By EMILY WITHAM
The costumes in the Chicago improv club were low-budget but instantly recognizable. The actor in the jeans, zip-up t-shirt, and baseball cap was undoubtedly Ash Ketchum, hero of the 1990’s television series Pokemon. The other actor, in the all-yellow outfit and rosy cheeks, was his Pokemon sidekick, Pikachu. Together the two actors improvised their way through a sketch in which Pikachu acted as a wingman for Ash as he pursued a potential hookup. The short skit served as one part of “Drink! The Sketch Comedy Drinking Game: 90’s Edition.”
Every time Pikachu said his own name — which was often as most Pokemon in the television series could say nothing but their own names — millennial Leslie Halverson laughed and took a sip of her wine. Then she joined the rest of the audience, comprised of nostalgic twenty-somethings like her, in a rousing rendition of the theme song from the cherished television show that rang through the dingy hole-in-the-wall theatre: “Pokemon, gotta catch ’em
The 2-hour show also featured skits based on other 90’s classics like “Full House” and “Legends of the Hidden Temple” and the Millennial audience couldn’t get enough.
Nostalgia isn’t unique to the Millennial generation. The Baby Boomers had the Brady Bunch and “American Graffiti.” Gen X had MTV and Nirvana. And as the youngest members of the Millennial generation reach adulthood, they are developing a nostalgia all their own.
The youngest Millennials are growing nostalgic for their childhoods in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. They’re yearning for the days of Beanie Babies and American Girl Dolls, bringing back boy bands, and tuning in to their favorite childhood television shows. And they’re certainly getting attention- children’s television network Nickelodeon recently began running a block of programming called “The 90’s Are All That” showcasing popular 90’s shows like “All That” and “Kenan and Kel” and experienced an 850% increase in viewership ages 18-34 during the 12 – 2AM time slot, according to Vulture.com.
Almost 90 percent of the 1000 Millennials surveyed reported that they still enjoy their childhood entertainment and 58 percent watched a program from their childhood in the past month, according to a MediaPost survey.
Why are Millennials so nostalgic for the late 1990s and early 2000’s? Possibly it is because it supports their need to belong socially.
Nostalgia is an inherently social feeling, says Dr. Kate Loveland, an assistant professor of marketing at Xavier University.
“When we think about a nostalgic occurrence, we tend to think about our interactions with other people,” says Dr. Loveland, who conducted a study in 2010 about the link between nostalgia and the human need for belonging. “As human beings, we have this inherent need to feel like we belong, to feel connected to other people.”
When Loveland was conducting her study on a group of Millennials, she asked them to list products for which they felt nostalgic. Often, participants in studies mindlessly fill out boxes, but during Loveland’s study, she noticed that the students wanted to discuss and share their experiences of nostalgia with each other.
Loveland’s study found that when the participants’s social self was engaged, the desire to consume nostalgic products was heightened. Loveland and her colleagues tested this by stimulating the participants’ desire to belong by making them feel rejected and alone. They found that when their participants felt alone, they wanted to consume nostalgic products more than when they felt like they belonged.
The feeling of belonging is not the only side effect to nostalgia. A study conducted by professors at the Universities of Southampton and Missouri found that there were many positive effects, including heightened positive moods and self-esteem. The subjects of the study reported that they also looked to nostalgia for the sensation of connection with others, growth, and reminders of fun or easier times in their lives.
However, not just any nostalgia will do. Most Millennials find that they are nostalgic for the pop culture of the period. Sarah Carroll, 21, will often watch a few episodes of the popular ’90’s sitcom, “Friends,” before going to bed for the night. Not only does NYU senior Mackenzie Cash still have CD’s, she keeps them in a Linkin Park CD case. Olivia Ritchie, a junior at NYU, rifles through her DVD case- Clueless, Beauty and the Beast, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. Only one movie she has brought with her to college is from 2004 or later.
Even though they may no longer play with them, many Millennials admit to still keeping their old toys from their childhoods stashed away in their old bedrooms or attics. The toys bring back fond memories and some Millennials are saving them for any potential future children.
Millennial Samantha Eichelberger amassed an impressive amount of American Girl memorabilia during her childhood. She collected five of the dolls, along with doll furniture, clothing, and book sets. She even had a scaled horse model for her dolls to ride. Her entire collection remains at her parents house and even now at 22 years old, she manages to find uses for them.
“I still use my dolls every year when I make a Christmas tableau with them on my piano,” says Eichelberger.
Millennial nostalgia also extends to things not as permanent as pop culture or toys. Many Millennials miss the popular snack foods of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, including Dunkaroos, cookies that came with icing for dipping, and EctoCooler, a flavor of the popular juice brand Hi-C.
As much as they love revisiting their childhood favorites, many Millennials admit that the 1990’s and early 2000’s might not have been as rosy as they remember them. Their memories may be affected by the fact that they were children and life always seems simpler through a child’s eyes.
“Of course we see it through bright, Lisa Frank, neon-colored glass,” says Halverson. “When you’re a kid, even if things aren’t great, everything is new and exciting.”