UB Insider #43: The Economics of Nostalgia UB Insider #43: The Economics of Nostalgia
UB Insider #43: The Economics of Nostalgia

About this episode:

Remember that really great thing from when you were a kid? Remember that show you used to watch? Marketers do. As children grow up, the things they loved when they were young becomes fair game as selling points. But that sense of nostalgia goes beyond attempts to recreate classic games, shows, or characters as a means of marketing—it can embed itself into culture, draw generations together and influence the next generation of decision-makers, too.

In this episode of UB Insider, we went to the Salt Lake Comic Con Fan Xperience, held March 17 and 18 at the Salt Palace Convention Center, to talk to some of the creators—and re-creators—of pop culture touchstones about why those characters or worlds have stuck around, and how the people who grew up enjoying them are making them evolve. Subscribe or download this episode on iTunes and Stitcher.


Lisa Christensen: Hello and welcome to UB Insider. I’m Lisa Christensen, Online Editor at Utah Business magazine. If you’ve gone to the movies lately or watched TV or gone online, you’ve probably noticed a prequel, sequel, remake or reboot of a character or series from your childhood.

Putting a new shine on old stories is big business for the creators and owners of that intellectual property as they try to attract new and old fans alike. This weekend, the Salt Palace Convention Center was filled with many of those fans at the Salt Lake Comic Con Fan Xperience. We went there to find out why franchises endure and what impact it has on the ground level.

Chris 51: Nostalgia sells. It does. And I don’t do it for that reason. I do it because I’m passionate about it.

Lisa Christensen: That’s Chris 51, an Oregon-based tattoo artist who came to Fan X to be a part of the event’s first ever tattoo booth. He specializes in characters and designs from kids shows in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Chris 51: I’m in art for the nostalgia reasons, for the Saturday morning cartoons and G.I. Joe’s and Star Wars and the things I grew up on. You know, that’s my driving force in art. But it just so happens that it’s a lot of people’s driving force to get tattoos. They want those childhood memories, good memories, because a lot of that stuff revolves around good memories in their childhood so they want to proudly wear it on them and dedicate a patch of their skin for life to those memories, you know?

There’s so much crap going on in the world that, you know, it’s kind of nice to have cartoons and geeky, nostalgic pop culture things on you. It’s calming and it’s fun.

Lisa Christensen: Even if someone doesn’t choose to express the impact a show or series has had on them on their skin, the memories or affects it created can be presented in other ways. Sam J. Jones, who starred in the 1980 Flash Gordon movie says that he has had some touching and powerful moments with fans.

Sam J. Jones: It was usually all of the stories from the fans, usually always from an entertainment perspective, how I entertained them and sort of transported them to another time and place and it made them feel good about themselves. But now as I’m getting older and traveling to more cities I haven’t been to, I’ll get a 40 year old man with his wife and his three kids who’s standing at my table, and now these stories, some of these stories are, it’s a whole other dynamic now Lisa.

It went from entertainment to life changing when this 40 year old man would say hey, when I was 12 years old I came from a really horrible, dysfunctional family. You know, my dad and my mom were extremely abusive, so at the age of 12 I decided to go into my bedroom and take my life. And there, I had the opportunity, in my bedroom I had a VHS player and a VHS tape of Flash Gordon. I decided at the last second before committing suicide to put your tape in and view it. And you transported me to another time and place where you gave me hope and value. And I get emotional talking about that.

So it takes it from entertaining somebody to looking at this man and his wife and three kids who would not be here. They would be non-existent had he not put that tape in. Isn’t that incredible? It changes everything. So I’ve had about seven or eight of those stories. So I imagine, and if it’s only one that’s good enough for me. But imagine how many communities and towns that I haven’t had the chance to visit yet, who have that. So it is, this comic con is not only a place for me to come and sell autographs and take photos and get eye-to-eye with the fans, but it’s an opportunity for me to hear their story, you know, it’s incredible. It’s incredible.

Lisa Christensen: He says he’s also found his work has influenced kids who have grown up to be decision makers and creative drivers themselves.

Sam J. Jones: I mean, I got the call from Seth Macfarlane and this sort of sums it up for a lot of people. He called me about five years ago, he said Sam when I was eight years old I saw the movie and it changed my life. I said, how so? He said, well after I walked out of the movie theater I realized I wanted to be a creative type person.

So Lisa here’s the deal, so you take an eight year old who grew up to be a 40 year old decision maker in Hollywood and there you go. And he asked me to come onboard the Ted franchise because myself and/or the character impacted his life so much. And that’s why there’s a Flash Gordon theme in Ted.

Lisa Christensen: Dan Farr, founder and show producer of Salt Lake Comic Con and Fan X says that kind of impact reaches through generations. That holds true to many attendees of Fan X which featured creators and stars of franchises like The Princess Bride, Batman, Indiana Jones, Star Trek, Harry Potter and Star Wars, not to mention Flash Gordon.

Dan Farr: We like to have a mix of, you know, the current, what’s popular right now like Walking Dead and obviously Aquaman, so we’re really contemporary there but also the nostalgia power. What we find with that is that it tends to reach multi-generations. So we find kids and their parents and their parents, so basically you’ve got three or four generations of people coming to these events. And that’s where we feel the nostalgia brings that.

But it’s also we find that if the parents love a show, I remember I used to watch for example, Flash Gordon, one of the reporters this morning was talking about, I was just watching Flash Gordon with my kids. So once again it’s still current for them. But then you think that this reporter, his parents probably took this reporter to see Flash Gordon when it came out. So you look at that, there’s three, four generations right in one thing.

Lisa Christensen: It’s a unifier.

Dan Farr: It is a unifier. And that’s kind of what we see with the event. We’ve seen so many friendships and relationships that get developed or built out of being a part of this event.

Lisa Christensen: Chris 51, the tattoo artist from Oregon says he’s noticed that too.

Chris 51: Two reasons. Two primary things, one I would say is Star Wars since new films are still coming out. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles still having new cartoons out. Things like that have now transcended two or three generations.

I grew up on Star Wars in the ‘70s and ‘80s and now my 5, 6 year old son is into Star Wars and is just as excited about as I was when I was his age. And same with the turtles and a lot of other things out there. So it’s pretty awesome. And a lot of these reboots of old movies and stuff, you know, same sort of scenario. They’re rebooting to a generation 25 years later, and not only do they like the new movie or the new TV show, but then they’re going back to watch the old ones and they’re digging those too.

Lisa Christensen: That’s what Martin Pasko sometimes sees when he goes to conventions. Pasko is a comic book writer who worked with DC for more than 30 years including on issues of Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and the Flash and was a writer for the first season of Batman the animated series.

Martin Pasko: There are families. There are second and third generation comic fans and I’ve run into several of them at conventions. And one of the more surprising things that I’ve found is when a little kid comes up to me with a stack of books that I’ve written that are 20, 30 years old and I say oh, you like this? And he says yeah, I read these with my dad. And it’s like, I look up at the father and I’m like God bless you man. Keep it up.

Lisa Christensen: But the market has changed, he says. People are buying comic books less in favor of superhero themed movies or television shows. And as adults have become nostalgic for the heroes of their childhood, comic book writers’ response to the older readership can alienate their younger audience.

Martin Pasko: Well the evolution of the characters is part of the problem that we’ve been having in comics in bringing younger readers into the fold. Because as the core demo for comics has grown older, the content has become more sexualized. That doesn’t bother some parents, but there are a lot of conservative parents who might otherwise encourage their kids to read comics because they enjoyed them as a kid, but won’t.

And again, I’m saying this without any kind of judgment whatsoever, but superheroes have candid sex lives. They’re often depicted in bed with their significant others, and there has been an outreach on the part of the big two, which I think is commendable, to the LGBTQ community. And the current DC version of Batwoman, just had, recently had her own title as a lesbian. So what does that mean? That means that there have to be multiple iterations of the characters for different demos. And that is why the animated, the DCU in particular animated series is so exploitable by Warner Bros. because that’s the best shot they have of bringing kids into the fold because that’s G rated.

Lisa Christensen: Thanks to Adva Biton and Brian Hugo for their help with this episode. Tell us what you think at news@utahbusiness.com or on social media at @utahbusiness. You can also subscribe to our podcast on iTunes or Stitcher. Thanks for listening.