The New Old: Archaisms and Anachronisms across Media

Stefano Baschiera (Guest editor), Elena Caoduro (Guest editor)

Research output: Contribution to journalSpecial issuepeer-review


Transmedial and transcultural expressions of nostalgia are ubiquitous in our contemporary popular culture. Revival styles, vintage fashions, retro phenomena, skeumorphs and remediations are common presences in our increasingly digital cultural landscape, which gives up the dreams of spotless perfection of the binary code for the indexical ruins of the analogical. The popular culture critic Simon Reynolds has correctly identified the renaissance of past decades at the turn of the new millennium, arguing that “instead of being the threshold to the future, the first ten years of the twenty-first century turned out to be the ‘Re’ Decade. The 2000s were dominated by the ‘re-’ prefix: revivals, reissues, remakes, re-enactments. Endless retrospection” (xi; emphasis in the original). The fascination with the “outdated”, the pastiche of “retro” styles, and the evocation of past technologies are evident in media, fashion and industrial design and in different digital realms, from videogames to smartphone apps. This rediscovery and revisiting of past materialities and aesthetics is not simply a form of contemplative longing and emulation, but it also brings forth novel and innovative ways to engage with, rework and reappropriate the past.

This issue of Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media is devoted to the presence of archaisms and anachronisms in the contemporary mediascape and contributes to the current interdisciplinary debates around the nostalgia phenomena. Over the past decade, the digitalisation of culture has revolutionised the way we experience and consume the arts and the mass media, deeply affecting how these are perceived in their materiality. The tangibility of cultural objects, now caught in a constant process of remediation, has slightly waned: books, photographs, films, comic books, music, maps etc. are increasingly present in our life in their digital form. At the same time, the digital disruption of media industries has contributed to the emergence of a postmodern “nostalgia for the analogue” with the rapid increase of faux-vintage and retro phenomena in different aspects of media culture.

This new sensibility towards the past manifests itself in the use of anachronisms and archaisms. On the one hand, “the new old” appears in the persistence of authentically old objects kept as cultural artefacts from specific periods of the past, which find new uses in contemporary life. While old-medium-format cameras, polaroids, audiocassettes and typewriters populate our living rooms (and home magazines) as designer objects, artists and filmmakers rediscover 16mm films and U-Matic tapes and vinyl records are taking back or even surpassing the market share generated by CDs and digital downloads. On the other hand, new cultural products look at the past, mimicking old styles, stories and textures. In their imitative look, video games rediscover the simplicity of 2d and 8-bit technology; computer and smartphone applications feature a skeuomorphic design; everyday objects, from clothing to appliances, look at past styles; and photo filters applications such as Hipstamatic can digitally age pictures.

In screen media, this new trend is particularly relevant because of the abundance of stories set in a fetishised past—it suffices to think of the award-winning TV series Mad Men (2007–2015) or Ben Affleck’s Argo (2012)—and the reappropriation of analogue aesthetics, textures and genres from different cinematic eras, including the recurring homages to Hollywood golden age as illustrated in La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016) and Hail, Caesar! (Ethan and Joel Coen, 2016). The emerging phenomenon of retrosploitation is closely related to what is happening in more mainstream media (Church). Films such as Grindhouse (Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, 2007) and Hobo with a Shotgun (Jason Eisener, 2011) constitute both a pastiche and a manifestation of the subcultural capital of “cult” productions, as well as a nostalgic view of different forms of film consumption, from the drive-in double bill to the VHS.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAlphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 01 Dec 2016


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