By Raina Jain
Spring 2020 was an era unlike any other. Not only was it characterized by the onset of the first worldwide pandemic in over a century, but also by significant political and social changes.The notion of being “stir crazy” reached new heights, and with that came an onslaught of trends, all of whose mention transports us back to the feeling of that unique time. It’s easy to remember things like “Tiger King,” Dalgona “whipped” coffee, and Animal Crossing, which seemingly defined that stretch of lockdown. We were able to do these from the comfort of our homes—a relaxing way of dissociating from the stresses of the world around us. In a sense, it’s easy to almost miss it.
Harder to remember, though, are the toilet paper and PPE shortages, the skyrocketing death toll combined with the skyfall of mental health rates, and the inescapable fear of the outdoors where a killer virus might be lurking.
These events shouldn’t be hard to recall. Still, there has been an emerging trend on platforms like TikTok and Instagram romanticizing the former aspects of early quarantine while ignoring the latter. The horror of quarantine is not “hard to recall” in such a way that we don’t remember what kept us locked indoors for months, but rather, social media has
bombarded viewers with a sugar-coated portrayal of this time period, packed with reminders of an “extra long spring break” and Doja Cat’s “Say So.”
The idea of developing positive feelings towards the point in our lives where we were confined to our rooms is not completely unfathomable; rather, it is reminiscent of something far more sinister: stockholm syndrome. It may seem like an exaggeration to insinuate that our entire generation is subject to some sort of mass psychological delusion, but in reality, the resemblance is clear. Stockholm syndrome is loosely defined as a psychological condition in which captives develop positive feelings toward their captors. Social media is riddled with these “positive feelings” toward early quarantine. Simply searching the phrase “quarantine nostalgia” on TikTok will fill your For You Page with audios that transport you into a different lockdown; one that was filled with time to relax and focus on mental health, one that wasn’t littered with social injustice and crippling isolation. Is it so far-fetched, then, to refer to ourselves as captives? The world undeniably went on hiatus during this period. Aside from front-line workers, most stayed in their homes for fear of what would happen upon stepping outside. As former captives, maybe it is easier to imagine that we had some sort of autonomy in this time: we weren’t socially isolated, we were choosing to focus on ourselves. We chose to learn how to make bread, to pick up puzzle making and learn how to use NetflixParty. We become nostalgic when we selectively remember the semblance of autonomy we had while neglecting the constant disorder that dictated early quarantine.
The danger in this lies in the inherent meaning of “nostalgia.” Nostalgia, from the Greek “nostos” for “return home” and “algos” for “pain,” loosely means “the pain in longing for some event in the past.” Quarantine nostalgia, therefore, is the longing to return to early pandemic—this is our “event in the past.”
Except—quarantine isn’t really in our past. Although the grocery store shortages have ceased, quarantine, and more importantly the virus that caused it, remain. The idea of yearning for a time in which the path towards a vaccine was narrow and prolonged feels self-destructive at best. Upon our long-awaited release from our savage captor, we paradoxically feel a yearning to return to its suffocating grasp. Still, by feeling nostalgic for this point in our lives, we convince ourselves we are past quarantine. We are nostalgic because it is over.
Nostalgia does not occur within a matter of months. Without the label of quarantine, we would be feeling a deep sense of longing for a return to barely over a year ago. Although a worldwide pandemic is enough to define certain months as “early quarantine,” this does not equate to an entire socio-cultural shift: the trends popularized during early quarantine still endure in mainstream culture today. Doja Cat and “Love is Blind” did not cease to exist or even fall out of convention the minute lockdown phase 3 shifted to phase 4. Truly, the only defining part of this era was the uncertainty we had of the world around us.
We are not nostalgic for the impending sense of doom that defined this era. Rather, we are nostalgic because it is far easier to feel sorrow for something that is gone than admit that we still feel this uncertainty—this fear—which commanded us a year ago. By looking back at our past, we turn away from the fact that our future with covid remains unclear. From booster shots to the Delta-variant, we are far from the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality that the word “nostalgia” carries. We are nostalgic because it is easy, but the world around us is far from that.
There is no cure for Stockholm Syndrome. Yet, it’s an affliction all those who are “nostalgic” for quarantine currently bear. Thankfully, mass psychotherapy is not necessary to treat the entire American public. Instead, we must reframe our mindsets. Remembering the coronavirus death toll is one thing, but we must also recognize that it is still growing. We have made progress. This is undeniable. But it’s dangerous to feel nostalgic, to believe that we are past that which is still consuming so much of our world. It’s far easier to romanticize our former captivity than to admit that, although we may have escaped the prison lockdown served as, we still remain trapped in the hands of our original captor.