Back to the Future

Vinyls. The Ghostbusters (2016) Reboot. Stranger Things (2016). What do these have in common? For those of us who cannot connect the dots, here is the answer: each of these items harkens back to a decade of the past.

In recent years, records started making a comeback in commercial bookstores such as Books-A-Million and Barnes & Noble. Contemporary artists like Twenty-One Pilots, Vampire Weekend, Adele, Ed Sheeran, and Death Cab For Cutie released vinyls alongside those of retro artists like Prince, Michael Jackson, Simon and Garfunkel, The Doors, and David Bowie. 

People started purchasing record players again—in fact, there's a record player on my hall, Jubilee. It was an unlikely comeback—why settle for a bulky, unwieldy record player and large album sleeves when you could have Spotify or iTunes on an easily portable device? Then there's the recent entertainment trend to reboot older franchises on television and the big screen, such as Westworld (2016), Fargo (2014-15), The Rocky Horror Picture Show (2016), the Star Trek trilogy (2009, 2013, 2016), Ghostbusters (2016), and the upcoming Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers movie (2017), along with the continuation of David Lynch's 90s thriller series Twin Peaks (2017). 


Why are reboots and continuations of retro entertainment so attractive to contemporary audiences? Now let's discuss the Duffer Brothers' television phenomenon: Stranger Things (2016). The events of season 1 of Stranger Things take place in 1983. The show is loaded with references to 80s movies—chiefly E.T. (1982) and Stand By Me (1986). (In fact, if you watch the beginning of E.T. and then immediately watch the beginning of the Stranger Things pilot, you will notice that the respective beginnings are nearly the same). 

On its initial release, Stranger Things became an instant smash. For the first half of last semester, Stranger Things seemed ever present on the flatscreen in Founders' 3rd lobby, and anyone who watched the Super Bowl last Sunday knows that the trailer for season 2 of Stranger Things premiered and immediately set pining fans—such as myself—on fire. 

Social media was ablaze with screenshots of the trailer and theories behind various film stills. But here's a thought: would viewers be as infatuated with the show if it took place in present time rather than '83? This growth of retro culture in the 21st century leads to one question: why? 

Why do we appear to be going through a cultural regression? What do people expect to find in the past? Perhaps it's only a fad which, like the wind, is there one moment and gone the next. But it could go deeper than that. 

Maybe we as a culture are searching for an escape from issues found in our own time. Maybe we are looking for happiness in nostalgia. Maybe we're pining for a time when we were still young children and the world was still a good place in our inexperienced eyes. Or, maybe it's just a fad.