Should we leave nostalgia in the past?

13 : 07 : 2018 Society : Nostalgia : Football
NikeLab and Matthew Williams NikeLab and Matthew Williams

Peak nostalgia could cause us to regress to a romanticised version of the past – one that probably didn’t exist in the first place.

Adam Steel, senior writer, The Future Laboratory

As England prepared to play in the semi-finals of the World Cup, three words were on everybody’s lips: It’s coming home. As someone living in England, it was difficult not to be swept up in the wave of emotion and nostalgia that built as fans across the country reminisced about past summers of glory and heroic near misses.

This appetite for nostalgia came as no surprise when taking into account people’s current view of societal progress. According to a recent YouGov survey, just 4% of British people think the world is getting better. In the US, this figure stands at 6%. Moreover, almost two-thirds of Britons think life is worse now than when they were growing up, according to a study by Sky Data and think tank Demos.

With consumers so keen to hark back to – in their minds at least – better days, brands across sectors have been tapping into the past. In Hollywood, it has ushered in an era of reboots, from Star Wars to Jumanji and Jurassic World. Nostalgia is the key component in tv series such as Netflix’s Stranger Things and Everything Sucks! Elsewhere, we’ve witnessed the resurrection of vintage games consoles and discontinued products such as Crystal Pepsi, with many brands employing nostalgic narratives in their marketing campaigns.

As nostalgia saturates more of what we consume, there is a danger that its effects could have a negative impact on both people and society.

Positively, this nostalgia provides audiences with psychological benefits, acting as a stabilising force amid continuing global insecurity. But as nostalgia saturates more of what we consume, there is a danger that its effects could have a negative impact on both people and society. In this scenario, instead of providing comfort, peak nostalgia could cause us to regress to a romanticised version of the past – one that probably didn’t exist in the first place, and would have been significantly less progressive.

An obsessive focus on the past can prove even more dangerous when it spills into arenas such as politics, helping to fuel pessimistic narratives that cause friction and instability. As experts note, this historical nostalgia is often concurrent with a deep dissatisfaction with the present, a cynical view of the world and a preference for the way things were.

‘If you are promising to take society back to the conditions, structure and power dynamics of the past, there are a lot groups who will probably lose from that – whether it’s women or minorities,’ explains Sophie Gaston, head of international research at Demos.

It’s time for brands to reframe the past, gilding modern stories with generationally relatable motifs.

Perhaps it’s time, then, to leave nostalgic thinking in the past. While reminiscing can be an important coping mechanism for some, when it comes to framing future societies, nostalgia’s outdated hold on popular culture and prejudicial presence in politics mean it’s better left on the shelf.

Instead, brands should reframe the past, gilding modern stories with generationally relatable motifs. And England’s journey at Russia 2018 shows this in action. With a squad that was the most diverse in England’s history, the team captured the zeitgeist of progressive nostalgia. Not only has it given England's World Cup stories a much-needed update, it has shown there’s never been a better time to lay the ghosts of our past to rest and instead embrace what’s to come.

For more on why brands must move on from nostalgia, read our Anti-authenticity Marketing macrotrend.