What is old is new again, as they say, and in this case it turns out that we, my fellow Millennials, are what’s old. In the past week: fans lined the streets of Hollywood Boulevard screaming for the superior boy band of the ’90s, NSYNC (no, I will not take that back), as all the original bandmates got back together to receive their long overdue star on the Walk of Fame; I got an e-mail from DSW, a major retailer, proclaiming that “the ’90s called” because platform sneakers are back in; the “Super Troopers” (circa 2001) sequel came out; and Smash Mouth’s “All Star” came on the radio – and it was, to my horror, on the same “oldies” station that used to play my parents’ favorite songs from their own youths when I was a kid.
Plus, in recent news, the Spice Girls are probably getting together for another reunion tour; Cynthia Nixon, best known as Miranda from “Sex And The City,” is back in the news, but this time because she’s running for governor of New York; Christina Aguilera is gracing the pages of People for some reason; and there was some kind of headline about Paris Hilton that I unfortunately cannot relay back to you because I navigated away from that vapidity as soon as I saw it.
Millennials are known for being pretty nostalgic, something that brands began catching on to after enough of us had been out of college or in the workforce long enough to actually have the time to reflect upon our childhoods and go, “aw, simpler times,” whilst wondering how to pay crippling student debt or why we couldn’t find an “entry-level” job with no experience.
As “the neo-nostalgic” generation, as some online articles have put it, we love “throwbacks,” hence the popular Instagram hashtag #throwbackthursday and all manner of themed throwback events, like Long Beach’s own “Snapback Long Beach” nights at The Federal Undergound, where guests are treated to “throwback hip-hop/R&B/classics,” as advertised.
Nickelodeon even launched an eight-hour lineup on its sister network, Teen Nick, a few years ago, to entice its legion of Millennial fans who grew up watching the likes of “Rocko’s Modern Life” (my personal all-time favorite), “Hey Arnold!” (close second), “Double Dare,” “Legends of the Hidden Temple,” et cetera.
Then there’s Loot Crate. Billed as a “subscription box for gamers and nerds,” the company regularly ships boxes stuffed with branded merchandise to subscribers. Since it was founded in 2012, the company has dipped into the nostalgic Millennial buyer base with its crates of Sanrio gear, the Japanese brand that took the’90s by storm with Hello Kitty, Badtz-Maru and other cuddly characters. They also nabbed a deal to ship boxes full of Harry Potter merchandise, which I have to imagine is insanely lucrative.
That service has since been ripped off by just about every company linked to Millennial memories. Nickelodeon has “The Nick Box,” and there is now even a subscription box service called, I kid you not, “Nostalgia Crate.”
Mall stores are getting in on the nostalgia game, too. When Millennials actually choose to enter a mall (I don’t know if you’ve heard, but we’re supposedly destroying them with our love of locally sourced merchandise, so we don’t patronize malls too often), we’re met with an onslaught of déjà vu. The aptly named Forever 21, for example, has been drenched in neon and graffitied tops, cropped and oversized, for a good couple of years now. Chokers a la “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” have reappeared in jewelry sections everywhere. Jelly shoes – which I obsessively wore as a child despite the inevitable blisters – have cropped up again too.
Tamagotchi – a pocket sized digital game in which you care for a pet and try not to kill it (even though you will inevitably kill it because it’s rigged, rigged I tell you) – are on the market yet again. Even the eerie toy that talks when you move near it, Furby, is back. I’ve got one in a box at my folk’s house, and for years after we put it away it would randomly purr (yes, they purred) when someone walked by. I’m not sure where that box is now. One day it will probably startle some unsuspecting customer at a Goodwill.
I could go on. And you’d probably love it, if you’re a Millennial.
Recycled fashions aren’t anything new. When I was a kid, bell bottom jeans and platform shoes were in – trends recycled from the time many of our folks were in high school. But is this degree of nostalgic merchandising normal? Does it say something about our generation that we are so eager to return to our childhood years? Are the Baby Boomers right – are we perpetual children?
A 2016 article by “gnovis,” a journal affiliated with Georgetown University, pointed out that, while nostalgia isn’t anything new, the degree to which it is associated with Millennials is likely due to the generation’s coming of age during the rise of the Internet. Our propensity to constantly surf the web on our smartphones has made it incredibly easy to access old memories and search for relics of days past.
But the article also argued that Millennials’ nostalgia is a form of escapism, one spurred on by the financial collapse that marked the end of our childhoods, among other major shifts in our world.
While in my last column I was critical for a tendency among some Millennials to retreat to a comfortable bubble of ignorant existence rather than choosing to engage with the major issues afflicting the world, I’ve got to say, I don’t believe a fondness for things past is really that big of a component of that tendency. Nor do I think it’s particularly weird. What has happened is that the Internet has magnified a cultural tendency to reminisce. Marketers were just smart enough to seize upon it.
I’ve got a Christmas sweater that says, “Keep the change, ya filthy animal.” A tote bag that proclaims: “The Beets Killer Tofu Tour, 1995.” I’m not about to run out for some platform shoes, but you can bet your VHS copy of “The Land Before Time” that I will 100% purchase tickets to the Spice Girls tour. It’s really not that different from going to the antique swap meet at Veterans Stadium and buying some vintage toys, or going to see the Stones play.
Although Mick Jagger might have something to say about that.