Amelia Diamond, Deputy Editor and Senior Writer: I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the idea for this Round Table was inspired by the Pokémon Go craze. I started noticing it because of Instagram and thought it was interesting that a lot of the memes (or the earnest “caught one!” posts) were centered around and posted by late twenty-somethings and those in their early thirties — people who were surrounded by the original Pokemon craze.
We’re also the same people who consume those “if you grew up in the 90s” and “Nickelodeon shows you miss” lists. So I’m curious: is our late-millennial generation more nostalgic than others? Are we really desperate from some golden age we think is over? Or is every generation just as nostalgic and ours happens to have online documentation and digital tools to perpetuate our nostalgia?
Verena von Pfetten, Editor at Large: Nostalgia is a very well-documented phenomenon, and the way it typically occurs is that we’re nostalgic for the period of time during which we grew up. That means we’re nostalgic for things we didn’t actually experience; we just saw them happening — like if you were seven years old when Friends was on television.
Pokémon is a different form of that, which is nostalgia for your own memories, or of something specific from our individual childhoods. There’s a Chuck Klosterman essay called “Nostalgia on Repeat” that came out a few years ago where talks about this. He writes about how nostalgia is a vehicle for happy memories. So Pokemon, whether it was a good game or a bad game, whether you actually had fun playing it or hated it isn’t totally relevant — it’s more about the fact that it existed when you were young, which lets you revisit happy memories from that time.
Chuck’s example was looking at photos of an ex. You could have had a really bad breakup, but with enough distance you eventually look at the photo with some fondness because you remember the happy things that led up to the breakup.
The feelings I had when they were talking about finally getting Dream Phone…I was instantly like, “Oh my god, that would be so fun to play,” because I can totally remember being at a friend’s house and playing it and loving it.
Then the podcast described how they felt while playing it as adults. They were bored and over it and saw all of the problems with it (you have to guess which boys are into you…). Our adult selves don’t actually care about these things once we revisit them.
Amelia: Ha, if we played Pretty, Pretty Princess right now… Sexist board games!
Haley Nahman, Junior Editor: The weird, gendered board games of our childhood. There’s a mall one, too. What was that one called again? Now we’re being nostalgic! Sorry, Patty, go on.
Patty: The point is just that, when I go back and watch Friends now, I’m kind of bored. It doesn’t serve the same purpose for me as it first did, and it always makes me wish I left it as an untouched memory in the past. Whereas, Pokémon took that bit of nostalgia and used to to lure adults into a whole new experience — one that couldn’t have possibly existed in the nostalgic past.
Verena: Does anyone here play the Pokémon game?
Jasmin Aujla, Account Strategist: I don’t but my friends do.
Haley: I’ve captured two Pokémons. But I wasn’t into Pokemon as a kid. I remember when it was big but it’s not enough for me to feel excited about the nostalgia of it.
Patty: I’ve been trying to avoid playing it during the work week. I know that sounds crazy but I just don’t want to open that can of worms.
Verena: I think the idea of nostalgia is interesting from a marketing perspective. We do it editorially; we take advantage of nostalgia in story pitches and writing. We think, “That’s going to tug at heart strings” or, “That’s going to be shared with people who identify with X emotion.”
Haley: Because the whole internet is nostalgic. We romanticize the past so much. Part of why nostalgia feels good is because it’s a clean narrative. You know how everything turns out; you remember the happy ending as opposed to any stressful lead-ups.
Patty: You can’t wrap a tidy little bow on something that’s still happening.
Verena: Did you guys read the Vulture/New York Mag piece about Friends and why millennials love the show? The general consensus that the writer got from those who he interviewed was that young people who watched Friends for the first time — they weren’t re-watching it — thought that everything looked so good back then. It was pre 9/11, so they have this view that the 90s were not problematic at all.
And maybe today is a darker time, arguably. But the article talked about how the idea of watching six people in an apartment without their phones — to a generation of kids inundated with phones and social media and all that — offers a form of connection that you can’t get today. Especially when we have shows like Master of None, where an entire episode can revolve around a text message.
Haley: To your point about everything in the past seeming perfect, it’s kind of like the Instagram effect, don’t you think? It’s life on a highlight real. Avoiding the struggles of reality. It’s kind of the same obsession.
Amelia: I’m still curious as to whether we actually are more nostalgic than other generations. We probably just think we are… But doesn’t it seem like our generation is so obsessed with claiming like, their favorite decade? The 1920s, the 80s… It’s so easy right now to be like, “Aw man, Dazed and Confused, that time period is my soul.”
Patty: It’s so frustrating. Like, “I was born in the wrong time.” Really? You want to be a woman 40 years ago?
Amelia: There’s that quote from Midnight in Paris about how every generation wishes it was part of another time, about how we all romanticize the past — even those from the past that we’re romanticizing.
Patty: And you miss your present moment.
Haley: I think the difference is that we have more access to immediate references from the past, and more of a reference to wax nostalgic about them than other generations.
Verena: You know what I’m really curious about? What nostalgia is going to look like for our time, like right now. Because what’s interesting about nostalgia from the past, from a pop culture perspective, is that pop culture used to be so focused. Everyone was consuming the same things. And even if you didn’t consume it you were aware of it. Now you can pick and choose.
So, other than memes (which: god forbid that becomes our nostalgia), what are the moments and the things that have that universal appeal?
Haley: Binge-watching Netflix?
Amelia: But that’s a meme, almost. Ugh, what if it is memes, Verena? I think about this with fashion all the of time, though, because: What the hell, in 20 years, is going to be referential of our time? We’ve covered every decade ever a million times over in this generation’s fashion. Maybe it’s Gucci.
What are people going to wear in 20 years to a 2016-themed party?
Patty: Maybe we’ll be nostalgic about the start of Facebook. Like when it was just for .edu email addresses.
Haley: Maybe you can’t know! In the 90s, they probably didn’t know, either. You can’t create a caricature of something until you have some distance from it.
Amelia: Haley, what made you download the Pokémon game? Was it nostalgia?
Haley: I don’t really care about Pokémon. I just downloaded it because everyone around me was talking about it. But that could have been any game, I think.
Patty: I don’t ever download games and I downloaded this one, so.
Verena: Going back to the question about what might define our time right now, from a fashion perspective — what might become a sartorial reference in the future — I’d say it’s going to be sneakers. Stan Smiths as part of an actual fashion-forward outfit.
Haley: What about like normcore?
Verena: But normcore is 80s clothes.
Amelia: Yeah, but normcore as fashion is so now. Or so three years ago.
Patty: I feel like the rise of start-up culture and the fact that you can wear whatever the hell you want to work is part of it, too.
Amelia: And the hipster.
Haley: That could be what people are wearing at parties.
Amelia: Yeah, totally. People already dress up as hipsters to parties.
Haley: You know what’s a totally other strain of nostalgia? The one where every generation thinks that they’re the only ones with grievances about the younger generation. Everyone’s nostalgic for the problems that were presented in their lives. In a few years we’re going to be like, “When we were kids, we had to talk in person,” or, “When we were kids, we had to call someone on the phone!”
Amelia: “We had to actually speak back in my day.”
Haley: What is so often missed is that every generation has a new set of problems. Do you guys have to remind yourself as you get older to not be a curmudgeon about the younger people? Because I really don’t want to turn into that “back in my day” person.
Amelia: Oh, all the time. I already am that.
Amelia: Part of her whole bit is about how she hates young people. It’s hilarious!
Haley: It just gives me such a bad taste in my mouth, even if it’s a bit. I don’t want to be like that! I think you have to accept that every generation has a new set of problems that are slightly different from yours.
Amelia: I hear that. But there’s also something super bonding about collective nostalgia. Especially in this case: collective curmudgeon-ing. But also collective fondness. It creates a common ground that is so much more interesting to talk about than the weather.
Haley: It connects people.
Amelia: Yeah. Like, you could put an entire dinner table of the world’s worst-matched humans, but if they all grew up in the 90s, at the very least they’d be able to talk about Nickelodeon. Even if they hated Nick or not, they could talk about it.
Patty: I think that might be the thing that will change. Because now we’re becoming more of the generation that has really been given a selection of what you can be in to. Mass appeal becomes much more niche.
Verena: It’s so fragmented. If you think about social media celebrities, there are people with several million followers which, in theory, is an insane amount and probably more than celebrities had in the 90s, but I have never heard of these people because they are a dime a dozen.
…Maybe nostalgia has to be part of a mass phenomenon — like Pokémon was however many years ago — in order for it to feel emblematic of a time period. Otherwise, it becomes personal nostalgia.
Amelia: God. What if the internet fragments everything and this kind of nostalgia…no longer exists? Those BuzzFeed lists won’t be as popular. Or they’ll just be super niche.
Haley: They already have become super niche!
Amelia: Do you think if that a Pokémon revival movie comes out in 2036, it will evoke mass nostalgia about this time right now? I can’t stop thinking: what will be the pop culture thing that unites us, that everyone knows about it even if they don’t know about the original tie?
Patty: Just check back in 20 years.
Photographs by Krista Anna Lewis; collages by Lily Ross; pull quotes designed by Emily Zirimis.