I saw a teaser trailer last week for “Rocko’s Modern Life.” For those of you not up to speed on your 1990s pop culture references, the aforementioned television show is a Nickelodeon cartoon (Nicktoon) about a neurotic wallaby who manages a comic book store, owns his own home and is friends with a male cow named Heifer and a turtle named Filbert, who is an over-the-top caricature of Woody Allen.
Are you exhausted yet? Me too! My generation is obsessed with trailers and even more obsessed with nostalgia. I loved “Rocko’s Modern Life” when I was 8 years old. Like many Nicktoons, it had not-so-subtle adult humor that I didn’t understand at the time. Filbert would read the comics and nervously say “you turn the page, you wash your hands,” like a hypochondriac with ADHD — but was silly enough a child would giggle at his over-the-top gags.
But the reboot of this little cartoon show is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to revisiting pop culture from my childhood. Hollywood and television networks have revived Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, continued the Star Wars saga and made five Transformers movies — the latter were critically panned but made hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office. Summer hits of the 90s on the streaming radio service Pandora remind us of that decade’s promise of staying young forever. The studios are taking advantage of and profiting from this nostalgia craze, but for their audience it’s about remembrance.
I’m admit it — and if you read my column you already know — I love the resurgence of these archetypes from my childhood. Stories from the likes of Marvel, D.C. and Lucasfilm are the classic tales of good versus evil. They can deal with complex issues such as discrimination, the paroles of war and family dynamics. But these movies and shows do it with a clear cut distinction between right and wrong.
In a time where those lines are blurred by shifting societal values — sometimes intentionally by those in positions of authority — it makes these nostalgic images even more powerful.
Millennials — particularly American millennials — long for images from their childhood, not because they want to be kids again, but they remind us of a safer time. It was a time when the twin towers still stood; the threat of the Soviet Union had collapsed but the specter of Vladimir Putin had yet to surface. When Nicktoons were in their prime, the Great Recession was still two decades away and we were entering into a period of great economic prosperity and relative peace.
Today’s 20 and 30-somethings are not refusing to grow up or decline responsibility, they’re reaching for an era when happiness was more abundant for most. They hope by bringing just a bit of that 90s nostalgia into the present, happiness and cooperation might come with it.
Contact Mike Mendenhall at mmendenhall@ jaspercountytribune.com