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Batman, Smurfs, and Spam: Nostalgia Makes a Comeback

Familiar things comfort us in a time of recession.

by
Katherine Berry

Bio

February 7, 2009 - 12:00 am
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Most of us as children had objects from which we derived great comfort in childhood’s scarier moments, a trait embodied in the Peanuts character, Linus, who is seldom seen without his security blanket. Of course, few of us still carry — or admit to carrying — such comfort objects into our adulthood, but that does not stop us from turning to childhood mementos in uncertain times. Consider, for instance, how the decline of our economy has precipitated a resurgence in nostalgia.

Originally coined in the mid-17th century, nostalgia referred to a medical condition accompanied by tears and physical wasting. Literally it means the pain of longing to return home, and by the 20th century it was considered a psychological condition reflecting a preference for objects and experiences from one’s youth. But nostalgia is not limited simply to our own individual past; it can also mean a longing for what we believe were happier times that preceded us.

These days, nostalgia also means big business now that corporate America has begun to realize that everything old is new again. What we watch, what we eat, what we’re wearing, how we spend our free time, and where we’re doing it — our lives today don’t resemble the high-speed techno-dream once predicted by James Berry (no relation) so much as they resemble, well, our childhoods.

On the silver screen, over half of 2008′s top 10 grossing movies had roots in the very entertainment that kept us riveted as kids: Batman’s Dark Knight, the latest Indiana Jones flick, a new Bond film. The movie Iron Man resurrected a comic book character who’d made his first appearance in 1966. A beloved Dr. Seuss book took life on screen in Horton Hears a Hoo.  Now in the works? No less than 55 movie remakes ranging from Romancing the Stone to The Karate Kid.

On the small screen, an entire cable channel — Boomerang — is dedicated to broadcasting the very cartoons we grew up with: Tom and Jerry, Popeye, even The Smurfs. Among the 20 most viewed cable channels: “Nick at Night” (#3) and “TV Land” (#18) — both heavily geared toward rebroadcasting sitcoms from the 70s, 80s, and early 90s.

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