Stuck In The Past: Why Millennials Can't Let Go Of The 90s

by Reid Kerr-Keller

This decade belongs to us: the Millennials, Generation-Y, the 90s kids.

We had the wealthiest childhood of any group in history. We were protected, coddled, cared for and groomed for success. Now, we’re arriving at the “real life” that always seemed so far away.

We’re inheriting the Earth, grabbing the torch and changing the guard like every generation before us. We have the challenging prospect ahead of shaping our planet positively for everyone who will come after us, and we’re ready.

Only... We’re not ready. It’s too early, right? We’re not optimistic, idealistic or brave. We’re terrified. We are a generation hiding under the sheets, perpetually afraid of the ghosts and ghouls our parents and the media have warned us about.

That duvet-covered haven we’ve created -- our fantasy -- is represented in the super-soaked, frosted-tipped myth that was the 90s. It makes sense. We were the first children of the century -- the young blood and the future. We were born at the tail end of a cold war, with the bright light of a brave new world on the horizon.

If that sounds dramatic, it doesn’t matter. That’s what we grew up in.

For a 90s kid, life was big, loud, fun and free. Parents were lame and school sucked, but the toys were cool, and at least we had the "Macarena."

Sure, there were the rumblings in the Middle East and speculation on those dot-com stocks, but our bubbles hadn’t yet burst and the towers hadn’t yet fallen. Oil was cheap and rock and roll was back. We were good.

 So how did we become the passive generation? We’ve been scared stiff.

It's an accepted part of our cultural knowledge that every generation has its defining moments, events and actions that cause the world to freeze and its inhabitants to take notice.

In the case of almost any person who is still growing, these forces molding and re-shaping the world around them fundamentally shape the person themselves. But most toddlers ignore world politics, and before the age of say, 11, almost no one pays more than cursory attention to the world beyond more immediate issues, like girls, boys and how sometimes we start to "like like" each other.

In every culture, however, there is a coming of age. In North America, this process begins in middle school, the place where classes get harder and everyone gets a hell of a lot more intimidating. It’s at the age of about 13 or 14 that a young girl or guy starts to take notice of what the adults have been so concerned with all this time.

It would follow that the events of those first years of cultural awareness become incredibly important. The initial impressions on a person’s social conscience have a severe impact in forming an individual’s views of the world.

So maybe it was Y2K that killed the frantic 90s optimism. Or maybe it was Kurt's death. But most likely, September 11 had the biggest effect. In any case, it all added up. The beginning of the 2000s was a shocking time, and for Millennials, there was plenty going on to provide the generation with lasting impressions.

A person born in 1988 would have reached the early years of maturity just in time to see and share in their parents' fear of the 9/11 attacks. For a Millennial born in the early 90s, coming of age in the mid-2000s, there were the twin evils of global warming and climate change. The last Millennials, those coming up a few years later, listened to their parents discuss the next Depression as the financial meltdown rocked the West.

The children of the 90s grew up and left the fun behind to find a cruel world waiting for them. That’s not to say we don’t live in the greatest period in the history of mankind. Ours is the wealthiest world that has ever existed. Yet, it’s a time of incredible instability.

Years of wealth disparity in the West, exploding economic power in the East and a tide of social unrest in between, has left its mark on the collective conscious.

Any competitive news outlet is smattered with images that characterize global conflict. And for the typical human being living in any comparatively stable nation, the solution, for the most part, is to shut it all out.

We wake up and stumble through the morning, get to work, get on Facebook, see the trending stories (200 casualties in Bagdad, natural disasters in Indonesia and the constant, growing threat of all-out insanity in North Korea) and become overwhelmed by it all.The onslaught of negativity is daily; it’s the definition of world affairs in 2014.

So far, that’s our legacy. We’re the apathetic generation, the ones who can’t be bothered to care. There are some members of Gen-Y who will argue and point to their social activism or the cause they champion and say, “Here! Look! I’m trying!” It's valid, truly, but it isn’t enough.

This is how we’re seen, and for the most part, it’s accurate. We know our actions will echo in history, but the sheer volume of the problems we face has us looking for a distraction.

We are, as a group, like a hiker at a fork in the trail, searching frantically through our pockets for the map we swore we had.

With the absence of a focus, direction and some clear goal to set sail to, we have nostalgia. We have lists of the best fictional boyfriends from 90s sitcoms, and the greatest one-hit wonders from 20 years ago so we can seek out comfort and safety in a time when the world wasn’t menacing.

There’s nothing wrong with a little trip down memory lane. It’s normal to miss childhood, but sometimes it prevents us from focusing on where we’re headed and sends us down the easiest road in the footsteps of our parents.

It’s a luxurious path. It’s paved. It definitely has cheaper iPhones, and no doubt there’s some good entertainment…  And if it leads to a cliff, so what? Leave it up to our kids. They’ll figure it out.

Photo via Tumblr