nostalgia is a trap, but i love it
On "Ribs," the uncanny magic of home videos, and clinging to the past.
One day when I was 10, my mom announced that we were all going to sit down and watch the old home videos. I didn’t really have an opinion on the matter. We all relaxed on the couch and pressed play. Once I saw me as a baby singing and my sister and I dancing as toddlers, I was mesmerized. Throughout the following months, I kept asking my parents if we could watch them again. And again. And again. Of course, they were annoyed.
“We’ve seen them already!”
“Chloe, let’s just wait a bit until we revisit them.”
Eventually, I stopped asking about the home videos. But my never-ending love for nostalgia is still very much present. I live for sitting around and telling stories. I love old photos and journaling so I never forget the past. I’ve always hated change. When I was a baby, I cried whenever my parents moved my crib. Essentially, I’m obsessed with the past. I find looking back on fond times as comforting as a cup of tea on a rainy day. Recently, I’ve been curious as to why I rely so much on reminiscing about, well, everything.
In the 17th century, a Swiss doctor named Johannes Hofer coined the term Nostalgia. He said it was a “neurological disease of essentially demonic cause”. Doctors believed nostalgia to be a psychological disorder; they prescribed opioids and leeches. Eventually, when none of this worked, nostalgia was not accepted as a disease anymore. It came to be what we now know as the famous bittersweet feeling.
Svetlana Boym writes, “Nostalgia is a rebellion against the modern idea of time.” She says the danger of nostalgia is to confuse imaginary with real. It can create a “phantom homeland, for the sake of which one is ready to die or kill.” But the nostalgia that we all know is much more harmless; the mourning of the past, the sadness of irreversibility. Nostalgia gives a bittersweet feeling. Bittersweet is written in Merriam-Webster as “pleasure accompanied by suffering or regret," but nostalgia is a feeling you can’t quite find the words to exactly describe— but nonetheless, it's universal. It connects us. Nostalgia is ever-present in pop culture. “Ribs” by Lorde is a perfect example. The beat combined with the lyrics creates “an anthem for teen angst”; the movie Stand by Me is hailed by critics as a “perfectly performed look at the real heart of youth." To capture this feeling is a popular technique, since almost everyone can relate to it— it never gets old, because there are so many layers of nostalgia. For my film class, when we were allowed to experiment for a project, I immediately created a short film to “Ribs"— I’m a sucker for this bittersweet feeling.
I have anxiety, a buzzword that many zoomer's use quite frequently. The reason why I’m so obsessed with the past is that it’s already finished. It’s over. There’s no uncertainty that lies in the past. I wasn’t worried about anything when I was dancing with my sister as a toddler. Though my mind frequently finds anything and everything to be anxious about, it’s difficult to find something to worry about when I remember roaming around New York City in the spring of 2018. In reality, I got lost more than a couple of times during my outing to the city and I was stressed when I was there. But since my mind tends to romanticize almost everything that can be romanticized, I don’t remember that part. When I think of traveling in Germany last summer, I don’t think of fighting with my best friend while we were there. I reminisce about laughing around the table with my group of friends while eating Oreo ice cream bars. When the future for me causes so much agonizing, it’s a coping mechanism to dwell on the past. And it’s fun! What’s better than FaceTiming an old friend and giggling about funny moments that happened the last time you saw each other?
Nostalgia allows you to momentarily escape the woes of the future to look fondly on the past. Though this coping mechanism can go too far sometimes, I’d rather be obsessed with nostalgia than not care about it at all. Some of my friends hate talking about the past. Life coach Clara Artschwager told Man Repeller, “If you’re stuck in those patterns of thought, like, Life will never be that good again! Then you need to remember that of course no feeling or relationship will ever be identical to another. If you’re mourning a relationship and thinking you’ll never love someone the way you loved your previous partner — well, of course, you won’t, but you’ll love someone differently, with a different volume and feeling.”
Sometimes I get too caught up with it all— I get stuck in the past. I’m working on recognizing that the past was great, but the future will be too. Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to go watch those home videos again. ✰
Chloe Rose is a sixteen-year-old writer and filmmaker living in New York. Chloe has been creating art for as long as she can remember; she still has the books made out of computer paper, staples, and crayons that she made when she was seven years old to prove it. She loves lemon Pellegrino, flowers, the beach, and music. You can find her in the poetry aisle of her favorite bookstore.