Of Millennial Nostalgia and its Place

Or: some ramblings of how us 90's kids are getting old

So recently I checked out a movie on Netflix called Yes, God, Yes. Written and directed by Obvious Child screenwriter Karen Maine, it’s loosely based off on her experience in Catholic school, primarily her abstinence-oriented sex-ed classes, and how repression doesn’t work as a teaching tactic. Analyzing and critiquing Catholicism, primarily its schooling system, is always of interest to me. I didn’t totally love the film- frankly, I don’t think it found the right tone between reflective and excessive, to the point that it seemed hard to commit to the story it wanted to tell- but it’s stuck in my mind over the past few days. I admire the honesty in Maine’s script, and how she has Alice have her own sexual awakening come from herself, literally, rather than from sex. Also, Natalia Dyer in a schoolgirl uniform. I can dig it.

I also come back to one of my favorite TV discoveries from last year, PEN15. In this Hulu series, Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle play more or less their middle school selves, despite being in their 30’s. Besides its more reflective side, I enjoy how raunchy the series gets, with Erskine and Konkle using their age to their advantage to tell stories about discovering masturbation or trying on thongs, which would otherwise be much less tasteful portrayed by actual girls their age. Also, they’re both pregnant irl. Look it up, it’s weird. How dare they be real women with real lives outside of the preteens they portray on TV!

I was thinking of these two, and then Lady Bird also came to mind. Greta Gerwig’s feature similarly focuses on a young woman in a Catholic high school, with Saoirse Ronan’s Lady Bird delving through her last year as she aspires to leave her Northern California upbringing for a university experience in New York, despite her bad grades and mother’s objections. Like Yes, God, Yes, I liked but didn’t love the film when seeing it back in 2017, but it’s never entirely left my mind, unlike some of that year’s Oscar slate has.

I could use these works to talk about female sexuality and the double standards present in our culture, but that’s not a subject that I’m sure I would be able to cover. Partly because I’m a dude, and partly because I suck at this. Besides, I’m more interested in something else these films have in common, in that they all take place in the early 2000’s.

It makes sense, as these are all personal stories told by women born in the 80’s, and their middle and high school experiences would roughly hit the same timeframe as the stories involved. Lady Bird takes place in 2002, while the other two start at the beginning of the new millennium, and they are not afraid to remind you of such. You can see kids trade Pokémon cards in the middle school halls, or hear a story about a fellow classmate going to Sam Goody to buy the new Blink-182 CD. Hell, Gerwig personally wrote Justin Timberlake a letter to use “Cry Me A River”.

I notice this overlapping theme and reflect on how I can relate or at least recall most of these elements. I may have been over Are You Afraid of the Dark? in 2000, but it was likely to still be on Nickelodeon at some point. I didn’t have my sexual awakening by rewinding to the sex scene in Titanic, but it does not sound out of the realm of possibility to occur with other people I went to school with. And… I’ll be honest, Lady Bird isn’t as overt with its throwback-isms as the other two, but bear with me anyway.

My point is this- millennials, we’re getting old, and it’s time to embrace it.

The timeframe for millennials to be born is generally from the early 80’s through the mid 90’s. I see 81 or 82 through 96 mostly agreed as the peak period, and yes, fair. The oldest millennials are pushing 40, and the youngest should be out of college by now. It makes sense that this age group has been making their mark in the industry and telling their stories for a few years.

And it also makes sense that artists attempting to tell stories based on their developing years would take themselves back to the timeframe. It keeps you away from being tied towards a prevalent culture that you’re not as familiar with, having gone to middle and high school without smart phones and with different lingo. It can also be therapeutic taking yourself back to that timeframe, and imagining what could have been done differently or relaying what you don’t regret. There’s a little bit of nostalgia, a little bit of course changing.

But what I can’t get over is that we’re getting closer and closer to my time. I’m thinking of the script I have based around my senior year of high school, and how I want to set it in the present day, but to the music I listened to when I was that age. I don’t want to set it at a specific moment, but I will aim for a feeling of that period in my own way.

Nostalgia pandering is nothing new, especially if you’re a boomer. Baby boomers have had a significant control over the zeitgeist, particularly how we look at contemporary music, as well as arguably film. The Beatles were considered teenybopper nonsense more or less until those old enough to grow up with them had their say in canonizing their work. At the very earliest, anyway, when Jann Wenner formed Rolling Stone. Now granted, I do like much of the Beatles’ work, and will be discussing some of their landmark records on this blog soon, but it’s worth noting how their work, as well as contemporary releases from Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Who, etc are still considered among the standards of Good Music. It’ll be interesting to see if Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake, etc will have that same distinction in a decade or so. Hell, it’s looking like JT already is, between Gerwig’s passionate letter and Halsey giving him credit for reciting “Cry Me a River” in one of her songs.

Boomer nostalgia itself started to appear as early as the start of the 70’s, with Don McLean’s “American Pie” and George Lucas’ American Graffiti being earlier example of such pandering, both of which offering looks at the early rock n roll culture that continues to define boomers, as well as their increasing loss of innocence. While the demographic’s control of the zeitgeist has diminished over the years, there is still occasional pushes for looking at this era today, such as in Mad Men, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and The Queen’s Gambit, each of which further explore the evergreen culture from the formative years of the average boomer, and their increasing loss of innocence.

Meanwhile, Gen X nostalgia continues to exist to pull for those of a certain age, primarily those who can’t get enough of their 80’s. Music with similar sounding synth beats continue to flourish for multiple ages, with The Weeknd having the biggest song and album of last year with his synthy, throwbacky tunes. And there’s also Spielberg-ogling series like Stranger Things, and more Gen X-friendly reboots than you could fit in a bean jar. Hell, we’re supposed to get ANOTHER Ghostbusters reboot this year. Some could say that the 80’s are still more beloved than the 90’s and early 00’s, but I’m not so sure about that.

I look at how the previous generations still have some control of what sells, and see that we’re starting to have our say as well, showing that millennials are increasingly gaining control of the moment. But man, I’m going to be 30 this year, and I’m not ready for that. Although I also kind of am. I’d much rather be where I am now than go back to high school, even if I lowkey wish that we could go back to a time when Tom Petty was still alive, King of the Hill was still on, and we weren’t so damn dependent on these phone thingies. If you’re reading this, you’re getting old, too. Even the zoomers.

How are you handling the onset of time? Are you embracing your culture’s place, or do you reject aging?