Are We Too Nostalgic?

This week, New York Times writer David Browne argued that Generation Y is all about nostalgia—and that we develop sentimental feelings about things at a much more rapid pace than Baby Boomers. I fully admit that even at the young age of 21, I feel nostalgic for my childhood all the time. And haven’t we all? At The Frisky alone, we’ve reminisced recently about Zack Morris, Jem and the Holograms, our favorite kids TV show hosts, and even our favorite childhood dolls. But I’m not running to trade in my iPod for a Walkman or my flat iron for scrunchies. I just enjoy a trip down memory lane. And because I’m young, my memory lane doesn’t go on for miles and miles. Browne says one possible explanation for this is that “the political and economic climate of the late ’90s had been as soothing as a Backstreet Boys ballad: no wars, unemployment as low as four percent, a $120 billion federal surplus.” In theory that sounds good, but Mr. Browne, as much as I love me some Backstreet Boys, Sept. 11th is far from the reason that I crave to watch an episode of “Are You Afraid Of The Dark?” every now and then. The things I loved when I was little, I haven’t really stopped loving as a young adult. I dare to say that this is more likely the result of VH1 shows like “I Love The ’90s” and “Best Week Ever” than 9/11. For generation Y, we barely have time to forget about the TV shows, movies, and toys that we love before they are packaged into an episode of “I Love The New Millennium.”

As for the nostalgia for late ’90s bands like Blink 182 or Limp Bizkit, whose music Seth Matlins, the chief marketing executive at Live Nation, called “classic rock for the next generation,” I can’t say I agree. We don’t think of them as at all akin to the Stones or Beatles—they’re just the bands we kept listening to ’cause the radio stopped playing them. Maybe it’s not nostalgia that we are experiencing, but rather an extended engagement, one our parents couldn’t have because the internet and 800-channel cable boxes didn’t exist back then. For example, if I want to see an episode of “Even Stevens” I can flip on Disney XD. Surely my parents could not do that with an episode of “M.A.S.H.”

Interestingly, the strongest piece of evidence Browne uses about our generation being hurriedly nostalgic is also the strongest argument for my “extended engagement” theory—and it’s related to none other than “Harry Potter.” Browne writes, “According to a survey of 4,000 people who bought tickets to the new ‘Potter’ movie through Fandango, the online ticket service, 45 percent were 18 to 30 years old, compared with 15 percent under 17.” So clearly, as Browne has observed, my generation has not let go of its ties to childhood. But I highly doubt this is because Gen Y longs to be little again. Rather, I think it’s just because we haven’t stopped loving the whimsical character who grew up with us and never seemed to leave the zeitgeist in the 12 or so years since we first met him. So, is it nostalgia that we are experiencing? Maybe. But more likely, it’s just that this pop culture hasn’t really fallen off of our radars.