December 10, 2019

Childhood nostalgia making a comeback, as hangover phase of cultural cycle ends

Lately I've noticed young people getting spontaneously nostalgic for elements of their childhood, mainly in thrift stores where old things can trigger their memories. I've been regularly visiting these stores for years, and this is the first time I remember such a deluge of instances.

I don't mean they're marveling at things from the past -- getting nostalgic in general. I mean, the feeling of sifting through a bunch of your old things and remembering what they were, what role they played in your childhood, and so on. The feeling of connection with the past, at a personal and specific level.

These were all groups of Millennials in their late teens or early 20s. The objects of nostalgia were the Y2K scare (reading some book or magazine that mentioned it), a particular kind of Barbie doll, and a certain style of shoes.

As I detailed in a pair of old posts here and here, Millennials had sheltered childhoods due to their helicopter parents, so most of their memories are of mass mediated pop culture rather than material things -- and certainly not material things that involved going outdoors, hanging out in public spaces, and interacting socially with peers.

So, it's nice to see a few exceptions to that trend, once they visit thrift stores full of material things rather than entertainment media. They still don't have memories of public spaces and playing with friends IRL, but at least they remember the toys and clothing of their childhood -- something that is typically absent on their lists of "things only '90s / 2000s kids will understand" (invariably a bunch of autistic internet technology shit).

The main point, though, is not what the qualitative nature of their nostalgia is, but its quantitative rising and falling pattern over time. During the current vulnerable, refractory phase of the 15-year cultural excitement cycle, they -- and everyone else -- have been suffering from a hangover after the nostalgia-thon of the late 2000s and early 2010s (the restless, warm-up phase and the manic phase). But now that the vulnerable phase has less than a month left to go, they're starting to transition out of their hangover.

As a pop culture documentarian, I first started writing occasional nostalgic posts in 2007, though it didn't really kick off until 2009, reaching a peak from 2010 to 2012. That was when I discovered the link between rising-crime times and outgoing social moods and wild culture (the defining features of a 1980s childhood), vs. falling-crime times and cocooning moods and low-key culture (1990s to present).

I have to admit, though, to suffering from the same hangover as everyone else for the past several years. Again, referring to personal nostalgia rather than a generalized, distant appreciation for what came before today. But I think I'm ready for a '90s nostalgia revival, as the cycle shifts into the warm-up and manic phases, repeating the two '90s phases. The main nostalgia-feelers are going to be 25-34, which means Millennials, so they'll be reflecting on the '90s for childhood memories, and not the late 2000s or early 2010s.

Some of them even felt a childhood nostalgia wave during the last warm-up phase, the late 2000s, even though they were still teenagers. Not to get all meta-nostalgic, but does anyone else remember this ancient viral YouTube video from 2008 of some girl showcasing the heavily retro items lying around her house?

The second half of the 2000s was also when the "retro video game" phenomenon exploded, primarily the YouTube videos of the Angry Nintendo Nerd. Since video games are a mass media product, I can see Millennials getting even more into a repeat of that pattern, reliving the original PlayStation and N64 era. Make it Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis, and they'll hook in the late Gen X-ers as well. Again, not some distant appraisal of earlier eras of pop culture, but directly reliving your own childhood experiences.

Hopefully the popularity of thrift stores will keep Millennials somewhat grounded in the physical world, as they become susceptible again to nostalgia, and we won't have to hear too much about which Disney movie or which Nickelodeon show was better than which other one.

1 comment:

  1. Logically following this, one pattern we might look for are nostalgic movies set in a bygone era.

    The key is that the warmup phase "bygone era" movies will be positive in tone - whereas 'bygone era' movies will be negative in the defractory phase(for instance, Oscar winner "The Shape of Water" is about intolerance in the 1950s).

    Some examples of positive portrayals of bygone eras, in the warmup phase:

    The TV show "Quantum Leap" - ran from 1989-1993, and in each episode the main character, Sam, would time-travel to a previous era stretching from the late 50s through to the 80s.

    Heck, the title sequence even shows a countdown of the 60s, 70s, and 80s - a prophecy of the "Face to Face" blog:

    'the Sandlot'(1993) set in the 50s or early 60s.

    Forrest Gump(1994), which mostly fixated on the tumultuous 60s and early 70s - though that movie was sad at times, I still think it took more of a positive tone of all those crazy times the Boomers lived through.

    "Happy Days" - started in 1974, but ran throughout the late 70s. A warmup era TV show portraying another warmup era(early 60s). Once again, the positive tone is the key.


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