“Nostalgia — it’s delicate, but potent… It’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone.”
— Don Draper, Mad Men Season 1 Episode 13
Do you remember the first time you watched Star Wars? What about Tan Ah Teck reminding you of stories from a much simpler time? Or maybe it is memories of your old home you take comfort in?
The year of 2015 is rife with nostalgia. From movies to books, and even video games. Almost every medium has tried to capitalise on and maximise our fondness for the past. In June, Sony announced a remake of Final Fantasy VII, their 1997 fan-favourite instalment in the Final Fantasy series and arguably a revolutionary milestone to gamers worldwide. In July, Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman showed us the rough beginnings of To Kill A Mockingbird — a classic novel that many of us have consumed, particularly literature students who have been assigned it for class.
2015 also gave us Jurassic World, Terminator: Genisys, Pixels, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and will be giving us Goosebumps and Star Wars: The Force Awakens — all movies designed to exploit our sentimental longing for the properties they hold. Jurassic World currently being the third highest-grossing film of all time proves that this formula may very well work.
In hazy, sweltering Singapore, nostalgia is warmer than ever in the country’s 50th year of independence. Singaporeans all over are reminiscing the days of yesteryear, whether it is on the #GrowingUpSingaporean hashtag on Twitter and Instagram, or through video projects dedicated to relics from Singapore’s past such as You’re The Boy and this video collage.
Recreating old memories is a recurring theme in Singapore’s golden jubilee year, shown in full force in this year’s national day parade: from the “Chapter 1 — Beginnings” segment, which depicts Singapore’s early days, to the Vintage Parade, which remembers our Pioneer Generation. All of these instances show how nostalgia can act as a bond. Singaporeans have learnt more about their history and heritage than ever before, and our patriotism has never been stronger.
But, is nostalgia an innocuous and joyful feeling that reminds us of the things that got us through hard times and helped to shape us as people? Or is it a ball and chain that limits our potential, keeping us from innovating and challenging our own preconceived notions about art and culture?
Empty nostalgia is, at its best, fanservice; a boring checklist of familiar references. Just like that one friend who won’t stop quoting his favourite movies, this can be annoying and can lead to nostalgia fatigue. It is more important to recreate the feeling we had when experiencing our golden moments for the first time than actually recreating those actual moments again. After all, Arnold Schwarzenegger can show up and utter “I’ll be back”, but if Terminator: Genisys doesn’t recapture the sense of mysterious wonder and helplessness from the original Terminator movies, it only elicits disappointment from the audience.
Nostalgia is not just about dwelling on the past. It is about revisiting a time or place you ache for because that original moment has become nothing more than a distant echo. It is about cherishing lost friends or love before you are forced to move on. Nostalgia paints our memories in a bright light that drowns out the shadows, and instils in us experience that drive us to craft a better “now” so that we can live as happy now as we remember being then. As an insightful Sumiko Tan writes, “After all, your life today will become tomorrow’s nostalgia.”
Side note: Next year marks 50 years of National Service in Singapore, another significant milestone in Singapore’s history. Here’s hoping we come up with something greater than just exhibitions, and really convey the sense of pride and duty that comes with national service.