Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

Nostalgia Is Not New

"Are 18- to 34-year-olds too young to be nostalgic? Evidently not. Starting next Monday, TeenNick, part of the Nickelodeon family of cable channels for children, will start rebroadcasting old series from the 1990s that are considered classics by young adults. That’s right: classics from the 1990s."

I am surprised that the New York Times finds this surprising. My sophomore year of college, 1991, this guy I knew threw an '80s Party. Where people dressed up in '80s fashions and danced to '80s music. The early '80s held sway, apparently: pastel leg-warmers and off-the-shoulder Flashdance sweatshirts, Flock of Seagulls and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. I didn't go to the party, because it just seemed too ridiculous. I was still wearing plenty of clothes I wore in the '80s in 1991.

I was surprised, then, at the speed at which we'd cycled from first-round appreciation to a kitschier, nostalgic appreciation. But the party proved very popular. There were more of them. And more of them. By the time I graduated, in the mid-'90s, the '80s Party had become a staple of young doofus nightlife not only at my college, but all across the country. I moved to New York and a nightclub devoted to the phenomena opened there soon after. It was called Culture Club, like the iconic '80s band, and the Cs were written like Pacman, the iconic '80s video game. There was a promotional van that used to drive around the city. It was annoying. But even at that point, not surprising. There was lots of stuff written about Generation X—which I think is my generation, if I understand it right—and how we were so quick so nostalgify everything. All those t-shirts with '70s and '80s brand logos. "Sunkist," "Bubblicious," etc. I used to wear velour shirts (I cringe a little at the thought) like Steven Malkmus from Pavement did, imagining that I was achieving a sort of tongue-in-cheek "grooviness." But I felt like I came by it honestly, since I'd worn velour shirts as a kid in the '70s.

But the line between kitsch and anything else is a blurry one. The movie the The Wedding Singer came out in 1998, making much of its temporal setting in 1985. Less than ten years later, you could see the fashions at which it poked fun everyday on the street. I was surprised then by this stuff. It's probably natural, as we get older, to feel like, "Wow, that style is back? Already?" But I shouldn't have been. I can remember sitting and watching TV in the mid-'70s, weekdays, at my babysitter Peg Linville's house, her son Tommy and I. We loved "Happy Days," which was set in the '50s. It used to come on right after "The Lone Ranger," reruns, which were made in '50s. I was probably wearing a velour shirt.

35 Comments / Post A Comment

jolie (#16)

Is this where we work through our issues surrounding crushed velvet and crocheted chokers?

Pound of Salt (#15,166)

@jolie Ha, ever since '90s fashion came back I've been dreading – but have yet to see – chokers return. I guess the worst (or best?) gets left behind.

@jolie the very first spat I ever had with my bestie occurred over who had dibs on a stretchy, purple-beaded choker from contempo casuals.

willstratton (#16,868)

1998-1985= 13 years, not less than ten. A minor detail, I know.

Dave Bry (#422)

Oh, yes. I meant that less than ten years after "The Wedding Singer" came out, '80s fashions were again the norm. (I added a period to hopefully make it clearer.)

whoneedslight (#758)

@Dave Bry I believe we are the same age (she says, walking away in her purple corduroy OP shorts and lavender polo shirt with the popped collar)!

C_Webb (#855)

Americans love their premature nostalgia. Especially New Yorkers.

erikonymous (#3,231)

@C_Webb New Yorkers are generally Americans.

C_Webb (#855)

@erikonymous And New Yorkers love it even more than other Americans.

dado (#102)

At the rate that we are comsuming our retro we shall soon be expressing nostalgia for events that have not yet occurred.

GailPink (#9,712)

@dado I believe The Buzzcocks nailed it when they sang about "Feeling nostalgic for an age yet to come," on their 1978 tune "Nostaliga." Yeah.

LondonLee (#922)

That is a "thing" too

It's not so much the recycling of my own past that bothers me more that it is mostly treated as a kitsch joke.

Bittersweet (#765)

Just wait a few years. Today's kitsch joke is 2015's haute couture.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

I undoubtedly don't get this channel, but if this whole endeavor leads to the third season of Pete and Pete being released on DVD, then it's all for the good.

nogreeneggs (#12,239)

@boyofdestiny Like 8 years ago when I was still in high school, I bought my best friend bootlegged versions of Pete & Pete and Salute Your Shorts on DVD for her birthday. I think she died of happiness that day.

Dave Bry (#422)

@boyofdestiny Running repeats of "Pete & Pete" would be a good unto itself, too.

whizz_dumb (#10,650)

@Dave Bry My friend burned me DVDs of all The Wonder Years seasons (so good!!) and I find myself feeling nostalgic about a show that was nostalgic for my parents when it first aired.

mishaps (#5,779)

I was invited to an only quasi-ironic 80s party in 1991 too, but I actually went to mine. It was recent enough that people could be very specific, like "My outfit is 1986!"

awlsome (#706)

"…borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered 80's"

goodiesfirst (#3,448)

I dressed "'80s" for Halloween in 1993 and if anything it was kind of a cop out because it's not like geometric-print sweaters, acid-washed denim ruffle skirts and white moccasin flats were hard to come by at the time.

When kids my age go on about how great "90s Nick" was it makes me want to puke.

sam.i.am (#12,168)

I fondly remember the first time I read a New York Times story on the premature nostalgia of Gen-Y. Meeehm-ries… Like the corners of my miiiiind….

I remember when nostalgia was something you didn't have to pay for.

Diana@twitter (#10,868)

nostalgia just isn't what it used to be

I'm old enough to remember most of the '80s, and so I (like most of you who are the same age) get a kick out of seeing people who were not around then ape what they think was "the style".

I was at the new Harry Potter 7pt2 movie the other night and I saw someone, maybe 18, in a pastel Lacoste polo shirt with a "popped" (turn up) collar. That got me laughing because I do know quite well that the popped polo collar wasn't really a popular 1980's fad outside of a handful of people who though The Preppy Handbook was actually a serious reference manual.

What it is, is that we've mythologized not the actual stereotypes of the period, but the cultural affectations that people remember. It's like when a misquote is repeated so many times that it gains acceptance as truth.

I'm sure this happened the same for mimicry pf the 1970's, 60s and even further.. but I'm not THAT old.

@Matthew Nielsen@twitter When I was in college (1990-1994) I'd get yelled at for putting on Joy Division or Bauhaus or The Jam, I think because even though they WERE 80s they weren't EIGHTIES enough. And The Clash and U2 and The Beastie Boys were consumed and played universally without any irony, because they were just … still around. Our nostalgia parties were full of music the people in the room actually had recently disliked. Or else disco.

Irresponsibly and recklessly anecdotally: I think there is an element of the outre in early nostalgia, and more earnestness in later nostalgia. Like, Culture Club (the place Bry talks about) was all about the bad stuff. The good stuff didn't come back til circa 2000. So: 10 years for the excesses and the bad stuff, a ritual washing away; 20 years for the "don't you wish" and the re-creations that dig deep into the back-catalog. (I mean did I meet another person who knew of The Pop Group in NY City who was my age until 2000?)

LondonLee (#922)

I don't mean to be pedantic (well, not much anyway) but Joy Division were a 70s band and The Jam broke up in 1982 so they really qualify either.

@LondonLee Not pedantic! Of course you're right! I spent too much time on that remembering exactly what I used to get in trouble for. But I mean, it was also true of Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Cure, Bauhaus or Love and Rockets, Echo and the Bunnymen, for me. (They all continued into the 80s and in some cases beyond.)

@Tom McGeveran Did you leave out a "not" in that part about The Pop Group? It's a little confusing because I'm of a certain age and know of them and Mark Stewart & the Maffia and the On-U Sound bunch, and I've never needed to live in NYC.

mickjohn (#17,844)

it is good site

petejayhawk (#1,249)

@mickjohn you're right, it is!

Our grade 7 musical was a rock & roll revue of hits from the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s….which was performed in February 1992. Which means we started rehearsals in the fall of 1991. Nostalgia is nothing new.

bitzyboozer (#6,867)


Never gets any less relevant. And may I point out this was written almost 14 years ago?

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