Nostalgia gets a reset
Social science research has shown that the quality of shows can influence us in important ways, shaping our thinking and political preferences, even affecting our cognitive ability: You are what you watch. Personally, I watched more than my fair share of films from my youth (90s/00s) during lockdown. And it got me thinking; some of these films have aged well. Some haven’t, and largely in terms of what is considered socially acceptable behaviours. Did I recognise certain conduct back when I was 15 as inappropriate? No. Too much social conditioning. Thankfully many things have changed since then, and my tolerance levels have too. Take ‘Cruel Intentions’ (1999), which is all sorts of wrong. The lead character, a sexual predator, assaults the female characters yet comes out the hero because, well, he fell in love and then accidentally died. So that makes him okay. (Whereas Sarah Michelle-Gellar’s character is vilified for what? Being sexually liberated and doing a bit of coke on a Friday? True, she was at school.)
By contrast, ’10 Things I Hate About You’ (1999), thankfully, is still an absolute classic. Perhaps one inappropriate grope from the lead who thinks that forcefully kissing Julia Stiles’ character is okay. But to be fair, this was pre #MeToo. On the whole, great gags, and I can still remember it line for line. And when the teacher complains that there aren’t enough Black writers on the school syllabus, it feels like ‘Yeh good point, hopefully that’ll be solved in 20 years’ time.’ Right?
Looking at the two contrasting examples above, it begs the question: What kind of stuff we make now will age well? What won’t? Why? And what insight into the role of film, and indeed advertising, in shaping social consciousness do the answers to those questions provide us?
Putting the ‘modern’ in modern day
Netflix’s latest ‘Eurovision’ movie (2020) with Will Farrell had me disappointed on many levels, both as a massive (original) Eurovision fan and of Farrell films in general. Aside from the fabulous synchronised swimming whales and the homage to Iceland’s love of elves, there were at least three penis-size related jokes. Base humour I thought (which also prompted my nephew and nieces aged 12,10 and 8 to ask Alexa how big the largest penis in the world was. Answer: It belonged to an American, Alexa told us. 13 inches.) Verdict: Eurovision will not age well.
The streaming giant’s ‘Hollywood’ on the other hand will I think only get better with time. An alt-history drama that reimagines the 40s as if the biggest film production house had been a cultural trailblazer, ‘Hollywood’ bravely explores themes of race and homosexuality. Imagine: At a time when ‘Gone with the Wind’ Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel, wasn’t even allowed to sit with her co-stars in the ceremony because of segregation, the show reminds us just how different tv and film – and workplaces and society? - would look now if production houses had been truly brave back in the day.
So, what can we learn? And how can we use these learnings in the ad industry, which is after all a microcosm of the larger global movie industry?