I’ve been seeing a lot of posts on social media like this lately…
Or the latest one making the rounds…
The formula is essentially:
- Gen Z learns about something from the last 20 – 40 years.
- Gen X/Millennials give them a hard time about not knowing about that thing.
It’s usually followed by some kind of justification like, “I knew about Woodstock when I was a kid, so why don’t they know about Lilith Fair?” But what so many Xennials don’t understand is that the only reason we know about Woodstock, The Andy Griffith Show, and Easy Rider, is because we were force fed Boomer culture as kids.
We watched reruns of Leave It to Beaver and I Dream of Jeannie because the Boomers were in charge of scheduling the television stations in the 1970s and 80s. Shows like The Wonder Years, Laverne & Shirley, Happy Days, and even the IT mini-series were on because Boomers were either in charge of making shows or were the target market for those shows.
Movies like American Graffiti, Forrest Gump, Peggy Sue Got Married, Stand By Me, Back to the Future, and just about every movie dealing with Vietnam, were directly targeted at Boomers. Most of our influential directors in the 80s were either Boomers (Spielberg, Cameron, Zemeckis, John Hughes, Tim Burton, Oliver Stone) or late-Silent Generation (Lucas, Scorsese, Coppola). And of course they’re going to bring their own personal experiences into their films.
Boomer music is, inarguably, some of the best music America has ever produced. Say what you will about Boomers, but they did make some damn fine music, with groups like Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Queen, Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles, The Who, The Beatles, and artists like Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, Elton John, and David Bowie. Maybe not every song has aged like fine wine, but every one of these artists – and plenty more – have songs that are still on regular rotation today with Gen Z. Maybe they heard it on Stranger Things or in Thor Ragnarok, but good music is good music, no matter how old it is.
Now, where did we, as Xennials, watch all these shows, see all these movies, listen to all this music? On our four channels of UHF TV, at the local movie theater where movies would run for months on end, and on the radio that Mom and Dad had on in the car everywhere we went. We had no choice in the matter, but to relive our parents’ glory days.
If Dad was watching MAS*H, we were watching MAS*H, because this was probably the only TV in the house.
If Mom popped in her cassette tape of Fleetwood Mac while taking you to school, you listened to Fleetwood Mac, because she probably didn’t want to change the station to listen to your “heavy metal or rap crap” music.
If Mom and Dad remember The Day the Music Died, they might go see La Bamba, which means you’ll be seeing La Bamba, because they couldn’t find a sitter that night.
It was virtually impossible to avoid Boomer nostalgia, so we just rode the wave. It may not have been your first choice, like Run-DMC, Madonna, or Michael Jackson, but you found the good in it and, ya know, sometimes that old stuff wasn’t half-bad. You made the best of it, because you had no choice. Maybe Whole Lotta Love was a little repetitive and bland, but man, the intro to Immigrant Song fucking rocked!
But kids today have a million ways to avoid Gen X and Millennial nostalgia. They definitely get doses of it, between reboots and legacy sequels, but even those are usually done with a modern spin that appeals to them. Or, it’s a property that has never really gone away, like Super Mario Bros. or Star Wars.
And if they don’t want to watch Caddyshack again, Dad, they can go to their room and fire up their phones and watch any number of YouTube channels or Netflix shows. If they don’t want to listen to your lame pop/punk Spotify playlist in the car, they throw in some earbuds and use their own Spotify account to listen to TikTok viral hits. And if there even was a documentary on Lilith Fair, it might be exclusive to a streaming service you don’t subscribe to.
The media landscape has splintered and so you can’t expect kids today to be aware of pop culture from 30-plus years ago. Even asking them to be aware of pop culture (or, like, actual history) from 15 years ago, might be a bit of a stretch. The world is moving faster, the nostalgia is getting even more temporary, and they have their own access to an overwhelming abundance of information. They don’t need to sit through The Breakfast Club or a documentary about the shit show that was Woodstock ’99 just because you want to watch it.
I don’t blame kids for not knowing how a cassette player works. I don’t blame kids for never knowing about Lilith Fair, a music festival that only lasted for three years and ended 10 years before they were even born. If we had the same access to entertainment that they do, we wouldn’t have cared about Gilligan’s Island, The Mamas and the Papas, or The Graduate. There would be too much stuff to absorb from the last couple of years, let alone the previous 30 years, to bother with ancient history.
So, Gen Xers, Millennials, give the kids a break. If something you loved becomes something they love, that’s awesome. But they’ve got their own pop culture to love and be nostalgic for someday.
Focus more on teaching them universal, important life lessons like respecting other people, helping out your fellow man, and putting the toilet paper roll on the right way (over, not under, obviously).
They’ll probably get along just fine in the world without knowing how to operate a tape deck.