The power of nostalgia

26 May

This is Danielle Delnnocentes. She became internet-famous earlier this month when she was filmed crying her eyes out at the opening of the first In-N-Out burger chain in Texas. Most of the comments about her have been along the lines of “LOL she’s mentally unstable!”. Although the video IS quite funny, I think this kind of dismissal is pretty patronising and also doesn’t recognise the power that nostalgia has over all of us. She says it herself:

“I just have a 5 minute drive. It’s just so overwhelming. I kept saying all night, ‘Pinch me. It doesn’t feel real’. It felt real in there. (Starts crying) I’m crying again! I love In-N-Out…. Oh my god. It’s nostalgia. It took me back to Fontana and to San Mateo and to living in California. I can’t get over it. I can’t. (Picks up hamburger wrapper). I wanna keep that. Wow.”

She might be a bit more emotional about it than the rest of us, but I think she totally makes sense. Take myself as an example. When I first moved down to Brighton I spent my first few weeks food shopping in the health food co-op in the centre of town. When I found it shut one day, I went to the Sainsburys superstore near my house. I distinctly remember walking in and feeling this weird, massive wave of relief. In this new town where I was trying to find my bearings, Sainsburys felt like home. It is the supermarket my family shopped at when I was growing up – I recognised the smell, the signs, the fonts, the uniforms. Out of something apparently soulless, I had found something comforting. And now? Now I split my food shops between the food co-op and Sainsburys.

I’ll give you another example from that high brow work of art, Sex and the City. (Bear with me). It’s Season 6, episode 88. Carrie is in a relationship with the romantic, tortured Russian artist, Alexsandr Petrovsky. In this episode he buys her a beautiful dress, reads her poetry and tries to slow dance with her outside the Metropolitan Opera. Carrie, however, find this too European and old-fashioned, saying “It’s too much. I’m an American.” Next shot, they are in MacDonalds ordering a quarter pounder and french fries and then they begin to dance – “And there beneath the florescent moonlight, I was finally laughing with romance and not at it.”

It’s completely ridiculous that MacDonalds is painted as the height of romance. But it’s worth paying attention to, because I think the tack that many environmental or human rights campaigns take against corporations is depicting them as soulless, or clinical, or evil. But I would suggest that that is incredibly far from people’s everyday experience of them (especially if it is so connected with something as personal as eating). Fond memories are built and identities developed within the context of these corporate spaces.

MacDonalds, In-N-Out Burger – these foods are not good for us, or for the environment. But they have influenced the lives and memories of millions. Whatever values people come to develop, how can we compete with nostalgia?

I’m going to think on it…

hanna ♥

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7 Responses to “The power of nostalgia”

  1. Daniel Vockins May 26, 2011 at 9:34 pm #

    Very nice post. Completely agree with you and in fact as another example, there’s a big wave of ppl starting to ‘tag’ brands in their photos on Facebook e.g. Coke cans. It’s scary but brands are becoming even more of a status symbol (and arguably a constant) in a world which is ever more pressured and difficult to find identity in.

    Cant wait to read your next thoughts…

    • hannamade May 26, 2011 at 9:38 pm #

      thanks dan! wow that’s really interesting about the facebook tagging. it’s definitely something I am thinking about and I’m pretty sure it’s connected to the whole values-led campaigning thing. I’m just not sure how yet…

  2. Tom Lafford May 27, 2011 at 1:16 pm #

    Nice post. And great pictures!

    The emotional hold of cultural norms is a seriously uncomfortable topic. The idea that default behaviours are difficult to change simply because most people ‘choose not to choose’, often rolled out in arguments around food consumption, is incredibly reductive. Sure a lot of the time I’m on automatic when I choose one supermarket over another but just as often i’m driven (into Sainsbury’s) by emotional reasoning.

    The divide between automatic and reflective behavioural motivations in most behaviour change lit is really quite frustrating.

    Andrew Sayer’s most recent book entitled ‘Why Things Matter to People’ contains some interesting stuff about the implications of this for academic study and campaigning.

    • hannamade May 27, 2011 at 1:41 pm #

      Yes Tom! That is definitely part of what I was trying to say. I have been thinking about behaviour change and framing recently, and how we need to move beyond just thinking about habits or how we word particular things. It needs to be combined with action – creating experiences for people that are compelling enough to create an emotional basis for their change in behaviour. I’ll take a look at that book too.

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