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lady bird film
A24
Longing for yesteryear.
Y2K

Popular culture in 2017 is starting to look a lot like it did in the early 2000s

By Adam Epstein

Ah, to be back in the time of Gilmore Girls, Blink-182, and Juicy Couture tracksuits. That nostalgia, for the simpler days of early-2000s America, is beginning to seep into popular culture.

Yes, the early 2000s—when the United States had just experienced the deadliest attack in its history and then initiated a brutal decades-long war in the Middle East, destabilizing the region, destroying multiple economies, and altering global politics forever. Good times.

But perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we’re now seeing a revival of the pop culture from the early aughts. Given the state of the world today, life in the early aughts might seem preferable—or at least more familiar—to modern cultural consumers who feel unable or unwilling to adjust to the upsetting political realities of 2017.

Lady Bird, one of the best films of the year so far, is a great example. In her directorial debut, actor Greta Gerwig takes us to Sacramento, California in 2002-2003, a time when teenage boys wore Puka shell necklaces and ill-fitting khaki pants, images of the American invasion of Iraq were plastered on TV screens in living rooms throughout the world, and a boy could express his admiration for “Crash Into Me” by Dave Matthews Band without feeling embarrassed. (It was a good song then, and is a good song today, dammit.)

Gerwig’s uproarious, deeply poignant semi-autobiographical film, which follows a 17-year-old girl (an excellent Saoirse Ronan) through her senior year of high school, is mostly a love letter to her hometown, a moderately-sized California city best-known for not being San Francisco or Los Angeles.

But it’s also, in many ways, an ode to the year 2002, one of the final years before cell phones became ubiquitous and permanently changed how people interacted. In Lady Bird, people actually talk to each other, show up at their friends’ houses unannounced, and write physical letters with pen and paper.

lady bird puka shell necklace
A24
Return of the Puka.

The film emerges in a pop culture landscape that itself is looking more and more like a redux of the year Lady Bird takes place. Last year, Netflix revived Gilmore Girls, the beloved family drama that originally aired on American television from 2000 to 2007. Last month, NBC resurrected its sitcom Will & Grace, which aired from 1998 to 2006.

MTV’s music video highlight show, Total Request Live, was brought back last week for the first time since 2008. The revival has gotten uniformly harsh reviews, many arguing that the show may have been fun and fresh 15 years ago but is largely a confused mess in 2017.

Nostalgia for the 2000s is happening in fashion, too, where Steve Madden sandals and fanny packs are back on fashionable feet and fannies, respectively. Even the infamous Von Dutch trucker hat, a staple of Britney Spears’ mid-2000s wardrobe, has been recently revivified by Kylie Jenner.

It makes sense: Each decade tends to extol the one that preceded it, choosing to ignore its problems and reminisce on what it did better than the present moment. Hollywood has thoroughly mined the 1980s for nostalgia, and it’s now deep into longing for the 1990s. Meanwhile, now that it’s the twenty-tens (is that what we’re calling it?) American pop culture has already moved on to aching for the aughts.