They Don't Make It like They Used To

/ 23 Messidor 232
12 minutes / 2509 words

Nostalgia for the past has supplanted our yearnings for the future, becoming the default marketing tool for corporations. Instead of asking ‘what’s new?’, they ask ‘what have we done before that you liked?’. This trend transcends marketing tactics, reflecting a destabilizing era of remakes and reboots. Crucially, nostalgia is a finite resource, and its exhaustion bears unknown consequences.

Jean Baudrillard’s notions of simulacra and simulation offer a valuable framework for understanding this phenomenon. In the post-postmodern era, the line between reality and representation has blurred into hyperreality, where simulations precede and replace the real.

Constructed Nostalgia depletes this finite resource, erasing authentic memories and replacing them with inferior copies. Consequently, our recollections are overwritten by simulacra, leaving us with inauthentic memories devoid of the original’s substance.

Authentic Nostalgia

To understand this phenomenon, it is essential to distinguish between authentic and constructed nostalgia. Authentic nostalgia arises from genuine personal experiences and emotional connections to the past. In contrast, constructed nostalgia is manufactured, designed to evoke a sentimental response without the underlying connection. It creates a feeling that one should be nostalgic, even if the specific reasons for that nostalgia are unclear.

Constructed Nostalgia is a Xerox of a Xerox. It starts with something you genuinely remember and feel fondness for, then revises it. This sanitized and engineered version of the past creates a sense of familiarity and longing without the authentic emotional foundation. For example, the resurgence of 1980s-themed products and media is predominantly consumed by much younger people rather than those who lived through that decade. Twenty-first-century teenagers listen to cassette tapes and records, feeling an inexplicable sense of home despite having no direct experience with these mediums.

Stages of Simulacrum

Baudrillard’s stages of simulacra elucidate this phenomenon further. Initially, a nostalgic product is created as a faithful reproduction—consider Commodore 64 clones, for example. These products aim to replicate the original experience closely, preserving the essence and integrity of the original, and maintaining a strong connection to authentic nostalgia. However, as these products become pervasive and are altered for modern tastes, they transform into distorted representations (second order simulacra). Remastered video games with updated graphics and controls, while retaining the essence of the original, introduce modern elements that alter the authentic experience, thereby introducing a layer of inauthenticity.

The third order of simulacra involves copies that pretend to be real but are fundamentally different from the original. The NES Classic, a modern version of the original Nintendo Entertainment System with pre-loaded games and new features, presents itself as an authentic revival but is essentially a different product. In this stage, the distinction between the original and the copy becomes blurry, creating a hyperreal experience where the simulation takes precedence over the original.

Finally, the fourth order of simulacra represents copies with no relation to any reality whatsoever. Modern devices designed to look vintage but equipped with entirely new technology fall into this category. These products evoke a sense of nostalgia through aesthetics alone, without any genuine link to past experiences. At this stage, the nostalgic product is a pure simulacrum, serving as a standalone object of nostalgia without any connection to the authentic past.

The progression of these stages illustrate how the commodification of nostalgia is an ouroborus - you can’t help but erode the ground your standing on. This process of transforming authentic memories into commodified products ultimately results in a loss of genuine cultural and personal history. We replace the warm feelings of authentic nostalgia with it’s sugar-free version, lacking depth and authenticity.

The more we engage with these feelings, the more they’re overwritten.

Psychological Impact of Constructed Nostalgia

The psychological impact of constructed nostalgia extends beyond mere consumer behavior, influencing how we perceive and recall our past. As constructed nostalgia becomes the prevalent form, it begins to distort our memories and affect our well-being in profound ways.

When individuals repeatedly engage with nostalgic products that simulate the past, their authentic memories begin to fade, replaced by the sanitized versions sold to them. This phenomenon is known as “retroactive interference,” where new information interferes with the ability to recall old information accurately. For instance, someone playing a remastered version of a childhood game may find their memories of the original game becoming hazy, replaced by the updated experience. This not only affects personal memories but also shapes the collective cultural memory, as we begin to remember the past through the lens of these reconstructions.

The malleability of these feelings has profound emotional consequences. Simulated warmth and familiarity do not stand up to the real thing. The realization that one’s nostalgia is constructed can lead to feelings of disconnection and dissatisfaction. When individuals recognize that their nostalgic feelings are based on inauthentic experiences, it creates a sense of loss that extends beyond the media or products they interact with. This recognition seems to drive a cycle where people seek out more nostalgic connections in an attempt to recapture the original emotions, further cannibalizing their opportunities to experience genuine nostalgia.

The broader implications of this phenomenon are significant. We struggle to form a coherent sense of self when our memories are constantly overwritten by constructed experiences. This constant overwriting detracts from the formation of a stable personal identity. Culturally, our reliance on constructed nostalgia leads to a homogenized view of the past, where diverse and authentic childhood experiences are overshadowed by a dominant, sanitized narrative. This homogenization not only distorts our understanding of history but also diminishes the richness and variety of cultural memory.

We Can’t Go Back

Once this process of photo-copying and overwriting begins, we reach a point of no return. The original emotions tied to our authentic memories are replaced by their engineered versions. The broken wheel of constructed nostalgia ensures these genuine feelings are lost forever.

Consider a child who watches Ghostbusters in the 1980s and cherishes the film as part of their childhood. As an adult, they participate in the new sequels - a second stage simulacrum - but their own child, even if they watch the original first before the sequels, understand the film as “Dad’s thing”, since they can’t have the emotional connection to the time and place of the original film. They can only feel the simulacrum, the modernized version, without the cultural and emotional context.

With time, this means that nostalgia for the property gets burned up entirely. Dad gets frustrated with the retrobait no longer doing anything for him emotionally. Daughter never really felt a connection with it at all. Corporation moves on and starts constructing nostalgia for something else.

What we are witnessing is the creation of a feedback loop, where each generation’s history is undermined from the foundation upwards. Future generations, growing up with sequels and remakes, are nostalgic for a simulacrum—a copy without an original. This manufactured sentimentality lacks the depth of authentic emotional connections.

Before the post postmodern, history was rewritten by the victors. Now it is continually revised by those who profit from it. This commodification of nostalgia transforms our cultural history into a mass-produced disposable product. We slide through the tree of history, turning branches into walking sticks, and reduce it to a superficial, fragmented cultural memory.

Historical Events and Nostalgic Overwriting

By continuously engaging with these simulations, we risk erasing the genuine emotional connections that form the foundation of our personal and collective identities. As a result, the more we indulge in constructed nostalgia, the more we lose touch with the authentic experiences that once defined us.

The Summer of Love in 1967, celebrated as a time of peace, love, and cultural revolution, is a prime example of this phenomenon. The reality of the period was far more nuanced, marked by rampant racism, drug abuse, and clashes with police and the state. Nostalgic portrayals often delete these aspects, focusing instead on the era’s vibrant aesthetics and countercultural symbols.

Fashion and media not only reshape our cultural history of the Summer of Love by selling tie-dye shirts and bell-bottom jeans—they burn the historical context entirely. If listening to a Beatles record represents first-order nostalgia, then Temu flower-power jeans are a fourth-order simulacrum. As authentic nostalgia is consumed, subsequent generations fundamentally misunderstand past events. This sanitization permanently erases the struggles and achievements of our history, affecting contemporary social and political movements by oversimplifying and misinterpreting lessons from the past.

Moreover, our reliance on these nostalgic narratives stifles critical engagement with our own humanity. When the past is primarily remembered through constructed nostalgia, the complexities and true nature of our lives become reduced. The potential for meaningful reflection and growth is hindered, leaving us with an unstable foundation upon which to build our understanding of history and identity.

The long-term consequences of relying on constructed nostalgia are profound. As we continue to replace authentic memories with sanitized versions, we risk losing the ability to learn from history. This not only impoverishes our cultural heritage but also weakens our capacity to address contemporary issues with the depth and nuance they require. By embracing a more critical engagement with the past, we can preserve the richness of our collective experiences and foster a more informed and empathetic society. It is essential to recognize the difference between genuine nostalgia and its commodified counterparts, ensuring that our memories and histories remain grounded in reality rather than in superficial reconstructions.

Identity Formation and Attachment to Childhood Media

As constructed nostalgia replaces authentic memories, individuals struggle to form a coherent sense of self. We chase connections to our history, and not finding it, attach ourselves to our media instead. This phenomenon is particularly evident in the intense devotion a section of modern adults display towards the media of their childhood, such as the fervent fandoms surrounding franchises like Star Wars, Disney, or Marvel.

The attachment to childhood media often stems from a longing for the simplicity and comfort of the past. Constructed nostalgia plays a crucial role in this attachment by continuously repackaging and marketing these media franchises in ways that evoke sentimental feelings. As a result, adults find themselves clinging to these cultural touchstones, which provide a sense of stability in a world that, due to our reliance on overwritten memories, feels unfamiliar and ever-changing.

This reliance on media for identify formation has significant social implications. On an individual level, obsession with childhood nostalgia leads to a superficial sense of self, anchored in consumer culture rather then true authentic personal experiences. These “Disney-Adults” who define themselves through their fandoms are beyond the point of developing an independent identity, nor do they want to; Their self-concept is entirely influenced by the shifting trends and narratives of manufactured nostalgia, making it difficult to cultivate a stable and nuanced sense of self.

Baudrillard critiqued Disneyland as a prime example of hyperreality—a place where the lines between reality and fantasy are blurred. He argued that Disneyland exists to conceal the fact that it is the “real” America, or rather, a sanitized and idealized version of it. In Baudrillard’s view, Disneyland is not just a theme park; it is a simulation that represents the larger cultural tendency to replace the real with the hyperreal.

If this is the case, then Disney-Adults are the first class citizens of this “real” America, and exist only as expats in material reality. Simulated Nostalgia is their first language before english, more comforting and comprehensible then the material world.

This intense emotional investment in childhood media often leads to exclusionary and defensive behavior. A notable example is the vitriol directed at properties like the new Star Wars films and Captain Marvel. While sexism against female leads was certainly a factor, it overlooks a larger issue—the fear among fans that their identity, deeply intertwined with these media franchises, is being threatened by new adaptations and interpretations. These changes deviate from what they nostalgically cherish, prompting a backlash fueled by a perceived loss of the familiar elements that define their sense of self.

This pattern of defensiveness and exclusionary behavior is not limited to media fandoms; it extends into our larger cultural interactions, particularly in current politics. Constructed nostalgia plays a significant role in shaping political identities and behaviors, as individuals cling to idealized versions of the past that align with their beliefs and values. Political movements often invoke a “golden age” narrative, appealing to voters’ nostalgic longing for a perceived better time. This strategy capitalizes on constructed memories, glossing over the complexities and challenges of the past to create a compelling, yet simplistic, vision of history.

The rise of populist movements globally can be seen as a manifestation of this phenomenon. Leaders and political figures frequently evoke nostalgic imagery to rally support, promising a return to the values and prosperity of a bygone era. This rhetoric resonates deeply with those who feel disconnected from the present and yearn for the familiarity of the past; Moreover, the reliance on constructed nostalgia in politics can lead to polarized and inflexible viewpoints. Just as fans of media franchises react defensively to changes, political adherents reject new ideas and policies that challenge their nostalgic ideals.

The long-term consequences of relying on constructed nostaliga for identity formation will be profound. As individuals and societies become increasingly defined by their media consumption, the ability to engage critically with the past and present is compromised. The only option left is to burn it all down.

Oops, We’re Doing an Accelerationism

There is no turning back. It’s impossible to deny Constructed Nostalgia. As long as someone, somewhere, says “Remember this?” the process of its transformation begins, regardless of intent. The speed of resource extraction only increases as profit is discovered.

We can, however, accelerate its consumption until the economy of nostalgia self-destructs; revel in our history like dogs in mud. Burning through our nostalgic resources, we may reach a point where the past is entirely exhausted. This accelerationism proposes that we push this cycle to its logical extreme: by fully embracing the artificiality of Constructed Nostalgia, we expedite its collapse.

In this scenario, the relentless pursuit of monetizable history consumes all historical connections, stripping them of meaning until only the simulacra of all our feelings remain. With nothing left to feel nostalgia for, we are forced to confront the present in all its complexity. By exhausting the past, we free ourselves from its perpetual re-creation, and construct an authentic engagement with the now.

This would be a new cultural paradigm. In this landscape, individuals and societies would be forced to restructure around genuine, unmediated experiences - a world without history.

The only way out is through. Hasten the demise, and clear the path for an authentic future. Burn all of history until all that’s left to monetize and feel is the now - forge a new relationship with time and memory; grounded in the present, free from the distortion feel of commodified sentimentality.

This is why I’m watching the new Fallout TV show on loop. I’m an accelerationist.


Baudrillard, J. (1983). Simulations. Semiotext(E), Cop.

C, B. (2024, May 17). Diagnosing Lore-Brain. Brennan Words.

This Exists. (2024, July 4). CRT gaming and the trap of retrobait. YouTube.