Home > Commentary, Pop Culture, TV > Nostalgia: It’s not just for Boomers anymore!

Nostalgia: It’s not just for Boomers anymore!

Every now and then, the New York Times likes to check in on the mystifying attitudes of These Kids Today. Case in point, this piece from Tuesday in which the Old Gray Lady reports on Nickelodeon’s (stupendously awesome) plan to revive a handful of beloved early ‘90s programs – including Clarissa Explains It AllAll That, and Doug – in a late-night bloc on its Teen Nick channel.

It’s clear, if baffling, that the headline – “The Good Old Days of 20 Years Ago” – is shooting for ironic juxtaposition. To the Times‘ brass and much of its target demo, anything that post-dates the Pentagon Papers probably seems like last Tuesday. When he declares, “That’s right: classics from the 1990s,” writer Brian Stelter (a member of the generation Nick is targeting) probably anticipates plenty of readers harrumphing incredulously into their Sankas.

But 20 years is a pretty typical benchmark for hitting the nostalgia button in modern American pop culture. Take Grease or Happy Days – romanticized depictions of the 1950s that struck chords galore in the 1970s. In 1988, America’s yuppies began freebasing eight grams of pure 1960s wistfulness every week in the form of The Wonder Years. The FM radio rotation of 1971 was driving hundreds of classic rock stations in 1991.

Hell, look no further than the stars of some of these Nick shows to see what a difference 15 or 20 years makes. Kenan Thompson is the third-longest-tenured member of the current Saturday Night Live cast. Melissa Joan Hart is on her second post-Clarissa sitcom. Amanda Bynes has already retired AND unretiredfrom show business.

So yes, in 2011 the time is ripe for those of us straddling the Gen X/Gen Y divide to start sepia-toning the cultural diet of our youth.

The article’s lede asks, “Are 18-34 year-olds too young to be nostalgic?” The convenience of market researchers aside, it isn’t apt to bunch 18-year-olds and 34-year-olds into the same discussion here. Fond memories for these programs belong to a fairly specific cohort of people, between more like 25 and 32. And as 30 bears down on me like a T-Rex bearing down on Jeff Goldblum, this strikes me as a perfectly natural age at which to be gazing into the rose-colored rearview mirror.

This is the point at which the few remaining vestiges of childhood have finished falling away. Maybe we’re a few years into our careers, and past the point where the promise of a thousand possible futures is enough to temper the scraping edges of life at entry-level. If we’re not married, or en route, enough of our friends and peers are to elevate such a milestone from the realm of the hypothetical. Chances are, someone we grew up with has, or is expecting, a kid. That amorphous, quasi-responsible transition period of our early-to-mid 20s is fading like a Pearl Jam T-shirt from the Vs. tour, and the onset of full-blown adulthood can’t be ignored or postponed much longer.

Why shouldn’t more than a few of us happily embrace the chance to stay up past our bedtimes once in a while and slip back into versions of ourselves that shouldered no more pressing concerns than accidentally shoplifting underwear?

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Categories: Commentary, Pop Culture, TV
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