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The Real Reason You Can’t Stop Reading 90s Nostalgia on BuzzFeed

Countless millennials admit to being apprehensive about adulthood, claiming that they would much prefer the simplicity of childhood. This claim has become more than just a defense mechanism against an extremely tough job market as media outlets have harnessed millennial’s desire to regress into childhood and are delivering content that speaks to this yearning. If you’re confused by what I mean, I urge you to visit BuzzFeed.com or Bustle.com and count the number of articles devoted to 90s nostalgia. Why is it so necessary for this generation to remember their childhoods? More than that, why is it necessary to revisit their childhoods while still in their mid-twenties?

Online media sources have recognized a growing tendency for millennials to romanticize childhood perhaps as a means to deflect on-coming responsibilities and have developed a way to target their desires from an editorial standpoint. A common trend for article writing on the web these days is the infamous listicle. Listicles deliver content by way of a list format, making information into bullet points. It’s often used as click-bait, and when coupled with 90s related memorabilia such as BuzzFedd.com’s “45 Awesome Toys Every ’90s Girl Wanted For Christmas”, it is the most effective way to attract this generation. It is even possible to access all of BuzzFeed’s 90s nostalgia pieces on their website where one can peruse content specifically related to growing up in the 90s and early 2000s. Perhaps it is natural to want to reminisce about times past, but internet trends have begun to make nostalgia writing a genre in and of itself. These articles are written specifically for those born in the late eighties and early nineties. However, it seems counter-intuitive that the target audience is so young. Isn’t it more likely that the older one gets the less connected they are to their childhood selves and thus the allure of looking at a relic from one’s past only be intensified with age? Twenty-five isn’t generally accepted as a far enough distance from one’s childhood to experience feelings of longing and nostalgia towards it, especially to the point that they are devouring articles devoted to the most popular hair trends when they were in fourth grade. So what is exactly behind this trend among millennials? 

This generation, more than any other, displays a noticeable attachment to their childhood selves. The phenomena cannot, by any means, be random, and could very much be linked to parenting styles and unrealistic expectations placed on this generation due the contradicting economic conditions in the 90s and early 2000s compared to our economy as it stands today. In 2014, The Washington Post published a piece entitled “Why are so many millennials depressed? A therapist points the finger at Mom and Dad”. In her piece, which originally appeared on Slate, Brooke Donatone profiles a young woman named Amy (not her real name) who suffers from depression and confesses that she’d rather go directly into a PhD program upon completing graduate school for fear of having to enter the job market. Donatone reveals that Amy is just one example of the many of college students she serves as a psychologist to express a real fear of adulthood. She attributes this to psychologist Jeffrey Arnett’s theory of “emerging adulthood” which explains the occurrence of extended childhood in the lives of many adults, who, well, refuse adulthood. This, along with helicopter parenting, a child rearing trend most often described as being overly controlling and involved in a child’s life, is partially how Donatone reconciles the vast tendency for millenials to delay their ascension into adulthood. She also points to the difference in economies between the late 90s and early 2000s as compared to now, by which in today’s economy, a college degree is the equivalent of a high school diploma. Donatone suggests that perhaps growing up in a healthy economy allowed parents to place expectations on their children that had a slim chance of being fulfilled since most millennials entered college around the same time as the 2008 financial crisis.

The research is present that demonstrates that millennials are the first of their kind to delay this right-of-passage into adulthood. They reportedly feel less of a sense of excitement for getting older and entering the workplace than they do a sense of deep-seeded fear and feelings of inferiority. Much of the content populating the web is geared towards millennial’s tendency to resist adulthood, mostly due in part to feelings of inadequacy. In today’s job market it is that much harder to gain employment in one’s chosen field or even an unpaid internship in that which they majored. Simply put, it is much harder to gain the experience one needs to even be qualified for many of the jobs in the market. This, coupled with the idea of helicopter parenting that become popular in the 1990s and creates an inability to detach from parental figures, makes adulthood not only anxiety ridden but sometimes, unattainable. It has often been claimed that millennials are a generation of narcissists. The overall characteristic associated with this generation is often times misconstrued to assume that they are a heaping batch of narcissistic A-holes, but the issue really goes much deeper than that. Millennials are not refusing to juggle school, a part-time job, and laundry just because they think they’re too entitled. Many millennials, like Amy, from Donatone’s research, don’t possess the skills to handle all of these tasks on a daily basis, and the idea of taking on these seemingly normal responsibilities for a twenty-something year-old, is actually cause for anxiety and depression.

It is not unusual for millennials to browse through Facebook and be suggested a slew of articles based on 90s throwback items like Beanie Babies or platform shoes. It is also just as likely that a millennial will click on one of these numerous articles listing back-to-school gear they probably had on their first day of middle school (see Bustle.com’s 13 Thing Every Hot Topic Kid Had In Their Middle School Wardrobe). It is of course comforting for everyone to remember the simpler times of childhood, but in the past, the media has not made such efforts to curtail their content to a group of readers hungry to regress, even if for a few minutes, into their pasts.

It should not go without mentioning, that not all millennials identify with these feelings of anxiety towards adulthood and that many are able to balance a healthy work/play lifestyle. There are many people from this generation who are comfortable entering the workforce and taking on the responsibilities that come hand-in-hand with growing up. However, this generation is undeniably plagued with the juxtaposition between the late 90s to early 2000s economy versus the very discouraging and cutthroat marketplace in which they must navigate today. Many millennials have dreams of actually working at a company where their skills and degrees can be put to use. It is a pathetic reality that people are arguing Liberal Arts degrees will soon be obsolete. The troubles that this group faces can’t be washed away by someone telling them to simply study the fields that have lots of jobs and pay well – It’s unrealistic – not everyone can be web developers, accountants, work in telecom, or in any of the other hot ticket careers.

When millennials are scouring Indeed.com and Craiglist.com, applying to a hundred or more jobs per day, perhaps the only thing that does lighten the heart a bit is BuzzFeed’s Can We Guess What 90s Snack Matches Your Personality?, glimmering with the hope of escape and freedom from underemployment woes. Perhaps 90s nostalgia is the only thing that lessons the blow, if even for a few brief moments.