Is Mass Nostalgia Dying Out?

By Jena Nixon

The year was 1995. Serena and I were jumping on her bed, as children do, while White Zombie’s “More Human than Human” blasted from the radio on her top of the line three-disc CD changer. We’re the ones who called in to the station to request it, and two hours later they finally let us have it. 

Then we decided we should make up a wicked awesome dance together. (Things were always “wicked awesome” in New England.) 

To this day, we’re convinced we made up what would soon be known internationally as the Macarena. Like some real Truman Show shit-- clearly we were being watched by the producers of our false reality, who wanted to test our trust in that reality-- by releasing an eerily similar dance on mainstream tv a couple months later. MTV to be precise. Back when it still had music videos.  

We were in fifth grade and we made up the Macarena. BELIEVE ME, I would never lie to you about something so paramount.

We have so many weird memories like this. Tied into music, TV shows, what have you. And when I recount stories from this time period, other elder-millennials can relate. Even if they can’t actually relate, there’s this mass nostalgia shared between us based on the pop culture of that era and our then-limited sources of exposure to it. 

Fast forward to 1996. CDs were fully replacing cassettes, which made listening to a song on repeat drastically easier. That song was “Hand in My Pocket” by Alanis Morissette. Serena and I had it on loop while browsing AOL, the most thrilling adventure of our lives to date. The “You’ve got mail!” voice still triggers an endorphin blast inside of me.

It wasn’t long before we were listening to grown men masturbate in adult chat rooms. 

We were twelve, claiming to be 18. We told them we didn’t have a microphone so that we could just listen and laugh hysterically on the other end, yelling “EWWWW!” a lot. It’s still one of my fondest childhood memories. There’s a strange innocence to it - if you try not to focus on the fact that we were turning men into unwitting pedophiles. I can’t hear Jagged Little Pill without smiling back on it. 

Fast forward to 1998. The DJ at the 8th grade dance was playing K-Ci & Jo-Jo’s “All My Life” while Serena and I publicly cried in the corner, because our crushes rejected us for slow dances, after we spent all week hyping each other up to have the courage to ask. To make matters worse, we now had a devastating memory attached to our honest to god FAVORITE slow jam, which seemed to play on the radio ad nauseam only after the fact. 

But whatever, at least we still had Dawson’s Creek to live vicariously through when our own adolescent narratives were less than ideal. I used to race home from whatever I was doing so that I didn’t miss a moment of it. If it wasn’t possible, I’d beg my mother to tape it for me on VHS. The one time she failed to-- I cried. Like hysterically because I missed Dawson and Joey’s first fucking kiss, which was worse than if I’d missed my own.

I told my mother I hated her that night.

In my defense, maybe you’re forgetting the gravity of the situation. Imagine if you missed Game of Thrones’ Red Wedding episode...but literally had NO way of finding it and watching it until maybe a rerun came on or you bought the DVD (or VHS?) when it released months later. Terrible, right? Now how do you feel about me telling my mom I hated her? Pretty valid, huh?

Everyone watched Dawson’s. And Buffy. If you missed an episode, you also missed out on the discussions that would follow at school the next day. It was eighth grade and we all shared these simple commonalities. (Okay except for this one girl, who I distinctly remember saying “I have more important things to do than waste time watching crap tv.” I simultaneously felt inferior to her while also knowing full well that there was no way her life was close to as interesting as that of the Creek residents.) 

If you weren’t watching MTV or the WB, you were still watching Nickelodeon which made you an immature loser (but we all secretly still watched it). And if your folks had money teamed with a pleasant disregard of censorship—you had HBO. 

Serena’s parents were those parents. Eighth grade was the year we became fully spellbound by the explicit sexual adventures of Carrie Bradshaw.

There were no “streaming” services back then. There was no Netflix. No Spotify. Options were very limited. The radio and cable tv were all we had. Therefore we were all listening to and watching the same shit. It bonded us together in a way that current and future generations of youth may never quite understand. 

Take the year 2000. Y2K didn’t crash our computers like everyone irrationally feared, but it’s not like they were that valuable anyway. If you wanted to listen to a particular song, for example, you had to REALLY want that goddamn song. Enough to go behind your parents’ backs and secretly tie up the landline to use dial-up internet for an overnight download on Napster or Limewire or whatever. And in the morning you’d excitedly check your ugly ass desktop computer only to find that the download FAILED, and so you’d have to tie up the phone line again for several nights of additional failed attempts. Because that’s how long it took to download a friggin song. 7+ hours.

Back then you had to earn a song by proving you wanted it badly enough. 

Which is why I gave up and bought the entire Sisqo album on CD, even though all I wanted was the Thong Song, obviously. 

***

Fast forward to today. It’s almost 2020. Streaming has long been a thing. Entertainment options are seemingly endless. It’s all too easy. Are we living in the matrix? Probably. If so I’ll take the blue pill. Times are nice. 

Niche pop culture is on the constant rise, so maybe that means mass nostalgia is dying. 

We aren’t all on the same page anymore. There are still certain things that bring the majority together--Lizzo? Game of Thrones?

I’ve used that example twice now. It’s because these days something with that large of a viewer base is rare. I mean there are so many shows competing for our attention, and we become divided. Due to our ease of access to art and entertainment, we can now be very choosy about what our eyes and ears consume. To a degree in which even people with wildly similar taste might not be consuming the same things. 

If you have the same taste in music, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re listening to any of the same bands. The menu is large and the font is small. 

It’s nothing to complain about. In fact we should be grateful. The more we grow accustomed to it, the more we take it for granted. I mean wow, we can fine tune our consumption of art to our specific taste with a click of a button or a tap on a screen. How fucking amazing is that?? Who needs mass nostalgia when you can tailor your very own? The youth of today will eventually grow old and look back on memories attached to what each of them specifically curated for themselves individually. 

On the flip side though…

It can be so hard to find common ground in these modern times. We’re all spread so thin. It can be daunting. 

Especially when all you want is to watch the latest season of Schitt’s Creek with someone else who also watches it and who’s also all caught up. 

And all you want is for all your friends to also know all the lyrics to the new Lana Del Rey album so you can sing it together in the car. 

I guess you could say it’s the only thing I miss about Hootie and the Blowfish. 




Jena Nixon is a DJ, writer and dog-owner residing in a tree-house in Chicago. Follow her on instagram @jenanixon for dog updates and horrifying dating stories.

Click here to read about how Jena uses Selsum Blue for her skincare routine on her Field Notes project from 2016.