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Power of Reruns

(Photo: Jeff Watts)

We know how the story ends: Carrie chooses Mr. Big, Bella picks Edward, Harry weds Sally, and Rhett doesn’t give a damn.

We know the puffy shirt punch line, so why do we tune in to reruns of Seinfeld? Why do we turn the tattered pages of Pride and Prejudice again and again? Why is It’s a Wonderful Life as much a part of our holiday traditions as family squabbles?

Here’s a plot twist: the answer isn’t nostalgia.

According to Kogod marketing professor Cristel Russell, most people don’t turn to their favorite movies and books to remember where they’ve been, but rather to reflect on how far they’ve come.

“The object you’re consuming is the looking glass — it allows you to appreciate how you’ve changed or evolved,” says Russell, who’s among the first to study re-consumption, the conscious repetition of an experience. “If you reread The Da Vinci Code after a trip to Paris, your perspective will change, you’ll appreciate the story in a whole new way.”

Russell and research partner Sidney Levy of the University of Arizona conducted interviews in the United States and New Zealand about a variety of re-consumption experiences: rereading a book, rewatching TV shows and movies, and revisiting geographic locations. Their study will be published in the August 2012 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.

“I was fascinated that all the people we interviewed thought they were alone.

They would say, ‘I’m sure I’m the only one who does this . . .’” she says.

“Modern society is all about new things and evolving technology. People feel weird when they don’t try something new and, instead, stick to what they know and love. They’re afraid of other people’s perceptions.”

That said, all the interviews had a happy ending.

“After telling me about their favorite novels, they’d say, ‘gee, I really need to read that again.’”

Cristel Russell is among 33 new tenure-line faculty at AU — a cohort of top scholars as diverse as their research. The new faculty hail from Harvard, Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, Cornell, and the University of Michigan, where they made a name for themselves in a variety of fields: astrophysics, ethnomusicology, Internet governance, Chinese literature, public history, terrorism, and epistemology.