Last week, we saw a lot of attention thrown to the Back to the Future movies. It peaked on Wednesday, which was the date given in the second movie when Doc Brown and Marty McFly landed to take care of events in their future. Several of the companies referenced in the movie released products mimicking those future versions seen in the film: Pepsi, USA Today, Nike… Other companies, including of course Universal Studios, capitalized on the fervor by bringing back the actors to either reprise or reference their now iconic roles.
It’s actually something I’ve noticed a fair amount of lately. Back to the Future has elicited perhaps a more broad-based fanfare, but it’s almost a regular segment on The Today Show to reunite the cast of decades old movies and TV shows. In fact, Michael J. Fox not only did a Back to the Future reunion last week, but was on the show just a couple weeks earlier for a Family Ties get-together. Thematically similarly, the guests on Jimmy Fallon’s late night shows are frequently subjected to nostalgia-based skits centered around their memorable roles. (Although it was actually Jimmy Kimmel who secured Fox and Christopher Lloyd for a late night reunion skit.) We see a seemingly endless parade of “Where Are They Now” pieces, and side-by-side comparisons of decades-old photos next to contemporary ones.
I talked about nostalgia a bit back in August and how it culturally tends to see a rise in times of “accelerated rhythms of life and historical upheavals.” At the time, I left implied that we were in such times now and that would help to explain why so many people are so enamored with revisiting the past.
But one of the things Alvin Toffler noted when he wrote Future Shock was that life is speeding up. That, by most objective measures, change is occurring faster than it has in the past. Not only that but the rate of change is speeding up. So not only are we having to adjust to more than previous generations did, but we will continue to have to adjust to even more changes in the future. Toffler was talking about this in the early 1970s, and the idea has born fruit in many respects. Michael Lewis picked up on that idea for his brilliantly titled 2001 book, Next: The Future Just Happened. People and businesses can no longer rely on tried-and-true methods because the landscape is changing so quickly that there’s a constant need to adapt. “Flexible” and “agile” have been business buzzwords lately for a reason.
All of which leads me to wonder how pop culture fits into this mix. If people are increasingly looking backwards to the media of their youth, how much room is left for new media? Is there room for a genuinely new next-big-thing if we’re still revisiting Star Wars and Girlmore Girls? Argueably, there is room, particularly for the younger generations who aren’t old enough to be nostalgic for anything, but what do fandoms look like when they become more generationally stratified? When older fans simply continue to cycle through the small handful of things they enjoyed decades earlier? Does the seemingly endless parade of reunions become truely endless to the point where they aren’t even reunions, but just an ongoing engagement that’s simultaneously stuck in the year of its creation?