Commentary

'90s Nostalgia: Millennials Long For Simpler Times

They might seem too young for it, but leading-edge Millennials -- those in their 20s -- are already getting nostalgic for the "good old days."

For older adults, it's hard to imagine Millennials lives as difficult. In fact, they usually think of their younger counterparts as over-privileged and having an unearned sense of entitlement. But Millennials have spent their lives striving to be the best and trying to live up to what their parents have always said: that they can do anything. But adjusting to reality is proving difficult.

Millennials are coming of age in one of the worst economic slumps the U.S. has seen in decades, and it's making them nervous. Instead of getting rewarded for their hard work, they find themselves unemployed or underemployed. Those who are lucky enough to have jobs spend every day trying to keep them; they're the last hired in their companies, and first on the chopping block. With all this anxiety hanging over them, Millennials are afraid to make the next move for fear it will be the wrong one.

They miss the time when everything was easy, when they felt safe and secure. In particular, they pine for their adolescent years, and want to be emotionally transported back to that time.

Nickelodeon is doing just that for Millennials. It has introduced a midnight programming block called "The '90s Are All That!" airing programs that were in their heyday a decade ago. Viewers are loving it; they can go to sleep after watching their favorite shows feeling as carefree as they did when the episodes originally aired.

MTV is making a similar move bringing back some of its more popular '90s shows, though with minor updates. "Beavis and Butt-Head" will soon be back on the air, but instead of making fun of music videos, they're watching "Jersey Shore." "120 Minutes" is back with Matt Pinfield again at the helm, showing a mix of videos from new indie rock bands alongside classic videos -- from bands like Nirvana, Radiohead, Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, and more -- that debuted during "120 Minutes"' previous run from 1986 to 2003.

And it's not just entertainment; the '90s are everywhere.

Nostalgia is so powerful with 20-something Millennials because they're stuck between childhood and adulthood. Many recent college grads are moving back home and living with their parents while they figure out what they want to do with their lives. They're waiting longer to marry and start families, preferring to relish their freedom for a few more years. They can continue to act like kids (while enjoying the privileges of adulthood) well into their 20s.

With this combination of fear and freedom bearing down on them, the last thing Millennials want is a marketer telling them they have to act like grown-ups. Instead, a subtle nod to their desire to be kid-like a little longer suits them much better. Taco Bell is speaking Millennials' language with its latest campaign for its steak burritos; the ad tells guys it's perfectly acceptable to still want Taco Bell (no doubt a staple of their teen years) even if they can afford dinner at a steakhouse. It doesn't make them any less grown-up to still like the things they did when they were thirteen.

Millennials will always be nostalgic for the '90s -- all generations are nostalgic for their adolescent years -- but, for now, the longing is particularly poignant because older Millennials are clutching to the last gasps of childhood as they speed toward grown-up responsibility.

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