AGE of INFLUENCE: going BACKWARDS to go FORWARDS

AGE of INFLUENCE: going BACKWARDS to go FORWARDS. Words by Victoria Spratt.

We’ve had the fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties and noughties. Here were are in the decade with no name. What defines it? Throwback Thursdays and Flashback Fridays. They’re digital time hops, a chance to dig through the archives of your own existence in order to take the attention of the present and turn it on the past.

There are also entire Instagram accounts dedicated to sharing 90s and early 00s pictures of the Spice Girls and other stars like JLO, Britney and Sarah Michelle Geller as Buffy. The first generations to grow up online exists, Janus-like, on the Internet – at once looking to the past for inspiration and representing the future.

Nineties nostalgia has been palpable on both catwalks and high street racks for years now. This season the eighties are well and truly back, with many designers directly referencing the decade.

Now is our generation’s time to create, to innovate and yet, nostalgia reigns in popular culture. Every film feels like a remake – last year there was a new Star Wars film which, perhaps deliberately, held onto it’s decidedly 70s aesthetic. It also extends to the clothes we wear, from the proliferation of 90s fashion on the high street at Topshop, Urban Outfitters and ASOS to the higher end with emerging designers like Londoner Caitlin Price, who has cited drum and bass raves and 90s club wear as their inspiration, or Marques Almeida, who reference 90s grunge in their sell out collections. Vetements made headlines when they collaborated with Juicy Couture on a throwback to Paris Hilton’s favourite loungewear and Givenchy, alongside Hood By Air, were among the first designer to put 90s streetwear onto catwalks in the 2010s.

Why is the most thoroughly modern, technologically savvy and forward looking generation so backwards-looking? Is it possible to use the past to push things forward?

Nostalgia is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past.’ The term has its roots in the Greek – nostos, means ‘to return home’ and algos, meaning ‘pain’. It is the fact that we cannot recover the past, that we cannot ‘go home’ which makes up the power of it’s appeal. Of course, we’re not talking about the past as we actually experienced it, this is the past as we imagine or, rather, reimagine it now, idealized and edited in memory.

Historically being nostalgic or using nostalgia as a form of expression in art or literature has not been seen as a good thing, rather it’s been viewed as the antithesis of progression and innovation. Miuccia Prada once said ‘nostalgia is a very complicated subject for me. I'm attracted by nostalgia but I refuse it intellectually.’

Why is nostalgia regarded so scathingly, why is so much shame attached to looking back?

Dr Wildschut, an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Southampton where there is a group of academics dedicated to the study of nostalgia, explains that, traditionally, nostalgic feelings were ‘confounded with homesickness. People who spend time away from home often experience loneliness and sadness. Loneliness and sadness may trigger nostalgia, in an attempt to counteract these negative states. In the past’ he says, ‘people may have inferred and assumed that it is nostalgia which causes loneliness and not the other way around. That is’, he points out, ‘they viewed nostalgia as a cause of (rather than adaptive response to) loneliness/sadness.’

However, he maintains that nostalgia can be a force for good. ‘Our research indicates that nostalgia can have many positive effects: it increases a sense of social connectedness, it boosts self-esteem, it imbues life with meaning, it fosters a sense of continuity across time. These are all important psychological functions.’

On the one hand nostalgia sells, it’s used by marketers and advertisers to tap in to something deep inside us which makes us want to buy things that remind us of our youth, or of a time in the past which is particularly venerated.

The past, recreated through a nostalgic lens, is never an accurate depiction. It’s a highly stylised, idealised and romanticised version of it. As such, in its own way, nostalgia as an aesthetic can be politically reactionary. In drawing on things which were once popular you retreat into a safe and knowable era, as opposed to engaging with the complexity of the present or the unknowable volatility of the future.

Done well nostalgia can be a rejection of the past, the act of selectively picking what was good and moving it forwards. In deconstructing the past it’s possible to reconstruct a future which is related to but separate from it. Done carelessly it can provide an abdication from the present and represent a failure of imagination.

The question for the decade no name is this: where do we go from here?