As we enter the last weeks of the New 10s, I find myself thinking of how the decade nostalgia cycle was thrown off-course in this decade, and what that will mean for the New 20s. As I’ve often written about, I love the pop culture of the 1980s. The decade’s work got me through the dark times of the 90s and the 00s, and helped lead to my greatest successes as a writer in the New 10s. There was a lot of nostalgia for the 80s in the 00s and the New 10s, but I found myself staying away from it. I’ve never seen an episode of Stranger Things, for example, nor have I seen movies set in the 80s like Rock Of Ages or It: Chapter 1.
My reason for not doing so was because I was leery of nostalgia for the 80s after its’ first bloom in the 00s and early 10s. Programs like I Love The 80s and films like Hot Tub Time Machine were VERY heavy on snarking about the decade’s pop culture, fashions and hairstyles. It made me wonder why they were being considered nostalgia programming when they were so heavy on the snark. By comparison, the 90s nostalgia that started in the 00s, progressed in the New 10s, and will most certainly define the New 20s, seems more respectful and kind towards the decade. If there is any snark about 90s fashions, hairstyles, and pop culture, it’s usually directed at the early 90s, which many websites say was still the 80s. For example, one article on a website that made fun of 80s fashion showcased a picture of the wrestling tag team of Koko B. Ware and the late Owen Hart, who were called High Energy. The thing is, that tag team wouldn’t come together until 1992. Some people see colorful clothing, though, and they automatically think it’s 80s fashion, even if it’s firmly in the 90s.
I was never able to join in with the concept of 90s nostalgia because the 90s was a very bad decade for me. Whether it was years of school bullying, multiple school transfers, the diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, or the death of my father in 1995 which, in turn, led to the decay of my relationship with my mother over the second half of the 90s and all of the 00s, I don’t have the nostalgia for the 90s that so many in my age bracket. When VH1 Classic (now MTV Classic) started playing 90s videos in the mid-00s, I found my memories being haunted by the bullies who blasted Nirvana and Sean Combs and Britney Spears from their radios, laughing at me for enjoying Poison and Run-DMC and Paula Abdul. When I saw the 90s being celebrated on 80s forums I was a part of, I was in a bind because I lacked the ability to explain why the 90s were so painful for me to recall. I would tell people that they shouldn’t be discussing 90s projects on 80s forums, even though I wasn’t a moderator and had no right to tell people what to post.
I had turned to the pop culture of the 80s in the 90s and 00s as a way to cope with the emotional and mental pain I was feeling. Whether it was watching E.T The Extra Terrestrial being the first thing I did when I got out of a mental hospital, using Eric Clapton’s 1986 album August as a way of coping with my father’s passing, or creating mix CDs loaded with 80s music in the 00s as a way to escape into a world where I could be the person I wouldn’t become until the new 10s, the pop culture of the 80s helped guide me through very turbulent times.
I couldn’t rely on my mother, who was dealing with alcoholism, her own mental issues and a diagnosis of cancer midway through the 00s, for emotional support. I was a burden on her in many ways, and she was explicit in her disdain for me, whether it was making fun of me like a schoolyard bully or physically intimidating me, even going over the border into physical abuse at times. I couldn’t rely on the psychologists I saw in the 90s and 00s because they had no experience in dealing with Asperger’s Syndrome and its’ effects. I couldn’t rely on my psychiatrists until the new 10s because they kept on putting me on the wrong medications to deal with my mental issues, in some cases making those issues more pronounced.
Since I couldn’t rely on any of that, I found myself turning to the pop culture of the 1980s as a way of learning how to approach life and how to deal with being dealt a bad hand, as well as what I could do to try and land a better one. The pop culture of the 80s served as a basis for my writing, and from 2006 onward, whether it’s been through articles or interviews, I’ve come to utilize the pop culture of the 80s as a way to explain my life with Asperger’s Syndrome, and allow people a chance to see that life on the autism spectrum is indeed a spectrum, with good days and bad. In a way, the men and women who made the pop culture of the 1980s were my real teachers and my real parents. I always had friends, but for the advice I needed and the guidance I sought, the pop culture of the 80s was what got me through it.
All that being said, I do empathize with people who turn to the pop culture of the 90s as a way to deal with their own problems as well. When you’re in a very dark spot, you need whatever light you can get. I have friends who use TV shows like Seinfeld and Friends, and movies like the 90s oeuvres of Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler, as work to help them decompress and process their feelings towards the hardships they go through. I’ve seen my friends talk about hardships at work, stresses of family life, and feelings that things will take a long time to improve, and I’m glad they have these things to help get them through.
I’ve talked about 80s and 90s nostalgia, but there’s also another decade to factor into the nostalgia mix, and that’s the 00s. That decade is not exactly looked upon fondly, whether it’s because of disdain for the decade’s politics or how the 00s is viewed by many in the music industry as killing said industry via digital downloads and the end of the album era. My personal feelings on the 00s are that I liked the decade’s pop culture more than I did 90s pop culture, but on a personal level, the 00s were just as painful and devastating as the 90s were.
Whether it was voting against my interests out of fear of another attack like 9/11, something it took until 2012 to stop, having a psychologist who tried to help me, but didn’t understand Asperger’s Syndrome, pawning me off on a therapist who needed help himself when she moved away in 2009, not being on the right mix of medications until 2012, or all of the above combined leading to the fracturing and decay of my relationship with my mom, a relationship that would not be restored before her passing from Multiple Myeloma in 2010, the 00s were a very painful time for me.
In spite of all that, I found myself enjoying the pop culture more. Talents like Pink, Lady Gaga and the renascent Kylie Minogue crafted soundscapes that helped me envision a more mature life. Movies like The Aviator, Million Dollar Baby, Domino and the works of Pixar had a great sense of energy and passion that served as a form of escape in theaters and on DVD. Books like Joe Esterhazs’ American Rhapsody challenged me and made me think about why I believed what I did, or thought I did. These were challenges that I needed, and delivered in a kinder manner than those I got on a personal level.
However, this love of 00s pop culture led me to some writing for my previous base, RetroJunk, that didn’t go over so well. For example, I wrote one article called Synthesis: The 80s And The 00s. It was an article where I wrote of a dream album concept I had, one that would match 80s and 00s artists to cover 80s songs. My goal with the article was to try and get people to see that, if they looked close enough, they might see similarities between retro pop culture and what was then the modern day, and not be so inclined to hold the 00s in disdain. The article failed tremendously. It was trashed not only by the RetroJunk users who hated my writing and my actions as a moderator on the site’s message boards, but even by people who normally liked my articles.
That led me to write an article entitled Life Does NOT Suck Today, where I explained why I held the 00s in such fondness. That got a better reception, but the article was written from a rather Stepford Smiler perspective, as TV Tropes would put it. My life in the 00s was actually very painful, but I wrote of things like going to karaoke and seeing my psychologist as ways in which my life was good. In reality, karaoke only lasted for a few hours every other Friday, and I still faced problems when I got home from singing. The aforementioned issues with my psychologist meant that I wasn’t in as good a frame of mind as I thought. I was lacking empathy at the time, and that showed in the way that Life Does NOT Suck Today was written during the time of The Great Recession, when life was on the ropes for all Americans.
I thought I was living the life of Riley. It wasn’t until the 2010-2011 time period, when my mom passed away and I started seeing my current therapist, that I came to see that things hadn’t really changed for me, and that I would really have to commit to making those changes. The New 10s have been my best decade in that regard. My writing has improved dramatically, I see a therapist who understands Asperger’s Syndrome, and I’m finally on the right mix of medications. From 2012 on, I’ve been living my best life, and I’m very glad of it.
Will 00s nostalgia have the same pull that nostalgia for the 80s and 90s does? That’s difficult to say. As so many things from the 00s are easy to access, there’s not the effort to find the pop culture that 80s and 90s nostalgia has. The movies, music and TV of the 00s are very accessible, whether you’re a physical media maven like myself or a more streaming-oriented person. Both the 80s and the 90s have fans who feel those eras are the end-all, be-all of pop culture and good times. Right now, there are very few people writing of the 00s with that same fondness. Finally, the aforementioned easy access means that nostalgia can be for something only two or three years old now. The rapidness of life means that not only will the New 20s see nostalgia for the 90s and the 00s, but even the decade I’m writing this in…Maybe even the month (December of 2019) that this paragraph is being written in.
Whatever the New 20s will bring, I thank all of you for following me through my journey into pop culture’s past for Pop Geeks. My greatest successes as a writer have come via this site. I’ve come to make a wide variety of new friends because of my writing here, and the articles I’ve written have helped me not only get a lot of things out that needed to be freed, but also to thank the people who made the pop culture that got me through the dark times and led me to the light.
Stay tuned. We have a new decade on the horizon, and a whole new array of writing adventures to come. Thanks for riding along with me. The journey isn’t done.