Nostalgia from the Greek words nostos and algos, return and suffering. Literally, the suffering caused by the yearning to return to one’s place of origin.
After hearing neuro-anthropologist Dr. Daniel Lende give a lecture on how he was studying drug addiction and the culture and reasons behind it, I had the realization that much of what he was describing was exactly what I go through when I feel nostalgic. According to his study the basic breakdown of what is happening in the brain is this:
- A shift in attention, paying attention to cues that let addicts know it is time to use
- Feeling a desire, usually one that consumes their thoughts
- Urges that happen beyond conscious control
Inevitably the things I find nostalgic are geeky; NES, Ninja Turtles, old D&D games, Megaman, the first time I watched Gundam Wing and Dragon Ball Z. And this led me to wonder; is nostalgia the geek’s drug of choice? While most people experience nostalgia, it seems to be especially prevalent among geeky/nerdy people. It is something we actively seek out; in a world with PS4’s and Xbox One’s we still seek out and recreate the 8-bit experiences of our childhood. Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z, and JoJo’s Bizarre adventure are all getting remakes and new seasons while new and popular anime wait patiently for the next round. (Will Shinjeki no Kyojin resurge when I’m 50?)
Of course capitalism has something to do with that, childhoods are easy sells. But the geek childhood we see repackaged more often than most, markets thrive on our nostalgia. I haven’t seen a modern remake of Happy Days or I Love Lucy, but TMNT is on its fifth television incarnation, has had six comic series, and three live-action movies with a fourth just released. (I know I’m leaving some out, but you get the idea) Funimation releases Dragon Ball Z in some new and premium boxed set every, what, three years? And now there is Dragon Ball Kai.
So it’s profitable, and I think that’s because we seek it out more than any other sub-culture or age group.
A study titled “Nostalgia: Content, Triggers, Functions” published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (91, 975-993) suggests that nostalgia is often onset by sad or negative feelings. Additionally, in a majority of those studied nostalgia acted as a cure or relief from those feelings. My theory is that because many of us grew up isolated from our peers and were shunned for our interests. The games and media we participated in brought us solace and a sense of community with other like-minded individuals.
If those activities helped us cope with the hardships of growing up as outsiders, or with the difficulties of growing up in general, then it would make sense that we would draw strength from those memories. But we do more than draw strength, we surround ourselves with it. Sing songs about it, plaster it all over our homes, purchase and repurchase original and reproductions of our childhood loves. We never tire of exploring Hyrule or of throwing a spirit bomb at Frieza.
I have found myself more than once watching re-runs of anime I grew up with when I was feeling down. Sometimes I think of it as “anime junk food” but what is actually happening here is that I am seeking relief from feeling depressed or worried. And it is not feelings of exclusion (I have grown up to have many friends in many circles) but the worries of the adult world; jobs, rent, bills, etc. And in those moments I have a sense of comfort brought about by reliving my childhood experiences.
Perhaps in a world where we “millenials” are often lost, underemployed, and in debt (read Sarah Kendzior’s great article about this) we seek to comfort ourselves by filling our lives with memories of a life less full of worry. Who needs narcotics and anti-depressants when you have Duo Maxwell?
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