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What is Generation Z’s Obsession with the Past?

By Tyrah Sweeting

Photo courtesy of Fox

It seems like every time I go to my TV Directing class, we talk about our favorite shows, the songs we loved or the cringy fashion trends from when we were kids. We’ll joke about how Raven from the popular Disney Show, That’s So Raven, would stop mid-conversation when she would have a vision or break out into a song from the Jonas Brothers. As I’ve gone further into my time here at Howard, I realize this is a conversation that has happened many times on Howard’s campus, but what I’ve really noticed for a while is that not only is Generation Z obsessed with nostalgia that is unique to our experiences, but we’re also obsessed with music, films and trends that happened way before any of us were born could actually remember in real-time. 

For example, it was recently announced that the 90’s TV show, Friends, will be getting a reunion special on HBO Max. According to Nielsen reports, Friends totaled roughly four percent of all Netflix views in 2018, which in the grand scheme of things may seem insignificant until you realize the number of times that content is being streamed. It also explains why Netflix continued to stream Friends for another year in 2018 when it was supposed to be removed from the platform. So, Friends, a show made by Baby Boomers about Generation X that was loved by Millennials trickled all the way down to Generation Z. What is it specifically about the past that Gen Z feels so connected to? What is so significant about the famous water fountain scene from the show that resonates with Gen Z so profoundly?

My guess is the birth of the internet and social media. The internet has influenced Generation Z’s hobbies and media consumption patterns more so than any other generation. Streaming has given access to shows which we couldn’t watch as kids, thus reminding us of a time when life was simple. Companies digitally restore their movies on streaming websites for better quality. The movies and music videos from the ‘90s have a different color palette and look distinctly different from contemporary movies. Even iconic movies like Friday and Poetic Justice and TV series, especially sitcoms like Martin and Living Single, give a feeling of a time where things looked different and felt better. Naturally, we romanticize times before ours as perfect as they are portrayed to be. This also applies to music and fashion trends. In other words, the past is refreshing to Generation Z. It reminds me of a quote my high school teacher recited when she noticed the shift in her students’ interest with nostalgia: “The more things change, the more things stay the same.” Ultimately, the past will never go out of style and it’ll always find its way back.