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Nostalgia in the age of its social reproducibility


WITH THE PASSING OF TIME, NOSTALGIA HAS EVOLVED INTO AN INCREASINGLY WIDER CONCEPT. IT’S AN EMOTIONAL REMINDER OF A PAST TIME IN OUR LIVES, IT EVOKES THE FEELINGS OF WARMTH AND SECURITY THAT ONLY A CHILD CAN FEEL, AND THESE EMOTIONS ARE LINKED WITH PHYSICAL OBJECTS, SOUNDS OR SMELLS.





Johanes Hofer coined the term nostalgia around 1680, observing Swiss mercenaries who, after months of fighting in the French plains, yearned for their homes in the mountains. In a brilliant and enlightening comic essay, Brian ‘’Box’’ Brown narrates the me chanism though which advertising and mass media from the 1980s onward have lent support to the large toy multinationals, creating needs and desires designed to survive the advancing age: “All those afternoons spent watching cartoons served only to sell us toys and to feed the nostalgia that we are forced to feel today.”


It’s a curious phenomenon: on one hand there’s an attempt to chase the future but on the other hand there’s also a strong need in satisfy the nostalgic. These are the bases for what can be nowadays defined as social nostalgia. For young people, especially GenZ and Alpha, with social networks, the recent past already seems to be prehistoric and nostalgia is no longer directed toward something already lived but instead toward eras that don’t even belong to us: let’s think of the 1980s hits driven by the success of Stranger Things 4, the cult for the low waist and the dark pencil around the lips, Tv series that recreate looks we thought forgotten forever (for example Euphoria).




Among the very young we see the emergence of many trends linked to historical moments they didn’t experience. But why do they do it? What drives an entire generation to want to live in a past that is not even so past and, moreover, idealized?


Back in December 2011, an album called Floral Shoppe, by the American artist Ramona Andra Xavier, was released on the independent music platform Bandcamp. On the cover, next to the title written in Japanese, stands the sculpted head of the Greek god Helios, placed digitally on a pink and black checkered floor. Behind it a grainy image of the pre-2001 New York City skyline appears, with the Twin Towers clearly visible: it’s a frame from an old Fuji advertisement. The music, on the other hand, makes extensive use of tunes taken from barely recognizable TV commercials or theme songs. Still nowadays, for some, Floral Shoppe is a masterpiece and is the record that created an aesthetic destined to dominate the 1910s for a while: the vaporwave.


The word is a variation of “vaporware”, an expression used to sarcastically refer to computer products (software or hardware) for which a release date is officially announced but which don’t see the light of the day due to technical or financial problems: an item that remains an idea, an unfulfilled promise, a ‘’cloud of steam’’. Visually speaking, we are dealing with a “web design” style typical of the 1990s, with references also to anime, 3D object renderings, and cyberpunk. Vaporwave so is one of the first aesthetic currents to express nostalgia for the times that were, striking a balance between sarcasm and sincere affection for symbolisms belonging to the capitalism of the 1990s.


Since 2017, with the rise of Donald Trump, the spread of populist governments in Europe, the Brexit and the climate crisis have prompted many young people to feel nostalgia for a past that doesn’t belong to them. The pandemic has only worsened the situation and if we add to that the wars that are touching the heart of the West, we can see how the restlessness of Vaporwave has been able to anticipate the consequences due to the ‘’innovations” introduced by the late capitalism. It’s not said that the future looks like the future appearance. The feeling here is that nothing can change anymore and that in some ways leads, in the words of Mark Fischer in his Realism capitalist, to “more easily imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.”





By FRANCESCO SARCINELLA

3 June 2024

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