January 08

Thoughts on Nostalgia: A Video Premiere

To be honest, I still don’t really understand what nostalgia is.  I remember my first real experience with nostalgia was when I was about 8 or so, and my parents showed us pictures of us kids that they had saved in these large photo albums that we had collected.  (Is this meta-nostalgia that I’m feeling at this moment?).  For some reason or other, I decided to keep those albums in my room, and sometimes at night I’d pore through the pictures again.  By that time, we had moved to Iowa, and many of the pictures were from the house in Missouri, a house that I visit from time to time, if I’m taking a road-trip around the area.

You could say that people are nostalgic because remembering old things is pleasant.  But that doesn’t really explain why nostalgia is special.  I mean, why is it that remembering old things is pleasant?  I can think of many things that are pleasant – a picture of a frog, a dog riding a skateboard, the smell of bacon frying in the morning – is nostalgia just thinking of a positive memory, except it involves memories further in the past?  That can’t be right.  It’s not merely that nostalgia is the remembering of something merely pleasant.  There’s something more.

And does nostalgia always have to be pleasant?   Like a pleasant form of PTSD where the memories come back except coinciding with pleasure instead of pain.  I think people can be nostalgic about something where those experiences are painful.  Though perhaps even then, nostalgia is supposed to be an all-things-considered positive experience, in the way that many generally positive experiences can involve some pain.

Maybe the idea is that nostalgia is a way of uncovering your own origin story, where the passage of time has made you forget a significant portion of who you are.  I think that’s some of what I was feeling when I was younger, looking at those picture books.  Though, actually, I didn’t technically remember a lot of what was happening in the pictures themselves – though I definitely did experience it.  Looking back through those pictures was like reconstructing the circumstances surrounding-and-shortly-after my birth.  Maybe that wasn’t nostalgia after all.

I have a friend from high school, where we used to hang out in her room a lot back then.  She had a little corner of the room that she had reserved for me, and we’d listen to music and draw pictures and talk about school and whatnot.  Anyway, yesterday, she showed me a picture of myself back then.  I do remember those experiences.  Does recalling of memories make it nostalgia in the way that origin-story reconstruction isn’t?  I’m not sure.

I think maybe the reason people are nostalgic is that people remember the experience of what it was like for everything to be new again.  The idea is that once you get a pretty good grasp of what the world is like, things stop surprising you.  I know that lately, it’s hard for me to be really surprised at anything.  It’s like that feeling you get when you play the Sims, and you’ve kind of done everything you’re supposed to do, and then there’s nothing left to do.  So you just go Dada-esque, and build a house filled with only toilets for no reason.  You can get into a restless panic that way. Maybe nostalgia is a way to get back to that feeling of things being new again, to escape that inevitable feeling that there’s no real surprises left on the horizon.

Anyway – I have a friend of a friend, Michael Galinsky, who offered to make a music video for the song “I Still Dream of the ’90s.”  Michael got a good bit of press a number of years ago for a photography series that he had put together called “Malls Across America,” featuring composed and candid shots from 1989 of people at malls.  It’s a really fantastic collection, which you can find along with a lot of his other work here.


The music video is populated with a lot of great shots from that bygone era.  Really, what is interesting about it is that it was the just-pre-digital age.  It’s hard to see genuine, candid, non-famous normal footage of that these days.  It’s not like it’s immediately share-able from the film itself.  Someone has to go and digitize it, and that can be a task and a half.  And there’s all of these modern already-digital things going on that it competes with. And then of course there’s all of these caricatures of what things were like then, Proto-Saved-By-The-Bell tropes and whatnot.  In any case, there’s things that get lost in the shift to digital, and so we have to go back and try to recapture the best scraps we can.  Anyway, that’s what his photos do for me.