Eyeing Their Futures, Kids Today Turn Back

Four college kids home on their winter break in suburban L.A. surf the satellite channel guide and land on a showing of the film "Batman." Not the modern-day rendering of an eerily masked Dark Knight, but rather the high-camp 1966 edition, replete with its home-spun special effects and crudely animated onomatopoeias. (It's not far-fetched to imagine a young James Cameron dedicating his life to CGI after getting a look at the garden hose-powered human "de-hydrator" featured in this epic!) They watch it all the way through to its pre-destined conclusion. Scene spoiler alert: The Caped Crusaders save the world. Ka-POW!

A couple of times zones to the east, in Chicago, a group of 20-something hipsters gathers in the basement of one of their parents' homes for a live music showcase. But this is not an LP-scratching, pants-hanging-down-below-the-butts type of bash. The featured band is a natty techno-swing ensemble called Gemini Club, and the guests are stepping to it in attire that seems culled directly from the set of "Mad Men." For good measure, they've lured a sponsor and, fittingly, it's a local brewer called Old Style.



Meantime, up in Minnesota, a team of young hockey players eschews the gleam of the local rink in order to participate in the U.S. Pond Hockey Championship. It's a massive tournament that evokes a time when would-be Orrs and Gretzkys honed their craft and braved the elements on the frozen waters where the sport originated. Old-time hockey -- as brought to the masses by a recent documentary and the highly successful New Year's Day NHL Winter Classic -- has the makings of a full-fledged movement, one that is pulling Gen Y back to a simpler time.

Indeed, it seems as though the retro trend is spinning all around us. From throwback fashion to vintage soul dance parties to psychedelic posters, today's young people are looking to the past in order to find the path to their futures. I mean, once a popular blog hits the mainstream with the name "My Mom the Style Icon," on which trendsetters look to old family photos for style inspiration, you know there's something pretty deep going on.

There is, and it's more than a fashion or fad. Perhaps Gen Y started peeking into their rear-view mirrors in the wake of 9/11, when the simple ideal of a protected society crumbled along with the Twin Towers. But the Great Recession sealed it. Within the space of a decade, a generation of kids patterned to think they could "do anything" came face to face with the stark notion that their futures were no longer in their own hands, even if their hearts and minds were in the right place. They've learned that there are no eighth-place "winners" in the real world of 2010.

Maybe they're onto something. As one respondent put it when asked by the Intelligence Group's Cassandra Report what TV show he'd most like to "live" in, "I think I would want to live in 'That 70s Show' because I enjoy the idea of living simply and not really ever doing anything but hanging out ... yet being completely OK with it."

Living simply. Hanging out. Being completely OK. Now there's a recipe for aspirational bliss that marketers can surely rally around.

5 comments about "Eyeing Their Futures, Kids Today Turn Back ".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Catherine Piercy from Cossette, February 19, 2010 at 1:16 p.m.

    Great observation, but is this really unique to Gen Y? As a Gen Xer, coming of age in the late 1980s, I remember attending many 60's or 70's themed parties, falling upon psychedelic cast-offs in second hand clothes stores and dressing up in retro "hippy chic". At college, listening to the music of our parents' generation (The Doors, Beatles, Hendrix) was de rigueur. Not sure this is a reaction to 9/11 or the Great Recession. Looking to the past to find the future could simply be normal youth behaviour. Regardless, it's a good insight - thanks.

  2. Kate Lafrance from Hartford Woman Online Magazine, February 19, 2010 at 3:40 p.m.

    I agree with Catherine, I recall, graduating HS in the late '70's everyone was in to Happy Days and the '50's revival; in the late 80's/90's Catherine's gen embraced the 60's LATER in the mid 90's the whole swing music 40's revival happened. I don't care who or how, actually, I'm just SO glad it is happening. Today's kids seem to have so little knowledge of history - try explaining Bob Hope to your 15 year old ... lol ...

  3. Joseph Kessler from Intelligence Group, February 19, 2010 at 4:47 p.m.

    Of course this is a trend that has repeated itself generationally, and it's no coincidence that the youth of the 60's and 70's (of which I am one) shared it, since they are the parents, by and large, of the current Gen Y, and the social and economic climate of the time was not dissimilar. However, I don't think you can really say the same of the young people of the late 80's and 90's (the current Gen X). While there will always be examples of retro fads and fashion re-asserting themselves at times, that segment was overwhelmingly a go-go, achievement-oriented and consumptive group that had its eyes squarely focused on the future.

  4. Kim Barrington from the kimbro agency, February 19, 2010 at 5:15 p.m.

    Honestly, I do not think this trend is confined to Gen Y. I think the boomers also are going back to the 50's for comfort.

    After all it was a period of historic growth (after WWII), owning your own home was part of the American was an unprecedented time of American dreams coming true and there was trust (though perhaps not always earned); but you could keep your doors unlocked at night at least in rural America. Nights outside catching lightening bugs. Picnics with the neighbors, and a good chance at keeping your job, being promoted and earning a good living if only you worked hard. Yes, those were the days. Why wouldn't anybody want to revisit those times during one of the more hellacious periods of modern history?

    Not to mention that being Made In the USA was de rigeour and we still had hard assets in this country to back up our currency.

    Yes, good idea, kids. I want to go there too.

  5. Patricia Friedlander from Word-Up!, February 20, 2010 at 12:46 p.m.

    Yeah, the 50s were great. Women, if they worked at all, got paid a fraction of what men were paid and were expected to show up to work dressed like Barbies. Black folks got to use separate facilities. Everyone lived in fear of a nuclear holocaust. Oh! and the McCarthy hearings--what a feeling of safety! The 50s are great for a theme party, but don't kid yourself. We lived in a lala land of information blackout. White music (Patti Page and others) was okay, but then there was that race music creeping in, and by god, white boys were starting to copy it. I'm approaching my 66th birthday and I'm way glad the 50s are a memory.

Next story loading loading..