How nostalgia inspires the culture of re-watching television series and films

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Feeling nostalgia through cinema and visual arts is a prominent emotion that arises when one is presented with representations of something from the past, whether it was a lived experience or one resulting from the phenomena of re-watching material.

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

In the age of streaming services like Netflix, Disney+, Crave, and many more, access to television series and films are increasingly available. As such, this has also increased the ability to re-watch our favourite ‘comfort’ programs.

So, what makes a television show or film comforting or nostalgic? It could be that it was
something you watched as a child, or perhaps something that makes you feel immersed in a time or context that brings feelings of content.

Cinematic nostalgia in 2022

Anyone who grew up in the eighties would have a fondness for popular films or television shows. As an example, we see this through the popular sequel to the iconic movie Top Gun (1986).

Paramont Pictures

The sequel, Top Gun Maverick (2022), was an absolute hit at the box office for various reasons, however, the nostalgia phenomenon did play a role in its popularity.

Many adults who adored the first one growing up flooded the theatres for the opportunity to re-experience the characters in a different storyline which still played homage to the first.

Gilmore Girls and the lure of rewatching

Warner Bros/Everitt Collection

Personally, I experience feelings of nostalgia for the television show Gilmore Girls, which has led me to re-watch the series three times. As someone who does not traditionally re-watch television programs, I was faced with the question of why this television show is so meaningful to me.

Of course, it is entertaining, but I realized it was the comfort and nostalgic feelings I have in connection with the series. It brings comfort but also demonstrates my growth and changing experiences. Each time I have re-watched it, I have been confronted with varying perspectives.

Particularly it has been my perspectives of the characters relationships which have evolved over time.

[Warning Spoilers Ahead!]

A fresh perspective

The changing attitudes I experienced through re-watching the series surprised me and did not fit with the traditional sense of security one usually obtains through watching something repeatedly.

When one of the main characters, Rory Gilmore, leaves her first boyfriend, Dean, for the new “bad-boy” Jess, I remember thinking that I would do the same because Jess was a bookworm bad boy, which in comparison, seemed exciting.

The second time I watched it, I could not believe I ever felt that way. This time, I felt that Dean was clearly better for Rory than Jess. Unlike Jess, he got along with her mother and built her a car from scratch.

Predictability and comfort or new twists and reflections?

If predictability plays into the reasoning behind why a program feels comforting, the question
then becomes, how does changing perspectives contribute to the fascination of re-watching
comfort television shows and film?

The answer may be more complex psychologically. From what I have gathered through experience, the situations and general storyline of the shows remain the same. In contrast, our own life experiences alter the way we might perceive them or characters later.

Like my Gilmore Girls example, life experience taught me that finding someone who treats you well and gets along well with your family triumphs the excitement that can result from someone like Jess Mariano’s character.

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Sparking a new conversation

Overall, nostalgia creates feelings of comfort through predictability and security. Television
shows and films that generate these feelings within us make us more likely to re-watch them because it makes us feel good. In my case, it can also be used as a benchmark to demonstrate inner growth achieved by life experience.