Academic Writing

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Power of Nostalgia

You might have seen the recent buzz surrounding LeVar Burton's Kickstarter campaign to resurrect Reading Rainbow.  As he explains in the accompanying video, he is hoping to raise 1 million dollars over the course of the month of June in order to be able to fund a reboot of the series and make it available to all children across all media for free.

In less than one day he reached his monetary goal of 1 million dollars.  By 4:30 on the second day he has already surpassed the 2 million dollar mark.  How did that happen so fast?  Why were so many people (over 45,000 people thus far) happy to open their wallets and make donations to fund this project?  To me, this exemplifies the power of nostalgia.

Reading Rainbow is a powerful brand to those of us who grew up watching it, and while he's done plenty of well know and important work (Roots, Star Trek), for many of us, Burton is mostly known as "the guy from Reading Rainbow."  We grew up in an age where cable TV was not as pervasive as it is today, and even if you had cable, the best children's programming was on PBS.  It was educational, empathetic, interesting, smart, and most of all, it didn't pander to the lowest common denominator of attention grabbing.  (See: Any of The Disney Channel's current line-up to see what I'm talking about).  Children were spoken to with the assumption that they were smart and excited to learn new things be it Reading, Math, how things are made, or even social skills (Thank you Mr. Rogers, 3-2-1 Contact, Square One).  The value of educational television for children on that level seems to have been lost in the bombastic ratings-grab game of the 21st Century.

Are people yearning to give today's children what we had back then? Are people excited to be able to relive a piece of what we grew up on?  Burton offered incentives for large donations - private dinners with him, etc - maybe that's what spurred some of the donations, but overall it's clear that like generations before us, we believe that the good old days were in fact the good old days and are willing to open our wallets to bring even a taste of it back.  I just hope that the things we valued then are adapted appropriately and functionally to this brave new world and can impart good into it, rather than being watered down and bastardized to fit our current frenetic pandering media landscape.

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