In what is probably the biggest news to hit dorm room halls since two girls came out of that dude's room that one morning, Will Ferrell has announced, in character on last night's Conan no less, a sequel to 2004's sleeper hit comedy Anchorman. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we may be at the beginning of nostalgia for the 2000s.
Obviously this Anchorman movie is a sequel, not a remake or anything, but the movie was such an iconic precursor of the Apatow age, a hallmark of the kind of inner-circle club dynamic and absurdism mixed with specificity that would come to define comedy for the next nearly ten years, that the rapturously received news (well, rapturously by some, at least) feels a bit like going back to the beginning, back to study the source of it all. So if we're dredging up Anchorman, what else might we start rooting around for in the newer part of the attic, in the boxes marked "2000" and beyond?
Well, it's not quite the same thing, but the return of Arrested Development, which originally went off the air in 2006, is certainly an invitation to pretend it's not 2012. (Or to at least long for the days when it wasn't 2012.) And now that Titanic, which was released in 1997, is being brought back to the theaters in 3D, how long can it be until that new and shiny technology reanimates something from the '00s? Well, Disney/Pixar is re-releasing 2003's Finding Nemo in September and is planning on doing the same for 2001's Monsters, Inc. at some point. (Plus there are the Star Wars prequels, but no one was really asking for those, so they don't really count.) The children who enjoyed those movies in their original releases are now teenagers, and there's nothing an adolescent likes more than nostalgia (well, except for probably sex and parties and One Direction), because it makes them feel older and experienced and wizened. Plus of course it's nice to feel like your generation's stuff was really the best stuff, a sentiment perhaps borne out of our secret but near universal suspicion that history has been churning on for billions of years all in the lead-up to us, very special us.
Yes, we may already have arrived at the beginning of a new cycle, culture really did move that quickly. From this 1983 baby's perspective, it seems we've already pretty exhaustively recapitulated most of the '90s. You know, with all the Everything Is Terrible fuzzy video anthologizing and Nick at Nite's wildly popular "The '90s Are All That" throwback programming block. Reference-happy youngsters tore through that decade twice as fast as anyone did through the '80s — a long obsessed-about decade, mostly honored by the first generation of young adults who were fully plugged into the internet, which of course has become a veritable nostalgia machine. The '90s got used up so much faster likely because the internet got faster; blogs and themed tumblrs sprang up with lightning speed, memes went kablooey, and '90s TV shows and movies were picked over like a time-lapse animal carcass covered in ants. The '90s were rapaciously devoured and now, with another generation creeping into prime nostalgia territory (the onset of one's late teens/early twenties is perhaps the trigger), the machine is hungry for something new. So we turn to the most recent decade, which, for those of us who were capable of being nostalgic for whole other things back then, is both a little frightening and a wistful reminder of time's relentless march.
Pop culture nostalgia has traditionally run on a twenty-year cycle, with Grease and Happy Days stoking bobby socks fascination for kids of the 1970s, and then the kids of the 1990s wearing the funky patterns and wide-leg pants of the '70s. And while fashion seems to be staying petty strictly within that twenty-year rubric — recent New York Fashion Week shows looked straight out of early 90210 seasons — there's a slight indication that the nostalgia delay may be shortening in other arenas, like music. One Direction, a band of comely teenagers that has just landed on our shores and is already ravaging shopping malls the nation over, is a cobbled together boy-pop act the likes of which we haven't seen since... well, 'N Sync, who hit really big with "Bye Bye Bye" in 2000. (Sure they'd had "Tearin' Up My Heart" and other successes before that, but they went supernova just last decade.) One could make the argument that the Jonas Brothers were intermediaries and so actually the boyband string is linear rather than cyclical. But that was a religious brothers act; weren't the Jonas Brothers actually then Hanson reincarnated, not 'N Sync? One Direction, though, was built synthetically (on Britain's The X Factor) and is managed by a shadowy group of svengalis, just as Justin Timberlake and the gang were
all those not that many years ago.
The shortening of the nostalgia gap probably has something to do with our attention spans being zapped and blah blah, the way we live now, blame Twitter, etc. But why bother blaming? Sure nostalgia can get annoying when it's overdone (stop it with the Saved By the Bell jokes, folks. It's over. Been over for a while, in fact), but it's also kind of fun. I know Anchorman references got tedious after the 100th time you heard them back in the mid-aughts, but now aren't they kind of funny again? I know I went on YouTube last night and watched a few clips after I heard the news and unashamedly guffawed. So, hey, why not bring on the return of Ron Burgundy. Let these newly misty-eyed kids have their moment of reflection. Come on back, elaborately-haired boybands. Lay it on me, 3D version of Steven Soderbergh's Traffic. (OK, that one probably won't happen.) While of course in our effort to romanticize the '00s we'll have to skip over several huge gaping holes that were torn open in the fall of 2001 (which is perhaps why this whole nostalgia thing initially seems so surprising — why would we yearn for those frightening, confusing times?), there's still plenty of good to be remembered around them. And ultimately why focus so strictly on when things happened anyway? What is time, really? It's just a concept! Age ain't nothing but a number.
Oops, that's the '90s. How embarrassing. I'm so old.