80s culture, 90s ads and the collective memory of today’s nostalgia

Everything old is new again.

You grew up in the best decade, right?

You know the decade we’re talking about — the music, the movies — everything was just better back then. A time completely unto itself.

But here’s the thing: time is cyclical, consciousness isn’t strictly insular, and all the memories, moments and cultural touch points that make up those formative years have a way of coming back to us.

There has been an undeniable resurgence in 80s and 90s popular culture lately. Music from The Weekend, Dua Lipa and DMA’s all draw inspiration from 80s synth and 90s Brit-pop. Meanwhile, many current movies and TV shows either assume the aestethic, such as Stranger Things, or straight-up revive old franchises from the era, such as Blade Runner, Mad Max and Twin Peaks.

The same can even be said for video games, which is a relatively new medium in comparison, retooling beloved titles of the day with up-to-date technologies, changing how they look and feel to meet modern expectations.

And just the other week, Budweiser brought back its iconic ‘Whassup’ campaign, flaunting the same styles and sensibilities from twenty years prior, but with a new message in tune with our current times and predicaments.

The result is this weird temporal paradox where everything that’s old is new again — where all the artefacts, cultures and attitudes we fondly remember are suddenly back in vogue, but not exactly as we remember them.

As the guy from Ford recently waxed lyrical; a paradox is essentially two opposing truths coming together. In this particular case, those truths are the passage of time and the current state of collective consciousness. But let’s not get overly philosophical about this, eh, Mr. Hackett?

So the real question is why? Why are we so currently obsessed with 80s and 90s nostalgia? Why are all these cultural touch points resurfacing, and why are people so receptive to them? According to one popular theory, this is all symptomatic of the so-called 30-year cycle: the idea that cultural trends move in patterns, that trends and tropes of previous decades will resurface 30 years later, as will a collective nostalgia for that particular era.

The 80s, in turn, saw plenty of reflections on fifties youth culture, retrofitted to suit audiences of the day, as seen in such films as The Breakfast Club, Back to The Future and — quite literally — Stand By Me. Even the Indiana Jones movies, technically set in the 30s and 40s, were a callback to the matinee serials George Lucas grew up watching as a kid in the fifties. The exact same thing can be said about Star Wars, and here we are, almost 30 years later, with the franchise having been re-conceptualised almost exactly as JJ. Abrams and Disney remembered it back in the day.

We human beings become products of our past experiences.

– Matt Halfhill, Founder NiceKicks

There’s clearly a desire to revisit things that not only define an individual’s past but an entire generation. Nowhere is this more prominent than the internet and social media.

In 2006, entrepreneur Matt Halfhill spearheaded the ThrowBackThursday movement, when on his footwear website he featured regular blog posts every Thursday about some of his favourite old sneakers. Initially a way of breaking up the focus on all things new, ThrowBackThursday soon caught fire with audiences across social media, who began adopting the hashtag in celebrating stuff from their own past.


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#Hotwheels #ThrowbackThursday

A post shared by Bobby Sanders (@bobbysanders22) on

In 2011, the movement appeared for the first time on Instagram, a natural home as it became more visual. The first ThrowBackThursday photo was from Bobby Sanders. It was a picture of Hot Wheels cars that weren’t particularly old, but Sanders used an old-timey Instagram filter. Since then, the hashtag has been used more than 200 million times on Instagram alone (source. Vox).

So yeah, you grew up in the best decade, right? The movies, the music, the things that brought people together. It just wasn’t really the decade you grew up in. 

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