If you have not listened to the Hidden Brain podcast, this one will really get you thinking. The episode that aired on October 16th on “nostalgia” really got me thinking. The concept of nostalgia was originally treated as a mental/emotional disorder, people who are stuck in the past and cannot move forward. 300 years ago it was a brain disease of demonic cause. Marketers started using the concept in order to help sell things early in the century, because evoking emotions is an effective “hook” for people.
There is this feeling of sadness and loss, but also a sense of sweetness or fondness for something that used to be a certain way. Of course, our memories tend to be edited by our minds. The harder things fade into the background but the redemptive portions of the memories are what survive into the future. Nostalgia involves some re-writing of the past, in a way that tells us a story we can make sense of, that helps define who we want to be. There is always a shaping of our own narratives, a selection that allows us to make sense of our lives.
Donald Trump capitalized on some sense of nostalgia during the “Make America Great” campaign. For some of us who were horrified at that idea, we think of the “good old days” when powerful men could demand sex with their employees without ramifications, or when black people could be denied a seat on a bus. The good old days for some of us were not exactly good. We are grateful that social movements and history have moved us forward.
The nostalgic urge is something that the Donald has manipulated and used very effectively is something we need to understand. It is a psychological phenomenon that is very key to how the election was one. Clay Rutledge, a psychologist interviewed on Hidden Brain, explains that nostalgia serves a function. It actually applies to people who are experiencing a certain amount of distress, and that it may help people restore some type of psychological well-being.
To me, this is a topic that bears understanding, because it obviously had a tremendous impact on the election, and has impact on people’s purchasing decisions, and the ability to manipulate our “collective historical nostalgia.” While recollections of our past are inevitably edited, and do not have all the details of the negative parts of that. History is often “whitewashed.” Nostalgia does actually have a function toward orienting us toward the future, and it mobilizes people. If nostalgia is as widespread as it seems, there may be a function that is protective for individuals and communities. I know I will look to learn more about this, and will share some thoughts in a future post.
Happy Saturday, friends! May you stay firmly rooted in the present, even as you look back fondly, and keep your sights on the future.