Those Were Different Times: TeenNick and Early-Onset Nostalgia
Emerging from the subway on my way to a meeting several weeks ago, I was alarmed to find twenty-six new emails having appeared on my phone in a matter of minutes. What news could have possibly incited such an urgency of responses? Had a compromise been made on the debt ceiling? Was a Senator caught sexting? Did another 27-year old rock star take her life? No, it was something even more unbelievable. It was good news: Doug, Clarissa, and Kenan and Kel – they were back.
That afternoon, a story in The New York Times confirmed rumors that TeenNick, a division of Nickelodeon, was going to rebroadcast the shows that many of our circa 1990’s sleepovers revolved around. TeenNick’s decision was prompted by a dedicated group of interns that had tallied the number of Facebook fan groups and pages (containing nine million followers) and presented these findings to Nickelodeon. Combined with the viral YouTube videos of the old shows and blogs urging Nickelodeon to bring back the hits, the evidence was undeniable. The twentysomething contingent had a case of early on-set nostalgia, and Nickelodeon was well-positioned to capitalize on it.
My friends’ response to the news was alarming, but understandable. In college, our downtime included hours spent watching the GAS channel (short for Nickelodeon Games and Sports for kids), cheering for the Silver Monkeys on Legends of the Hidden Temple and betting on which contestant would make it to the top of the Agrocrag first as they competed on the show Guts. As our Senior year closed in on us, as we wrote our theses, scheduled job interviews, hunted online for apartments in New York City, polished our resumes and began trying to figure out how to actually put our degrees to use, our insistency and consistency of following our childhood shows and movies took on a new sense of urgency. They were our lifeline to a simpler time. As we trecked to Woodbury Commons to buy our first suits, we draped ourselves in the security blanket that we constructed out of our childhood shows. The world beyond graduation was unknown, but the obstacles on Guts would always remain the same, and so we watched it over, and over, and over.
Young adulthood has been a tumultuous time for every generation. Our grandparents fought wars before we had taken our first Intro to Psychology lecture in college. Our parents graduated in the midst of the first oil crisis, shifting roles of gender and race, and predominant pessimism towards government and big business. And what of us?
Generation Y — or is it Generation “i” ? — grew up amongst prosperity, optimism, and free-flowing information. At least those of us who grew up in the upper middle class suburbs were coddled, scheduled, and tutored. We were told to pursue our dreams and provided with a platform to actually follow them (if we could ever figure them out). Not surprisingly, as a result, Generation Y graduated college expecting not only six figure salaries, stable jobs and fulfilling lifestyles, but that the transition into adulthood would be as padded and comfortable as the sweatsuits we had lounged around in at our parents’ house over winter break.
Wrong. And so we became what is now referred to as the “Peter Pan Generation.” We live with our parents longer, and we are educated deep into our adulthoods. We are still on our parents’ health care plan, many of us are still seeing pediatricians, and a lot of us are financially supported by our parents, at least to some extent. In this constant state of child-like comforts, it makes sense for us to cling to cultural references from the 90’s. Thus leading to early on-set nostalgia, or as some might call it, regression.
I recently bought an iPhone case at a street fair that looks like a cassette tape. Its irony made me laugh, and in a way, having it in my bag reminds me that I am tied to a younger self that used to record songs off the radio station that I played on my boombox in order to make mix tapes for friends and crushes. In those days, I had to plan out when the song I wanted to record was most likely to be played on the radio, and sit patiently by my stereo waiting to hit the record button. Things happened more slowly then. They took more time. You could digest them better.
So, what might appear to the world as Generation Y’s regression, is also a necessity in today’s rapidly changing landscape. The cassette grounds me in my past, allowing time to stand still for a few nanoseconds each day. It is a constant struggle to maintain pace with the bombardment of social, political and economic media newsbytes while simultaneously applying them to an established, meaningful context.
The speed at which information is available to us, and the responsibility we have to utilize it to create economic and intellectual returns is an incredibly daunting task. One could argue that due to the pace at which we acquire knowledge about everything, Generation Y has been given the ability to qctually grow up faster than our parents and grandparents. But developmentally, perhaps we just aren’t ready for the responsibility that comes with the availability of all that information. The result is a need to hold on to our childhoods even more. A certain subliminal pressure arises as a result of our ever-changing landscape, and the assumption that we will be the first to not only adapt to that change, but to figure out how to make it into a profitable iPhone app.
There is a sense of comforting procrastination in watching these shows. They offer not only a chance to zone out, but to go one step further than that – to zone out in 1995 – a blissfully ignorant state of pre-teen, pre-recession, pre-anxiety state of mind. This practice can be healthy up to a certain level. If we utilize those 25 minutes of giggling at Stick Stickly’s googely eyes and Doug’s Quailman antics to rejuvenate and refocus on tasks at hand when we return from 1995, there is no harm in a little regression. But for some, the trip back can become paralyzing. If the interlude becomes the sonata, and life becomes more about chasing what’s behind us rather than in front of us, we become the lazy, apathetic generation of our parents’ worst nightmares.
It’s difficult not to grasp for a piece of the past, especially in the light of the summer’s economic, apocalyptic news. And as the walls of the economy begin tumbling down around us, and as our parents urging to get a job is now desperate rather than encouraging, we will surely continue to grab on to the things we can find comfort in: Melissa Joan Hart’s wispy bangs and high top Doc Martens, Kenan & Kel’s “Welcome to Goodburger” skit, or the opening tune to Doug that we can still hum every note of. All of which we can watch on our cassette cover-clad iPhones while taking a lunch break at our desk and trying to figure out what we are supposed to do next.
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