. If you look back and cringe at what you used to say, or what you did, that’s how you know you have grown as a person.

There are multiple types of nostalgia though, and all of the topics above are one type. Another type is “historical nostalgia”, which is the feeling of missing something that happened before your birth. Whenever that feeling comes into your mind that maybe you were born into the wrong generation, that is the feeling of historical nostalgia. Looking back and thinking about how good the ’90s were even though you might not have been alive, is a strange feeling. We can look back at how well certain things are, like the music, and say, “This is when I belong”. The only way to stop this feeling though is to think about how many things have gotten better. What has changed socially for the better?

The next time you think about the past, maybe try to find a couple of the negatives. Remove the rose-colored glasses that cloud your view, and try to point out what might not have been as good as you remember, but do not get lost in the past. Try to find a new show, or food, or tradition that might help to recapture some of the magic lost when you disassemble the past. New shows are always coming out, and maybe one of them is more similar than you might realize.