The Incomplete Nostalgia of Youtube Rewind

I follow a lot of Youtubers; have for years. It can be a shock to some that I am quite well-versed in pop culture and celebrity news. Being a social media manager means keeping up with what’s going on in the world and that means being able to speak on and know a lot about what’s happening in the world at all times from memes to who is dating who. The Youtubers part may be less of a shock. From Jenna Marbles (please, come back to us); I’ve followed the journeys of many of these online celebrities and enjoyed their content and their personalities. John Green helped me come to terms with having OCD, Crash Course taught me new things, Mike Rugnetta helped me see the world in different ways, Hannah Hart taught me to check my cheese for poison. 

That’s to say, when Youtube Rewinds are released at the end of the year as a bit of a jaunt through the year’s events I look forward to them. I love seeing all the trends, the dancing, the mix of pop music and all the celebrities I’ve spent so much time with and I get a kick out of recognizing names and faces. 

I started really taking notice of the Youtube Rewinds in 2016 when we had one of the best rewinds ever made since they began nearly two decades ago. It was the perfect blend of the memes, humor and tone of 2016 as we mostly ignored the election and thought on all the neat things that happened before the election and our lives and country would be changed forever. In 2016 while canceling and #MeToo was a thing, most were firmly in the camp of either denial when celebrities you cared about or to just chalk it up to a messy he said/she said. Which is why people like PewdiePie who is a literal racist being in the video isn’t so strange: he was still the biggest name on the platform and even though we had heard him be awful and racist before 2016, we accepted me; I accepted it. 

Since then, there’s only been two more rewinds including 2017 which has a montage of all the bad things that happened that year but the world coming together (and it does make me cry) and 2018 which is where things had fallen off the rails.We now knew and could not ignore the problematic elements in the Youtube community from racist stars to ignoring and suppressing LGBT voices and yet the 2018 Rewind displayed not only queer creators and many of the problematic creators that we by the time the rewind aired knew were problematic. It was almost like the rewind was meant to have us ignore all of this for a candy-colored view of the world. 2018 also had its fair share of issues mostly relating to a racist president that was bent on ruining the world but Youtube Rewind was determined to be upbeat to the point of being tone deaf. There’s something to be said about trying to choose positivity in the light of what was an objectively bad year but seeing a bunch of millionaire celebrities wax philosophic about equality and things being better and that Logan Paul wasn’t a terrible person. Even in 2017 it was starting to feel a little tired when we had people who were objectively better off than the millions watching the Youtube Rewind were continuing to insist that we just keep our heads up and dance because things are okay even when they aren’t. 

But now as I find myself sequestered inside, I found the older Rewinds so comforting or at least I want to. The 2015 Rewind that focuses on back then what was a decade of Youtube and meme culture nearly brought tears to my eyes as I saw viral videos and memes that were so much part of my teenage zeitgeist that they have imprinted on my heart. The 2016 Rewind may still be one of my favorites even if it does start to feel incomplete in comparison to what else was happening that year: 2016 was not just Pokemon Go and Justin Bieber music but it is nice to think of it that way. Even more so, it’s strange going back and looking at a year like 2015 or even 2013 which feels like it was approximately 1000 years ago. It’s almost strange now to see the tone of the world be so positive or different in comparison to how I feel now in 2021; a strange mix of desperate optimism atop of intense ennui, malaise and fatigue. At the same time, some of the earlier rewinds are nearly impossible to watch as they feature memes or songs that have been played to death or have been banished from the current social and digital lexicon. No one does the Harlem Shake anymore and if one more damn person asks “What does the Fox say?” I will fling myself into traffic. But to go back and think about a time where the world cared slime

Nostalgia is a strange thing: it does in fact distort the past into a comfortable and often linear narrative. It’s much easier to think of the past as a series of one-off events rather than think of the building tension and hostility that had been brewing under the surface or the terrible acts that happened during those years while others got the luxury to just play games and listen to popular music and revel in meme culture. It’s easier to ignore the complexities of men and the horrible things they do while the camera is running or when the camera isn’t running. It’s much easier to ignore the systemic issues that have plagued creators of color both online and in the real world to make them cheapened tokens of diversity amongst a sea of white creators. It’s much easier not to think about the racist demagogue whose reign of terror during those years would change the lives of millions while simply indulging in the hedonistic ambrosia of slick remixes and references to a thing you may or may not have liked. But for a piece of corporate-driven capitalistic nostalgia, it has been a strange sort of balm in these trying times to cast my mind back to a time that at least on the surface felt simpler. 

The Nostalgia Paradox

“There is no greater sorrowThan to recall a happy timeWhen miserable.” ― Dante AlighieriThere’s a scene in Boruto (a sequel to Naruto and Naruto Shippuden that no one asked for or wanted) where Sasuke and Naruto fight a cheap Orochimaru knock-off and it’s a one that has been on my mind for a while now because of how sneaky it is. Here’s a why the fight is so insidious:

  • It’s a perfectly good shonen fight. Many attack. Much punching. So many jutsus.
  • And two that if you have watched Naruto or Naruto: Shippuden it’s a masterful fight. It’s watching two characters that we have grown up with (hell, I’m the same age as Naruto now, I think) using the skills they learned as kids and teens to defeat a foe. It’s amazing to see their training pay off by becoming efficient masters of moves they used to take on early foes of the series. It’s a wonderful fight if you have that decades long history with the show.

And here’s where I’m going to play a little Nando v. Movies for a moment. That fight shouldn’t have been Naruto and Sasuke’s fight: it should have been Boruto and Sarada’s. For more background on Boruto, this show centers around the children of the main cast. Boruto is one of Naruto’s annoying children with Hinata and Sarada is Sasuke and Sakura’s annoying daughter. And the show is…fine? It’s fine. It’s a weak show and I’ve never seen a series so afraid of its protagonist. We have spent time Naruto, Sasuke and Sakura…over 10 years, in fact. And the companies behind Boruto are very anxious this show cannot and will not live up to the long shadow cast by its predecessor. Boruto as a character also lives in the shadow of his father, Naruto which is metacriticism nearly beaten into the viewer. The show has lots of potential but it’s too soon and it isn’t Naruto. But one change with this fight that happens, honestly, 60 damn episodes in the damn series about the actual main cast, not the older generation, there is a lot of potential for positive change. Back to the Nando v. Movies comparison.

If you made this fight with the mastery of old techniques about Boruto having to learn the moves that lead up to his father being Hokage then that gives Boruto an arc and gives him something else to connect to his father on. If you make this about Sarada and Boruto then it becomes about them becoming the new Sasuke and Naruto. That lets you pay homage to the past while honoring the present rather than reminding me that I am old and that I miss Naruto.

After all that preamble I want to talk about nostalgia.

The whole fight with Sasuke and Naruto didn’t make me happy about Boruto. It made me want to watch Naruto. That’s the upside down of nostalgia. I had the exact same feeling about Pokemon: Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire. Aside from the Delta Episode, that game didn’t make me fall in love with it, it made me want to go back and play Pokemon Ruby. And considering that the current media landscape is nothing but remakes, reboots and more, I find increasingly that I am not interested in in the remake, it just makes me want to go back to the original. Knowing that we’re going to have Marvel movies from now until the heat death of the universe doesn’t make me want to see all of them (I’ll see most of them) it just makes me want to go back to the source material.

Which brings us to homage, intertextuality and shameless cash grabs.  

There’s such a fine line between rip-offs and homage that honestly, that could be its own blog. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a shot-for-shot genderbent redo of Star Wars: A New Hope but some praise the film for it while others saw it as pandering attempt at rebooting a legacy franchise. It’s what lead to all the conflama with Star Wars: The Last Jedi, that movie now is too different from the original but it’s only because we’ve gotten very used to being spoon-fed nostalgia. We can also see this in all the dumb Disney live-action reboots. They so badly want us to think of the innocence we had as a childhood that they just keep repackaging the stories we grew up with but worse. Beauty and the Beast (2017) so badly wants to remind you of the iconic movie from the 90s  but it ignores all the things that made the first movie so great and I left the movie not loving or appreciating the homage, it just made me want to watch the 90s version of the movie. There are very few live-action remakes or just remakes in general that do much to improve the original. The nostalgia these movies want to milk is hollow and just makes me miss the 90s.

Which brings us back to intertextuality. Hey, do you remember that thing? Sure you do. You gotta remember that thing. Take heart in knowing the simply fact of whatever thing you insert into that line will be bill in a movie, game, comic or more. We saw it in Pokemon: Sun/Moon. We see it in Stranger Things and we see it in the new remake of It. What makes intertextuality different than homage is that rather than it taking inspiration from a thing it’s just copying or inserting something into a newer property so that you feel connected to that new thing. And the problem is that leaning into the older and more beloved aspects of a franchise can backfire spectacularly. Again back to Boruto, cramming the older characters in is just there to keep our attention and it actively ruins the story. We aren’t given time to spend with the kids because we have to keep looking at the adults. As much as I dislike Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, we at least don’t spend a lot of time with useless adult Harry Potter and useless adult Draco Malfoy: we spend time with their sons and their friends and it’s wonderful despite the plot of that play being a red hot garbage fire.

This is not the same as the shameless cash grab though some are unique examples of all three.  Newer reboots of shows like ThunderCats (2018) and Teen Titans GO! certainly are repackaged for a younger audience and are both from older and more beloved properties but neither seem to want to even touch the shadow of their former cash grab shows. Teen Titans GO! evenly actively reminds you of the fact that this show is far from the glory days of its prior better television show. But while I’m not really angry at these shows (I know they aren’t for me because I am old) again, it doesn’t make me feel anything for them outside of my desire to just go back and watch their originals.

That’s the problem with nostalgia. While sure, some are inspired by remakes and rehashes, so many more are just tired. I’m old now, it’s why I have such a hard time with newer anime. I started watching My Hero Academia  and it’s so aggressively like Naruto that I’m actively taken out of the show (and while yes, the show does plenty of things I can praise later, it isn’t enough to distract from all the tropes and beats it has taken from other popular shonen series). Why would I want to watch discount Fullmetal Alchemist? I can just watch Fullmetal Alchemist.

If you’re pro-nostalgia, let me know! I’m curious if I’m just an old fart now and just refuse to be hip with the young kids.

 

Cultural Gentrification and You: Your Story, Your Style

“The point about pop culture is that so much of it is borrowed. There's very little that's brand new. Instead, creativity today is a kind of shopping process—picking up on and sampling things form the world around yo.png

Amber and I were having another one of our famous talks. We were discussing life and history as always but I was then quickly reminded of a recent style trend that dredged up every negative feeling I had about 2017: snowglobe nails. Now, if you are fortunate enough to not know what these are, I’ll take a moment and let you find out a little more about this “style” trend.

Now, this is extra. Really extra. Why do you need to turn your nail into a snowglobe? But it immediately reminded me of a trend when I was younger: back in the day of velociraptors and chunky blonde highlights. In my high school, black girls did extravagant nail designs all the time. But back in those days, the black women that did such elaborate nail art were considered to be ghetto or tacky. Now they’d be the stars of popular Instagram accounts and Youtube tutorials.

This is cultural appropriation and gentrification. It’s when things that were once maligned due to its attachment to minority groups without admitting to any of its history and sanitizing it for the sake of popularity.

We’re going to go over a few examples that particularly earn my ire.


Voguing

If you’ve watched RuPaul’s Drag Race, you have a base concept of what Voguing is. It’s a dance move that was popularized by Madonna in the 80s and is rooted in a the traditions of ballroom drag which was formulated and perfected by drag queens and gay men of color. Voguing is throwing shade with body movements but when Madonna popularized it at first she paid tribute to the LGBT community. She admitted that drag queens and queers of color did it better than her and featured them in her music videos and on her tours.

But as time progressed popular culture associated the act with Madonna more and more and less and less with the queer people of color that inspired and created the dance move. Voguing is an important part of the LGBT community and is a secret language to queer people all over the United States. And with Drag Race now in the popular lexicon, more and more people are aware of Voguing and are not aware of the fact that it is rooted in decades of ballroom drag. It was not something that started in the 1980s and it was not started by white pop stars. My breaking point was watching the third season of RuPaul’s Drag Race: All-Stars and one of the guest judges (Vanessa Hudgens) had the audacity to say she was very into voguing now. Like it was a recent phenomena. Like it was something she just discovered. It exhausted me and I still roll my eyes at it every time I hear that comment.


Hair Trends

Now, I’m relaxed. That is an important aspect of black culture, I was told that my natural hair was not pretty and that I was not likely to be hired or desired if I retained my natural hair. But since forever, folks have felt it necessary to try out styles that were created by black people. Dreadlocks come to mind. Dreads are often times maligned when black people wear them for a myriad of culturally insensitive reasons. Dreadlocks are a hairstyle that formed with the Rastafarian culture and religion. They happen because of the kinky nature of black hair. So when a black man or woman has dreads, it’s often times political, spiritual and important. When a white woman or white man does it…well, let’s just say it leaves a lot to be desired. Again, the locks in dreadlocks are formed because black hair is naturally a little kinky, that sort of texture just doesn’t really exist for many others but that stereotyping does not exist for a white woman at Coachella in dreads. So while Zendaya wearing dreads gets a racist comment out of an E! News hostess, a white person in dreads is just eccentric and “worldly”.

The same can be said for many of the trends in hair braiding.

I got my hair braided a few times when I was younger and mostly for those times when I would be away from my usual hair stylist. Braids were a way to protect my roots from breakage. But when I had braids I was as far as the world saw any other black girl with box braids. I didn’t feel pretty with braids and I still look at those photos with any positivity. I can still remember the hours in the stylist’s chair and the pain associated with getting your hair done.

But when a Kardashian braids her hair, heaven helps us. Now, it isn’t appropriative because some form of braiding is almost as culturally universal as Bigfoot, but it is disappointing that something is typically seen as a negative for one race while it’s fresh, cool and edgy for another.

The last hair trend I’ll cover is weave, extensions and wigs. I’m a cosplayer and I spend a lot of time in wigs and I’m a very handsome blond.  But there’s a special relationship black women have with their hair and that means that many of my sisters in melanin have hair that they were not born with. And back when I was young in ye olden days, they were dissed for it. My great-grandmother was a snake of a woman but her wig collection was enviable. And as soon as I started collecting wigs, my aunts immediately made comparisons between my love of hair that was not mine and my great-grandmother, Ida. But let a celebrity throw on a neon wig and she’s a trendsetter.  

Long weave is a staple for many ethnic communities in the United States. They became an important way to express style for many black women and for some black men.

And that does not mean that all my brothers and sisters with hair not their own do it right. And many  of the criticisms of my think piece will be on “ratchet” and “ghetto” individuals. And while yes, there are plenty of folks who are not the pinnacles of fashion or design, the double standard is real and exhausting.


Being “Extra”

Now, in hindsight, I realize I’ve been extra my whole life. From the velvet jumpers to the always perfectly done hair, I’ve been extra since between it was a word used to describe people and not food. And back in my day, I realize now, that many of the girls and ladies I went to school with back during the days of raptors were extra as hell. Weaves that were several feet long, nails that sparkled like the hot white sun, velour tracksuits and purses that cost more than my rent payments. Today, that woman is extra. Years ago, that person was ghetto. And the big difference between what made a person “extra” versus “ghetto” was often tragically, race. Being extra is seen as a thing mostly now done by white people but comically, it’s something that many queer people and people of color have been doing easily for decades.


Speaking of queer people and drag queens, let’s take a small sidebar to talk about appropriation of language.

Queer people made up our own language decades ago. Shade, vogue, work, look, trade and more all mean something very different to the average gay man or drag queen. This language was created first and most importantly out of safety. Moons ago, being a gay man was not a fashionable thing to be and these codes and secret languages kept gay men and women safe from a hostile world. This secret language kept gay people alive and safe during the AIDS epidemic, during Stonewall and during the rough and tumble conservative eras in American History that you won’t learn about in history class. And as much as I love RuPaul’s Drag Race there’s been an entire generation and section of the populous that gets to “speak Drag Queen” without any of the background knowledge about it. And what’s even more frustrating is watching a woman at Walmart say “YAS, QUEEN. SLAY!” while also refusing to let LGBT people have the save civil liberties they deserve.

You don’t get to say “Yes, queen! Work!” and also think that gay people are still going to Hell because of religious dogma.  


Cultural gentrification and appropriation are one of the most exhausting aspects of the modern pop culture landscape. It’s right up there with microaggressions as far as things that just wear me down. Gentrification and appropriation suck the life and history out a thing that matters to a minority community, sanitizes it and re-sells it at a higher rate that often locks out the original owners of that media, act or pattern for mass consumption. But through education, careful research and analysis of media trends and a decent level of empathy: we can combat cultural gentrification together.