I discovered Spaced last night.
Okay, perhaps “discovered” is not the appropriate word. Spaced aired on Channel 4 in the late 1990s. It is more accurate to say that it popped up on my “Recommended” list on Netflix and, being in a curious mood, I watched the first two episodes.
Spaced is an offbeat comedy about two twentysomethings who pretend to be a “professional couple” in order to rent a flat, and they’re joined by a thoroughly bizarre ensemble of characters. (Brian is a personal favorite). Couple that with utterly random humor and frequent surrealism, and you’ve got entertainment.
Plus, it is just so kitsch. So…nineties! You’ve got choker necklaces (the fake hemp ones) and piggy-tail buns (made popular by Baby Spice, remember those?). There is awkwardly-layered clothing and midriff shirts. I’ll be honest: the main reason I kept watching Spaced last night was due to its ’90s setting.
I recently read that the 1990s are re-emerging in pop culture with surprising force, and indeed the decade seems to be experiencing a second life of popularity. Several months back, I posted a picture of the Ghostwriter cast on Facebook and received dozens of likes and comments. Items like the original Nintendo Game Boy, scrunchies, and floppy disks are now über cool in their retro nature. Nickelodeon brought back its ’90s shows last summer as part of its “The ’90s Are All That” programming, much in part because young adults on Facebook were lamenting their beloved, dead-and-gone TV shows of their childhoods.
As a kid of the ’90s, I understand the retro appeal. I’m on a personal mission to track down my favorite computer games from my childhood, like Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, Treasure Mountain, The Incredible Machine, Oregon Trail, Word Munchers, and Lode Runner. I want to find old Wishbone episodes from PBS and a Magic School Bus lunchbox. (I know, educational games and PBS programming. I was a painfully geeky child.)
This is a growing trend – that of recycling old fashions and celebrating pieces of “retro” culture. Then again, perhaps this has always been the case but we are more aware of it now, thanks to our digital, instant, and sharing culture. Nostalgia is a powerful force. But is it more than that?
Check it out: items from bygone eras are re-trending right now. Woolly beards and monocles are reappearing in hipster culture. (I’ve yet to see folks carving their own ice cubes.) Women are fashioning 1930′s Art-Deco weddings. Banana Republic just released its second “Time Capsule” Mad Men collection of 1960′s-inspired clothing. Estée Lauder joined the ’60′s caravan with its Limited Edition Mad Men Lipstick and Rouge collection. (I wish I were joking.) Even the CW is casting its vision back this fall with its new drama The Carrie Diaries, the prequel to Sex and the City, set in the 1980s.
Are we so dissatisfied with our current cultural climate that we are retrieving the past and refashioning it for the 21st century? Why this fascination and reincorporation of retro artifacts? It’s more than nostalgia. I believe it is a way for people to connect over something outdated and to refashion it into a hip commodity, thereby acquiring both cultural capital and sense of belonging in one fell swoop.
I plan to examine this further within our current television culture, resulting in a series of posts on our retro obsession and its relationship with tv. I’d love to hear your thoughts. What decades or items have you seen re-trended? What shows have you watched that depict or borrow from retro eras? Are you a retro geek, like me? (It’s ok, you can admit it. Truly.)