Nostalgia in Uncertain Times

Emily Johnson

In times of instability and uncertainty there is a strong instinct to turn to nostalgia for comfort and normality.  

Over the past year, the population has faced a rapidly changing world with tackling the Coronavirus pandemic. For many, the pandemic has brought overwhelming stress and anxiety. Enforced lockdowns and tier systems has altered normality and to cope with this change, people have been reconnecting with things that they have fond memories of such as music, films and books. 

For many people, music and nostalgia are intertwined. It often provides a direct link to a nostalgic feeling and can transport someone back to a time they remember fondly. A study from the Centre for Economic Policy Research suggests that the consumption of nostalgic songs could be a coping response to the distress caused by the pandemic. National policies have included restrictive orders that have majorly affected people’s freedom and social lives, so the indulgence in nostalgic music is a way people have distanced themselves from the new challenges they face.  

Last year, Spotify discovered that in April there was a 54% increase in nostalgia related playlists created. This suggests that people are longing for familiarity and are trying to rekindle individual memories from more pleasant times. In November, Storehouse created a collaborative playlist on Spotify where people have been able to add songs that they feel fit the theme. Storehouse have seen a wide variety of songs added to the playlist, with a range of songs added from the 1980’s to 2000’s. Music can be passed on from generation to generation, therefore creating personal memories, preferences and emotional responses to music from an era someone might not have experienced. 

Richard Colwill, spokesman for the charity Sane, said television and film, specifically re-watching shows that are comforting and familiar can have a positive effect on alleviating some of the anxieties people have in lockdown. The familiarity of a movie or TV show can evoke a sense of home and the past, as we often create fond memories of the stories and characters. Therefore, films and TV shows offer complete immersion, that feeds the hunger for escapism and a longing for simpler times. Recently, there has been a rise in popularity for classics, such as the Harry Potter series. Sky movies have dedicated a channel to the series and they are now easily available to watch anytime. The films are widely loved and for many, the series reconnects them to their childhood.  

As well as experiencing nostalgia for films and television shows, films with themes of nostalgia can equally be a source for happiness in lockdown. For example, the backbone of Steven Spielberg’s film, Ready Player One is pop culture references. Throughout the film, there are constant references in the music, background and dialogue to 1980’s pop culture. These pop culture references that are intertwined into the film are widely recognised and loved; they include, the DeLorean from Back to The Future, the motorbike from Akira and characters such as the Iron Giant, Sonic and Hello Kitty.  

Alongside music and film, there has been a resurgence in the consumption of literature. A recent study by Nielsen Books has discovered 41% of a thousand-people surveyed said they were reading more since the announced lockdowns in March last year, and 35% felt books were providing an escape from the pandemic. Re-reading favourite books can provide solace in the familiarity of the story and the connections people have with their favourite worlds and stories. During the last lockdown, I decided to re-visit a favourite of mine, The Odyssey, by Homer. Themes of homecoming and nostalgia run throughout the story, as Trojan War hero Odysseus tries to reach his homeland, Ithaca. These themes seem especially relevant to the current situation, as people face similar feelings of longing for normality and home.  

With the roll-out of the Coronavirus vaccination comes hope for the future and a slow return to normality. The resurgence of music, film and books has given people much needed comfort and a way to cope with difficult times. 

Words: Emily Johnson, Illustration, @emily.rjohnson

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