"Well, technology is a glittering lure. But there's the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash, if they have a sentimental bond with the product."
Don Draper said that. In an episode of Mad Men, a show that is — almost definitively — about nostalgia.
But your memories are not real. In some ways they don’t even exist.
The broad scientific consensus is that memories are a construction. A reconstruction to be more precise. Nothing more than a series of processes and mechanisms that are collated, interpreted and invented depending on the circumstances in which they are being invented.
In other words, the act of remembering is an act of creation. Your memories, as a tangible, retrievable thing, literally do not exist.
It's been an interesting week for memories.
Yesterday EA released a brand new, well-received trailer for its upcoming video game Star Wars: Battlefront. In the trailer, a man in his late 20s or early 30s sits in an office setting. 'Millennial Office Man': the assumed video game demographic in human form. He is working hard at his job that gives him the disposable income he needs to buy all the video games we assume he is playing.
Millennial Office Man is working late in the office job we assume he hates. There is no-one else is in the office and the suggestion is clear: he shouldn’t be working at this hour. But he has no choice. There is a project that needs to be complete ASAP. He needs to get those numbers on his boss's desk by tomorrow morning. Something like that. Millennial Office Man is on deadline. Life is difficult. Adult life is difficult. Some form of escape is required. This is understood.
Millennial Office Man picks up a Star Wars figurine. An R2-D2. It sits on his desk. In a moment of contemplation he rotates this emblem of a childhood frozen in time. Meditating, we assume, on the adult he has become: a Millennial Office Man who works late into the night and no longer has time for his childhood joys.
The memories come flooding back in waves. Star Wars themed sleepovers with a friend. Pretend Star Wars dogfights on bicycles by day; lightsaber battles with torches by night. These are the roots of Millennial Office Man. This is what defines him. He craves a return to those halcyon childhood days, to those long summers that stretched long into the distance of our collective memories. Millennial Office Man's quarter life crisis is in full flow and only one multimedia brand will scratch that itch.
Millennial Office Man hears a rumble. What could it be? No, impossible. Millennial Office Man's friend, Millennial Office Man #2, is outside his office building window right now, inside an ACTUAL X-Wing. Let us play Millennial Office Men, let us escape the drudgery of modern life through this video game vehicle! Fly Millennial Office Men, fly! Fly from your obligations! Fly from the numbers and your presentation and your Baby Boomer Bossman. Fly from it all and embrace that inner child. Remember those days when you played X-Wings by day and lightsabers by night. Remember. Remember. Remember.
Fuck. Holy shit. What a commercial. What a trailer. Seriously, honestly, sincerely. As a commercial for a product I now want to buy, it is some God-Tier, Don Draper-level shit.
Teddy told me the most important idea in advertising is "new". Creates an itch. You simply put your product in there as a kind of… calamine lotion. But he also talked about a deeper bond with the product: nostalgia. It's delicate… but potent."
The power Star Wars has over us is otherworldly. To watch the Star Wars: Battlefront trailer was to be affected by it. Perhaps against your better judgement.
Is this a bad thing? Is it a problem that this 'brand' has that uncanny ability to latch onto our collective memories and exploit them so efficiently? Even as I type these words I'm unsure. Many will dismiss it as a bit of fun, and it could be interpreted that way. We are young, we have disposable income. Why not spend it on the product that scratches the itch?
But scratching an itch isn't always the healthiest approach.
It's a strange two-way street. Articles lambasting the generation gap are as boring as they are predictable, but there's a certain level of truth there. We are, in many ways, a generation frozen in time, drawn to and defined by the media we consume. We play video games like old men restore classic cars. To an extent this is a conscious choice, but it's a historical burden. As a 'generation' we are struggle. With the weight of the houses we can't afford, the student loans we can't pay off, the expectations we can't fulfill. Born to a generation who demand we grow up and take responsibility, but can't stop treating us like children.
In some ways I wonder. What do we relate to more? Is it the love for Star Wars as a brand or the situation we find ourselves in currently? Is it the X-Wings and TIE Fighters and lightsabers or is it Office Millennial Man himself? Working late, stressed over deadlines and a working day that stretches into the long hours of the night. Is it any wonder we feel that need to escape? Can we be judged for that? Should we be judging ourselves for scratching that itch?
Again, as I write these words, I'm honestly unsure. But it does feel unhealthy, doesn't it? How easily we can be exploited. How easily our nostalgia for these invented memories can be sated and catered to by the products we're being sold.
Tomorrow is an important day. 21 October 2015. In a bizarre way it's an intersectional day for an entire generation. October 21: the day upon which our collective future becomes our present. And shortly afterwards our past.
I’m talking, of course, about Back to the Future — the date Doc Brown plugs into his DeLorean shaped time machine. I’m talking about the future. That unfulfilled promise of the future.
It's funny. The appeal of the original Back to the Future was, undoubtedly, the nostalgia. Its celebration of the 1950s and everything that came with it. A memory, reconstructed, reinvented through the lens of the decade in which we were born: the 1980s. The decade in which we are eternally trapped. Now we, as a culture, are in the process of grasping backward into our own past and reimagining it.
It'd funny how it all comes around. Our future, that once seemed full of possibility – a future filled with hoverboards, flying cars and shoelaces that tied themselves – isn’t quite what we expected. Now we want to go back; to that place that never really existed in the first place.
And we’re willing to pay handsomely — repeatedly — for that privilege.
Teddy told me that in Greek, "nostalgia" literally means, "the pain from an old wound". It's a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn't a spaceship. It's a time machine. It goes backwards, forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again… It lets us travel the way a child travels. Around and around, and back home again… to a place where we know we are loved."