Nostalgic About Nostalgia: The Complex Results of Meaning-Making

Michael Harkin’s “California Dreamin’” article took me back to one of my Cultural Anthropology discussions about how environment/space has potential to influence culture through personal experiences.

In Harkin’s piece, he discusses how his most recent trip to Walt Disneyland, with his child, made him long for his own childhood as he became increasingly nostalgic over the course of his visit. Harkin describes his nostalgia through the lens of someone who grew up in Southern California and he suggests that the nostalgia he experienced while at Disneyland was the deliberate intentions of those who design Disneyland’s exhibits. Disneyland encouraged a specific type of nostalgia for Harkin; a type of nostalgia that is ideal to a person who experienced a midwestern, town that revolves around the typical “Main Street USA,” while showing heavy signs of late 1800 influence.

Harkin effectively describes the complexity of nostalgia by suggesting that, “nostalgia operates as a sort of prism, refracting all primary experience: thus, I could be nostalgic for my parents’ nostalgia for the Midwest in a seemingly simpler time, seen from the troubled 1960s.” Through this complexity, we can see how a place can influence ones experiences/feelings. In addition to this, we can even use a place to make conclusions about the long term cultural effects a location has on a group of people.

Anthropology can be used to better understand the designs of spaces and the specific visual/environmental tools used to induce certain emotions. We continue to see the heavy effects of environment on culture especially in an age where cultural diversity continues to decline. An example on the heavy influence environment has on culture can be seen in the film “Sun Come Up, where the viewer is exposed to the troubling effects of climate change on Carteret Islanders. In this film, we can see how the relocation of the Carteret leads to the eventual end of their culture because their culture is rooted in island life with no exposure to the market economy.

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Referenced: Film: Sun Come Up