All That is Old is New Again

juvenoia (uncountable)(neologism) The fear or hostility directed by an older generation toward a younger one, or toward youth culture in general..jpg

I was born in the glorious 90s. And because of that, I am nostalgic for the late 90s and the early to mid 2000s. And while I’ve talked before about how important being a 90s kid is to me, I wanted to talk about the generational divide and why it’s strange being stuck in a nostalgia-loop.

From television, to movies to music: it seems like we’ve been stuck in a perpetual loop that glorifies the 1980s and 1990s. And that makes sense: many of the media creatives that are major producers now were born in the 1980s: it would make sense for them to want to look back to a simpler time that meant a lot to them.

There’s this thing called a nostalgia cycle: it’s a funny sort of thing. It essentially states that the media that is popular reflects an era that’s either 10, 20, 30 or 40 years from the current year. Think of the 1990s being nostalgic for the 50s and 60s. And I’m far from the first essayist to comment on this nostalgia cycle but it’s worth mentioning because it does seem to be never-ending. But there’s one aspect of it that I think we’re missing when we talk about weaponized nostalgia: it’s been surprisingly forgetful of the past while claiming to be doing something new.

I’m writing this right before Black Panther hits theaters here in the U.S. and for many this is the first black-led superhero movie. [update: I did see Black Panther and the movie is out and successful!] To which, many and all comic book fans roll their eyes. Blade is hilariously underrated and fantastic and was a black-led superhero movie in the 1990s. Not to say that I am not excited about Black Panther nor do I hope to quell any of the hype any folks may have for this film: it is a big deal but it isn’t the first anything right now.

Similarly, almost all the music that is popular nowadays seems to sound just like music did when I was growing up. Lots of house beats, tons of 80s synth influence and way too many songs that never end and just repeat lyrics. Not to mention that fact that we have yet to seem to get rid of the girl/boy band.

I think I’m most struck by this because I have a younger cousin who stands in as the avatar straw-man of all the reasons 90s kids are at odds with Gen Z and why Baby Boomers must hate us damn millennials. When I was home for Christmas, I got to sit and watch the yearly ritual of him receiving hundreds of dollars in gifts because he is an only child like I am and thus is spoiled rotten as I was. This year, he received an outfit that I’m almost certain my elementary school classmates wore from the sunglasses to the dark khaki joggers and a very retro looking smartwatch: hell, I think it still had a calculator on it. And in a brief moment of time that was only the two of us: I could hear him reciting the lyrics to Good Morning, a song from Kanye West that I love and is now nearly 10 years old. Everything from the yuppie fashion to the questionable music choice made me think of myself when I was his age now almost 15 years ago.

I’m also very torn by how sanitized the narratives are for this new wave of nostalgia. Sure, the 90s and the 2000s were great but they weren’t perfect. We had racism, school shootings, terrorism, inequality and all the things we still have just with more Spice Girls and legitimate battles over which boy band was better. But if you look at Stranger Things, a love letter to the 1980s, you’d think the 80s was a magical time where nothing bad happened and racism wasn’t a thing and political correctness existed. But we’ve been bad about that for some time. I’m reminded of the Johnny Rocket’s franchise, which begs you to think of the 1950s as a time for sock hops and milkshakes and not Civil Rights battles and police brutality.

It’s especially troubling considering that we’ve taken nostalgia to it’s only logical place which is to make huge profits off it.  F.Y.E. just had a huge promotion selling Reptar Bars, a part of my childhood from Rugrats that I always wanted to eat but never could: they also briefly sold Reptar Cereal and while the sale went over great: it did seem out of place. I hadn’t given thought to Rugrats as a show for years: I’m pushing 30 and that was  T.V. show I watched as literal child.  There seems to be no end to the things that want to push anniversaries and the nearly endless stream of reboots, remakes, sequels, prequels and more that make it seem like all the things I knew as a child never really left.

If you asked me at 16 if I’d still be playing Pokemon, Street Fighter and still listening to Kanye West and The Killers while there would still be Star Wars movies: I would have first had a lot of questions about how time travel works and then probably say that such a thing wouldn’t make sense. One would assume that media would move on, one would assume that as technology progressed: we’d make progress and not just nicer versions of old things we loved. Now, don’t get me wrong, it was lovely getting a stylish Castlevania anime but I’d also love that energy placed into something new and original.

I’ve talked about nostalgia before when it comes to Pokemon: Sun/Moon and Pokemon: Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon and how its marketing and gameplay centered around the nostalgia of late 20-somethings like me who had been playing the games for all these years and understood and respected such callbacks. But is the game so enjoyable if you don’t know these references: my little cousin likely get through the game but he wouldn’t have the gut punch I did seeing Red and Gary show up like traveling boyfriends asking about this new Hawaii-like region. So why put them in there? If the average actual player of a Pokemon game isn’t likely to get that reference: why put it there? And that’s the issue with our current weaponized nostalgia. It isn’t done to teach, improve or just enjoy: it’s there because it’s there.

And the sad thing is:  we keep buying into it. I’m not sure if you are aware but at least here in parts of the great old United States, things are a hot hot mess: we’re using media to escape our current realities more and more as we refuse to face the current situation of an orange-tinted warmonger in office and issues like racism, homophobia, violence and the threat of terrorism, war and natural disasters. And this isn’t new: we’ve been escaping reality for as long as we could through story, substance and more but at least when I was younger: all of this was new. When I was 12 and saw InuYasha for the first time, it was radically new and different. When I was 10 and arguing with friends over which Boy Band was the best: it was because music like that hadn’t been explored in such a way. When I was 9 playing Pokemon, no game like that had been crafted and distributed for American children. And that’s what this nostalgia cycle is leaving behind: sure, the 1990s were cool and the 2000s were the best: but what made them great was innovation: we didn’t stay stuck thinking of how cool the 1950s were. We did meditate on those things briefly while still continuing to move forward.  

New Stellar Millennial

Anyone close to me is pretty aware of the proud patch I wear. I’m a 90s kid. To my core. I’ve mentioned how it’s shaped me and those around me and I can see how it affected those in the same age group as I.

Society labels me as a “Millennial” which is basically anyone born from the early 1980s to the early 2000s. When I mentioned this to a close friend, he quickly said “Nope. We’re 90s kids, not millennials.” (you can find his work here, check it out. It’s good stuff.) I wanted to disagree with him. The time period fits. We’re technically  millennials. As much as I didn’t want to admit it. 

Here’s why. A millennial to me is the whiny histper of modern time. The ironic wearer of multiple hats, who sits at Starbucks writing imaginary novels, making references that he himself can’t place. That is a millennial to me. Simultaneously, the image of the generation AFTER mine comes to immediate thought. I have a younger cousin 12 years younger than me. I consider him more a millennial than I consider myself to be one.

And I think I found the reason. 90s kids, we got the best of both worlds. We were able to truly benefit from technology. We were given immense resources to grow, learn and study. The Internet was a powerful tool of discovery. Not a means to shop or play games. But we still had the ability and skill to find materials and research the “old-fashion way” by reading and looking for texts. Not being afraid of an Oxford English Dictionary or an Encyclopedia Britannica. We still played outside, for the days at least that weren’t O-Zone days and were you allowed to play outside. We respected our parents. We looked into the face of the Infinite Universe and saw ourselves. We became humbled by the enormity of existence, we weren’t self-centered, but we knew ourselves. We valued education. We took care of our things, we valued and appreciated what we were given.  And first and for mostly, we were shaped by national and global tragedies. Collectively, our rose-colored glasses were shattered and we saw the world for what it was. Amazing, awesome but fearful. We had to be savvy. This embodied in us marked determination, self-preservation, a value and high importance of the self and self-awareness not to mention a near insatiable hunger to always know more.

Why did this happen? Who was it? What can I do to make sure this never happens again?

We served our communities, we grew. And I believe, we’re better and smarter people for it. Not to mention we had some of the best television in the world.

My younger cousin? I’m sure he’ll continue to rely on the University of Google. When he asked me to translate something into Latin for him (He asked because I had taken Latin for 10 years in school) I immediately went to my textbook, which I had kept in perfect condition since my schooling days and declined my verbs and cross checked my vocabulary. I didn’t go to Google Translate first and only did to make sure my grammar was right. (My grammar in Latin had always been a bit off) . And I’m glad he had the wherewithal to ask me before going to Google. It was really flattering.

But my little cousin’s generation…all they’ll know is the Internet as a means for funny cat videos and the quick and easy answers to life’s questions. I wish he’d read. I wish he’d appreciate some of the electronics he has. I couldn’t well fathom at his age some of the technology he holds in his hands and uses to play games with. What I would have used that technology for. Who knows. Books. Many books. Learning. Opening up my imagination to the potential of the entire cosmos. All with a computer.

Myself personally? I’m not as left-leaning as many millennials, I’m actually rather conservative at times in my governmental policy, though still left-leaning. I’m religious, not highly, but I am religious. And I lack the certain arrogant egocentric mindset that the universe revolves around everyone born from 1980-2000. I look Eternity in the face and am humbled. I bask in vast nothingness and find peace.

I’ll label myself a millennial when it’s needed. I rather dislike the title personally. Call me a 90s kid, I’ll absolutely agree to that. In the end, we’re all a generation that’s totally different from the one before ours. And the one after us? Goodness. I can only imagine what the world has in store for them.