Don Draper, in one of the defining scenes of Mad Men, described nostalgia as ‘the pain from an old wound’. An ad-man to his core, Don, of course, misrepresents the truth. Nostalgia truly means ‘the affliction of homecoming’. However, I think both interpretations contain a similar significance. Nostalgia is something that nags at us. It is that prickle of feeling whenever we reference our childhood. It may not be painful, but it is certainly uncomfortable and a little sad. If it is an affliction, it wounds us all. There is certainly a place for nostalgia in art. To write, for me, is to return to a familiar place. It is there, that a piece of me travels to every time I seek to translate a crisis of emotion into words. The place is not a defined location, but it has a definite origin. Writing began at home. The urge to retreat there is inevitable, every time I begin another piece because nostalgia is my tool, as important to me as a computer or a pencil. I use it to access another time and give those moments a truer meaning, one that couldn’t have existed before. When I look back at the past, I never recreate it in exact proportions. I give the past some part of the present by interpreting and evaluating it. All art must come from some part within us before it can take on meaning for someone else.
However, recent forays into nostalgia-focused art, also demonstrates its limits. To look at the past in total reverence, without critique results in bland worship. The surge of reboots and remakes of classic films and television shows demonstrate that people are hungrier for the past than ever. Even original movies, such as Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, are trapped, reliant on references for audience appreciation. The popularity, though, does not seem to stem from any ‘wound’ or ‘affliction’. Instead, it is a hyperactive appreciation that urges us to embrace what we already know. It has transformed from nostalgia into simply an exact recreation of the past. As exciting it is to watch the Iron Giant stride into theaters alongside the DeLorean, I am not sure this is the type of entertainment we should be craving.