Collective Nostalgia

via Buzzfeed

by Altea

Nostalgia can occur on an individual scale, but isn’t the most powerful nostalgia that of a collective experience? The popularization of trends, either on the Internet or through fashion, has definitely allowed us to experience collective nostalgia, but what about the individual events that have transformed everyone’s worldview?

  1. COVID-19

COVID-19 has to be the most defining historical event of the 21st century at this point in time. The effect that it’s had on the world on such a massive scale ensures that almost every single person on the planet has been somehow affected by it. The initial response to Covid by schools, businesses, and local governments was easily a defining memory for essentially everyone. 

March 2020 is easily associated with the onset of Covid by everybody old enough to form conscious memories at that point. The mention of Covid in general brings up shared memories from a very specific period of time for almost anyone you might talk to. Most people will remember the first vaccines, boosters, the Delta and Omicron variants, the mask mandates, the lifting of the mask mandates, when Trump got Covid, etc. Society has a whole has accumulated a collection of hyper-specific memories around a biological phenomenon. Almost everybody can remember the way they felt about the school closures, the continued spread, etc. Even now, it’s still unclear what the overall effect of Covid on modern society will be, and what the differences between those who grew up before, during, or after will be. 

  1. 2016 Election

The 2016 election was rife with political controversy and unprecedented events. Trump’s election came as a shock to many people. Nearly every American over the age of ten was somehow heavily invested in the results of the election. I have a distinct memory of waking up the morning after the election and immediately checking the results. Even though this was five years ago, I still remember the feeling of intense dread like it literally just happened. 

While memories of the aftermath might be more hazy, almost anyone that remembers when they found out can tell you the exact emotion, where they were, the circumstances, etc. A similar phenomenon occurred in the 2020 election, but the shock of Biden’s win wasn’t so permeating into the psyches of the masses. A better recent comparison to the 2016 election would more likely have to be January 6th. Both of these events induced shock and political polarization, and the collective as a whole was heavily shaken, either positively or negatively, by the events.

The 2016 election brought out an intense emotional reaction because of the intense commitment and adoration of Trump by his voters, or the intense fear of his election by Hillary’s voters. His win either caused strong feelings of triumphance or impending doom, depending on who you ask. Either emotion would have a lasting effect on someone. 

  1. James Charles

On Friday, May 10th, 2019, I was packing for a trip to Girl Scout camp when I received a flurry of texts from the group chat for the cast of my school’s production of High School Musical. The tone was distressed, urgent, practically hysterical. Eventually I figured out the reason for this frenzy–James Charles had been canceled. 

I went to camp that day and told my entire cabin all about it. We only had service in one part of the camp, so we crowded into the showers and watched the entire 43 minute long exposé. If I had to describe a formative moment in my life, that would definitely be on the list. The public shock that I felt, with two other middle school girls crouched in the corner of a mildew-ridden bathroom in Carnation, has not been replaced.

You might be laughing at how dramatic this sounds, but I truly felt as if I was witnessing history in the making. James Charles’ cancellation was truly the only one that took the internet by storm. Perhaps it was because he was so beloved, but people spent the entire summer burning their merch, destroying their palettes, and posting it on TikTok for the world to see. 

Maybe it was the fact that this event happened at such a formative period in my life–I was about to finish eighth grade and change schools, but I latched onto it. If you ask a variety of people who were in middle or high school in May 2019, they can all tell you just what they were doing when they heard about James Charles being canceled. 

While these events are examples of large-scale reactions to isolated incidents, collective nostalgia can appear in many forms. An excellent example of this is TikTok sounds, which circulate for up to two months at most, before disappearing into the dark crevices of the Internet, only to resurface when another trend goes around exclusively devoted to listing defining characteristics of that era of TikTok. The most fascinating part about the whole phenomenon is that everyone seems to understand perfectly what time period is being referenced just through whatever Doja Cat song was used for thirst traps at that point.

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