University of Sussex Students' Newspaper

Nostalgia: The Present Based on the Past

Harry Turnbull

ByHarry Turnbull

May 13, 2024

The world is in a phase of consistent mediatisation, with knowledge, history and ideologies at the fingertips of any and all people. With the sheer volume of cultures, subcultures, and trends now in the public eye, it is increasingly difficult to pinpoint a means to define this era. 

In the 70s, spandex, sequins, and the regal sounds of rock bands such as Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd flooded the public consciousness. The 80s shifted the appeal to big hair and even bigger leg warmers, with pop culture taking after Marty McFly and Han Solo as fashion icons. The 90s was filled to the brim with denim and dance hits. But now, the abundance of cultural options has led people to try and balance everything as a means of escapism. I believe that the primary motivation for this mixture is a general sense of nostalgia; the romanticisation of a ‘better’ time.  For younger generations, this is perhaps instead anemoia – one’s feeling of nostalgia for something not personally experienced. 

If we take for example the current film and television climate, most Hollywood blockbusters are no longer original projects, but remakes and reboots. In the 2020s, two of the top five grossing films at the box office (so far) were sequels of films made at least 10 years prior. Joseph Kosinski’s Top Gun: Maverick accumulated an impressive $1.49 billion at the box office. Whilst this could be put down to a stellar plot and strong performance from the franchise’s icon Tom Cruise, the element of nostalgia and anticipation for the return of titular characters contributed substantially to this film’s box office success. A quote from Quora explains this, citing that “the original film is a cult classic, and the sequel reunites fans with iconic characters, as well as introducing an exciting new storyline”. 

The abundance of cultural options has led people to try and balance everything as a means of escapism.

A retro fashion trend has also been increasingly prominent outside the film and television world. The biggest comeback of the 2020s must be the mullet. The iconic 80’s hairdo was sported worldwide back then, including by icons David Bowie, Paul McCartney, and George Clooney. Though its popularity waned in the 90’s and 2000’s, the mullet made a drastic return over the COVID-19 lockdown of 2020. Perhaps this was thanks to the virality of Netflix’s Tiger King, with the infamous Joe Exotic unapologetically flaunting the controversial hairstyle, but its return is also yet another nostalgic trend The return of the mullet into the public sphere has introduced a new generation to a whole new means of individuality and expression. With the emergence of a new wave of LGBTQ+ acceptance, it seemed like the obvious route that the queer community reclaimed the mullet. In a BBC article entitled ‘Thoroughly Modern Mullets: Style’s Unlikeliest Comeback’, stylist John Vial commented on the influence of the mullet on queer identity: “It was an incredibly safe place to be. If you were a lesbian who wanted to feel slightly more boyish, you could wear your hair shorter around the frame and have the safety of the length in the back. The same applied to boys who wanted a bit more hair.” 

Whilst the mullet was not and is not exclusive to the LGBTQ+ community, it has a distinct inclusivity that allows anyone to experiment with trends that aren’t defined by gender or sexuality. I’d go so far as to say this hairstyle can bring a community together for the better, and its connection to the past makes it all the more credible. 

I’d go so far as to say the mullet can bring a community together for the better.

With nostalgic trends making a comeback in the 21st century, some can argue that it is leading to a lack of originality. Ghostbusters Afterlife has been criticised for its overreliance on the 80’s cult classics to drive forward the plot. One IMDB reviewer explains why this was a flawed approach: “I’m sure it’s great for fans of the original but if you haven’t seen it – it’s not. It’s mostly boring, aimless, and wraps up quickly near the end.” With the long-awaited Beetlejuice sequel releasing this year, over 30 years after the first, and Disney live-action remakes showing no signs of slowing down, could nostalgic tendencies dictate our future? We’re heading for a retro-futuristic cultural landscape, and I’m not mad about it.

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