When I was in third grade, I fell deep into an American Girl hole. The company had just released a new “girl” named Julie and she was basically exactly like me. Her dad was a pilot and my dad was a pilot; her birthday was May 1 and mine was May 2; she lived in San Francisco and I lived a twenty minute drive and an hour Bart ride from San Francisco. We were basically twins! (She was also blonde and good at basketball but, citing creative licensing, I willfully chose to ignore these traits)
Julie grew up in the 1970s, during the hippie era, so I also began bringing the 70s into my life. I tied one braid on the side of my hair just like her and wore peace signs with all of my outfits (though I did draw the line at bell bottom jeans). I also desperately wanted a record player and looked everywhere for Jiffy Pop popcorn; in my eight-year-old brain, Jiffy Pop was the key to tying this whole 70s aesthetic together. I became obsessed about a decade I wasn’t even alive for.
And I wasn’t the only one. After I fell into the American Girl hole, I began seeing 70s trends come back everywhere. Suddenly, all the clothing stores were selling peace sign apparel and record players became a cornerstone of Urban Outfitter’s brand. Shortly after that, us angsty youth moved on to an obnoxious fad of neon everything reminiscent of the 80s. (I too was guilty of wearing blindness-inducing neon orange sneakers for way too long.) Recently, there was a spate of 90s-inspired choker revivals and now the fashion powers that be are horrifyingly inching towards making Matrix-style tiny sunglasses from the 2000s trendy again.
The wild paradox is that, like me, most of the people following and re-setting these trends weren’t even alive when these trends were originally created. I was recently walking around Target aimlessly looking for anything to buy (one of my favorite hobbies) when, amongst the aggressive stock of band tees, I saw a vintage-looking sweatshirt that said “Joshua Tree 1991.” I can guarantee that anyone who bought that sweatshirt was not alive in 1991. We’re all just nostalgic for eras we never experienced.
I was thinking about everyone’s premodern sentimentality recently while watching the third season of “Stranger Things” — and I realized how much that show alone has catapulted us into today’s flourishing 80s trend. You can see it not just in the endless appearance of high-waisted mom jeans in every clothing store, but also in everyone’s sudden love for 80s culture and technology. Nowadays, even record players are almost too mainstream. It’s all about the cassette tapes and 8 tracks. Of course it’s not just “Stranger Things” pushing us into an 80s haze — “Guardians of the Galaxy” has made us all pretend we’re OG fans of Blue Swede and the “San Junipero” episode from “Black Mirror” single handedly brought back over-bedazzled jackets.
Media fuels our nostalgia. But not even media is immune to hopping onto the sentimentality train. When “Mad Men” was the hot television show of the second (back when “The Walking Dead” was good and AMC ruled television), other networks suddenly just happened to air shows set in the 60s. Because, apparently, everyone wanted to capitalize on that sweet sweet era of beehive hairdos and normalized misogyny. (RIP “Pan Am,” “The Playboy Club” and “The Astronaut Wives Club.” Two of you were cancelled too soon.) And today, we’re oversaturated in a Hollywood market of television revivals and movie remakes from the 80s. We’re so overwhelmed by the remake of “Child’s Play” and the revival of “Will and Grace” that none of us even realized that there is a “MacGyver” reboot currently thriving on CBS! None of us realized! Except for all those tens of people who, out of all the things to miss from the 80s, miss “MacGyver.”
It’s funny, isn’t it? All of us being reminiscent for decades that we only experience through their pop culture or modern homages. We’ve become self-proclaimed experts, gatekeepers barring others because “you’re not a true fan of (insert band name here) until you’ve listened to the band’s lesser known album that was only released for a day in Japan.” When, in reality, most of us weren’t alive when whatever band/movie/song was big.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with missing an era we were never a part of. But it’s intriguing that we all have a tendency to lean towards the past. Maybe it’s because we yearn for a simpler time when crushes were expressed through making mixtapes and you could blow on your video game cartridge to get it to work. Maybe it’s an unconscious rejection of the social media infested world we live in today. Or maybe we just really do like neon that much.
Julie Lim writes the Thursday column on how media shapes our perceptions of the world. Contact her at [email protected].