Nostalgia is a lifestyle for a lot of us. We watch retro shows, listen to old music, watch classic movies, collect old books or toys, and before we know it, it’s simply what we do. Our nostalgia doesn’t necessarily mean we’re stuck in the past. It means that the past is not something we are willing to forget or forgo altogether. Various particles of the past are beneficial to our present and future selves.
“Nostalgia, for what?” is my way of asking two questions. Why do I “do” nostalgia, and for what am I nostalgic? I think, write, speak, and sing the language of nostalgia primarily because nostalgia set up camp in my soul a long time ago. I felt its power about as early in life as a person can. I talk about that a little bit here, in a November post about preschool television in the 1990s. My earliest memories of being nostalgic also stem from the programs my parents watched in their youth and then passed on to me. I knew that the shows were old, and I’d venture to say that I had a decent grasp of decades by the time I was six or seven years of age.
Besides the fact that nostalgia is ingrained in me, why else do I continually engage with it? Two more reasons, for now: I don’t know how to cope without nostalgia, and I believe nostalgia creates valuable human connections in a time when it’s all too easy to disconnect.
Human connections exist with nostalgic friends, nostalgic acquaintances, and nostalgic people I’ve never met. I find value in discussing nostalgia over the phone, in person, or via social media. I have had deep conversations on memory and childhood with people I know in “real life” and people I’ve met online. And yet, I’m also nostalgically tied to people with whom I’ve barely or never exchanged a word.
I regularly listen to a podcast called The Coogan Chronicles, hosted by AJ Trauth and Chris Marquette. Chris and AJ started the podcast in 2020 as a way to publicly converse with other former child actors. I listen to their podcast because I’m a Disney Channel historian, because I’m a human, and because I can learn something from the hosts and the guests.
On one level, I’m a human listening to other humans talk about their lives. That’s nice. On the next level, I study the Disney Channel and care about what kid actors experienced during their time there (a number of guests starred in Disney shows and have shared about that on the podcast). On the highest level, I develop empathy for a former child actor and strive to see them as much more than a character they played on a show that I watched.
Raviv Ullman was a guest on The Coogan Chronicles recently, and he said something that made me stop in my tracks and think, “This is why I do nostalgia.” Here are a few of Raviv’s words:
I believe that the things that we make, the fact that they might bring joy to someone, is amazing. And that was the joy of working on a show like Phil of the Future…the idea that we were invited into someone’s house, and they came home from school and they sat down, and the parents got to go away and deal with something else or take a nap or do whatever they had to do, and a kid got to enjoy themselves and laugh at something. That is awesome.
I love this quote because Raviv acknowledges, as an actor, the presence he has had in the lives of kids of the past. I was a kid who got to sit down and watch Raviv and AJ and Chris and so many other talented people through the years. The child in me thanks the child/teenager in them for giving me years of entertainment and comfort. Though I’ve not yet met Raviv, I am impacted by his work and his words. Please listen to the episode to hear more.
In a roundabout way, I’ve already touched on the second part of my question, “for what am I nostalgic?” Thankfully, I have plenty of time and space to revisit that whenever I want. If you poke around on the site, you’ll find more Disney Channel, retro sitcoms, the Olsen twins, and more.
My mind has been tossing around the true (and perhaps obvious) idea that nostalgia is more than a medium like TV, although TV is often where it starts for me. We’re nostalgic for other moments in our lives. Though the memories can be beautiful, they aren’t always easy to process. If you ever want to talk to another person about that, you know where to find me. Look back, look forward, and take a deep breath right now, right in the middle of it.