Selling Our Past Back to Us

Fellow Kids

Author JD Cowan issues a Jeremiad against the Morlocks who destroy culture while pretending to create it, occasioned by his viewing of a Netflix nostalgia cash-grab.

The program was called Everything Sucks! and is supposed to be a Wonder Years or Freaks and Geeks of the 1990s. For those that don’t know it is a look back into the height of a now dead era using the lens of that same time period to connect it to modern audiences. Only this one is being made by Millennials, so you already know what you’re getting. On top of it, they show a clear lack of understanding of the time period. They set it in 1996, the year before the decade fell off a cliff, and used writers that clearly were either stoned their entire teen years or were never actually alive during the decade. Because the ’90s were not like this.

Everything Sucks! is painful in every area, but above all it was the accuracy to the time period that grated on me. The series displays how serious it takes its concept within the early moments. It barely tries to connect to the audience.

First example: it was so accurate to the year 1996 that the very first song played in the very first minute of the series was not released until 1997.

And it goes downhill from there.

The significance of that 1997 timestamp will not escape regular readers of this blog.

The 1990s were a fairly dull decade, but it was also very faddish. Trends flashed into existence in the blink of an eye and were gone just as fast. You can’t have kids wearing flannel, messing around with Gak, referencing the “new Star Wars” re-releases, listening to the “new” 1995 Oasis album, and playing with slap bracelets as if they all happened at the exact same time. Because they didn’t. But you can pretend they did if you’re just using the 1990s as a cover for your terrible and extremely predictable hacky Current Year drama in between shallow 1990s “I clapped when I saw that!” references.

As I pointed out on JD’s blog, There are two ways to approach a period piece.

  1. Write a contemporary story and haphazardly garb it in the trappings of the period.
  2. Put effort into studying the era, meticulously recreate the setting and costumes, and let the story tell itself.

For those playing along at home, option 2 is what Stranger Things did in season one. Note that most of the cars and furniture in the show are from the 70s and even before. The show’s creators were smart enough to understand that everybody didn’t buy a Swedish Modernist bedroom set and a brand new model year BMW at the stroke of midnight on January 1st 1981.

In fact, I’m inspired to call option 2 the Stranger Things Approach and option 1 the Austin Powers Approach.

Shows like the above are no longer about the original purpose of art or entertainment: to connect to your fellow man. Pop culture is now about masturbation. It is now about little more than useless trivia and empty references for a small niche group. There is no more relating to the majority of those around but about glorifying the self (and their “like-minded communities”) over others. Connections to those unlike yourself are no longer important: thinking inward is. Propping yourself up is. Making sure you feel good and have high self-esteem is. It’s all about the self and how everything relates to you: not how you can relate to others.

It is all about eating yourself.

But empty nostalgia over setting is the point. They have nothing else. Hollywood can’t stray from the bad habits they’ve developed. They have no stories to tell except being wistful for a youth that was apparently just as terrible as the present they are currently living in. There is no semblance of hope to escape their prison of misery.

It reveals a very ugly view of life that is becoming more obvious with each passing flop of a drama they release. It’s really no wonder why audiences are checking out of these sorts of stories and leaving Hollywood behind. No one wants to see this narcissistic group of creators talk about themselves and only themselves and their tiny worlds. Hollywood does not have much else.

This is all pop culture is now: a decrepit and fat anaconda devouring itself until there’s nothing left.

The Ophian Rising - Brian Niemeier
I couldn’t resist.

Getting back to the subject at hand, clumsy cynical attempts to repackage the past and sell it back to us–like an aging porn star shipping out random items from around the house as rewards to crowd fund her heroin habit–emphasize the desperate need for new creators to produce fresh cultural touchstones. At the very least, we’re in dire need of concerted efforts fork and replace old pop icons that have been recopied so many times that the noise has drowned out the signal.

That’s why successful forks like Galaxy’s Edge–and, hopefully soon, #AGundamForUs–are vitally important. We’ve seen the difficulty of fighting head-on for enemy-occupied territory. It’s smarter to build out own platforms and launch superior brands in related genres before challenging converged institutions directly.

Don’t give money to people who hate you.

Support creators who put entertaining you first.

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