We May Be Nostalgic, but We’re Not out of Ideas Just Yet

Originally published in Paste Magazine.
Photo by Scott Gries/Getty

As 2016 comes to a close, many people – especially those in entertainment or pop culture journalism – spend time reflecting on what really resonated with them in the past 365 days. Like previous years, 2016 was a year of remakes and reboots. Lots of remakes and reboots – from the controversial girl power-fueled Ghostbusters and the live action Pete’s Dragon that people have already forgotten about, to the classic tropes that we’ve grown to love in the Netflix mega hit Stranger Things. We even got to catch Pokemon again this year and see what Lorelai and Rory have been up to in the past decade.

Donning Doc Martens and chokers galore, and sharing “only people born in the ‘90s will understand …” listicles, there is no denying that the ‘90s, and even the early ‘00s to a lesser extent, were certainly back in full force this year. While the fact that millennials have had the chance to embrace the things they loved back in elementary or middle school all over again is rad, it hasn’t been without some critique. “Millennials are running out of ideas,” and “they need to let go of the past,” were phrases frequently uttered, typically by older counterparts. And while we can admit that some forms of reboots are certainly doomed to be mediocre at best – like, is the made-for-TV American Psycho still happening? – some of this year’s throwbacks were actually pretty fantastic.

Early Onset Nostalgia

There have been countless thinkpieces regarding how millennials are experiencing early onset nostalgia because our senses of time have been warped by the whirlwind of technological advances in our lifetime, and the fact that the world and economy has been pretty damn awful since we’ve become adults. Apparently we yearn for simpler times when all we had to do was remember to feed our Tamagotchis, rather than worry about whether we’re ever going to be able to buy a house. “Nostalgia marketing” is even a new trend in sales, hellbent on tugging at millennial’s heartstrings to sell us stuff.

“Share a compelling blast from the past with a millennial, and you’re likely to reach them on an emotional level – the holy grail of brand marketing,” says an article in Forbes.

While most people in their twenties would surely appreciate a Backstreet Boys sing-along, or some other ‘90s or early ‘00s-based ploy to get our attention, this isn’t anything new. It’s a long-held belief that fashion and pop culture cycles last about two decades. For example, Grease was released in 1978, allowing people to relive the nostalgia of the 1950s. In the 1990s, the platform shoes and the bell-bottom jeans of the 1970s were revived. In the early 2000s, ‘80s parties were all the rage and the skinny jean experienced its renaissance, and now, we’re all about grunge gain. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule – Mad Men didn’t have to wait for another revival of the ‘60s to be a hit. So really, are millennials a different case?

We’re Not the Only Ones

Everyone is familiar with the joke that revolves around the crotchety old man ranting about how things were “back in his day,” so why are millennials considered a target for their early onset nostalgia? Especially since our president-elect ran an entire campaign based on nostalgia – and a misleading one at that?

“Make America Great Again” or “#MAGA,” according to your right wing uncle on Facebook, as we all know, was Donald Trump’s campaign slogan this year, emblazoned on dad hats and bumper stickers all across the Midwest. Though Trump never explicitly stated when America was “great,” the general consensus is that he’s referring to the 1950s.

While sock hops and poodle skirts are fine and dandy, Trump wasn’t waxing poetic about splitting a chocolate milkshake with Betty Lou the neighbor girl. Rather, he was pandering to to the 74 percent of white Evangelicals who believe that American culture has “mostly changed for the worst.” This statistic comes from a recent study from the Public Religion Research Foundation, which also found that 57 percent of people over the age of 65 feel similarly. Keep in mind, this was a time where the patriarchy reigned supreme, and civil rights were not even a thought in the minds of most white men. So excuse us for romanticizing our boy bands and MySpace pages. This is just a small piece of the puzzle when it comes to deciphering why Trump only took 37 percent of the millennial vote, according to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning Engagement.

Generations Are Changing

While the decades that we look back at through our rose-colored glasses tend to differ from generation to generation, that gap may begin to close within the next one. The International Society of Genetic Genealogy states that the average female generation lasts about 25.5 years, and a male one lasts between 31 and 38 – based on reproduction rates, but that’s not the colloquial way to define a generation anymore.

Though The Atlantic reported that there isn’t a hard and fast definition to generations and their respective cutoff years, an increasingly popular way to determine which age group belongs to a generation is looking at what life experiences shape it. For example, the millennial’s defining experience was 9/11, as well as all of the advances in technology in such a short period of time. If technology continues to evolve at this rate, there’s a good chance that despite the fact that people are waiting longer to procreate, cultural generations will begin to shorten. If this happens, it may only take 10 or 15 years for trends and fashion to make comebacks.

Will memes become a defining trait of the next generation, now known as the founders or the cringeworthy iGeneration? Or the fact that they came of age in the midst of what’s sure to be the strangest presidency the country has seen? We have yet to find out, but if the past is doomed to repeat itself as we’ve seen decade after decade, then there are actually three guarantees in life: death, taxes, and the fact that bell-bottom jeans will, in fact, come back into style.

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