Culture editor Brian Donahoe plumbs the zeitgeist in the Blue & White’s regular feature “Man About Town.” The newest issue of the Blue & White is on news stands now!
It has been joked about since, well, the Millennium, but after a solid decade, our society has finally decided that it is time to embrace the ’90s. Though it may be a desperate grasp at that familiar sense of irony that has characterized all the nostalgic trends of our epoch, it seems curiously genuine this time around.
The Blue & White’s Man About Town first came to this realization in September, after having received invitations to two unrelated “croptop”-themed parties in the same weekend. Then, recently, during a campus band’s performance of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” he brought up this new trend in conversation. While friends argued— not entirely without reason—that this is nothing new, that ’90s nostalgia has been gradually percolating through popular culture for years, he maintained that what we are seeing now is happening on a wholly unprecedented scale. As the debate unfolded, the song concluded and the band began to lead the crowd in friendly banter about Pogs, those oh-so-’90s plastic discs that have not been seen or heard from since the Clinton administration, before breaking out in Weezer’s “Sweater Song.” And so the Man About Town’s point was made.
Then there was the trailer for the upcoming film Friends With Benefits, in which *NSYNC’s own Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis (who, as a cast member of the now-defunct That ’70s Show, is no stranger to decade specific nostalgia) play two twenty-somethings arguing over whether “Closing Time” was or wasn’t performed by Third Eye Blind (Third Eye Blind!) as the ballad rocks on in the background.
It’s by Semisonic, but this is hardly the point. The point is that, in 2010, we have undoubtedly entered a decidedly new phase of ’90s nostalgia. The argument that such a trend is merely the natural progression from a previous fetishization of the ’80s, as a younger generation gains ascendancy in “the culture,” might seem logical enough, but the Man About Town, always with his ear to the ground, suspects something else is at play.
In a YouTube video by the comedy group DrCoolSex that has recently been making the rounds and racking up a million hits, we are treated to a mock-trailer for Doug: The Movie, in which a college-aged Doug, from the eponymous Nickelodeon classic, returns to Bluffington to find the world of his childhood changed for the worse. Judy chain-smokes on breaks from her minimum wage job, Porkchop is dead, and Patti is dating Roger.
Today, faced with horrible job prospects and an overwhelming array of societal crises, financial or otherwise, the generation that grew up watching Doug before AYSO games yearns to return to the bygone era of Bluffington, with its booming economy and confident American culture, without the onus of too-tight lycra and too-big hair. Yet, they are also the generation that were adolescents in the Aughts, the decade that fully embraced ironic decade-specific nostalgia. As a result, they see themselves as too jaded to actually admit missing the ’90s, and instead funnel their energies into the brand of nostalgia that let us, sort of, relive the quirkier ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s—artificially faded Ramones T-shirts are an industry unto themselves. But when conversation turns to cartoons, pop music, and midriff-bearing garments, emotions are sincere. Our Man presumes to speak for a generation in saying: in a way that no one in 2007 ever felt about the drab ’80s, everyone under 30 wishes, in their heart of hearts, that it were still the ’90s.