Blinded by Nostalgia

Nostalgia is a seductive liar.
-George Ball, American politician

At one point or another, individuals will feel some sensation of nostalgia towards various media such as movies, television, and videogames, having precious childhood memories of said forms of entertainment, often with regards to particular franchises, sometimes to the point where it affects their judgment. For “fans” of these types of media to feel this sensation is one thing, although there are some instances where so-called “professionals,” particularly critics and reviewers of various forms of entertainment, have a certain nostalgic blindness.

When new entertainment series see their birth, followers tend to assemble to pay attention to its various occurrences, new installments, and actions by their creators, although “fan” is allegedly short for “fanatical enthusiast,” the term “enthusiast” doesn’t accurately describe “fans” in many instances, and thus, “fanatic” is a more appropriate extension of fandom. As franchises grow, particular installments fanatics tend to revere as alleged gold standards of that particular series, in some instances the genre of which it is part, where so-called “fans” idolize the particular chapter and judge all others in the series against it.

One particular franchise that has a well-established fanbase is George Lucas’s Star Wars series, spanning several films, toys, and hundreds of novels. Although each installment of the original trilogy had their share of critics when they first saw their release, particularly The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, an odd transformation occurred wherein the franchise’s base considered all installments of the original trilogy to be masterpieces of the science fiction genre, a mindset shared by “professional” critics that initially panned them.

Lucas ultimately made the original Star Wars films episodes four through six of a larger series, and sixteen years after Return of the Jedi came the hotly-anticipated first episode of his saga, The Phantom Menace, which polarized the franchise’s base and “professional” critics alike. Although Episode I and its two sequels in the prequel trilogy actually received better reception than the films of the original trilogy when first released, there came much bitching and moaning from so-called “fans” and even many reviewers and critics about how the originals were better and how George Lucas desecrated their childhood memories.

As this writer pointed out in a prior editorial, being a “fan” of a particular series and liking its various installments are not necessarily the same thing, as equally demonstrated by the most recent installment of another George Lucas franchise, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. While critics and reviewers received it well, the Indy Jones fanbase was not happy, and, as with the Star Wars prequels, endlessly bitched and moaned about how the originals were allegedly better, even masterpieces, while being blind to their own flaws.

Videogame franchises are not immune to nostalgia blindness. Final Fantasy is a diverse franchise with many installments that all bear some form of distinction from one another, the series being a bastion of change and evolution, and naturally, its fanbase would endlessly bitch and moan upon the release of a new installment, holding certain entries, likely the sixth and seventh, to be gold standards of the role-playing game pantheon. The judgment of sequels and prequels against their predecessors and successors definitely begs the question about whether or not reception would be any different if the original installments didn’t exist, if the alleged “gold standards” were absent, likely providing more objective opinion.

Is nostalgia necessarily a bad thing? Definitely not, as nostalgia can in many instances bring out the best in people, although it can certainly bring out the worst. Being nostalgic to the point where it plants rose-tinted shades over your eyes can definitely lead to bias with regards to various forms of entertainment, and nostalgia, as George Ball indicated, can certainly lie to us, skewing our objectivity and opinions.

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