I know, that’s a stupid title. But whatever, it sounded clever for at least two seconds…
OK, it’s time for a Curmudgeon Moment™.
I can’t be the only one who feels that we’re experiencing 80s nostalgia overload. There’s a relentless firehose of 80s memorabilia blasting us in the face from every direction: movies, videogames, toys, T.V. shows, etc. It’s reached the point where it doesn’t feel like a celebration of pop culture from our (my) childhood anymore — the marketing twats have discovered that people will buy anything that reminds them of anything from the 80s, and they’re milking it for all they can. Nostalgia from that decade is its own industry now, and it’s not going anywhere soon. At least, not until 90s nostalgia (ugh) overtakes it.
I think I first noticed this stuff a few years ago when LEGOs became a thing again. For a while it felt like every other post on the tech/nerd blogs was absolutely gushing about something LEGO-related, which was super annoying. I just couldn’t get away from it.
“OMG check out this life-size X-Wing Fighter made with LEGOs!”
“Here’s an awesome [insert 80s pop culture icon here] made ENTIRELY of LEGOs!”
“Visit LEGO Land and relive your childhood dreams! SO COOL!”
This is all coming from supposedly adult men, mind you. It got so bad that I had to actually stop reading some of my favorite blogs for a few months. LEGO news is kind of like Trump news: with some strategic filtering you can manage to get through at least a few hours a day without being reminded that it’s still a thing.
Around the same time that I noticed LEGO’s stranglehold on the tech/nerd blogs, the soul-crushingly mediocre Transformers movies began to steadily plop from Michael Bay’s movie-hole (actually that first one wasn’t so bad), with more blatant assaults on our childhoods to follow. I’m looking at you, Smurfs.
It’s not all crap, though. The show “Stranger Things” is a pretty good example. It’s custom-tailored to the 80s kid: the music, the cast, the sets, the story, and even the opening titles are all carefully crafted to extract as much memory juice as possible from those of us who watched a lot of Lucas and Spielberg movies as teenagers. People went apeshit over this show — it’s a love letter to a genre of films we grew up with, and for the most part it’s done right. But while watching it, I often felt very conscious of the lengths they went to in order to tug on those memory-strings. They seemed to be saying, “Hey look, remember this toy? And D&D? And Star Wars? And this song playing in the video arcade?? Remember????” Yeah, yeah, yeah…we remember. We were, like, there and stuff.
The success of “Stranger Things” and LEGO stuff has been a blinding bat-signal to advertisers that they need to double down and cash in on this shit right now. So now we have more (and lesser-quality) LEGO movies, an attempted TRON reboot, a Trolls movie, new Voltron cartoons, that vomit-inducing “Pixels” movie, a Castlevania show, a mini Super Nintendo console, a Dark Crystal show in the works, toys of every 80s pop culture movie/T.V. character you can imagine…on and on. And this recent movie “Ready Player One”, which brings nostalgia-pandering to a new level. It references 200+ pop culture characters/things from the past 30 years just so the audience will oohhh and ahhhh in recognition. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m sure it’ll happen eventually….and I’ll probably do some of my own oohhh-ing and ahhhh-ing despite myself. Damn you, Hollywood, and your pinpoint-accurate targeting of my feelgood memory spots!
Don’t get me wrong, I looooove trawling through my 80s memories (and what I remember of my 70s childhood) and I indulge in them quite a bit. One of my favorite things to do is take mushrooms and listen to music from my Jr. High and High School years. On vinyl. Records I played to death as a teenager that I’ve carried around for 30 years, which still sound great. God, it’s fun… I also have a deep obsession with retro gaming emulators and a weakness for chiptunes and blippy videogame music. There’s a lot more than that, but I like to indulge my nostalgia on my own terms; hearing an 80’s song in a movie or T.V. show used to be a fun throwback moment, but now it happens so often and so deliberately, it just feels lazy. “Oh look, they’re playing the song ‘I Ran’ while this guy is…running away. Wow, such a clever and totally not obvious thing to do…”
Eventually I began to wonder why we’re wallowing in nostalgia so much. We’re gladly eating up all the mass-marketed references, but why? And is it healthy? Every generation has its share of “I remember when…” but mine seems to be taking it to a weirder and more obsessive level. A personal example: I know a gay couple in their 40s who dressed up in Star Wars pajamas and built a scale-model Death Star from LEGOs on Christmas morning last year. They posted photos of it on Facebook, even. Is that taking things a bit too far? I don’t know. Maybe this is how some people reconnect to their younger selves. Or maybe this is how some people cope with living in the darker, scarier America that 2016 brought us. Or maybe we just have too much damn time on our hands. Hard to tell.