I recently read some discussion about how nostalgia tends to focus on a period about thirty years prior. In the 80s, there was a focus on the 50s; in the 90s, a focus on the 60s; a lot of love for the 90s at the moment. This is not a particularly new idea. I think the most prevalent theory I’ve seen is that the people who create cultural content become dominant about 30 years after their childhood and then make nostalgic content about that period. There’s probably a fair amount of truth to that.
But another aspect that has occurred to me is that it’s probably the sweet spot where the past is familiar but not threatening. Too close to the present and events remain messy and contentious. Too far back and they are alien, potentially uncomfortable, and maybe too sterile to evoke emotion.
Right now, I remember enough of the 90s to be amazed when people talk about “what an optimistic time it was.” In my head, I can’t help but think that Kurt “Voice of a Generation” Cobain was pretty famously not an optimist. Not as culturally pervasive, but “Pump Up the Volume”
“I really don’t see why you can’t be cheerful for one second.”
“I’ll tell you since you asked. I just arrived in this stupid suburb. I have no friends, no money, no car, no license. And even if I did have a license all I can do is drive out to some stupid mall. Maybe if I’m lucky play some fucking video games, smoke a joint and get stupid. You see, there’s nothing to do anymore. Everything decent’s been done. All the great themes have been used up. Turned into theme parks. So I don’t really find it exactly cheerful to be living in the middle of a totally, like, exhausted decade where there’s nothing to look forward to and no one to look up to.“
But, now we can look back and a lot of the things we worried about never came to pass or we more or less navigated the challenges. The good times, good music, good shows, etc. all stand out and the difficult things faded. Or, I don’t know, maybe most people just have the memory of a goldfish.