Examining why certain media permeate our society
For as long as there has been modern media, there have been the classics. Films for creative types to emulate in all of their endeavors — pieces of media that set the standard for entertainment. Classics are a clear part of defining culture, particularly showing what is popular in each era.
These staples of the past most commonly come into play through education and through the opinions of critics, though not always when it comes to the average American. In fact, many don’t even know what “classics” are defined as, because the concept of a classic is hard to define. Classics what has been held up as exemplary through the test of time, though it can be argued they aren’t necessarily the best, or even the most worthwhile bits of media. The worth of a piece of media is inherently subjective to each person. One may love Chopin and Mozart, while another might be the biggest fan of Madonna and Bruno Mars. Neither is objectively more impressive. Yet classics are still considered, in many cases, the pinnacle of media. Given this, are classics just that great and inherently better than more modern media? Or are they merely byproducts of the effects of nostalgia left on our memories?
Nostalgia is a powerful emotion. It can make old memories seem new, putting a rosy glow on the past. But nostalgia can also be a liar. In a study done in 2014 by the University of Southampton, collective nostalgia was shown to affect people more than their own personal memories. Speaking positively of a memory led each person to remember the memory as better than it actually was, causing them to become nostalgic. And whatever the group as a whole thought, influenced what the individual believed. This could be one reason why classics are so widely renowned throughout society, as it becomes almost heresy not to like them when so many others do.
Sean Scanlan, a professor of cultural studies at the New York City College of Technology, explained that it is important to recognize the power of nostalgia, which he believes permeates society. “Obsessing about the past is nothing new,” Scanlan said. “Nobody escapes the shadow of yearning.”
Jack Bryant, a screenwriter, agrees. Bryant has been involved in the film industry for the past 20 years, and has experienced the influence of classics throughout his entire career. “Nostalgia is a powerful drug, and definitely plays a role in classics seeming better than the current [media],” he said. “But classics are classics for a reason,” he added.
That’s one school of thought, as some argue that the classics are good because they’ve managed to become something ingrained in our culture. Regardless of whether the discussion is about books, movies or even music, many people seem to agree there is something to media that’s stayed relevant for this long.
“It has always been impressive to me how classics have withstood the test of time,” said Jack Powers, a member of the television industry who has been involved in producing shows such as Modern Family. Though his medium for media is new, Powers has experienced a good bit of comparing the old to the new. “But it is important,” he said, “to remember that media created today could possibly become a classic as well.”
This is a point that often stays out of the debate. Classics are not created out of nowhere — they are decided after years and years of what people come back to, what they continue to love. It is, of course, important to remember that the classics are often decided by the dominant group of the time. As a result, oftentimes they have offensive undertones, such as books defining women as meek, helpless creatures or movies in the 1900s portraying almost exclusively white people. Just like with written history, the ruling class gets to decide what part of culture survives.
Because of these kinds of concerns and others, there are still people who are on the fence about classics being designated the most distinguished pieces of media.
“They were the best of their time, yes,” said Kyle Lauerman, a self-made media creator whose focus is editing and visual effects. “They can be considered revolutionary, and they can be iconic. But I think that calling them better than something made today is a definite stretch.”
Lauerman, like many other millennials, has spent a good portion of his time studying the classics of film, television and music. These classics are important, he said, since they lead to learning the value of tried-and-true methods, but they can also be outdated and in need of being replaced.
For some, classics are the standard. For others, they are nothing more than something to learn about in a history class. But whatever they may be, it’s apparent that the classics make an impact and start discussions — exactly as they were always intended to.
Valerie DiGloria is a second-year writing for Film, TV and Emerging Media major who takes a side of nostalgia with their breakfast. You can email them at [email protected].