book review: media and nostalgia

Dr. in Journalism and Mass Media, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and a Journalist in the Press Office of the Regional Local Government of Central Macedonia,Greece.

MEDIA AND NOSTALGIA: Yearning for the Past, Present and Future
Palgrave Macmillan, Memory Studies Series, 2014

Capture d’écran 2016-04-22 à 11.44.16Nostalgia is without doubt one of the core issues in media studies as the emersion of social media has given space to an increase in expressions of this feeling. As the editor of the edited volume Media and Nostalgia: Yearning for the Past, Present and Future, Katharina Niemeyer points out in her introduction, “the beginning of the new century would be marked by an increase… in nostalgic objects, media content and styles” (p.1). The book is an edited volume constructed in four parts comprising 16 chapters- essays, followed by references, one poetic transfer written by M. Baudrillard, an introduction and an index. The volume is a rich combination of theory, research, and practice in the field of nostalgia and its different engagements with the media, focusing on the issue of the current nostalgia boom which nowadays affects and infiltrates multidimensionaly various and different aspects of people’s lives.  The book’s scope is concrete, to interrogate the basic hypothesis that it sets: nostalgia has always been an affair of mediated processes, within both literature and the arts. “Media and new technologies in particular, can function as platforms, projection places and tools to express nostalgia” as it is mentioned in p.7. Moreover, the book’s purpose is to investigate how “media practice becomes an essential element of nostalgia, increasing with the recent development of new communication technologies” (p.7).
The strength of the volume is that it gathers essays of high quality which engage in distinct ways with the term of nostalgia, mediated processes by highlighting core issues and dominant topics of different moments. Via this approach, the authors succeed in revealing multiple aspects of nostalgia in specific media contexts. In this the book succeeds, due to the wide scope of the essays, the diversity of theoretical perspectives and the variety of methodological tools used. What makes the book a new intervention in media and memory studies, rather than just a simple recording of some case studies is that it offers critical approaches to nostalgia and its relation to different media by showing that “media do not only produce nostalgic narratives, but they can be themselves, the creative projection spaces for nostalgia, as well as acting as the symptoms or triggers of nostalgia” (p.11).
The book is the product of leading scholars, with special scientific contributions and important involvement in the field of nostalgia and the media. As a whole, the contributors seek to explore and analyze, as the book’s subtitle promises (“yearning for the past, present and future”) examining case studies and specific factors that have crucial impact on the reflections of nostalgia on media contexts. The methodology used in the edited volume includes empirical research and analysis of case studies, highlighting the catalytic role that media play in the emergence of this nostalgia boom. It is worth mentioning that the aforementioned methodology is based on a wide range of sources, the use of which is decisive for the documentation of the editor’s concluding remarks.
The contributors map out the unbreakable connection between media and nostalgia and the use of the latter by the former in order to enhance this sense of a common collective memory and its role in contemporary life. Through the case studies presented, the authors argue on that fact and set a steering question as the cornerstone of their empirical research analysis, regarding the ambivalent character of nostalgia as a renewal of a lost ideal and as a tool of a creative process.  It is to the credit of the editor that the volume gives the notion of a unified whole. This is due to the fact that the essays provide a broad range of disciplinary perspectives, specifically those of media studies, management, history, sociology, art history, philosophy, semiotics and political science. The majority of the contributors stand out, although that may also be the result of the reviewer’s point of view and personal preferences. The success of the work is that, through the findings based on scientific empirical research, it opens to the readers the path for fertile discussions and constructive concerns which direct to useful, comprehensive and definitive answers. Moreover, it helps readers, media researchers and scholars to create an image of this recently investigated field of memory studies and justify this ambivalent interconnection between media and nostalgia, which is successfully presented by the editor the book’s introduction. The volume’s important contribution is that, despite its heterogeneity, it succeeds in distinguishing the vanishing and returning patterns of nostalgia.
The book is divided to 4 parts, consists of 16 chapters, each of which covers an important dimension of media, nostalgia and memory studies, and one essay concerning a poetic transfer by M. Baudrillard in the end.
Part One, Analogue Nostalgias, consists of 4 chapters which share as a common ground the fact that all types of media production, either commercial or personal, which attempt to mimic older aesthetic forms, express a yearning for “older media” and the temporal experiences related to them.
The first chapter “Analogue nostalgia and the aesthetics of digital remediation” explores the relation between “analogue nostalgia” and media-inherent nostalgia for the past forms and points out how the less welcomed aspects of analogue media now attract the interest of the public.  The chapter examines the reasons that the aspects once considered as disadvantages/ problems of analogue media are now appreciated enthusiastically. In order to investigate these reasons, the author Dominik Schrey engages with the “metaphysics recording’ as well as the “double logic of remediation” (p.28). , the author concludes that “the phenomenon of analogue nostalgia embodies a return to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries’ fascination with ruins and its fragmentary aesthetics, which eventually led to the construction of artificial ruins” (p.28).
The second chapter, under the title “Homesick for aged home movies: Why do we shoot contemporary family videos in old –fashioned ways”, analyzes the evolution of home movie filming from super to digital -from the 1960’s to the present- and the changes that have affected the family unit (p. 39). Giuseppina Sapio discusses how the making of home movies contributes to a family sense of self-awareness (p.40). The chapter proposes to consider nostalgia for analogue home movies as an expression both for the tendency people have to think about their family rituals and of their desire to evoke them (p.40).
The third chapter of the book, “The instant past: Nostalgia and digital retro photography” directs attention to the relationship between nostalgia and temporality. Gl Bartholeyns develops the idea of an “instant nostalgia” generated by the use of photographic “apps” for mobile devices and it focuses on digital photography and the aesthetics of its ancestors. As the author concludes, the backward- looking aesthetic appears to be a way of cordoning off the time we find so hard to inhabit and the feeling of nostalgia puts the present at the forefront of existential depth (p.67).
“Retromania: Crisis of the progressive ideal and pop music spectrality”, the fourth chapter, seeks to explore the industrial patterns of pop music and its retromania tendencies. Maël Guesdon and Philippe Le Guern explain how the capital intensive motive turns the nostalgic spiral into a selling point and develops on an industrial level the so-called “retromaniac trend” by showing that the revivals in pop music correspond to the economic and commercial interests of the pop industry.
Part II connects 4 chapters under the general title Exploited Nostalgias, explaining the ways media are used as tools to frame nostalgia, memory and the past in distinct ways.
The fifth chapter, “Retrotyping and the marketing of nostalgia” focuses on the reflexive applications of nostalgia and discusses what is involved in its commercial exploitation (p.83). What Michael Pickering and Emily Keightley try to identify is the precise mechanism by which nostalgia is commercially exploited and how nostalgic feelings and values can be manipulated for quite different conditions from those which give rise to them in the first place (p.83).
“Anti-nostalgia in Citroën’s advertising campaign” is the subject of the sixth chapter of the book. Emmanuelle Fantin shows the interconnection of nostalgia and advertising, based on a case study on the car brand Citroën, and investigates how the rejection of nostalgia is used to produce it. The author argues the band’s campaign expresses nostalgia through the filter of what is called “baroque aesthetics” and if the analogy with Baroque seems at first glance anachronistic to describe a contemporary ad, this notion enlightens the symbolic depth and the core meaning of this campaign (p.96).
The following chapter, “Networks as media of nostalgia in an organizational context” goes one step forward by putting nostalgia in the aforementioned context. Thibaut Bardon, Emmanuel Josserand and Florence Villesèche explore how nostalgia is mediated within an organizational setting (105). By conceiving networks as media for nostalgia, they document the relationship that exists between media used by organizational participants to express their nostalgia and the strength of their emotional attachment to the past (p.115).
“Media and the closure of memory boom” is the title of chapter 8, where Andrew Hoskins engages with the memory boom that is used in media as news media drive this twentieth- century memorial arc, imposing the instant reassurances of the certainties of past survival on their intensive coverage of emergent conflicts and catastrophes (p.119).
Part III is entitled Screened Nostalgias and deals with nostalgia in film and television.
Chapter 9 “Nostalgia is not what it used to be: serial nostalgia and nostalgic television series” puts on the fore the psychological, creative, historical and political layers of nostalgia by investigating television series and the televisual serial. Katharina Niemeyer and Daniela Wentz reveal the explicit and implicit narratives and aesthetics of homesickness that can be found in American television series. The chapter reflects on the idea of introducing different types of nostalgia that are generated and revealed through television series and the serial characteristics of television (p.130).
In Chapter 10, “AMC’s Mad Men and the Politics of Nostalgia”,  David Pierson illustrates how nostalgic elements in popular culture can serve as a stimulus for politically liberal social and political change (p.148). By analyzing the main characters of Mad Men, the author shows that nostalgia serves as a revolutionary incentive for a critical and political practice that can be mobilized to transform oppressive social structures in our present historical condition (p.148).
Chapter 11, entitled “The television channel ARTE as a time machine and matrix for European identity”, engages with the “policies of nostalgia” and tries to give answer to the question “what happens when the search for identity meets with nostalgia and counter- nostalgia in less fictional television formats. Through the analysis of 3 programmes of the European Television Channel ARTE, Aline Hartemann studies the way ARTE functions as a “time machine” by examining its policy of nostalgia within its concern for shaping European identity (p.152).
In chapter 12, “Nostalgia, tinted memories and cinematic historiography: On Otto Preminger’s Bonjour Tristesse (1958)”, Ute Holl focuses on Priminger’s film and discusses its different imaginary flashbacks that are revealed through the use of the colors as well as the struggle between the memories and the colors.
Under the title “Creative Nostalgias”, Part 4 gathers chapters that investigate how nostalgias raised in film, literature and art are directly interwoven with media.
Chapter 13, “Creative nostalgia for an imagined better future: Il treno del Sud by the migrant filmmaker Alvaro Bizzarri, engages with migrant filmmaking by exploring the aforementioned film and its different aspects of production and gives answer to the question whether migrant nostalgia is a pathological or creative one (p.186). Morena La Barba puts light to the notion of homesickness and its psychological extensions and approaches the issue through a socio-historical point of view.
Entitled “Nostalgia and Postcolonial Utopia in Senghor’s Négritude, chapter 14 turns to the field of literature and analyses the poetry of Léopold Sédar and the theory of Negritude. Nadia Yala Kisukidi puts on the fore the “Senghorian nostalgia” and the “true cosmopolitical” notion hidden in it. The author reflects on to the question of “how the affective experience of nostalgia helps in producing a cosmopolitical and post-colonial utopian which the myths of Africa and Negro-African civilization play an important role. The chapter examines mediated forms that contribute to the construction of an experience of nostalgia that is more than a simple affective experience of recollection but also becomes a discursive and ethical proposal (p.192). The “Senghorian nostalgia”is characterized by a desire to return home and functions as a tool of relief. It is the nostalgia of a “world of hospitality” (p.199).
Chapter 15, “Impossible Nostalgias”, moves to the field of arts and examines the notion of nostalgia in the historical framework of the Second World War and the Nazi propaganda. Itzhak Goldberg analyses the concept of “impossible nostalgia” in the works of German artists such as Georg Baselitz, A. Kiefer and M. Cüpertz. The author points out that a sense of false nostalgia can be created when art functions as a medium in concrete difficult historical framework. The factor of “impossible” rests in the fact that even new creative artistic propositions cannot destroy this kind of militant art.
Chapter 16 “Journeys through the past: Contempt, nostalgia, enigma” examines nostalgia under the notion of relief, free of pejorative or regressive connotation, surrounded by an enigmatic grid. John Potts discusses, in this chapter, the enigmatic quality of the past which is characterized by a devoid of sentimentalizing aspects of nostalgia, existing in the present in a complex, often unsettling manner. The author focuses on nostalgia as it is refracted through the media and commodified consumer culture and investigates nostalgia as it functions with in the following particular emotional-economic circuitry: the tendency of the present to disdain the inferior and “primitive” conditions of the past. What the chapter discusses is the alternative perspectives on the past found in the work of contemporary artists, where the past is represented not as nostalgia or commodity or object of contempt but as part of an ongoing dialogue with the present (p.212).

The sheer number and scope of essays, as well as the variety of disciplines and points of view, provide context and inspiration that media and memory studies scholars will find relevant for their work. The essays raise a whole range of issues that will stimulate fertile discussion in the field by broadening its base. Of course, it is worth mentioning that all the contributors write fluently, their argumentation has strong foundations and their debate about the connection between media and nostalgia is always intelligent and illuminating, giving rise to fertile discussion and further research. In conclusion, the book succeeds in its aim which is to contribute to the recently introduced debate about the functional relationship between media and nostalgia and opens rich possibilities in the rapidly evolving field of memory studies.


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