Nostalgia is a hell of a drug.
There’s a tendency to view the culture that shaped your life through a prism of perfection: it meant something to YOU and it shaped YOU and you have all these FEELINGS tied up in these cultural artifacts. The problem is that when you do this, you look back at time filtered through your own lens of perfection: you are remembering things how you want to remember them. The problem is that this new wave (nu wave?) of nostalgia that’s sweeping across the Internet and pop culture at large is doing something I can abide no more: romanticizing shitty entertainment from the 1990s.
I’m not talking about your older brother sitting down and remembering that one time he saw Nirvana in a small club in Portland or Seattle or Los Angeles or somewhere else that his mind was blown. That’s a legitimate thing that’s worth remembering given the change Nirvana brought to the music landscape. No, the self-wankery that is being pushed on the world by millennials is a new brand of horseshit that should be set on fire. Not that it’s ENTIRELY their fault but we’re talking about kids who were raised on those VH1 “I Love The…” specials that took off after the popularity of the original looks at the ’70s and ’80s and expanded into the 1990s and then… the 2000s. How you can get nostalgic over a decade that’s still unfolding is beyond me. But nostalgia has always been a thing; we all do it. It’s just never been this grating.
This is not your father telling you how much Zeppelin ruled; this is some obnoxious brat trying to convince you why Goosebumps was the pinnacle of culture.
(Disclaimer: I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with enjoying these things because to each their own and it’s on you if you like shitty entertainment and not, say, Husker Du reissues. But let’s get a hold of our collective selves before trying to pass off R.L. Stine as elite as Hemingway. Or Joe Flacco.)
You don’t have to look far for the worst offender of all. You can probably see it right now in your Facebook feed: Buzzfeed. The hellmouth of the Internet is littered with results of “which character are you?” quizzes and it doesn’t abate with Buzzfeed. Now all sorts of blogs are churning out their own. Buzzfeed actually DOES produce real journalism, but its biggest move of late has been flooding social networks of late with a run of these mind-numbing quizzes. Which Dragonball-Z character are you? (The one that does. not. care.) Which Friends character are you? (Chandler. Could these quizzes BE any more annoying?) Far be it for us at KSK to bemoan click bait but this is trolling for page views at its worst: trading on nostalgia of the worst possible entertainment.
You want to know which Dawson’s Creek character I am? I’m Jen because I’d rather be emotionally skull-fucked and watch my best friend fall off a pier and drown than to have to see another one of these stupid fucking quizzes. Worst of all is that they’re laughing all the way to the fucking bank (which I guess makes them Pacey). So, congrats, Buzzfeed, I hope you’re happy with the plague you’ve dropped on us.
The worst part is that Buzzfeed isn’t choosing to “celebrate” (or whatever word you might choose for this particular circumstance) things that are particularly good. Full House? Not good. Cartoons we forgot existed? There’s a reason we forgot them. And hahahahaha look a brothel! The sex trade is HILARIOUSLY ’90s, you guys!!!
One thousand years from now, the aliens that repopulate the rock we call home won’t care why Christmas was better in the ’90s (because Jesus was totally down with Zubaz?) or how some people trolled us with tongue-in-cheek meta listicles.
Even regularly stellar publications aren’t immune. The Onion’s A.V. Club has fallen into this trap thanks to a love affair with the aforementioned Stine. Last fall during its 1993 Week, along posts that heralded pop culture classics like Groundhogs Day and the “riot grrrl” explosion, they interviewed Stine about… Eureka’s Castle. While celebrating the year that gave us “Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers,” “Schindler’s List,” and “Trainspotting” (the book), the focus falls on a middling Nickelodeon kids show. It’s not just boring, it’s self-serving.
(On the flipside, A.V. Club is generally pretty great and also knows how to do nostalgia right with things like Police Academy Week so, you know, redemption.)
Nostalgia can be good. It can be. Those NFL Films Super Bowl highlight shows? Awesome. ESPN Classic? It can be great. Listening to Rolling Stones albums while you smoke weed with your dad and he tells you about the time he made out with two chicks at the band’s Dallas show on the Exile tour? Sublime.
But too much of it or using it in the wrong way can be bad, like slamming Sunny Delight with vodka. Just like baseball writers who cling to the “purity” of the game while whitewashing things like the game’s history of virulent racism and Mantle’s drinking, this new wave of nostalgists insist there’s something SPECIAL to glean from tripe like Clarissa Explains It All.
It’s universal to think, “The pop culture I experienced is better than the pop culture YOU experienced” because it means something to us. But this navel-gazing self-referential wank-off has reached new levels of dreadfulness thanks to the ascension of that generation to the world’s digital editing positions. Even previous perpetrators of fondly reminiscing bad pop culture (see: Simmons, Bill) were more or less isolated for a while. But now that’s rubbing off in a big, bad way.
This misguided reassessment of culture isn’t limited to the 1990s (as the annoying trend of recasting Billy Joel as an artistic genius proves) but it’s this reassessment of ’90s culture is our new nadir. We’re right at the cusp of removal from the decade that makes it feel like we can start looking back (it’s been 15 years since 1999!), it’s just that we have idiots steering the ships.
Time to go put on some Fugazi bootlegs and firebomb a Boy Meets World DVD set.