Martorella: Holiday nostalgia
There is no doubt that this has been a nostalgic year in the media industry with all the television and movie reboots. There was even an interesting trend around Halloween, when Today, Good Morning America, and Live with Kelly & Ryan all used nostalgic television shows as the basis for their big Halloween costume shows.
“Research shows there’s a key human need for nostalgia,” began the Today report that preceded the costume reveal. It went on to say that nostalgia has even been found to help with stress and loneliness, and increase optimism about the future. “Nostalgia helps regulate anxiety,” said Clay Rutledge, Ph.D, a psychology professor at North Dakota State University who has spent years studying nostalgia.
"Nostalgia is the warm, fuzzy emotion that we feel when we think about fond memories from our past," noted Erica Hepper, Ph.D., from the School of Psychology at the University of Surrey, England, in a similar study.
So maybe that’s why I’m so conflicted about the latest holiday debacle, which is taking aim at my Christmas past. First, viewers were live-tweeting nonstop critiques of the animated Christmas specials that I grew up with (we all did!), and now radio stations are dropping “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” from their playlists. Has my foundation been corrupt all this time? Am I sitting on a throne of lies?
I hope I don’t get myself in trouble here, but there is a part of me that misses a time when we weren’t all on the defensive, ready to battle on every front. These classic holiday specials are from the 1960s. They show bullying reindeer, critical “coaches” (I’m looking at you, Comet), mean children, and grouchy Santas. They do a lot of things that aren’t appropriate now, but were considered pretty average behavior at the time. Heck, I’m surprised the Grinch doesn’t spend the whole time with a cigarette dangling from his spindly fingers.
How about A Christmas Story? Is it still okay to laugh at a movie featuring a boy who wants a bb gun, an obnoxious, impatient Santa, a light-up fishnet-clad-leg, the force-feeding of a child, children walking home alone, and a triple-dog-dare?
So I’m conflicted. I have a lot of good memories from watching these specials as a kid. I mean, the whole point of Rudolph is that he prevails despite others’ teasing, and I have no problem with that message, though I feel like I’m being told I should object to its delivery.
In my work, I am protective of victims of abuse, including emotional and financial as well as physical. I am a woman, and I have a daughter. But I personally love every version I’ve ever heard of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” including the one Zooey Deschanel sings in “Elf”, in which she ends up in an unexpected duet with a grown man while in the shower! But he is naïve and innocent, drawn in only by her voice, and I think context matters.
I agree, upon close inspection, there are some questionable lyrics, but I always believed that “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” was a two-sided story about a couple that knew they had to part (for their reputation, not for personal safety), but neither one really wanted to. I never got the sense that she couldn’t leave. In fact, if this were a modern romantic comedy, the audience would probably issue a collective sigh as she Ubered away after one last kiss, and root for their next meeting.
Not surprisingly, parody songwriter Penn Holderness put his spin on this song. In “Baby, Just Go Outside,” he sings an ode to consent, responding to each of the woman’s lines with respect for her choices and suggestions on how to go home. It almost becomes more offensive that she stays.
I have to believe that people can change or my work as a therapist is pointless. They can make amends for their past behavior, but they can’t undo it. They can only work hard to learn new ways of thinking and behaving so they don’t repeat it. Same for a society.
The researchers quoted earlier indicated that nostalgia can help us use the past to move forward. I say let’s use our new perspective on the content that was popular in the past to help us understand how to do better in the future.
But for a moment, can’t we just relax and bask in our childhood? I think that’s what [the holidays are] all about, Charlie Brown.
Rebecca Martorella, LMFT, welcomes ideas and comments and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.