Maybe ‘Nostalgia’ Is How We’re Coping With a Global Pandemic
And it might just be working.
A little over a week ago, on an indistinct Sunday evening, I found myself embarking on an unfamiliar nostalgic journey. Accompanied by my mother’s enthusiasm and zero urgencies, I went down the rabbit hole of ancient Indian ad films. We started off with the usual suspects - the Liril Girl commercials, Humara Bajaj, Fair & Lovely, Cadbury’s ‘Kuch Khaas Hai’ series, and eventually found our way to more recent films from the early 2000s. We spent a whole hour doing this and I gotta say, there was something deeply comforting about being able to cling onto a memory that wasn’t even mine.
If you’ve been spending time trying to find pockets of comfort on the internet, then rest assured that you’re not alone. We’re in the middle of a global crisis that is, frankly, very hard to ignore (I know because I’ve tried). If you’re not consuming facts directly related to COVID-19, then you’re consuming other unrelated corona content.
If you’ve seen one of those “What did we talk about before corona” tweets, then you know exactly what I mean.
It’s all anyone talks about these days and...they’re really not to be blamed.
Now, if you’ve been on the internet enough, you might have noticed the sudden explosion in nostalgic pop culture elements. Even within my own personal social circles, I’ve noticed patterns of bingeing that have nothing to do with all the new content Netflix and Amazon Prime is throwing at us. My friends have gone back to shows from their childhood - simply because they’re seeking safety and comfort at a time when real life isn’t offering those things. In fact, my personal watch list at the moment includes Sarabhai vs Sarabhai, Grey’s Anatomy, and Gossip Girl.
But is this normal?
According to psychological research floating on the internet, nostalgia is often a common response to stressful situations.
It transports us to a different time, makes us feel good things, and briefly gives us the serotonin supply we need to go on.
Now, when it comes to the cyberspace, we’ve seen plenty of instances wherein people try to invoke nostalgia in different ways. First, there was the #MeAt20 trend. Sometime in April, this took off and how! From celebrities to uh..non-celebs, people flooded the internet with throwback photos of their tender youth.
Then there’s the Sarabhai vs Sarabhai meme that is being overdone to death but personally, still makes me chuckle.
Mumbai Police’s gentle Instagram threats too have found a way to invoke nostalgia. From getting crowd-favourite Rosesh Sarabhai to recite a poem to throwing back to iconic bands whose music is sure to transport you to another time, they’ve capitalised on the trend all right.
But here’s the thing - this isn’t an entirely virtual phenomenon. Almost immediately after the COVID-19 lockdown was announced, Indian classic television shows like Ramayan and Mahabharat, that shaped the childhood of many desi millennials, made a comeback on Doordarshan. Unlike the internet, where the nostalgia-driven subculture seems to be an organic progression, here it was a conscious decision. With Amul following suit. Amidst the lockdown, the popular dairy brand also started airing its old ad films on DD.
Many of our favourite artists have also risen from the dead. First, it was the Backstreet Boys that surprised us with a virtual concert, then the all-girl pop band Viva gave us a reunion we did not expect but there’s only one clear winner here - the timeless Falguni Pathak who recently entertained her neighbours with a full-blown balcony concert.
I might be going too far when I say this but I will anyway - I think nostalgia, as a coping mechanism amidst a global pandemic, is one of our last resorts when it comes to holding onto our sanity. We’re all locked indoors with nothing but our laptop/phone/TV screens for company. There’s a pervasive sense of loneliness and uncertainty that occupies all of us and the only temporary escape we get is nostalgia. It’s a little cosy corner in our minds, inaccessible and separate from all the filth of the world. And I think that’s something worth chasing right now.
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