Why is pop culture so addicted to the past?

Vinyl ThumbIt seems like we’ve entered a sociocultural time machine. 

Young party-goers are once again listening to bands like The Beatles and Bob Dylan, on vinyl no less! They yearn for simpler times, wanting to experience a taste of a culture once thought to be dead and gone. But with the current resurgence of retro trends, their nostalgia might be for naught.

Vinyl record players were Amazon’s top selling item this past Christmas, Quentin Tarantino is shooting movies on 70mm film, and bell-bottoms are back on the runway. It might seem out of place in a world where technology is king, but society’s obsession with newfangled gadgetry hasn’t faded. Rather, it’s colliding with a culture that’s inspired by our groovy and radical predecessors.

So what factors are driving this trend?

Georgia Gaden Jones, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Communication and Culture at the University of Calgary, believes that rather than being a direct repeat, pop culture reinterprets the same things in different ways at different times.

“Elements of the grunge style and culture that I remember from the early 90s have shown up in contemporary pop culture,” she explains. “But they are taken up in different ways and in conjunction with other styles rather than being simply transported from one time to another.”

She also points to a theory that retro culture is proliferating out of a mass rejection of all things fast and mass produced, which helps explain the popularity of Etsy, an online retailer of handmade crafts.

“There is a nostalgia for simplicity, and natural,” Gaden Jones says.

David Crosson, an interior designer in Calgary, thinks that the retro revival reflects the power of nostalgia for the baby boomer population in an economic downturn.

“When times are a little rough, people do tend to run to nostalgia for the comfort factor,” Crosson explains, “it’s sort of a denial of aging by going back to a comfortable level.”

Crosson explained that when hosting an event at SAIT, he and his team used this nostalgia factor to create a vibrant party.camera-photography-vintage-lensA longing for nostalgia helps retro culture stay relevant. Photo courtesy of unsplash.com by Creative Commons

“We did demographic scans of the people who were coming, took the median age and then went ten years out both ways and picked the top 20 songs from the years that those people would have been 18 to 25 years old,” he explains, “We never had an empty dancefloor.”

Crosson also integrates retro concepts into his interior design projects.

“I see it quite often in my practice, people are looking to work some element of nostalgia into their homes, but generally not in the public areas. It’s almost like a private moment of reflection.”

“In the living room and kitchen, where people are actually having people over, they want to be very current,” he continued, “But in places of solitude and relaxation, they always want to return to retro looks.”

Simon Reynolds explains in this music-focused book Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past, that the retro revival is a result of “YouTube’s ever-proliferating labyrinth of collective recollection.”

The retro revival appears to be here to stay, but what will it look like in 20 to 30 years? A retro retro revival? Which artifacts from today’s world will teenagers be sporting in 2050? The only thing we can do is stay tuned to find out.

Thumbnail courtesy of Skitterphoto by Creative Commons


The editor responsible for this article is Dan Ball, dball@cjournal.ca

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