“Nostalgia – it’s delicate, but potent,” said Don Draper in an episode of the television show “Mad Men.” “It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.”
For two nights, Duke allowed its students to let the potent twinge of nostalgia run wild with a ‘90s movie marathon orchestrated by Freewater Presentations, a branch of the Duke University Union. In a time when the decade’s resurgence seems unavoidable, the movie screenings were a no-brainer; what’s a better way to shrug off mid-semester responsibilities than with a dive into the remnants of one’s childhood?
Indeed, Freewater Presentations chose an array of films that would likely evoke thoughts and images of adolescence from the students in attendance. The screenings on Friday included “Forrest Gump” and “The Silence of the Lambs,” and those who ventured to the Griffith Film Theater on Saturday were treated to “10 Things I Hate About You,” “Clueless,” “Jurassic Park” and “Titanic.”
“I love 90s movies, personally,” said sophomore Mika Deshmukh, who was in attendance at the showing of “10 Things I Hate About You.” “They’re just so cult-y and fun, it’s like a relic when you watch them.”
Relics were undeniably a large part of the movie marathon, and they extended past the films themselves; beanie babies and CD copies of “Now That’s What I Call the 1990s” were raffled off at every screening, and one lucky attendee to the showing of “Titanic” won a Bop It, an artifact from the decade that irrevocably conjures up memories of childhood tantrums thrown in crowded toy aisles. Ring pops and pop rocks were also given to every student who came to a movie, making forlorn cavities ache in wistful sentimentality.
Sophomore Hannah Rogers, who was also at the screening of “10 Things I Hate About You,” shared a sentiment that has gained salience among millennials in recent years.
“The ‘90s were so important to our generation, and even though some of us were only alive for like, three years [of the decade], it is still very culturally relevant,” Rogers said.
Certainly, despite the fact that most kids born in the 1990s have little or no recollection of their existence in the decade, there’s a noticeable yearning for the pop culture and environment that was present in the ‘90s. Websites like Buzzfeed sensationalize the phenomenon with pieces such as “22 Things That Just Haven’t Been Cool Since The ‘90s” or “23 Little Moments That Were So Gratifying to ‘90s Kids,” and Hollywood has tried to profit off of the sentimentality with reboots of film and TV classics such as “Jumanji” and “Full House.”
But was this 10-year stretch of cheesy sitcoms and high-waisted jeans really all it’s been commercialized to be? Sure, the 1990s gave us influential filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson and television staples like “The Sopranos,” but those are rarely ever romanticized in reference to the decade. In fact, some of the relics that are most cherished are the ones that frankly sucked the most – pop rocks were kind of gross and “Titanic” is universally understood to be overrated (even lead actress Kate Winslet thinks so).
Perhaps children of the decade feel so emotionally attached to the ‘90s and its works because, truthfully, things were pretty great in the ‘90s outside of pop culture. Our government was running a surplus, international relations were peaceful and Steve Jobs unveiled the first iMac. Compare this to the 2000s – a blossoming war on terror, an economic recession and rapid technological developments – and one is left wistfully dreaming about a time when everything seemed so much simpler.
It has been clinically recognized that as young adults find themselves strapped with responsibilities and intake information about the global state of affairs, it’s completely normal to want to return to times that they know to be safe and stress-free. It’s hard to appreciate the current decade when every problem seems ubiquitous, so idealizing the times of your childhood when you could lounge on the couch and rewatch “Toy Story” for the millionth time doesn’t seem so unreasonable.
In fact, we may never really want to return to a time when technology wasn’t easily accessible, gay marriage was illegal and the War on Drugs was still raging. But as long as the ‘90s continue to exist in a vacuum in our collective psyche as a decade of prosperity and feel-good pop culture, the nostalgia will continue to reign.
For those who missed Freewater Presentation’s ‘90s movie marathon last weekend, the student-led organization holds screenings each Friday and Saturday in the Griffith Film Theater, recently refit with a high-quality digital projector and located on the lower level of the Bryan Center.
Likewise, come springtime, keep an eye out for their next marathon. When asked what set of movies she would like to see screened next, Deshmukh had something in mind.
“I think doing a ‘Harry Potter’ marathon would be so fun,” she said.
Indeed, 1990s nostalgia is a potent twinge – and happily so.
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