How The TV And Movies Are Using Gen X Nostalgia
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
If you are like me, a proud member of Generation X, you've probably noticed a lot of TV shows and movies are referencing that golden era or just coming 'round again. This year, Netflix rebooted the sitcom that first gave us the Olsen twins - "Full House." The new one is called "Fuller House." There was also a new "Power Rangers" movie, and the sitcom "Will & Grace" came back. First, it had to undo the original series finale from 2006.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "WILL & GRACE")
MEGAN MULLALLY: (As Karen Walker) In the dream, Will was living with a swarthy man in uniform and Grace was married to a Jew doctor.
ERIC MCCORMACK: (As Will Truman) Yeah, well, we were. But we're single now.
MULLALLY: (As Karen Walker) That tracks.
MCEVERS: So why is there so much Gen X in popular culture right now? To answer this pressing question, I went looking for Linda Holmes and Glen Weldon of our Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. And when I found them, they were talking about another rebooted Gen X touchstone - "Star Wars."
LINDA HOLMES, BYLINE: Yeah, so porgs - I feel like porgs are birds, but then I also feel like porgs are...
MCEVERS: Hey, you guys.
GLEN WELDON, BYLINE: Hey.
HOLMES: Porgs are gerbils. Oh, hi, Kelly.
MCEVERS: What are you talking about?
HOLMES: We were talking about porgs and whether they're birds or gerbils.
MCEVERS: Oh, OK.
HOLMES: What brings you to historic Studio 44, Kelly?
MCEVERS: (Laughter) Funny you should ask. I don't know. Am I wrong, or is - was 2017 just, like, the year of Gen X references? Like, that's just what I'm feeling.
HOLMES: Yeah, I think that's true. And I would agree with you. And I think it's good to kind of establish a working definition of what you mean when you say Gen X.
HOLMES: 'Cause people do define it differently. I think Glen and I would both define it as people who were in, like, their teens or early adulthood in the '90s roughly.
HOLMES: A category in which he and I are both included.
HOLMES: You know, so when you talk about Gen X nostalgia it can be things from when you were very young, but it can also be things from that period, your teenage years and early adulthood.
WELDON: A good question to ask is, why is it happening now?
WELDON: And that is very simple to figure out because the people who were in their teens and 20s in the '90s are now running studios...
WELDON: ...And running networks. And the strongest nostalgia you feel is for the stuff that you chose. So in your teens and 20s, you make a decision. You make your first cultural choices. You say, this is mine. My parents hate it, but I love it...
WELDON: So therefore you double down.
HOLMES: Right, about your adult taste, right?
HOLMES: You have your own taste in kids' shows.
HOLMES: But as you - and kids' music and books and stuff. But as you get into those teens and 20s that's kind of your adult taste emerging...
HOLMES: ...In a away.
WELDON: And that's where "Stranger Things" comes from.
WELDON: Now, "Stranger Things" is a Netflix show that is an homage to the kids-on-bikes era of popular culture.
WELDON: Your films like "Stand By Me" and "E.T." and to books like Stephen King's "It."
MCEVERS: And, like, horror films like "Halloween." And, I mean, there are just so many references in this show.
WELDON: But those references are not to the time itself. And that's kind of - this is intentional, I think. Those are references to the culture of the time, the stuff that was out there, things like the "Star Wars" movies to things like Dungeons and Dragons, and especially to things - in the most recent season to things like "Ghostbusters."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "STRANGER THINGS")
FINN WOLFHARD, GATEN MATARAZZO AND CALEB MCLAUGHLIN: (As Mike Wheeler, Dustin Henderson and Lucas Sinclair) Who you going to call?
NOAH SCHNAPP: (As Will Byers) Ghostbusters.
WOLFHARD, MATARAZZO AND MCLAUGHLIN: (As Mike Wheeler, Dustin Henderson and Lucas Sinclair) Hey.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Hey, Spengler.
CALEB MCLAUGHLIN: (As Lucas Sinclair, unintelligible).
MCEVERS: Right. It's so interesting that you say it's not really talking about that time 'cause, you know, one culture reference is, like, a political reference. You see signs in people's yards for Mondale-Ferraro...
MCEVERS: ...In the one family's yard and Reagan-Bush in another family's yard. And you're, like, ooh (ph), now we're supposed to know a thing about you. But, like, it doesn't actually talk about that moment in time at all. It's just a marker.
WELDON: In fact, they skipped the election.
HOLMES: Well, and it's - when you're nostalgic for a period of time, in this case the sort of early to mid-80s, you're not necessarily nostalgic for the political stories or for the things that were really happening in the world no matter how indelible they were like the AIDS crisis and...
HOLMES: ...Things like that that were incredibly important, things going on in the culture at the time. But that's not usually what a nostalgic property like "Stranger Things" will look back on about that time. It'll look back on "Ghostbusters."
MCEVERS: What is something else that, like, it's clear that some Gen Xer green-lit that's an obvious throwback to that time, either a reboot or a nostalgia project?
HOLMES: Well, one that I think sticks out is they are remaking, I guess, the movie "Jumanji."
HOLMES: Which I don't even remember very well. Glen, do you - are you a...
HOLMES: ..."Jumanji" rememberer (ph)?
WELDON: I - Yeah. So it's a film starring Robin Williams about a board game that comes to life. There's rhinoceroses that take over town. It is a film that you would think for which no one was clamoring.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE")
ALEX WOLFF: (As young Spencer) A game for those who seek to find a way to leave their world behind. Jumanji.
DWAYNE JOHNSON: (As Spencer) I think we got sucked into Jumanji. And we've become the avatars we chose.
JACK BLACK: (As Bethany) So that means...
HOLMES: Yeah, well, clearly someone was, though.
HOLMES: And as it happens, this is what often happens with pop culture. You learn that almost everything has somebody who's nostalgic for it no matter how obscure you might think it is or no matter how forgettable you might think it is. Clearly somebody happens to both love "Jumanji" and have the ability to reboot movies.
MCEVERS: Right (laughter). Exactly.
HOLMES: And that's really all you need. You need somebody...
MCEVERS: Right. That could just be one person. And that's all it takes (laughter).
HOLMES: You just line up and they go right through that - you know, that same little opening.
WELDON: And that's the takeaway here because this is inevitable. Culture cycles every 20 years or so. So in the year 2037 - let's look ahead.
MCEVERS: Oh, boy.
WELDON: In the year 2037, we're going to get a "Walking Dead" reboot. We're going to get a "Game Of Thrones" reboot.
MCEVERS: Oh, boy.
WELDON: We're going to get a "Big Bang Theory" reboot.
MCEVERS: Oh, yeah.
WELDON: And we'll probably end up with a "House Of Cards" reboot.
MCEVERS: God help us all.
HOLMES: Yeah. Or we will have "Mad Men: Even Madder" (ph) where Sally Draper is a 1980s aerobics instructor.
WELDON: There you go.
MCEVERS: Yes, please (laughter). All right, well, Linda Holmes and Glen Weldon, thank you guys both.
WELDON: Thank you.
HOLMES: Thanks, Kelly.
(SOUNDBITE OF ELSE'S "PACIFIC 704") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.