‘Weaponising Nostalgia’

Since the release of The Crimes of Grindelwald, I’ve been reading and listening to a lot of criticism about the film (despite categorically refusing to see it). One piece of criticism which struck me was when the phrase ‘Weaponising Nostalgia’ was used by filmmaker Hazel Hayes in a podcast. The phrase has kind of been buzzing around in my brain for a long while, and I’ve been noticing when other mediums do it, too.

So what is it? My understanding of the phrase is that companies – whether that be in film, music, fashion or others – use nostalgia as a way to generate interest, and therefore income, to their products. The Fantastic Beasts films for example do this as they’re attached to the beloved Harry Potter brand, making fans want to revisit the world of their childhoods.

This series in question has had a lot of criticism around this due to it re-writing the rules of the world we had so cemented ourselves into. Things are revealed which seem somehow tacked on or unrealistic, and the whole thing feels as if it has been made with little to no care for its audience and the, I guess, integrity and high standards of the Potter brand.

So yeah, I guess it takes the lovely, whimsical, rose-tinted nostalgia to lure you in and – a lot of the time – just destroys it.

This idea is hugely cemented in the vast amounts of remakes and reimaginings we have now. From Netflix’s Sabrina channelling 90s Nostalgia, to the remakes of Ghostbusters and Oceans 8, even to all of the Disney merchandise we see in Primark. Most things we are attracted to or are spoken about tend to be based on or compared to things we know and love. Marketing 101.

Side note: Ariana Grande is kinda doing this with her ‘thank u, next’ music video?? Aside from the fact we all love her anyway, her use of four iconic teen films her core demographic of fans know and love (eg mean girls and legally blonde) mean that her social media posts teasing the video have been gaining perhaps more traction than they usually would. [I’m so bladdy excited to see it!!!] On that note, shout out to Iggy Azaelea’s music video for Fancy which is based on 90s film Clueless (in turn based on Emma by Austen).
extra side note: loved the video<3

Disney is also a huge player in the idea of weaponising nostalgia. Whether that’s in merchandise or Pixar films supposedly linking with each other with Easter eggs and the huge Pixar theory, or it’s recent onslaught of ‘live action’ reimaginings, Disney is making BANK with its new style of film – in fact, the CEO of Disney from 1976-84 Michael Eisner, is quoted as saying:

“We have no obligation to make art. We have no obligation to make history. We have no obligation to make a statement. But to make money, it is often important to make history, to make art…” (Disney War, 2005)

In knowing and being aware of all the nostalgia that hangs around new releases, it allows us to take a step back and think about whether we really liked, for example, the live-action Beauty and the Beast, or if we just liked the nostalgia that watching the familiar story brought.

And I guess it also makes me think about whether these remakes are any good or just money making _trash_. Like, I think it’s cool when there are new adaptations of old films (eg A Star is Born) and things are built upon and explored in a new way. Like the ‘live action’ Jungle Book which came out in 2016 explored Mowgli as being ~bad~ and, tbh, the animation was sick. But straight up remakes or things which seem to have 0 thought behind them? With my marketing head on I can see the benefits and the dollar signs and the audience you will immediately capture. But as an audience member/’cultural critic’ (???), I think we just need to be more aware of it, and maybe call it out? Start pushing the films our pals are making which are original and push new boundaries, rather than pushing the boundaries of a fandom.

Not saying remakes can’t be original in their own way, it’s just a very fine line, sometimes.

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