Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Alan Nadel


This project investigates the ways in which nostalgic American media of the last decade reflects the sociopolitical conditions of the end of history. It begins with the assertion that the end of history represents a confounded, contradictory moment in which large-scale political change is relatively scarce, and belief in a progressive future has largely been abandoned, while cultural change has also accelerated at a pace never before seen––spurred on, in particular, by the constant return of dead styles and dormant IP. In other words, it seems as if nothing is changing and everything is changing simultaneously. The recent boom in nostalgic media, I contend, is a symptom of this condition, so affected by the cultural forces that produced it that the nostalgia we see today is unlike what has come before. Nostalgia in this period is often premised on a process of hyperaestheticization, which substitutes mediated visions of the past for history, subsequently encouraging a breakdown between text and referent––the ‘80s, in this formulation, was defined more by John Hughes, neon, and synthesizers than Reagan and austerity. These texts, in other words, often rely on an elevation of mediated reference as a means of reconstructing the past, wherein understanding of the past is merely a matter of recognizing its mediated artifacts. This nostalgic paradigm also reflects the conditions of the end of history in its cruelly optimistic compulsion to repeat, particularly in the form of reboots and revivals, in a world where everything always already repeats. Nostalgia in this period promotes the idea of reflecting on and reconnecting with the past, often as a means of recovering what has been lost, but does so in superficial ways that ultimately result in misrecognition and further alienation from history. Nostalgic media, in this way, exacerbates the fraught, confounding conditions of the end of history. Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel Ready Player One and its 2020 sequel Ready Player Two, for instance, reveal the ways in which the end of history’s abandonment of a progressive teleology has encouraged the notion that the past is the only viable refuge from the horrors of the present, while, at the same time, the period’s emphasis on mediated pasts leads nostalgic subjects to not only misrecognize the past into which they wish to flee, but also the circumstances that led to this point. The hyper-referentiality of the Netflix series Stranger Things is a perfect example of the aesthetic logic of this paradigm, with its hollowed allusions to media replacing a deeper engagement with the contours of the historical period it purports to capture. Twin Peaks: The Return, the 2017 revival of the celebrated series, provides a profound critique of the ways in which televisual reboots and revivals seek (and inevitably fail) to symbolically repair the problems of the present by returning to, and revising, the crises of the past.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)