Posted by: *carrie* | May 7, 2010

90s Nostalgia…Is Gen X Just Growing Up?

Apparently there’s a lot of 90s nostalgia going around the interwebz. I do read a lot of references to riot grrrl. People still make actual, paper zines (some of which I’m beginning to adore). I will probably never stop wearing my doc martens. Or stop referring to them as “docs” (lowercase).

Hannah Mudge at bitch buzz wonders, though, if with 90s Nostalgia: Are We Ignoring the Present? There are 90s nostalgia blogs, 90s tv shows in reruns (Daria!), Sassy magazine references crop up frequently… I don’t know why we haven’t all just busted out our flannel shirts and grungy pants already.

Mudge’s ultimate point is that, sure, there were some great things in the 90s, particularly having to do with women & music, but let’s not discount great things now, particularly (some, select, few) women in music.

Cultural nostalgia is part of American culture. Conservative politicians like to strike up visions of  post-war, 1950 Americana (Which always happens to be a middle class white family, with dad firmly in charge, mom firmly in the kitchen, and 2 squeaky clean kids. Also they probably have a dog.) Baby Boomers had the Civil Rights Movement and Women’s Lib and Woodstock and The Beatles – the shadows of which Gen X grew up with. We incorporate these cultural memories into what we expect life in America to look like. Almost always, these are revisionist history, passed down from our parents looking fondly back on their youth, and probably selectively forgetting the not-so-rosy parts.

Gen X, the generation the media loved for approximately 7.2 months back around 1992 and has since forgotten, didn’t actually go anywhere once Millennial Fever hit the media. Instead, Gen X went to work, maybe to grad school. We got jobs, even when they didn’t gel with our work ethos. Some of us bought houses and have kids.

So, it seems like the timing is right for Gen X parents to tell stories to their kids, and for the kids to pick up on what was “cool” and repurpose it for themselves. Kind of like how in the 90s I wore flared jeans, which were obviously inspired by bell bottoms (when I wasn’t wearing my JNCO jeans, anyways).

Older generations will also always have a bit of a fear of new technology, because they don’t understand it or don’t want to be bothered with it. Remember the good old days when you could leave your house for hours, and no one could reach you? While that was awesome to my teenage self, it would be ridiculous for me to say it’s not a good thing that parents and kids can now reach each other immediately if there’s an emergency. So the “good old days” pre-internet and pre-cell phone can be remembered more fondly than they really were.

In the article, Mudge states:

We can cringe at the way the internet has made counterculture accessible to all, but we shouldn’t forget that the opportunities for learning, communication and self-discovery it has brought have changed so many lives.

I’ve always been rather removed from mainstream culture. As a teen in the 90s, I lived in the country, where I was lucky to have a radio station that played Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Cake and sometimes L7. Had I had any means, whatsoever, to discover riot grrrl, I would have been in love. (Or, had I just read Sassy, but teen girl mags were, again, off my radar). As it was, when I was in college in the late 90s, after much of riot grrrl had died down, I hear a little about it, but still didn’t have access to it. I think it’s fabulous that kids can get that kind of access via the internet or other media sources.

Mudge references that famous teen (is she even a teen yet?) fashion blogger Tavi, who pointed out that Disney manufacturers “alternative” pop stars. Here’s the real problem: kids are smart enough to figure out that these stars are no different from the other pop stars. Some kids are going to reject being force fed more Disney culture. The fact that teen girls read about what Sassy was and long for a similar magazine for themselves is evidence enough of this. They want politics and culture and honest information about sex and different points of view and to read about new bands without the same old patriarchal window dressing.

I’ve never been a fan of pop music, so it takes a lot for pop starlets to even enter my universe. We’ve had a two day discussion at work centered around Lady Gaga. (I’ve resolved that I’m simply too old to ‘get it’). Lady Gaga is creative and does what she wants and has a presence and vision. These are all positive things, empowering things for young girls who are her fans. I still see a huge, gaping hole between (a)Lady Gaga writhing on the floor in essentially underwear, singing breathily and (b)Kathleen Hannah singing/shouting the lyrics “We’re Bikini Kill and we want revolution/ Girl-style now!!! / Hey girlfriend / I got a proposition goes something like this:/ Dare ya to do what you want / Dare ya to be who you will” while the entire band rocks out.

I can recognize that both of these women can be and are empowering to different people. I think the 90s nostalgia is coming from two places. The first is that Gen X really is growing up and looking back at our own youth with those rose-tinted glasses. The second is that the current youth culture is craving something a little more real. They are beginning to see through the glossy sheen of the manufactured pop stars who may sing pro-woman lyrics, but are still successful because they’re doing so while looking sexy and participating in standard quo. They should have access to musicians and media that work to stay outside that box.



  1. People like to look back on and idealise what they can remember. 90s nostaglia was inevitable once the people who grew up in the 90s, and so knew nothing else at the time, grew up and reflected on their past and how it shaped their identities.

    I for one am very excited for the release of Daria on DVD.

  2. The nineties were a different time, just like the fifties. Think about what kind of country we lived in. We were not living under fear of terrorists, the economy was in great shape, there were jobs to be had and so on. Now, here we sit and we’re all sick of it. We’re sick of what our parents did to this country and we’re having to pay for it. I would guess that it has less to do with cell phones and internet (most of us have both and love it) and more to do with the politics of this country.

    And I’m not to old to get it, it’s just that today’s music sucks. There are a couple of decent bands out there, but they are few and far between.

  3. […] sure some of the 90s nostalgia is just Gen Xers growing up. I also think the specific nostalgia for Riot Grrrl, by actual Riot Grrrls of the 90s and teenagers […]

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