If there was one theme during the Oscars this past weekend, it was “What’s old is new again.” (And we’re not just referring to Billy Crystal returning to host for his ninth time, his first since 2004.) The night’s biggest winners were “The Artist” and “Hugo,” two films ostensibly about the film industry itself, which also took place in the 1920s-1930s. These are not mere period pieces, which always do well at the Oscars (remember last years big winner, “The King’s Speech”?). Rather, they are arguably about the how the past was better, or at least worthy of being revered. In “The Artist,” a silent film star struggles to stay relevant with the industry’s shift to sound-films, and in “Hugo,” a young fan of legendary film pioneer Georges Méliès celebrates and extolls the wonder of these early films. So while these films do, in structure and story, pay tribute to the classic beginnings of Hollywood, they also imply a disappointment in the present and future.

Movies are not the only area of culture where nostalgia is king. Television has been on the trend for a while now, with the massive success of its 1960s-set “Mad Men,” returning for its fifth season in March. This began an upswing in interest in 1960s lifestyles, from furniture to fashion. This past August, Banana Republic launched their Mad Men Collection, with direct marketing ties to the show. HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, taking place during 1920s Prohibition, has come to prominence along with new “speakeasies” spreading beyond New York.

So what are we to make of this new (old?) “vintage voice?” The content of popular media is often cited as a reflection of contemporary cultural concerns. If this is so, nostalgic looks back to are often signs of insecurity and displeasure with the present and future. On the opposite side, futuristic/sci-fi concepts become more dystopic, showing the fears people have about the general future. The economic recession that is clearly at the forefront of American political thought, helped in large part by the mass of debates occurring during an election year, is being reflected throughout American culture, with nostalgia being a sort of escape to earlier, less uncertain times. The generally negative, cynical worldview many possess at the moment would not lend itself to happy images of the future. With nostalgia, there is no guessing, as the past is past. So if you want to know when Americans are feeling better about their current and future propositions, keep an eye on the culture for when it turns its focus away from the past and towards a brighter future.