H&M is selling scrunchies. I knew this would happen eventually I've watched decade-specific TV shows like That '70s Show and The Wonder Years and I've been waiting for the day when the clothes and music of my youth would be recycled and marketed back at me. It started a few years ago, so subtly that I almost didn't notice. In 2008 the independent film The Wackness came out, set in New York City in 1994. I was 26 when I saw it, and it was the first film I knew of that had re-created a time period I'd lived through. A year later, Jimmy Fallon tried to reunite the cast of Saved by the Bell on his talk show. In a less measurable sense, I noticed it became socially acceptable to like Oasis and Dave Matthews Band again.
Recently, the pace of '90s references and revivals has quickened. In May, the New Kids on the Block and the Backstreet Boys reunited; they're currently touring as one giant acronym monstrosity called NKOTBSB. This fall, MTV will restart Beavis and Butt-Head; their music-video show 120 Minutes is already back on the air on MTV2. VH1 is about to reboot Pop-Up Video. And then a few weeks ago, Nickelodeon started airing its "classic" children's television shows like Clarissa Explains It All and All That on its sister station, TeenNick. That made it official: the '90s have been gone long enough that we've decided to bring them back.
It's one thing to repurpose pop-culture nuggets from a decade you've never personally experienced like when I started wearing bell-bottoms in middle school and my mother complained I was making her feel old because even though they're technically retro, they're still new to you. That's what's going on with the sudden interest in speakeasy-themed bars; it's safe to say that the people who frequent them are under the age of 90. "That's a spurious kind of nostalgia," says Simon Reynolds, author of Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to Its Own Past. "When people long for a time period they haven't lived through, they have to rely on romantic notions conjured through books, documentaries and music." Are you too young to remember Woodstock? Do you still wish you'd been able to go? Enough said.
But this new nostalgia wave is different. It's hitting the very people who lived through it the first time.
"The generation who grew up with these old Nickelodeon shows are the exact same people who asked us to bring them back," says Keith Dawkins, senior vice president and general manager of Nicktoons and TeenNick, and the man behind the recent show revival. "We're taking about kids who were 8, 9 and 10 years old in 1992 to 1994. They really miss these old shows. A huge number of them are reminiscing about it online."
Over the past year, Nickelodeon executives noticed a surge of '90s-related tweets, blog posts and tribute videos on YouTube. Dawkins was surprised to discover that a Facebook page called "I Want My 90's Nickelodeon Back" had 1.1 million fans. Another one for Reptar, the fictional dinosaur toy from Nickelodeon's cartoon show Rugrats, has 2 million. (Reptar is also the name of a dance-pop band from Georgia; the members, all in their 20s, bonded over their love of Rugrats as kids.) "We aggregated it together and estimated that there were about 16 million folks out there saying they missed these shows," says Dawkins. And so TeenNick, a television station aimed at viewers too young to drive, has suddenly found itself catering to people in their 20s and 30s.
As a child of 1990s Nickelodeon, I have to admit I'm excited about this sudden resurgence; a few years ago, I even dressed up as Clarissa for Halloween. But why? I don't remember my parents ever sitting around, watching old Howdy Doody episodes.
Although now that I think about it, they did still listen to the same old music from their youth. Every generation does. "As people get older they tend to not understand contemporary music," says Reynolds. "The beats are too strident, they complain that they can't hear the melody. So what happens is you get this sort of nostalgia market of people going to see the old bands that they love." Maybe that's what's happening to people my age only this time it's happening with the television.
Make that television and music. And a brief overview of recent festival lineups and tour schedules reveals that if you loved a band in the 1990s, there's a good chance it has recently reunited. Pavement, My Bloody Valentine, Rage Against the Machine, Alice in Chains, Third Eye Blind, Bush and Soundgarden either are currently or have recently gone on tour. There's also Cameron Crowe's forthcoming Pearl Jam documentary, which seeks to encapsulate the Seattle grunge scene through Eddie Vedder and his band.
But how much of this is occurring because we've demanded it and how much of it is happening because that's just the way contemporary pop-culture works (it takes 15 or 20 years for something to seem cool again)? I asked people my age about their thoughts on the 1990s and I received so many e-mails most sent with multiple exclamation points and the occasional reference to Super Nintendo that I couldn't even reply to them all.
"Can we talk about Doug?" asked my friend Evan Lerner, 28. "I want to know what Doug's up to." Doug was a cartoon show about a geeky kid that ran on Nickelodeon from 1991 to '94 and has just been brought back by TeenNick. On the day Nickelodeon announced its revival, Patti Mayonnaise, Doug's love interest, became a trending term on Twitter. I asked Evan why he cared so much about a cartoon character from his childhood. "He spoke to me," he said. "He had terrible fashion sense."
I talked to a lot of people about the 1990s. My friend Julia wanted to know if it was still possible for her to marry Goo Goo Dolls' front man Johnny Rzeznik. Cara worried that people were wearing too much neon again, and Jeff said Soundgarden's reunion tour made him happy. "If Vanilla Ice tours, I might even go see him," he said, "just to say that I went." Actually, according to his website, Vanilla Ice is touring. He will perform at Insane Clown Posse's annual Gathering of the Juggalos on Aug. 13. I wish I didn't know that; it kind of makes me sad.
That's the thing about nostalgia it's never truly the same. We want to watch television shows we once loved, but we want to do it on our flat-screen TVs and computers with high-speed Internet. We enjoy their familiarity, but we still want to keep Facebook, iPods, high-definition entertainment and our ability to legally drink. We have the freedom to pick and choose our pop-culture mementos and toss the rest. I will watch Clarissa, but I will never wear another scrunchie. "I think I saw someone listening to a Discman recently," said my friend Evan. "But actually, I think he was homeless."