Capitalism and Nostalgia

The only way capitalism can survive is if we’re all consumers. We constantly have to buy new things so new things can be made and the system reproduces itself, spinning into a showboat auction of who can sell the most stuff. There are whole fields of study dedicated to making consumers purchase the most stuff, which is a somewhat frightening thought given all the consequences. One way to win that profit race to the top is to figure out what consumers want to buy, and the easiest way of doing that is ensuring them of what they want to buy.

For instance, have you noticed all the sequels and remakes that Hollywood has been pumping out? We’ve just gotten a whole slew of new Star Wars films, Disney is releasing all their old films but with live animation this time (Jungle Book, Lion King, Mulan, etc), kids sequels like Toy Story 4 or Frozen 2, the list could go on. It’s not just direct sequels either, symbols and themes from the past appear in supposedly original work. Take for instance the Netflix series Stranger Things, which although an original work plays heavily into 80’s nostalgia; same with the much of our pop music, in which I’ve noticed New Wave motifs being played into heavily.

I’ve heard the phrase that “Hollywood is running out of ideas” but that’s hardly satisfying. What the media manufacturers are doing is far more calculated and in fact quite intentional.

At the base level nostalgia serves as a tool to remind ourselves about the past in a romanticized fashion that’s actually removed from the reality of what was. Like when conservatives talk about “the good ol’ days” as if those were a thing, nostalgia is the trigger that combines us with our past and adds an extra layer of glorification. It gives a greater sense of meaning to what we are doing by connecting us with the past. With nostalgia we aren’t just consuming, we are supposed to be reliving how good we thought it used to be.

I’ll be honest, when the new Star Wars films came out I went and saw them. I didn’t read any reviews because I assumed I knew what I was getting (before I realized they weren’t any good). I’d grown up with the movies and the video games and the action figures even though I wasn’t even alive when the originals were out yet I still had a sense of belonging with the brand. That’s why I unquestioningly went and saw them, it was more a nostalgia factor than a real decision. As humans we tend to like things that are familiar to us, it takes less mental processing than something that’s completely alien to us. That’s why it’s so easy for nostalgia to hook us: it’s familiar, we get a renewed sense of belonging, and the gratification of “belonging” to a brand for so long.

Capitalists use the nostalgia factor as a way of ensuring people will buy their products. Perhaps it’s retro clothes coming back in popularity, styles of architecture or building design, or our mass media: it’s all meant to sell. Did we need another Star Wars series? No, but what Disney needed was asses in the seats and a whole new generation of kids to buy Star Wars merchandise. It panders to both young and old. The old want a sense nostalgia, and the young want to be a part of symbols and cultural references that’s been around their entire lives and been engrained into the culture.

Marketing science really is a sinister human creation, and nostalgia is just one of their tools, albeit an increasingly popular one. Much of the popular business press has already written their praise for nostalgia marketing, such as Forbes and The Business Times.  But there is also the academic understanding that falls behind this marketing technique. There’s a digestible academic paper on the subject I want to highlight titled “A Review of Nostalgic Marketing” that goes through the details of how companies target consumers.

The paper rightly claims that “All merchandise can do nostalgia marketing” and breaks down the four target groups and their corresponding type of nostalgia. Those being:

  1. The experienced old.
  2. Groups of special experience: people that have particular backgrounds that converge with others.
  3. Groups away from previous environments: people whose living environment changes or their departure causes longing.
  4. Young people.

The marketing of nostalgia to young people is especially gruesome. The author Rubo Cui states that when marketing past experiences to young people “although not personally experienced, they still will be a choice of their trendy consumption” and the very act will “provide a big stage for the prevalence of nostalgic marketing.” Children are perhaps the group most targeted currently, because if you can hook children into a brand while they’re young then you can achieve not only brand loyalty but you can offer them images of their nostalgic youth while they’re older. An example I can think of is the playgrounds built onto McDonald’s restaurants starting in the 70’s. Not only did it give children something to do while their parents ordered food, it create happy memories for those kids to carry on into adulthood while they continue to order McDonald’s. Of course the playgrounds failed for a number of reasons, but the principle is still there.

However, the author of the paper (in their poorly translated English) gives the example of Coca-Cola as the nostalgic achievement. There are many ways which this is true, but our complex memory ensures that all types of nostalgia are available for marketers to target consumers.

Our culture and products are nothing more than a conveyer belt for profit under capitalism, and there’s little we can do about it. We could do a theoretical strike against these nostalgic money grabs but what good would that do? They’ll just give us something else to consume, and it’s permeated almost every marketed product there would be no use. I don’t expect consumer conditions to improve under capitalism, instead we should just be aware of the many ways that corporations target us and do what we can to overcome. So, go see the sequel to that movie or buy a Coca-Cola or get yourself a vinyl player, it won’t make a difference.

35 thoughts on “Capitalism and Nostalgia

  1. I graduated with a degree in “communication” (marketing) and deep disgust. However, the concrete thing I can do in my own life is to maintain awareness and make wise choices for myself. I do little to nothing with movies and paid music, but I buy groceries and many other things. I have no brand loyalty and I don’t buy into nostalgia, the various fears marketers target, or the fantasies used to sell products such as alcohol and medications.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. If there’s a drive to rid the planet of Capitalism, and in treating Capitalism like it’s an enemy, then there’s no other alternative than to switch to an allowance of all goods to be made as charity. Though, this only creates a world where people will believe that the “free item” is meant to replace something that is unlimited, like the freedom of the individual, when it comes to empathy.

    Capitalism has done one thing good, and perhaps many other things that are good; though, the one thing that is good, is that it has created that empathy from one worker to the starvation of someone else. The worker with capability works, while the starved individual will express gratitude.

    It is a family that shows love, and the providers who are shown respect. Respect challenges love and unity in such a way that it holds fast and steady the foundations, so that what has been built above them, does not collapse.

    The “free item” will make charity still a business and someone will still be flooded with desire. To believe in a world that doesn’t know desire, is denying reality at its very core. Reality is not man-made, but bound up in the logic of fate, and neither fate, nor nature, can ever be controlled.

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      • I think really what the comment touches on is the need for solidarity (which I would use in place of empathy). Solidarity between peoples inclines us to help the oppressed, although there is much more needed to get rid of capitalism I agree.

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      • Capitalism works on exponential growth as it’s meaure of success . We as humans all want to grow and have been taught that to do that we need more..generally more money and things we can buy with that money. I do believe there is a shift happening in mentality as we run out of natural resources , to see growth as possible without continuous material acquisition. I hope I’m right.


      • Not the businessman, nor the businesswoman, but the user of a job market where there is opportunity.

        The opportunist is who I refer to, and that opportunist has done on more than one occasion, aided the starving individual, has gained respect, and shown their love through empathy.

        What happened to a world filled with honesty? It is gone. I do not know where it went.

        Though, now we actually expect a government that has long been known to be corrupt, to take care of us. The common American is gullible, naive and ignorant, and that should be common knowledge. Empathy could not even be shown from Gandhi, because how could he tend to his individual followers, spend an hour of his time with them, without losing his mind?

        From Jesus Christ, to the therapist, everyone who does not utilize empathy is always limited in their time. Sympathy, however, are such people’s usage. Empathy will be used from one person to the next. Did Christ have a best friend? No. He has many followers. An unlimited amount of followers. Same with a Saint. Same with a pastor of today.

        I only favor those of honesty, and those who can look in the eyes of one another, and say either the words “yes” or “no” to them.


      • Sympathy is the used tool of a government whose people cannot possibly see to each person, individually.

        Empathy is the used tool of one person to the next person. It forms a family. It forms unity. It forms the individualism now believed not to be familial, but to be a single person of a single heart and brain.

        More than one person creates the individualism, in my eyes.

        You see when America’s founding fathers told us that the government must submit before the might of the people, it was when the government was in danger of utilizing sympathy. Though, when the people use empathy, they see their nation as a one, and begin to love their nation. When the government uses sympathy, because it’s impossible for them to use empathy, they see everyone as a one, and never as individuals. Thus, groups begin to form, and then we have the familial system.

        Though, empathy, when it comes to families, will create a family of love.

        Sympathy will create a family of prejudice and favoritism. Over love, there will be the “chosen few” that comes into the realm of use.


      • Let’s talk of Socialism.

        A type of pitiful system that denies reality at its very core. What it especially denies is that the human brain operates alike to first, second, and third world countries.

        The lower or Reptilian brain, references survival.

        The middle or Mammalian brain, references reproduction.

        The higher or Primate brain, references rest. It is the sort of “rest” that refers itself to dominance.

        Socialism either fails to recognize that when God is denied, then love is denied for what love naturally does, and that is, protect the flesh with warmth, from the cold.

        When flesh is exposed, and people have turned away from God, people look for truth and begin to “worship flesh”, so to speak. The truth becomes the same as flesh, and flesh becomes the same as beauty, in the objective sense.

        When flesh is removed, referencing the middle or working class, there is poverty. There is what is beneath flesh, and that is, a skeleton. Idiot Socialists fail to comprehend that when a human cannot work, cannot appreciate their work, and cannot actually earn anything, they lose their flesh, their purpose, and nothing is at all in the eyes of the beholder. Nothing is ever seen as it would be of the worker and what the worker can sculpt.

        All human bodies are composed like the brain.

        The Reptilian brain, is the skeleton, or death.

        The Mammalian brain, is the flesh, or beauty.

        The Primate brain, is God, or control, or science, or love. It is the answer and the protection away from fear and all unknowns.

        Socialism just can’t seem to understand that when flesh is removed, when drive is removed, when the urge to steer away from survival is removed, then people fall into poverty.

        Inevitably, this occurs.

        Either they don’t understand that, or they want to cut the link between the lower and higher class, so that the rich remain rich and the poor remain poor.


      • You have Karl Marx confused with socialism. The system he propounded was communism, which is different. Also, he still holds some renown in the study of economics.


      • I don’t read, so forgive me on that large bit of ignorance.

        I have a mentality where it takes a small seed of information, and turns it into some large. I deal in metaphors and perhaps nothing more.


  3. I just learned of a term called “Utopian Socialism”.

    I have written somewhere about the “utopia” these words:

    “Where does a human flee to when life turns upside-down, as it normally does, and their entire nation is seen as safety? Safety would become a contagion, and interiors and exteriors wouldn’t be differed. Nothing would be quarantined, and no one would see where such a plague has spread. Again, where does the human flee, when safety lingers everywhere, and the world supposedly holds no hatred? The answer is ‘everywhere and nowhere’.”


    • Yes, you really can reach any conclusion when you have no logical argument.

      Nostalgia is not “raising people from a past, into a balanced present” and that seems to be nothing but poetic nothingness. It is not “raising” anything and there is no “balanced present” but merely a longing. Bringing forth a memory that is idealized and filled with euphoria to distort the reality of what that past was. By taking your false definition you somehow conclude that capitalism has helped the poor and children? That’s certainly a nice fantasy and one easily shattered if you looked out your window instead of creating niceties in your head.

      I’m not sure why you brought choice into your argument because it has nothing to do with capitalism. Sure, in capitalism you can choose to which products to buy but just as well under capitalism monopolies exist to limit choice, and consolidation of capital is one of the key features of our society. It has nothing to do with “choice” which is another reason you mistakenly bring in the pro-choice argument as if that has anything at all to do with the discussion. It’s a false premise and a dream.

      I know you said you don’t read much, but if you’re going to make sweeping arguments about politics and economics then you have no business doing so without at least having a basic historical understanding.


      • I’m having a hard time finding fact and/or logic in your arguments. Indeed, most of it is psychological or poetic (or something) concepts I’ve never once encountered. In any case, it’s apparently off the topic of economic systems except for your declared intent to somehow stop socialism.


  4. Consumerism wanes of its own accord when you have enough stuff and no room to put it. Or when you have broken stuff or stuff that’s no longer useful (if it ever was) that you must dispose of, or stuff that requires more maintenance or cleaning than is worth the time or effort. Stuff requires attention. There are so many things competing for attention, eliminating of some of the demands becomes cathartic.

    The fatalism of the idea that we are doomed to be victims of the marketing demons underestimates the satisfaction derived from saying “no” and walking away.


  5. Thanks again for your input – love reading your posts.
    It seems that perhaps you are moving toward a nostalgic sentimentality for the state-controlled economy, a form of centralised planning, if you will, whereby consumers (for that is what we are) are only able to consume goods and services manufactured and designed in the own nation.
    One nation that comes to mind is that of the USSR, where consumers experienced the use of deficient products and a far lower standard of living than we in the free world.
    By the 1980’s the USSR had 98% control of the retail trade but its people had just enough exposure to the West to know they wanted consumer goods from outside of their own country even if they were more expensive at the time. They saw the people of the West living the good life and they wanted a share.
    You might say they knew not what they wanted but try telling the people that.
    Most consumers will aspire to something better and want to achieve and progress in the world.
    We also have the benefit of the ability and the freedom to reject consumables, to live an alternate life if we so choose.
    You, too, have this freedom.
    Long may it be so.


  6. I’m weak in the face of nostalgia, so I’m their target demographic. Sadly for them, I’m chintzy and poor. I see your points, but I still believe capitalism is better than other systems. Choice is a good thing, even if the choices are meh.


  7. Good post that has produced some interesting comments. I still believe in capitalism but feel that greed has taken an upper hand. An economy in which the poor are sidelined helps no-one. I look at the poorer parts of Brazil, which was a country seen to have great potential just a few years ago, where unemployment is at 50% (or worse) and crime has filled the void – drugs to keep hunger and fear away, theft to buy food, obtain material items, and maintain the drug supply, and violence as a means to stay alive or assist gangs gain an upper hand. Meanwhile, family-owned businesses earn enormous amounts without investing to build the economy – leading to a slow stifling of the economy and income derived from exports.
    In theory a little unemployment is good since there are many that do not want to work. But 50% is outrageous. I don’t think the world has recovered since the financial crashes of 10-12 years ago … maybe there are some entrepreneurs that have benefited and think that the current state is good. I think a review of what makes good economic sense is overdue.


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