Are The ’90s Really “All That”?

Nostalgia is word that’s thrown around frequently today, yet its a concept that appears to be dying.  Earlier this month I came across a blog post by author A. Lee Martinez titled “A Post-Nostalgia Society”, which triggered thoughts about the effects of living in a world where nostalgia has become a meaningless word.  At its core the word means the desire to return to a former time, but living in the year 2011 its near impossible for the youths and young adults of today’s world to experience this.  As Martinez points out everything someone under the age of 40 grew up with is still easily accessible, and not just in its original form but in countless remakes and reimaginings.  In the article Martinez states:

“Traditionally, nostalgia comes from a longing for something you used to have.  It’s that warm fuzzy feeling we get when we’re reminded of something we haven’t thought about in years.  It’s remembering something, usually through the positive spectrum of faulty memory, in a fond way.  It’s a movie you haven’t seen in over a decade.  Or a toy you threw away when you were twelve.  Or a TV show that you can’t quite remember the title of but you’re pretty sure at some point somebody fought a dragon with a laser gun and that it was the greatest thing you’d ever seen up to that point… Nostalgia also used to mean you were allowed to outgrow something.”

And now Viacom plans to profit off this unwillingness to outgrow our past with the launch of a new programming block on the channel TeenNick centered around the nostalgia of young adults from the Millennials generation.  Titled “The ’90s Are All That”, the block is made up of classic Nickelodeon shows that aired during the 1990s.  The first series to air on it are All That, Kenan and Kel, Doug, and Clarissa Explains It All, but the network says they’ll add more to the lineup as time goes on.

When the block was announced there was an overwhelmingly positive response to the new programing block. It was all over my Facebook and Twitter feeds, with everyone of my current and former classmates expressing extreme interest in rewatching their childhood favorites.  But in all the commotion for the ‘90s block I wondered why  exactly was there so much chatter for material that’s already been for quite some time readily available on the internet?  For instance just about every Nicktoon has been streaming on Netflix for months.  Rugrats, The Ren And Stimpy Show, Rocko’s Modern Life, Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, Hey Arnold, The Angry Beavers, and Spongebob Squarepants (began in 1999) are all on there. That’s over half the Nicktoons that came out during the ‘90s available for streaming.

But if your not a Netflix Instant subscriber, which you may well not be with the new 60% price increase, you can get many if not all of those on iTunes.  Actually there’s even more found on iTunes as Doug (the Nick version of course) is also on there.  If your someone who isn’t into digital downloads or streaming, there’s plenty of these old Nick shows on DVD.  All the previously mentioned Nicktoons can be found on DVD, in addition to several more like Rocket Power and As Told By Ginger (though both releases are for TV movies only) and some live action Nick fare such as Clarissa Explains It All and Pete and Pete.

But if you are cheap or don’t have a lot of extra cash like most Millennials that the block targets, you can just simply search whichever series you want on YouTube and your bound to find numerous clips and episodes.  There’s even an account directly called “NickelodeonReWlND” that currently has 261 uploads of various classic Nick shows, and even old Nick promos.  And that’s only one account. One could spend hours rewatching their favorite episodes simply through the internet, and even watch commercials and ads to fully immerse oneself into ‘90s.

Chris Farley meets young Kenan Thompson in one of my favorite All That sketches as a kid

Yet despite how easily accessible most ‘90 Nick shows are, there was massive praise from many Millennials for the TeenNick network to start airing the block, which was created in large part due to the many Facebook groups and fan pages dedicated to old Nickelodeon that grumble on about how much better the channel use to be in its earlier days.  And a day after the block’s premiere it can already be labeled an unequivocal success for the network as its ratings were a whooping 850% increase from the time slot’s previous average.  That’s a huge win for a station that’s generally low key, that is unless your a Degrassi fan.  It also was a ruling topic on twitter with the block’s name and each of the shows airing on it being a trending topic nationwide throughout its premiere.

And that’s when I realized the appeal of “The ‘90s Are All That” comes not from the actual watching of these old shows, as people could have easily already watch them, but rather the collective, collaborate experience of so many kids simultaneously harkening back to their blissful childhoods.  Nostalgia use to exist as a personal experience to generally a singular person. Sometimes it’d be a group of you and others you were physically with, but rarely was their such widespread nostalgia.  But with the internet, and more specifically the high use social media, nostalgia has taken on a new form.

Perhaps we aren’t really in a post-nostalgia society, but rather while personal nostalgia has diminished, mass nostalgia has come to the forefront.  It’s one thing for a twenty year-old to watch an episode of Rugrats on Netflix by themselves at one in the morning, but its an experience having thousands of twenty something year-olds watching it at the same time, interacting together through Twitter and Facebook.  When it comes down to it, what makes nostalgia so great isn’t the actual watching of the TV show, but the memories that come from watching it.  And memories at their core are meant to be shared.  And that is why in the mind so many Millennials, the ‘90s truly are all that.


UPDATE 6/24/14: Devin Faraci also explores the phenomena of over-nostalgia over at Badass Digest.


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