Noughties Nostalgia: Nasty or Nice?

Matilda Blake considers how childhood nostalgia and the resurgence of the ‘Y2K’ aesthetic haven’t affected our desire to move past the cultural toxicity of the 2000’s. For Issue #20 ‘Legacy’.

A pink Motorola flip phone. Chicken nuggets in the shape of Shrek’s head. Coca-Cola flavoured lip balm. The world of the early 2000’s. Not so distant as to feel otherworldly and yet long enough ago that ‘Y2K’ style has 360’d from fashionable, to ugly, to fashionable again. It is in the consumerist nostalgia for our early childhoods that we find proof they are well and truly over. Are you humming ‘All Star’ yet?

I think back on my childhood with so much warmth and affection, but if I’m honest with myself, the early 2000’s were culturally toxic (no pun intended). In the wake of 9/11, an event our generation is too young to remember, paranoia and punitivism were rampant in British collective consciousness. In response to this insecurity, the media that came out of the decade tended toward the act of the sneer; the audience laughing at the exploited contestant. Think ‘X-Factor’, ‘Jeremy Kyle’, ‘Big Brother’, ‘Embarrassing Bodies’, ‘Can’t Pay, We’ll Take it Away’, the list goes on and on. These shows punched down – the contestants tended to be working class, unattractive, uneducated, or shock horror, all three.

This cultural lack of generosity extended to the realm of celebrity also. I remember being maybe eight years old, a big fan of the Disney film ‘Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen’, waiting for my Mum to pay for something in the corner shop. I remember looking at a magazine rack. Just above my eyeline (a couple of inches below ‘Nuts’ magazine) was a picture of Lindsay Lohan on the cover of some tabloid. The headline read ‘Lindsay Hits Rock Bottom! Wasted Again!’ and then a quote in much smaller writing, ‘I Feel So Alone’. I can recall seeing videos of other young women in the public eye, reduced to tears, begging the paparazzi to leave them in peace. I mean, who doesn’t remember the 2007 head-shaving breakdown of Britney Spears? Or more importantly, the press’s oddly gleeful reaction.

Art by Laura Cook.

How does growing up in an environment like this affect us as adults? Gen Z is often labelled ‘the snowflake generation’, but perhaps our increasingly conscious efforts to be mindful and inclusive are partly in reaction to the things we witnessed in our culture as children. In 2021, a brand using only thin, white, able-bodied models will be rightly lambasted for lack of representation, the topic of mental health has been addressed by just about every celebrity under the sun, and the power of feminism is utilised regularly in mainstream advertising. This is not to say that we live in some kind of utopia. Of course the culture of the new ‘20’s has ongoing issues which we will probably only fully appreciate another twenty years down the line. But it is interesting to appreciate the difference in what we expect from the media we consume now, and the media we absorbed as children.

The early 2000’s could be characterised as an unkind decade. Yet we still feel that glow of nostalgia when we spy a Tamagotchi being sold at the counter of Urban Outfitters, or a picture of Ashley Tisdale on our Instagram Explore page, wearing low-rise jeans and a weirdly long, thin scarf. Of course there is the fact that, for all their problems, the early 2000’s were… kind of iconic? And after all, they live in our memories primarily as a time of relative innocence, Shag Bands, the Macarena, and Capri Suns at lunch time – they’re our childhood, and they belong to us, toxicity and all.

Art by Alice O’Rorke.

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