The Lure of Nostalgia Is Safety

By | Friday, July 02, 2021 3 comments
A friend of mine had the following thought a while back and posted it on Facebook just to get it out of his head:
The lure of nostalgia is safety. You already know the outcome; you survived. Find someone who yearns for yesterday and you've probably found someone who is afraid of tomorrow.
He quickly received a number of positive comments, and elaborated a bit...
... I think there is a distinct difference between appreciating something, remembering it fondly, and yearning, which connotes, to me at least, an aching quality. We can ache for a past that includes loved ones we miss or happy events without necessarily feeling fear of what tomorrow may bring. But I think the less specific way in which some people view the past in a nostalgic way -- that vague sense that it was all better yesterday -- is fueled by the comfort of knowing we made it through the trials and tribulations we faced and the fear of not knowing whether we will be able to do the same with today's or tomorrow's challenges. That's really what the thought was all about.
How much of that plays into reading comics then? How much of reading the same title month in and month out for decades on end is an appreciation of the character, and how much is an appreciation of what those stories helped you with when you first started reading it? I mean...

Detective Comics #1000
If you read Detective Comics because you think Batman is cool, that's one thing. But if you read Detective Comics because you really related to the stories that were being told in the title years ago when you were feeling alone and alienated in high school and you don't think the current creators really get Batman the same way that they did back then, that's something else entirely.

The problem, of course, is being able to recognize that distinction (or one like it) in yourself. Because an emotional shift like that tends not to happen overnight. It's a gradual process, and not one that's easily quantifiable either. So you wind up reading the same comics for decades with only the vague sense that the stories aren't nearly as good now as they used to be. It takes some time for you to stop and consciously contemplate why you're reading the books you're reading, and whether or not that's based on the actual (and current) merits of the book or it's primarily a holdover from days gone by.

You could still enjoy the book, and even enjoy it for very different reasons than before, but if you're enjoyment is based more on nostalgia than anything else it might be time to see what's going on in your life NOW and what you might respond better to.
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John Q said...

Good thoughts! Parallel to John Hodgman's comments that 'nostalgia is a toxic impulse'. I understand a fondness for the past, I just don't get not approaching without any contemporary eye what so ever.

Matt K said...

I propose that anyone actually facing up to the present-day world as it really is (which is very few people tbh) has ample and valid reason for enjoying escapism in some form or other, the safety of the known and familiar past being one of those forms.

I think there's a lot to be said for simply acknowledging to yourself why you're partaking of something. If you think, "Life really sucks right now, so I will watch Star Wars to remind myself of when I was seven and first discovered it, and forget about my current troubles for a bit," that's one thing. If you think, "Life was better when I was seven, so I will surround myself of reminders of that time," that's another thing altogether. It's as much about the intent as anything else.