Oscar nominations reveal nostalgia for simpler times

This year there’s a definite air of nostalgia to the Oscars, with a majority of Best Picture nominees peering into the time tunnel: War Horse (World War I), The Artist (Old Hollywood), Midnight in Paris (1920s Paris) and so on. The Oscars are often cited as a cultural barometer of sorts, so what does this say about our mindset? JWT London asked a panel of British film viewers why we plunder our past so readily.

Participants (35 percent) were most likely to believe it’s a response to the times. The past offers escapism at a time when we’re buffeted by a harsh economy, global unrest and the spectre of terrorism. This is closely aligned to a feeling of “reassurance and comfort,” suggested by 32 percent. And 34 percent think it’s a response to cinema’s focus on technical fireworks: More than a whirlwind of special effects and explosions filmed in IMAX, 3D or even 4D, people are looking for an old-fashioned storyline.

There’s certainly nostalgia for the cinematic past. When asked to name the greatest era in cinema history, 78 percent pointed to a period before the turn of the century, and a majority (66 percent) believe today’s Hollywood A-listers don’t have the star quality they used to. Significant percentages would also like film-going to resurrect relics from the past like usherettes bearing treats (40 percent), a short feature before the film (35 percent) and the intermission (28 percent). Fewer than 3 percent choose downloading or streaming as their favorite way to watch films.

This reflects a wider appetite for all things retro, like classic TV (72 percent) and retro recipes (54 percent). Most people believe things used to be simpler (84 percent) or even better (51 percent). Even 50 percent of those aged 18-39 wish things “could be how they were in the old days.” Today’s unprecedented pace of change means we constantly need to learn new ways to live, which can be overwhelming. Looking to the past is a form of escapism and a reaction to the complexity of modern life. Nostalgia is a way to tap into familiarity, which builds emotional connections and warmth.

Photo Credit: M4D GROUP

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