Nostalgia Filter

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
The nostalgia goggles you get today are crap; they were so much better back in my day.

"Nostalgia is a seductive liar."

George Ball, American politician.

There is a tendency for adults to see newer material in a medium (be it music, film, animation, or comic books) as inferior to the older 'classics' that they knew in their youth.

There are many causes for this. First, people's tastes are generally based on the art they knew as they grew up, and they continue to inform themselves on this basis. Second, tastes refine as one matures; what may have seemed brilliant to a child or teen would seem crude or laughable to most adults, but the memories of how great something from one's youth seemed linger long afterward, making the familiar examples seem better than more or less equivalent modern ones in comparison. Third, change in most art forms comes in waves, rather than developing continuously, and the transition from one wave to another can be jarring and unfamiliar—while the periods between waves tend to be uninspired across the board.

However, it is likely that the most important cause of this nostalgia is a consequence of Sturgeon's Law combined with the passage of time: As new material is released, the vast majority will be of mediocre or worse quality, but over time, a powerful selection pressure causes all but the best material (and in some infamous cases, the worst) to be rapidly forgotten, leaving an increasingly inaccurate impression of the overall quality of the genre over time. This is known as "the nostalgia filter", and can be easily demonstrated by a careful review of the period works that are not remembered today.

The distance of time also compresses the memories of past eras, causing the best work to seem more continuous than it was, whereas "new" is a continually moving frontier: between this memory compression and the selective memories of "the good stuff", the past of the genre is remembered as a time when "it all was good"

One final possible reason: most developers/authors/artists/musicians/etc. create whatever is popular at that day and age. This means that what was popular last year isn't being produced in the same density. If a person's preference is for something that is out of fashion right now, they may have little choice besides 'hang onto the older version' or 'give up on it completely'.

Of course, this is certainly not to imply that newer is automatically better or that the Nostalgia Filter applies to every single case; just because a person prefers an older work to more modern things doesn't mean they only like it because of nostalgia. Sometimes the older work is better, or at least has its own appeal that the present things don't -- even beyond "Charm", which is often thrown around to describe stuff mostly to just mean "It's nostalgic".

Sam Viviano, art director of Mad Magazine, has a saying which defines the Nostalgia Filter: "MAD was at its best whenever you first started reading it." A corollary to that is that, if you didn't like MAD, it was at its best shortly before you started reading it. Similarly, it's often said that Saturday Night Live was always at its best ten years ago, regardless of when "now" is.

You'll notice that this trope sometimes overlaps with the Periphery Hatedom. Almost always, when people complain about how new stuff sucks, they bring up examples of things which were marketed towards the youth of their own generation as examples of "good" or even "classic" works in the genre. Never mind that 20 years ago, when it was being marketed towards them, the adults back then were saying the exact same thing we are today. It's a neverending cycle.

See also Nothing but Hits and Nostalgia Ain't Like It Used to Be. Another reason for this trope is that True Art Is Ancient. Contrast Deader Than Disco.

No real life examples, please; we'd be here all day. Please limit examples to Nostalgia Filters worn in works. In short, pretty much any genre or form is subjected to this in Real Life, so such examples aren't really necessary.

Examples of Nostalgia Filter include:

Anime and Manga

  • Invoked in Code Geass, with a drug called Refrain, that causes one to experience hallucinogenic flashbacks to past pleasant experiences.

Comic Books

  • The Archie comic "Nostalgia Gets Ya!" plays this trope obnoxiously straight, talking about how much better life was back in The Gay Nineties when policemen were always treated with respect, women were put on pedestals, and nobody worried about pollution.
  • Viz has a running joke about how it "isn't as funny as it used to be".
  • The Crisis Crossover Infinite Crisis basically revolves around this trope, which the surviving heroes of Crisis on Infinite Earths hold to with varying degrees of fanaticism; having decided that the universe that resulted from the end of the earlier crossover has gone wrong and that their more innocent worlds were 'better' than the current status quo, they have decided to change the state of affairs by any means necessary. It has been noted that this has a certain similarity to frequent fan-criticisms of the current DC Universe. In the end, while Superboy-Prime and Alexander Luthor ended up crossing the Moral Event Horizon because of this, Earth-2 Superman's belief in this trope and the 'perfection' of his universe was shaken and ultimately subverted by an observation his alternate self made about the universe he came from:

Superman: If you're from this world, it couldn't be perfect. Because a perfect world doesn't need Superman.

  • The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers had a mid-70s story where Fat Freddy is raving over how great the 1950s were. He fondly recalls a New Years teen party that we see from Phineas's perspective - everyone converges at his parents' house over his objections, people get stupid drunk, he and Franklin get beaten up by hoods who crash the party, and the house and family car end up destroyed just before the parents get home.
  • In Sandman, there's a scene in the 1480s, where the immortal Hob Gadling, now about 130 or so, overhears an old man complaining about these newfangled chimneys, and reminiscing about the days when "we did have a good honest brazier in the house," when nobody suffered from "rheumes and cattarhs" and the smoke was "good medicine for the man and his family." Hob mutters to Dream about how foolish the old man is, and how back then everyone was coughing and wheezing from the smoke, and occasionally you'd find whole families that had asphyxiated in the night.
  • Lady Gaga #1 has a middle aged man moping about how the music in the present is nowhere near as good as the music in his day (i.e. the second half of the 1970s).


  • Fifties nostalgia was subverted by the film Pleasantville, which initially presented its idyllic '50s sitcom world through the nostalgia filter, then slowly stripped it away and highlighted the racism and sexual repression of the era.
  • Stand by Me is somewhat nostalgic, but presents gritty truths as well. After all, the kids are out to find a stranger's dead body. Oh, and the main character's parents ignore him, not to mention his older brother had been recently killed.
    • Also, all four boys smoke. At age twelve.
  • This is a big part of the plot of Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. The story features Gil, a writer played by Owen Wilson, who is writing a novel about a man that runs a nostalgia shop, and the writer himself has a nostalgic view of the 1920s in Paris as a sort of Golden Age, something that his fiance and her family constantly rag on him for. Eventually, Gil discovers a mysterious taxi cab that arrives every night at midnight and transports him back to a nostalgia filtered 1920s Paris, where he meets many famous authors and falls in love with Adriana, a woman who is at the time Picasso's mistress. As time goes on, the writer discovers that Adriana has feelings for him too and decides to live in the 1920s with her. However, soon after Gil confesses his love for Adriana, they are picked up by a mysterious carriage that transports them back to late 1800s, where they meet various artists, writers, and other famous folk. Adrianna immediately proposes they stay here, as in her mind, this is the Golden Age of Paris. Gil decides that despite the allure of the nostalgia filter, it's best to take the present for what it is, and decides to go back to the present.


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way -- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

    • Or, as it is quoted in The Lawyer's Handbook, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the New York Times."
  • In the Satyricon, published some time in the 1st century AD (and in the very, very strange Fellini movie), the poet Agamemnon complains about the failing quality of contemporary literature and poetry, compared to the good old days, making this at least Older Than Feudalism.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "The Phoenix on the Sword", the last king is viewed with this, especially by Rinaldo.

"Now in Mitra's temple there come to burn incense to Numedides' memory, men whom his hangmen maimed and blinded, men whose sons died in his dungeons, whose wives and daughters were dragged into his seraglio. The fickle fools!"

  • William Shakespeare's Sonnet 106 complains that the ancients, who did not see this beauty, could have expressed it worthily, but mere current day poets aren't up to it.
    • This and the example from the Satyricon above are examples of this as applied to the field of linguistics. Language was always at its best when your grandparents were speaking it. You can trace a line of bitching critics from decade to decade to the fifteenth century in English alone.
  • In Time and Again, Si Morley does his best to consider the ways in which life in New York in 1882 was inequitable and harsh... but after he goes back to the present (1970), he becomes overwhelmed by a preference for the lifestyle and people of 1882. Even though he's well aware of what working conditions are like for ordinary people, and his reason for returning was to escape from corrupt policemen who have not heard of Miranda rights...

Live-Action TV

  • This was a story element in one episode of The Twilight Zone, where a toy designer keeps lapsing into daydreams of his idyllic childhood while ignoring his slowly collapsing present. In the end, it turns out he was repressing the memory of the day the other kids beat him up because they weren't invited to his birthday party, and he's forced to come to grips with the brutal truth that his childhood wasn't nearly the fairyland he wanted to believe it was.
  • How the Doctor chooses to remember the Time Lords in the new series of Doctor Who. Of course, viewers of the original series know they weren't sweetness and light, and when they do turn up for a moment in the new series, it's clear the Time War disimproved them. Such that the Doctor takes up a gun immediately upon realizing their return.
  • In A Game of Thrones, King Robert is fond of reminiscing about the good old days. His brother Renly eventually gets sick of this and asks him exactly which days he's talking about - the time when the entire country was plunged into a bloody civil war, the time when Aerys roasted people alive because of the voices in his head, or the time when dragons went around burning villages to the ground.
  • The show Mad Men does a lot to show how with all the awesome music and fashions of the '60s came rampant sexism, racism, and homophobia, and how the values of the previous decade held over and were difficult to dismantle. Considering how saturated the culture was (and still is) with '60s nostalgia when the show first debuted, it was exactly what the doctor ordered.
  • Savagely mocked in this The Daily Show clip which satirises conservative pundits harking back to a simpler, better America than the one they believe is being ruined. After interviewing several people from each of the periods pundits such as Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly grew up in which they discuss how things weren't really that great, John Oliver comes to the "realization" that the reason these pundits constantly look back to these times as happier and less complicated times is because those were the periods when they were children, and the world always seems happier and less complicated when you're a child.
  • Saturday Night Live: Dana Carvey's recurring Weekend Update character, the Grumpy Old Man, parodies this by being nostalgic for the bad things about the past, such as having no water filters, no air conditioning, no improved technology, and even no Christmas Caroling.
  • In It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Dennis and Dee take a trip to the Jersey Shore because they have fond memories of visiting there during their childhood years. When they arrive, they are subjected to a series of painful and terrifying experiences that completely shatter their previous conceptions of the Jersey Shore.
  • The opening theme for All in The Family has Archie and Edith singing about how ideal their childhood was. Thing is, they boh grew up during the Great Depression.
  • The entire premise of Happy Days is built on nostalgia for the 50s.


  • Nostalgia for the classical period of ancient Greece and Rome and the idea that the Middle Ages were 1000 years of Dark Ages was one of the things that inspired the Renaissance. Yeah, it's a real-life example, but still technically woven in works considering that it fueled a lot of the artwork at the time.


  • The Futureheads song "Christmas Was Better In The 80s".
  • Bob Seger basically built his career on nostalgia, with songs like "Old Time Rock and Roll" and "Night Moves".
    • And "Against the Wind" and "Like a Rock" and "Still the Same" and "Main Street." Pretty much every song is about how awesome Seger was when he was younger.
  • "Summer of '69" by Bryan Adams could be considered to use this to deconstruct the Glory Days trope.
    • Also "Boys of Summer".
  • The most popular interpretation of Don McLean's epic "American Pie" is a tribute to the rock 'n' roll of the 1950s, and an indictment of where rock music had gone astray from there by the early 1970s.
  • The Kinks would often wax nostalgic for a bygone England that possibly never existed, but could also show some perspective, like "Where Have All The Good Times Gone", heard here.
  • Meat Loaf, kinda. From Bat Out Of Hell 3 is the song The Future Just Ain't What It Used To Be. So, all about how the future looked brighter when he was younger.
  • "From A Dead Beat To An Old Greaser" by Jethro Tull has the main protagonist, Ray Lomas, bump into a man waxing nostalgic about his beatnik days. Lomas takes no interest in the beat's stories, saying "I didn't care, friend. I wasn't there, friend". If the comic from the sleeve of the song's parent album, Too Old To Rock 'N' Roll: Too Young To Die!, is any indication, Lomas is just as prone to this, especially in the title track.

Newspaper Comics

  • Parodied in a FoxTrot series in which Andy has to pick a strip in the newspaper she works for to cancel. Roger is incensed that she picked "Captain Goofball," because it was his favorite strip as a kid, even though it sucks now.
    • Actually it is pretty clear he liked it because he was a kid and that it ALWAYS sucked. It's his tastes that changed more than the comic.
  • Lampshaded in a comic strip of Zits where the Duncans take a trip to a cabin where Walt went when he was younger. Jeremy hates it, but Walt, for some reason, has all these pleasant memories of the place. Yet, Jeremy finds a tree into which Walt had carved, "I hate this %^@&% Dump!!" and Walt mentions, "Wow, time has a way of blurring things, does it?"
    • In another strip, Walt gets angry at a song Jeremy is listening to, resulting in this exchange,

Walt: Did I hear what I think I just heard?!
Jeremy: Dad, it's just a song lyric.
Walt: Don't give me that! I'm sick of this new music that's nothing but drugs and sex!
Jeremy: You mean like, "Lay Lady Lay", "Lucy in the Sky", "Purple Haze", "Brown Sugar"?
Walt: Hey, that's different! Those are classics!
Connie: Ouch. One point for the teenager.

  • Ruben Bolling's comic strip Tom the Dancing Bug advanced a theory that popular culture was at its height when you, the reader, were twelve years old.


  • The four audiobook volumes of The Alan Cross Guide to Alternative Rock, based on the author's radio series The Ongoing History of New Music, appear guilty of this: most of the bands are from the 1980s or early 1990s, several are from the 1960s and 1970s, and the ones from the 2000s that are covered are treated briefly. Cross, a history major, averts this by noting it's far easier to objectively measure the cultural impact of older artists, while for most newer artists it's too soon to tell if they'll be influential.

Print Media

  • The Rolling Stone magazine article: "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time." Written in 2004, it included only 3 songs from the 2000's and a truly massive number from the 1960's and early '70s, roughly coinciding with the rise of the Magazine itself. Probably 400 or so of those songs (and their artists) were probably regularly panned by the magazine when they were the Top 40 of the day.
  • Similarly, TV Guide compiled a list of the greatest TV shows in history. It was revealed later that the hardest decision they had was which of two shows should be named Number 1: I Love Lucy or Seinfeld. They decided go with Seinfeld, and the decision was met with quite a lot of backlash.
  • In these two cases, they were probably justified for the reasons given above in the introduction. It's far too early to be able to pick out what the good songs, or good TV shows of today are. The half century old songs and shows that are bad are forgotten so the ones that are remembered are, most certainly, among the best ever.


Video Games

  • In Sam and Max: The Devil's Playhouse, Sam comes across a bucket of fish from the original Lucasarts game Hit The Road and fondly remembers how much simpler things were back then. Max quips that things were a LOT more complicated back then.
  • Donkey Kong Country: Cranky Kong is this trope. Three-fourths of the time, he's grumping on how better much games were back in his day, and how overrated our current gaming features are.
    • Not to say he hasn't good reason to be bitter; he's supposed to be the the original Donkey Kong from the arcade game.
  • Grand Theft Auto IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony has the titular Tony Prince, an aging, Camp Gay nightclub entrepreneur who grew up back when the gay rights movement was still on the fringes of social discourse. In one scene, he longs for the days when most young gay men were runaways/exiles from a disapproving middle America who were lost in the big city and easier to seduce, and claims that gay culture has lost its touch now that more and more gay people are settling down, getting married, raising kids and becoming "normal".

Web Comics

  • Sent up in the paintball domain by The Whiteboard, starting here.
  • Not Invented Here: Desmond feels like a kid again when his first computer is mailed to him by his uncle Lou. He snaps out of it when Geordi mentions every remaining computer of that model working together would roughly equal the computing power of one iPhone, but use way more electricity.

Web Original

Biggest rock is best rock
But sometimes small rock is good rock too
Don't give me that liberal bullcrap.

  • Skewered here by Benzaie, who alleges that all the problems that gamers complain about today (genre oversaturation, Mission Pack Sequels, etc.) were just as present in The Nineties, the "golden age" of gaming.
  • This tweet by Discographies on Journey sums up the phenomenon perfectly.
  • Candle Cove starts out playing this trope straight, but is later subverted as we learn about all the gory details.
  • Pitchfork of Socks Make People Sexy is quite an example of this; responsible for his self started task of doing a Final Fantasy Retrospective, his retrospective eventually devolved into a self deluded and shaky self hating mess that started with his admiration for classics and then to.... Well, let's just say that Final Fantasy XIII didn't help. At all. This is an example of Nostalgia gone messy with an individual who is typing as if he would say what he wrote in such a fashion like a speech. Nonetheless, in fact, you can pretty much say this about everyone on the site, really.
  • Mr. Brilliant is a huge fan of the original Dragon Ball and harshly criticizes Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball Super even they've improved ideas from the orginal Dragon Ball.

Western Animation

  • People tend to forget that while the animation in the 90's and late 80's were indeed much better than in the 60's and 70's Dork Age, a lot of the painted cels made the shows look VERY unprofessional by today's standards, where you can now use a computer to digitally color in hand-drawn animation.
  • This trope is played with in Recess, when Vince apparently does not notice that his brother (who was revered by Vince's peers around his age) was a stereotypical nerd, remembering instead how "cool" he used to be.
  • The Fairly OddParents: In one episode, Timmy's dad constantly speaks of his fond childhood memories of spending time in an Old West town, and Timmy goes through the trouble of making sure it doesn't get torn down for his dad's sake. However, actually being there again makes Timmy's dad realize how much his childhood sucked and has the place demolished for a few bucks.
    • And another episode, in when Timmy and his dad were cleaning their attic, Timmy finds his dad's tiny box of dreams. He picks it up and it breaks. Timmy's dad was OK with it though, because his dreams were crushed many years ago.

Timmy: How many years ago?
Mr. Turner: How old are you?

  • Phineas and Ferb: Phineas reflects on the little kiddie rides outside of the mall, leading to an exciting scene of young Phineas flying into space and shooting lasers off with Ferb. Cut to him riding it in reality...

Phineas: You know, I may have over-romanticized those memories...

  • This attitude is called out in one episode of The Real Ghostbusters, where Ray is talking about how the fifties were a much simpler time. Egon points out that there's no inherent proof of that, as each decade has its own individual challenges.
  • In the Be Careful What You Wish For episode of The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Billy's dad wants to relive his high school days. He soon realizes it wasn't as good as he thought it was.
  • Given a quick jab in the ribs from The Oblongs, as Bob wonders fitfully about his children being sold drugs.

Bob: This stuff wasn't around when we were kids.
Pickles: Bob, we grew up in the sixties. Drugs were everywhere.
Bob: ..... No, I think you're wrong.

  • Daria once called a guy Jane was dating out on this.

Nathan: Well, I've always dug the beauty and elegance of post-war American design. People had a sense of timeless style and civilized decorum back then.
Daria: Well, yeah. But you also had the timeless style of Cold War conformity and the civilized decorum of segregation.

    • Another example occurs when Jake finds some old home movies from back when he was a kid and is eager to see them despite Helen's failed attempts at reminding him that his childhood wasn't that great. The truth comes rushing back to him once he watches them however. Helen later lampshaded this tendency in Is It College Yet.

Helen: Your father needs to maintain certain illusions about his youth in order to function. It's... cute...

  • In the South Park episode "You're Getting Old," as soon as Stan turns ten, he ends up hearing and seeing all the "new and hip" stuff around him to be literally "shitty," ranging from tracks from band called "Tween Wave" featuring nothing but funky beats with fart sounds in the background to seeing turds in movie trailers and in various parts of the town.
    • Also a bit of a deconstruction because it completely alienates him from his friends.

This page was so much better back in the day. But just sucks.