Much has been written on this blog and others about generational theory and nostalgia. Counterculture writers have done extensive work showing how the old demographic models based on age have broken down in the face of accelerating social change. If your predictions are based on lumping folks who came of age before smartphones and 9-11 with kids who grew up extremely online, your accuracy will suffer.
The forgotten cohort Generation Y comes up frequently because it corrects many of the problems with those outdated models. Gen Y is like a missing variable that makes a stubborn equation work.
One of the foremost puzzles that plugging Gen Y into the equation solves is the lopsided nature of the nostalgia movement. American pop culture has been obsessively backward-looking for twenty years now. The biggest social controversies revolve around human cattle hired to look pretty in megacorp milkings of 1970s IPs insulting their audience or getting banished for insulting the megacorps.
The Millennial generation isn’t the primary driver of nostalgia-based outrage drama. They were brought up to anathematize anything that happened before they were born as regressive and evil. They also lack the economic power to significantly move the needle.
Gen Xers with fond memories of Big Brand X contribute to the nostalgia racket, but they’re not the prime movers. Being in the counterculture means noticing patterns. Most stereotypes are grounded in truth, and Xers’ jaded cynicism keeps them from getting worked up about Pop Cult eDrama in large numbers.
Here’s a story about a nostalgia bar that opened in Tampa, Florida a couple years back. The piece and the bar itself refer to Gen X, but their interior décor is exclusively from the 80s and 90s.
See for yourself:
The bar specifically caters to patrons’ childhood nostalgia. But take a look at the memorabilia cluttering the walls. The average Gen Xer was already 18 when the Super Nintendo came out. He’d be graduating college when Friends premiered.
In reality, the Gen X Bar is a shrine to the Pop Cult. Bonus points for their version of The Last Supper featuring a grab bag of 80s franchise characters. Replacing Christ with E.T. is proof they knew what they were doing.
The Pop Cult is a Gen Y phenomenon. Its high priests leverage nostalgia for the “golden age” of the 80s and High 90s to funnel adherents into the Death Cult. Few Xers are nostalgia-dominated for the trick to work on them. Most Millennials are already Death Cultists. Gen Y is the reason the Pop Cult exists.
Another tell is that Pop Cult nostalgia has an expiration date. Take another look at that bar. What you don’t notice is anything postdating Cultural Ground Zero. The reason why is that opening a nostalgia bar for the following two decades would be an exercise in redundancy. An aughts and tens-themed bar would feature World of Warcraft, MCU posters, and Joe Biden political cartoons. Walking through the front door would be like stepping through a portal into the present.
If nothing else, the commodification of Gen Y’s childhood gives away the grift being run on them. Live in the now. Let go of dead IPs. Don’t pay people who hate you..
Originally published here.