The revival of Polaroids is deserved on virtue, but the majority of members of my generations obsessions are borrowed from the boomers. Thats no way to engrave an identity, writes Guardian columnist Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett

As of this month, Polaroid is back. The launch of Polaroid Originals– a new brand dedicated to analogue instant photography, reflects what the press release allegations is a growing is asking for instant film that” goes beyond nostalgia … in today’s fast-paced, digital world, a tangible object outside of your telephone screen becomes a valued artefact “.

The relaunch of Polaroid comes nine years after it was discontinued, and just over a year since the last packs of official Polaroid film expired( Florian Kaps, an Austrian Polaroid enthusiast, bought up the last remaining Polaroid factory in the Netherlands and tried to reinvent the movie from scratch. It is this” impossible programme” that has acquired the brand and paved the route for Polaroid Originals ).

I recall thinking at the time that the winding up of the instant photography limb of the company was a strange business decision; I was at university, and quite a few classmates applied old Polaroid cameras they had picked up at car boot sales or had owned since childhood. Interest in analogue photography formats such as Lomography was grow, and already my generation was starting to tinker with their digital photograph by adding filters to give them that dreamy aesthetic for which Polaroid is famed. Since Polaroid went away, photographic nostalgia has prospered in the form of iPhone filters, the Fujifilm instax cameras and cinema, and the revival of analogue photobooths. These days, there are even services which allows you even have your digital photos printed in the shape of Polaroid images.

But it’s not just photography that has been subject to millennial nostalgia in the past few decades or so – it’s almost any area of consumer goods that you can imagine, from vehicles( visualize the ubiquitous revamped VW camper fans ), to meat( avocados, anyone? Not to mention the popular Twitter feed and spin-off book 70s Dinner Party ), home medal( pot plants in macrame owners, mid-century furniture of the kind that cluttered up junk stores a few years ago ), vinyl, and gaming( the NES classic publication immediately sold out and comes pre-loaded with 30 original Nintendo games ). It’s big business, and my generation is lapping it up.

But why is this? Is it, as Polaroid claims, a need to return to tangibility at a time when all our material is still in cloud? Or is it the faith that, by harking back to the time in which our parents’- the boomers- were young that maybe, as if by osmosis, we can experience a bit of that” we had it so good” postwar privilege? The objects we devour and surround ourselves with “re coming out” a day when housing was affordable, education was free, rock music was new and exciting, medicines were pure, and people weren’t so fat.

Of course, all generations experience nostalgia, and it isn’t always positive. The word itself was coined in 1688, a portmanteau of the Greek nostos( homecoming) and algos( suffering, aching) and applied to Swiss soldiers who were fighting abroad and suffering a range of perturbing symptoms from dizziness to depression. For a very long time, it was considered a sort of mental disorder. Terms for it, or for sensations like it, exist in many languages, from the Welsh hiraeth to the Portuguese saudade, and the German Sehnsucht, all of which invoked a sense of craving, wistfulness or longing, which, in the case of hiraeth, is for a place that no longer exists, or indeed, may never have never existed at all.

Psychologists discover that, far from being a psychopathology , nostalgia was in fact be beneficial. But what they are talking about here is personal nostalgia for actual life experiences- memories of the” we’ll ever have Paris” range. What millennials seem to be fully participate in is historical nostalgia for a hour that they didn’t actually live through.

Marion Cotillard and Owen Wilson in Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris. Photo: Sony Image Classics/ Sportsphoto Ltd/ Allstar

It’s an emotion that’s brilliantly satirised in the Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris, when the protagonist, having time-travelled back to the 1920 s that he ever so idealised, realises that they’re all preoccupied with the belle epoque, and that, in fact perhaps 2010 isn’t all that bad because at the least we have antibiotics. Similarly, my generation is looking to the boomers for visual cues, just as the hippies of the 1960 s seemed to the pre-Raphaelites and a pre-industrial revolution kind of folky pastoralism for inspiration as a response to increasing environmental anxiety.

This historical nostalgia gets reduced down to an easily marketable sort, to the point where it becomes almost kitsch in the way defined by Baudrillard:” It recurs fashion without having been part of the experience of manner .” It’s the kind of kitsch that you might think of when you recognize a” Keep Calm and Carry On” poster, though this kind of pre-welfare country nostalgia is better summed up by the Icelandic slang term nostakligja, which signifies the gall-like taste you get in your mouth just before you throw up. It is use” where an overly romantic position of a bygone era transcends good taste and/ or common sense “. For me it cannot help but conjure the spectre of Brexit.

That’s not to say that any of these thoughts are at the forefront of any consumer’s thought process when they purchase a royalist tea fixed or a pack of Polaroid Originals film( I’m pleased about the relaunch of the latter – it’s a fun and influential creative medium that counts leading photographers among its fans ). But I do wonder when my generation is going to start stimulating its own aesthetic stamp on “the worlds” rather than looking to their parents for inspiration.

To an extent it reflects the fact that the culture gatekeepers are, in the main, part of that boomer generation- how many more BBC4 documentaries about the 1960 s are we expected to sit through? But the committee is also, to my mind, betrays a certain absence of imagination on the part of my own cohort, and a preoccupation with the lives of previous generations that might be inhibiting invention. It could be time to move on. Because if the angel of history stubbornly persists in looking back towards the past, it could well end up strolling into a lamppost. Not to mention that that sideboard likely ended up in a junk shop for a reason.

* Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett is a Guardian columnist

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