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What is pandemic nostalgia? – Atlantic


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Iit’s easy to forget on toilet paper shortages, empty streets and sanitized grocery stores. The first days, if not weeks, of the pandemic seemed like a twisted novelty. You can try a TikTok trend: whisk together sugar, instant coffee, and a little lukewarm water, then drop this fluffy meringue over some milk – dalgona coffee. In the fridge, your sourdough starter looked mushy and carbonated. Later, you’d take a socially distant walk, but for now, you’d be making headway on that loan you owed Tom Nook in the Animal Crossing universe. You didn’t know what a variant was. You had never heard of a “Fauci ouchie”. And you thought you’d probably be going back to school or your office in a few weeks. It was in March 2020.

Amid the throes of the late-stage pandemic, millions of young people have grown up to miss this time at the start of last year. Their desire is captured in TikToks and YouTube videos that romanticize trends, obsessions, and sounds from 18 months ago. These creators of the “Early Aesthetics of the Pandemic” built an online community bound by longing for a time when the world seemed united in the face of an uncertain future.

James Ikin, a 25-year-old man in London, jumped on the TikTok trend of pandemic nostalgia last October, using a soundtrack that mixed together the most viral songs from his forties, including ‘Say So’, Los Angeles rapper and singer Doja Cat’s disco-infused pop track. (The video has over 3 million views, and a similar video he made in February has over 450,000 views.) “Back then, it was just plain and simple,” Ikin told us. . “You’re locked in, and that’s what life will be like for the foreseeable future for absolutely everyone. So what now you are trying to chart a course for… and it makes life even more complicated. “

The kind of videos Ikin and other young TikTok creators fueled emerged during the summer and winter of 2020, when people feared the temporary emergency could go on indefinitely. More people jumped on the trend in March, a year after the first stops. Even now, new videos keep coming out as students and young professionals return to the classroom and the office.

Sophie Feldman, a 22-year-old college student from Chicago, remembers browsing TikTok one day in August 2020 and taking the first notes of Benee’s “Supalonely”. “It appeared on my ‘For you’ page [the continuous feed of videos at the heart of the app], and it immediately brought back all those memories, ”she told us. Lying in bed, she turned on her camera and recorded what has become one of the genre’s most popular videos: As a camera filter cycles through flashes of red, purple, cyan, and yellow light, Feldman rolls his eyes and looks into the distance. , flashing white. Referring to the evocative power of a single song, a caption above his head reads: “This sound screams of whipped coffee, forced family walks, a shortage of toilet paper, banana bread and the Tiger King. “

“It feels like a fever dream, like the weather isn’t real,” Feldman said. The cultural moments she recalls in her video looked like distant memories, but they had started a few months earlier. Apparently, over a million other TikTok users experienced the same feeling of melancholy (the clip has over 4 million views and over a million likes). “Ahh the hopeful part of my 40s” and “Why do I miss this a bit,” read the top answers. Scanning the comments, Feldman saw note after note of melancholy. “We just felt nostalgic for that period of time when we felt so together, even though we were physically isolated,” she said. “And I feel like that has dissipated over the last year and a half.”

Why do these videos resonate? According to David Newman, a researcher at UC San Francisco, nostalgia is a natural response to uncertainty and dissatisfaction. At its root, the word breaks down in Greek nostos (“Back home”) and algos (“pain”). In Newman’s studies of nostalgia, he found that in everyday life, most people feel nostalgic when they also feel lonely or isolated. Whether it’s because of the return of masks, electoral turmoil, or the recent Delta wave, people can yearn for a time when the gravity of the situation has not fully set in. Over time, we can forget the negative memories and hang on to the positives, Newman and other psychology experts told us.

The historical significance of the pandemic may also have fostered a specific type of nostalgia: anticipatory nostalgia, or the feeling of missing the present before it has even passed. Most people are keenly aware that they will remember the pandemic for years to come, and perhaps live and document their days with that prospect in mind. Social media certainly encourages this kind of premature desire – or at least the feeling that the present moment needs to be captured for posterity. In the Netflix special Inside, comedian Bo Burnham recounts his own downward spiral throughout 2020, compiling and synthesizing moments of loneliness, mania and introspection into a portrait of pandemic life. Inside contradicts pandemic TikToks nostalgia in that it doesn’t romance the past year, but the artistic intent is similar. In a 2018 interview, Burnham described how social media shapes how young people see their own memories by encouraging “to have an experience but at the same time hover behind you and watch you go through that experience, being nostalgic for moments that did not happen. yet, plan your future to look back on it.

Responses to videos on nostalgia for the pandemic, however, show occasional criticism mixed with agreement: For every batch of commentators remembering the start of the pandemic, someone is angry for glorifying the spread of a deadly disease. . (VoxRebecca Jennings took issue with the solipsism of some of the videos, writing that “this perverse form of longing for life in quarantine is both myopic and dishonest,” although a certain degree of tongue-in-cheek trolling underlies most of TikTok.) Parents , essential workers and physicians professionals did not have the privilege of a restful early pandemic, and class and race dynamics played a role in who had the time or mental energy to sit at home grow green onions and watch King Tiger.

Amanda Gordon, YouTuber and senior at NYU who has made a series of videos subtly pushing back the pandemic-nostalgia trend, is surprised people are really missing March and April 2020. “I wouldn’t say I was miserable,” we told us. she said. “I feel like I’m honestly trying to be an optimistic person.” But his situation at the start of the pandemic was far from ideal. The NYU campus closed and she had to return to live with her family in upstate New York. Her summer internship failed. She began to question job prospects in the film industry. Logging into Zoom classes, she wondered if an online education was worth the thousands of dollars she was racking up in student debt.

It was not a period of rest and relaxation, but of questioning the value of his present and his future. Gordon has spent hours brainstorming ideas for videos and ways to grow and monetize his YouTube channel (it now has over 200,000 subscribers). She applied for a scholarship and got a job at her local grocery store so that she could repay her student loans. In a video titled “My Life Isn’t a Movie,” Gordon attempts to portray his daily routine without aesthetic glow, unlike the “day in my life” videos which celebrate the mundane. That’s not to say that Gordon completely rejects life-glorifying videos – she’s having fun harnessing her own “main character energy” and trying to capture the cottagecore aesthetic.

Emotional and existential stressors can end up generating positive memories and motivations in the future, says Andrew Abeyta, a professor of psychology at Rutgers University in Camden who studies nostalgia and memory formation. In fact, nostalgia can help people deal with traumatic experiences in healthy ways. “Remembering the good and bad things that came out of the pandemic, for some people, is their way of making sense and growing from the experience,” Abeyta told us. While not as severe as the deaths, the losses suffered by many young people over the past year and a half have generated their own kind of latent grief. A generation of young people missed important milestones: graduation, moves to university or to new cities, 21, first jobs. The traditional markers of adulthood have been replaced by days at home, under the watchful eye of the family, and in childhood bedrooms.

As much as the people we spoke with may miss the suspended hustle and bustle of those early days, they are also concerned about fall and winter even more uncertain. Some have returned to classes or to work in person, but don’t expect it to last and dread the idea of ​​leaving remotely. Others still work from home and can’t stand it. In this context, pandemic nostalgia is an understandable reaction to pandemic fatigue, and as the coronavirus tends to become endemic, it seems the early days of quarantine will not easily fade into recesses of society’s memory. . For many Americans, March 2020 will become a shared benchmark; they already remember where they were when professional sports were cut off, when Broadway closed, when they were told they had to go home.

In search of a space to process their feelings of loss and grief, young people go where they often do: the Internet. There, memories of the beginning of pandemic life may end up being used not only to feel connected to others, but also to cope with that sadness. The guilt that accompanies pandemic nostalgia is a consequence of people trying to glean value in generally terrible times. And while nostalgia may be an effective crutch right now, it alone may not lead to the meaningful and lasting healing that people seek.

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