Millennials Have a ’90s Nostalgia Problem

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Get Yr ’90s Nostalgia Off My Timeline, Bro

Like most millennials, the 1990s defined my childhood—a decade of laser tag, CD burning, grainy cartoons, and Smash Mouth. Or at least, that’s what media crafted nostalgia tells us.

In any event, nostalgia is undoubtedly a very powerful emotion. If you’re a 90s kid, the mere mention of Hey Arnold! or “Two Princes” by Spin Doctors sends you hurtling down a dopamine-lined neuron path. In fact, the sensation of nostalgia actually makes the body feel physically warmer, more hopeful for the future, and emotionally closer to others. It’s like a drug.

That’s why, right now in a newsroom, editors brainstorm how to explain the crisis in the Middle East with Friends characters (Saudi Arabia is so Rachel). Get this: nostalgia rules web content, and everyone wants in on it.

So, it’s with a heavy heart that I must share some troubling news—millennials have a ’90s nostalgia problem.

Despite my unabashed love for the pop culture of my childhood, I feel a bit cheated as my experience becomes co-opted in exchange for… hold on. HOLY SHIT.

We’ve received a report that Nickelodeon is starting a new TV channel called “The Splat” exclusively for ’90s shows!!!!!

This means we can watch Aaahh!!! Real Monsters at any time. A recent article (see: picture book for adults) on Buzzfeed also confirmed that the channel is arriving soon.

I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me.


Regression, Available Online & In-Person

The 90s were 15 years ago. We’re already recycling every aspect of its beloved pop culture. This trend even birthed the revival of a defunct ’90s soft drink, Surge.

Though it’s typical to reminisce about bygone eras, the internet takes this rite of passage to startling new heights, abbreviating cultural touchstones until they become something starkly different than the source material itself.

As such, we’ve arrived at a sad stop along the spiraling regression railroad: ’90s nostalgia as kitsch.

Nearly everywhere a millennial looks—which, evidently isn’t any further than a screen—is a constant reminder of co-opted ’90s culture. Whether it’s a listicle titled “48 Reasons ’90s Kids Had The Best Childhood,” or “60 Phrases Only A ’90s Kid Would Know,” or trending hashtags like….

“The Splat” even hinted at their arrival on social media by filtering ’90s cartoon characters through modern meme-speak, because every brand insists on doing this now. (Brands be like: “lol guac af.”)

Nostalgic ’90s content also uses ultra-specific cultural references as currency, so it’s Friends everything, Dunkaroos this, Keenan & Kel that, Lisa Frank all up in your business, and a tug at the heart by the strangely popular / masochistic extreme sour Warheads. Millennials can’t resist. It’s not fair.

Sure, the media-abused nostalgia trope has been applied with surprising hilarity, i.e. the in-joke of @Seinfeld2000’s resurrection of a sitcom for topical memes. But for every positive use of the ’90s trope, there’s an equally regrettable one.

And then there’s ’90s Fest. ’90s Fest. To repeat: ’90s Fest.

The inaugural event recently took place in Brooklyn, thus arriving at the physical iteration of rampant millennial nostalgia. The music and art and skee-ball festival featured appearances from ’90s artists Coolio, Smash Mouth, Spin Doctors, and Salt N’ Peppa, joined by master-of-ceremonies Pauly Shore and mascot versions of Nickelodeon cartoons.

millennial 90s nostalgia

’90s Fest in Brooklyn – Photo by Getty Images

For a ticket price of $70, one could go and see these, admittedly, completely washed-up acts and enter a Kafkaesque nostalgic dream world—the issue being the sheer escapism of it all. It’s a collective failure by millennials to embrace the moment, forever in favor of chasing a saccharine past that might never have truly existed outside of our memories.


Memories of Memories of Memories


Social media posts like the above hurt my soul—the very idea of “reliving” one’s childhood is a popular one among millennials. But can anyone truly revisit the past? Or does it always end up being not as good.

And yet, childhood-related posts are inescapable and addictive. I’ve purposely avoided ’90s content for the past week and… I just can’t take it anymore. Can someone take a quiz and tell me which character from Dawson’s Creek I am? How am I supposed to know otherwise?

While I do love, and can reliably quote cherished cartoon remnants of my childhood, I can’t help but feel put-off by the onslaught of folks looking to churn a profit (or a click) from them, sapping the last drops of sticky nostalgia away. What’s left to remember?

It’s said that our memory functions by remembering the last time we remembered something, not the original memory itself. Considering this, I wonder if in 20 years—during the heat of 2000’s nostalgia—I’ll look back on my pre-internet childhood and remember it filtered through digital culture. Not the glowing days of youth, but the forced days of regressive adulthood, when all I wanted was the past.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my chicken nuggets are ready. I’m going to grab a tray and pop-in a VHS of Homeward Bound.


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    So which is it, are they kids of the 80s or the 90s? If you hear millennials tell it, they are both.