Fresh out the box—stop, look, and watch

27 Jul

I’ve been watching a lot of ’90s Nickelodeon shows on TeenNick. I don’t know if I can adequately articulate the joy of coming home at 11 and turning on the TV to find All That and Kenan & Kel and Clarissa Explains It All and Doug—these are the shows I grew up on, and while they don’t all hold up as well as I’d hoped they would, I still get a kick out of watching them.

“Are 18- to 34-year-olds too young to be nostalgic?” Brian Stelter asks at the beginning of his New York Times piece. I think this is a silly question, and I’ll expand on that in a bit. He goes on to explain, “TeenNick, part of the Nickelodeon family of cable channels for children, will start rebroadcasting old series from the 1990s that are considered classics by young adults. That’s right: classics from the 1990s.” What Stelter is saying, essentially, is that we’re ridiculous. And that is only partially true. Because while the level to which we elevate shows like Angry Beavers is perhaps a bit extreme, “20 years ago” nostalgia isn’t exactly a new phenomenon.

Happy Days: a ’70s show about the ’50s. The Wonder Years: an ’80s show (or, OK, ’90s, but it began in the ’80s) about the ’60s. That ’70s Show: a ’90s show about the ’70s. Take that, Brian Stelter! Seriously, though, why the negative reaction to nostalgia for my childhood? I don’t know if you’ve heard, but people my age consume a whole lot of media. And the shows we’re nostalgic for? Every goddamn program Nickelodeon aired in the ’90s. Yes, even Space Cases.

When you hear “nostalgia,” however, it conjures a very particular image. You think getting a chocolate phosphate at the soda fountain. You think necking at the drive-in. If you’re really boring, you think Norman Rockwell paintings. But “nostalgia” simply means a longing for the past—any past. I think we’ve singled out the ’50s because they’re an easier time to idealize. (I was -31 when Rebel Without a Cause came out. Far too young for Sal Mineo, alas.) The ’90s are a little harder to place on a pedestal: I suppose it does seem strange to feel nostalgic for a time when we were coming up with exciting new piercing locations.

But TV is a different animal entirely, and nostalgia for ’90s television is completely legitimate. It’s the reason why a show like ABC Family’s Melissa & Joey has flourished—we are tuning in to remember TV of the past. (Me, I’d rather watch Clarissa.) Maybe I watched too much TV in the ’90s. Maybe we all did. I have fond memories of Nickelodeon all the same, particularly the Saturday night block known as Snick: Clarissa, Roundhouse, Ren & Stimpy, Are You Afraid of the Dark. Confession: I was too scared to watch Are You Afraid of the Dark. But the others!

Is it really so strange that I would want to revisit that time in my life? I’m sure being 10-years-old sucked for a lot of reasons, namely school instilling in me the false belief that math matters, but there was a comfort to Nickelodeon programming I haven’t been able to find since. And given the success of TeenNick’s ’90s programming, I’m not the only one. Twitter’s nightly trending topics have been dominated by these series—because, hey, we’re also the ones on Twitter!

I also resent Stelter’s condescending insinuation that ’90s TV shows can’t be “classics.” Obviously “classic” has its own connotation, but does that mean the series and movies I grew up with can never be considered as such? Did I just miss the boat on experiencing classics firsthand? (Return of the Jedi came out in 1983, three years before I was born.) That just seems unfair. On the other hand, every generation is going to have its own conception of what it means to be a “classic.” If I choose to call Clueless a classic—which, duh, it is—that’s my prerogative. (If I associate “my prerogative” with Britney Spears instead of Bobby Brown, that’s my prerogative, too. I’m not proud.)

Anyway, feel free to remind me of this in 20 years when someone calls Glee a classic and my blood begins to boil. It’s hard to imagine the 2010s will ever be a source of nostalgia, but I’ve no doubt it will happen. In the meantime, I’ll take comfort in the warm embrace of ’90s Nick: “Whenever my life gets me so down, I know I can go down to where the music and the fun never ends…”

2 Responses to “Fresh out the box—stop, look, and watch”

  1. GR3G0R July 27, 2011 at 11:52 am #

    My only request is that they never re-run reality tv shows and call them “classic”. I’m fine with anything outside of that.

  2. Gordon July 29, 2011 at 9:23 pm #

    I watched Are You Afraid of the Dark? the same way I watched any horror movie: *flip to channel* *realize it’s scary* *change channel* *wait one to five minutes and change back* *watch 30 seconds to a minute and change channel before scary things actually happen* *one to five minutes before going back to scary thing* Rinse and repeat.

    And if I ever flipped to the scary channel while it was commercial, I breathed a sigh of relief. As if, by not watching the scary movie, I had somehow dodged a bullet.

    I was twenty-one before I ever saw all of Halloween….


    I think part of it the issue is that there is more media produced now than used to be. The things kids now(and by now, I am including us mid-late 80’s kids) are watching get quickly eclipsed in five years or less, sometimes, when before that wasn’t the case. I have a friend who is six years younger than me, and I would say maybe half of the things I reference from my childhood go over her head. On the other hand, if my dad makes a reference to something from his youth/young adulthood, there’s a decent chance I’ll get it. And it’s not just the common things like Bewitched or M*A*S*H.

    Forty years ago, pop culture wasn’t as important to youth like it is now.

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