Nostalgia taking over media and contemporary art

Jason Lanegan references pop culture in his sculpture of Johnny Bravo. (Photo courtesy of Jason Lanegan)
Jason Lanegan references pop culture in his sculpture of Johnny Bravo. (Jason Lanegan)

From pop culture “listicles” on sites like Buzzfeed to commercials and even contemporary art, nostalgia is saturating college-aged students’ culture.

A search of “nostalgia” on Pinterest brings up hundreds of pins that direct pinners to sites like Buzzfeed that flush out the details of toysmulticolored pens and other popular trends from the past.

Sam Sonntag, a BYU junior in the graphic design program, has mixed feelings about the trend. He said articles about movies’ cast reunions like “The Little Rascals” can be fun to look at. “Those feel more applicable because it’s like looking back in your yearbook and seeing where your friends are now, especially if they’re doing well,” Sonntag said.

He said overdoing cast reunions can lead to what he called “the Facebook syndrome,” where people are too focused on other people and not on themselves.

Sonntag said the frequency of nostalgic trends in media can make looking back good or bad. “A lot of the times it feels like a unifying factor; it helps us all to be on the same page and feel like we’re a part of a bigger group,” Sonntag said. “But now I find myself looking for something new with more substance to it.”

Carmen Juarez, an open-major sophomore at BYU, is impressed with the cereal industry’s use of nostalgia as a marketing strategy. The “Froot Loops — Bring Back the Awesome” advertisement serves as an example.

“The commercial reminds (the adult audience) that the things they loved as a kid are still around and still remembered, and you don’t have to be a kid to enjoy them,” Juarez said. “Nostalgia is a big part of our culture these days, and so is the idea of never having to grow up too much.”

This screen shot of comments on "The Little Rascals" reunion shows some differing opinions on the nostalgia trend.
This screen shot of comments on “The Little Rascals” reunion shows some differing opinions on the nostalgia trend.

Juarez said this is good marketing because it reaches the target audience, those who are “young enough to be part of the culture and to still want those ‘kids’ things but who are also old enough to have money.”

Jason Lanegan, the gallery director in the Visual Arts Department at BYU, uses iconic images from the past in his art to connect with his audience in his American relics series. One sculpture, “Reliquary for a True Piece of a Barbie,” contrasts the familiar piece of a Barbie arm with the enclosing arm Lanegan sculpted, bringing his own ideas to the art piece.

Lanegan said nostalgia in his artwork is, on the surface, more about connection and reassurance than questioning, but artists can use it to pull people into harder subjects. However, he also noted some artists’ dislike for relying on the past.

“The negative connotation is that you’re glossing over bad parts and it’s not realistic,” Lanegan said. “It’s that everyone wants to look back.”

Similarly, Sonntag wants to be more grounded than focusing on the past. “One of my personal goals is not to be defined by the Internet,” he said. “I’d rather not be super affected by it or super entranced by Internet culture and be more of my own person. I am a college kid. I do have pop culture on my brain a lot of the time, so it’s hard to abandon that and still feel connected.”

As someone who needs to capture his audience’s attention on a daily basis, Guy Gilchrist, “Nancy” comic strip artist, connects with his audience by incorporating feelings of familiarity he shares with them in his comics.

Gilchrist said the positive side of nostalgia is effective and important because it brings happiness. “We want a place where we feel loved, where we feel safe,” he said. “The world can be a dark place, a scary place. … People want something they can hang their hat on, so they can say, ‘This is home.’ That’s what I’m hoping I’m doing with the comic strip — that when people read ‘Nancy,’ they feel at home.”

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