April 2, 2012

Return of the 1990s: The 20-Year Nostalgia Cycle is About to Turn Over

Category: Opinion — By @ 7:00 am

There’s no question that the 1990s are back in comics. Many of DC’s New 52 redesigns have been likened to the early 90s Image Comics look, and creators like Scott Lobdell and Rob Liefeld, virtually absent from DC for years, are now on multiple books. The Extreme-verse is back. Valiant is relaunching.

And you know what?

There’s going to be more.

Remember When…?

Pop culture nostalgia runs in a 20-year cycle. The 1970s had Happy Days and Grease. When I was growing up in the 1980s, it seemed like everything was about how great the 1960s were. (Oh, the hoopla over the 20th anniversary of Woodstock…) By the 1990s, we had Dazed and Confused and That 70s Show, and of course the first wave of big-screen TV remakes of shows like The Brady Bunch. Over the past decade or so we’ve seen Transformers and GI Joe made into mega-blockbuster movies.

People in the prime of their careers can create new pop culture inspired by their childhood or teenage years and get it produced and distributed. People who want to revisit those years can finally afford to buy the new version of that Millennium Falcon playset they wanted when they were 9, or see that band in concert that they wanted to see when they were 15. People who have children want to share those things they remember fondly from their own childhood.

What we’re seeing in comics is merely the leading edge of the wave of 1990s nostalgia.

Now, I’ll bet a lot of you are dreading this. “But the 80s were good!” you’ll say. “The 90s sucked!

I’ll just smile and nod, because I remember back in 1990, before the 70s wave hit, talking about how all music from the 1970s was crap. A few years later, during that wave, I recall being slightly embarrassed about the music from the 80s that I liked. And now there are songs from the 70s and the 80s that I feel no shame in listening to.

A Longer Cycle

I think it just takes 30 years for society to figure out which elements of pop culture are worth keeping.

When something becomes popular, during that decade it’s huge. What’s popular gets admired, whether it’s any good or not.

A decade later, it’s out of fashion. Anything from that last decade is shunned, whether it’s good or not. It’s mainly the bad that people remember, and the good is forgotten, treated as an exception to the rule, or tarred with the same brush. Consider the incredibly bland Fantastic Four logo from the 1970s. The original logo looks just fine now, but at the time, it would have looked dated.

Two decades later, everything’s back. Good or bad, if it was popular then, it’s popular now.

After three decades, you can look back more or less objectively. The fact that it’s old no longer makes it automatically bad, like it did after 10 years, or automatically good, like it did after 20.

Moving On

Songs that were played constantly during the 90s, then disappeared from the radio, are getting airplay again. Meanwhile, those 80s songs that stood the test of time are getting covered by new bands. It’s only a matter of time before Hollywood moves on from remaking 80s films and TV shows to remaking the 90s.

It’s inescapable: elements of the 1990s are going to be everywhere soon, not just in comics.

And if you think they sucked? Well, you can wait for the inevitable 2000s nostalgia, or you can take comfort in the fact that they didn’t, really — at least no more than the 1980s, 2000s, or any other decade.