The Joy of Comfort Media During a Pandemic

Valerie Hoke
September 2, 2020

The other day, I realized that despite spending tons of time thinking about all the ways our content consumption habits have changed over the last few months, I’ve failed to put any real thought into the ways in which the actual content I choose to consume has changed. 

That’s really just a more sophisticated way of saying I realized that the stuff I have chosen to watch and listen to over the past few months has predominantly had one thing in common: It’s stuff that I haven’t paid attention to in nearly a decade, and it’s jam-packed with nostalgia

I keep a long list of all the films I want to watch, yet even with all this extra time spent at home since March, I’ve barely made a dent in it. Instead, I’ve (subconsciously?) chosen to rewatch old favorites—comfort food movies, if you will—that I already know I love. And I’m not just talking about any old movie I’ve already seen—I’m talking about real throwbacks that are largely written off as kid-focused garbage. Exhibit A: I recently did a double header of Freaky Friday and High School Musical

There’s something insanely comforting about realizing that even though you haven’t watched something in more than a decade, it’s still so deeply ingrained your memory that you don’t need to have your eyes on the screen to know exactly what’s happening. It’s even better when you feel like you’re rediscovering the genesis of parts of your adolescent personality. 

But even more so than these movies, there’s another staple of my pop culture past that has aggressively crept back into my life the past few months. It’s three (formerly four) parts British, one part Irish, and fully capable of ruining any credibility you thought you had when it comes to music. 

In the summer of 2012, I had just returned home from my first year of college. My younger sister and I were just starting to realize we were friends rather than enemies, and independently of each other, we had just discovered One Direction, the boy band that singlehandedly led a 21st-century British invasion.

Pictured: My sister and the six-foot Niall Horan poster I gifted her for her 13th birthday.

It was the first time we were both into the same thing at the same time, and it was the one and only year when we were both teenagers. It was a time of craving big adventures, so we satisfied that urge during 1D’s first American tour when we drove downtown to their concert—to which we did not have tickets—just to get a five-second glimpse of them exiting the venue and boarding their tour bus. 

I’ve remained endeared to One Direction for years, but I fell off the bandwagon toward the end of their tenure. In fact, I haven’t spared them much of a thought in the handful of years since they began their “18-month” hiatus in 2016. (Reader, it has been a lot longer than 18 months.) 

This July marked the 10th anniversary of One Direction’s formation, and as I popped in and out of various articles and tributes online—in between hounding my sister for rumors about what the band would do to mark the occasion—I found myself, a 27-year-old adult, headed face-first down a one-way slide back into One Direction land.

“This will pass!” I said as I listened to their first two albums on repeat and downed White Claws that Friday night, gasping at the beginning of each song I had completely forgotten and realizing I still knew every word. “I just need to get this out of my system!” 

I’m writing this more than a month later, and my Spotify account can testify to the fact that it has very much not passed. There is simply nothing my brain wants to listen to besides One Direction. Their cotton candy fluff, cheeseball songs make me grin like an idiot, forget that we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and slip back into a world where clocking into my boring job at a suburban shopping mall was the only thing that filled me with dread. 

I have no doubt that all of this is a result of my subconscious desire to be surrounded by the steady surety of things I know inside and out while living in a world where absolutely nothing is certain. But on the flip side, I can’t help but wonder if this new habit of fast-tracking toward things that make me feel secure is making me less prone to giving new material a chance. 

Am I just turned off by the possibility of investing precious time and energy in something I might not like, or is it a deeper desire to know exactly how something is going to make me feel so that I can avoid unwanted anxiety or distaste? 

I don’t like to admit it, but the answer is probably both. 

Five months of socially distanced life have taught me a lot, and at the top of the list is the importance of fully embracing things that make you happy. It’s why I recently bought myself a new couch after years of craving one, and it’s why my media diet has become the equivalent of a middle schooler’s locker decor. 

It’s also why I think I need to give myself a break and try not to draw too many grand conclusions about what all of this says about my character. Nothing is normal, and we’re all coping. 

I’ve got nothing but admiration for people who are able to cope by looking ahead and taking comfort in the possibilities and achievements that await us. I wish I could do that. Maybe with time I’ll be able to. 

But until then, I’ll apparently be chasing the feeling of a night in August 2012, staying up until 3 a.m. scrolling through One Direction gifs on Tumblr, innocent to the idea that the comfortable certainty of life as I knew it could grind to a halt without any end in sight.