I have lately been digging around in You Tube watching video essays about art and science and learning a lot of really cool stuff along the way. Four of my favorite channels have all recently taken a swing at the topic of nostalgia in a way that is very thought provoking and worth watching. I tackled the topic a while back myself here.
I’m starting with “Nostalgia Chick” herself Lindsey Ellis:
This video is a very good introduction to nostalgia themes, both good and bad. When we look back at the past we tend to remember the good and forget the bad.
The second video by Nerdwriter1 has become rather famous in art circles, though should be watched by mainstream audiences. It introduces a couple of new phrases “intertextuality” referring to emotional currency created by nostalgic moments, and “weaponized intertextuality” which is an overblown version that when it shows up it a good sign you are watching a bad movie.
The third video by Just Write is a response to this second video, which combines the ideas of both of these previous videos. Just write is a channel devoted to writing and I think just watching these videos has improved my writing a bit.
In this video, he takes the idea that “everything has already been done before” and shows how originality can still exist by mixing ideas from the past in new ways, using Stranger Things as a perfect example.
So it is possible for nostalgia to be original when it is done right, when it is done in original ways. To quote the last two videos:
A lot of Hollywood sequels, remakes and reboots use references to their own history as a frequent, but unsatisfying, replacement for actual drama.
It is very tempting to replace the term “a lot of” and just say “all”, because it is practically a given that any sequel remake or reboot is not going to be as good as we often falsely nostalgically remember the original to be. For every successful remake/reboot like Battlestar Galactica, there are way more awful remakes/reboots like Ghostbusters 2016 that don’t deserve our attention and we are better off going back and rewatching the original, often realizing, like the original Ghostbusters 1985, it wasn’t as good as we remember it being.
For this reason a lot of creators are very reluctant to revisit their popular past projects. Joss Whedon has been asked if he would like to go back and do more episodes of Firefly, the show cancelled way too soon. His answer is “No”.
Simply put, both Whedon and Fillion know that bringing Firefly back would be a terrible idea. We’re in love with the possibility of more story, the promise of fulfilling answers to the show’s questions. Reality would be a disappointment. Firefly feels perfect because it never had the chance to fail.
If we were to bring back Firefly, it could suffer the same fate as Mr. Robot, one of my favorite shows on the air. Mr. Robot had a near-perfect first season. Everything about it, from the writing and the show’s photography to Rami Malek’s award-winning portrayal of solitary hacker Elliot Alderson, was immaculate.
So much so, in fact, that there were concerns from a variety of critics and reporters that the show wouldn’t be able to sustain that level of quality in its second season. They were right. If Mr. Robot had just existed as a 10-episode season, it would be remembered as one of the greatest series of television’s modern age. There wouldn’t have been time for the series to be screwed up.
The fact that Firefly only had one season was the best thing that could have ever happened for the show’s integrity, even if that reality stings a bit. Cancellation can be a gift to your legacy.
Sometimes being cancelled before your time is a good thing for legacy. Returning with weak new episodes is a good way to kill that legacy, for example Arrested Development, Gilmore Girls, X-Files, Full House and Will & Grace to name some recent examples.
However, there is at least one series that has returned from the long dead past and purposely avoided those pitfalls by recognizing those mistakes and reinventing itself as a critique of nostalgia: Twin Peaks, which is what the final video essay by Screen Prism is about.
I believe that these four videos combined really give us a “big picture” of the age of nostalgia we seem to be buried in these days.
Within these videos is the explanation of why returning to the past is largely unsatisfactory, versions of good and bad nostalgia, and how to recognize them, but at the same time offers glimpses into how we can use the past to create original satisfying content in the present.