The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

90° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    When recycling goes wrong: Stop reprocessing pop culture

    In the first decade of the new millennium, no one is enjoying adolescence more than adults. Their influence can be seen everywhere in pop culture – occupying two spots in the top 10 grossing movies in America are the first two movies in the Spiderman trilogy, based on the comic born in the early 1960s.

    Bret Michaels appeared not once, but twice, on VH1 to choose his true love from a gaggle of girls who were probably in diapers during Poison’s heyday. Airing on the same channel are the “”I Love the Fill-in-the-decade”” specials, which range from the ’70s to the ’90s – you know, in case kids today are having trouble remembering what was cool 10 whole years ago.

    Given their greater purchasing power and love of nostalgia, grown-ups have quite a bit of influence over the focus of movies, television and music. The result of this control, in recent years seems to be an obsession with the past. But rather than rosy nostalgia for the ’40s or ’50s in their entirety, the youth culture of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s has been transplanted to pop culture in 2008. This phenomenon is by no means limited to entertainment; rather, it seems to be another symptom of the “”arrested adolescence”” that many believe plagues young adults today.

    Arrested adolescence is blamed, perhaps a bit unfairly, for a host of current cultural woes. Adults today act too much like children! They wait longer to get married! They buy video games instead of minivans! Generations X and Y are highly educated, motivated and awash in opportunity, and naturally that glut of choice leads to quite a bit more indecision than generations whose options were more limited. Nonetheless, extended adolescence – even in the seemingly harmless sphere of pop culture – can have negative effects. In some ways, arrested adolescence is a sign of prosperity and sophistication in our society and our world views. It can also serve as a breeding ground for self-absorption, however.

    The trouble with the adult takeover of youth culture is that adults who are either overwhelmed by their career or family options, or too motivated and ambitious to give themselves time to relax, create a retroactive adolescence for themselves through pop culture. Television critic Heather Havrilesky commented on this same phenomenon in 2003, writing “”It was bad enough when people started having ’80s theme parties, where they played ‘Jessie’s Girl’ and ‘Pac Man Fever,’ and everyone looked much, much uglier than usual, which is really not the desired effect while socializing … now we’ve crossed the line.”” The trouble with reliving the ’80s, ’90s, or in two or three years the ’00s, is that actual adolescents are barred from control of pop culture.

    While younger people today certainly enjoy the “”Spiderman”” movies and fetishization of their parents’ decades (after all, let he or she who hasn’t attended an ’80s theme party and had a fantastic time dancing ironically to songs that were cool before they were born cast the first stone), this fixation on nostalgia leads to creative stagnation as well. Why come up with something original when you can repackage old ideas that are guaranteed to sell?

    As long as people are willing to pay for rehashed versions of the same thing, these television shows and movies will continue to get made. But who is really benefiting from this recycling process? The familiarity of pop culture now is a comfort to adults either not ready to relinquish their adolescence, or those who didn’t get to enjoy it the first time around. In the long run, though, it’s bad for art, and in the short run, it’s bad for actual kids.

    Reprocessing pop culture sends the message that there isn’t anything new to be discovered, that no, we can’t do better than “”Jessie’s Girl”” and that the people whose ideas are the freshest and most interesting will always be grown-ups. Can you imagine a bleaker world for young people, always having to content themselves with second-hand cultural identities?

    As we slowly – don’t get scared, I said slowly – leave adolescence and enter the “”real world,”” we should remind ourselves that “”youth culture”” and “”our culture”” won’t always mean the same thing, and that that’s OK. In exchange for being the arbiters of what’s cool, we gain greater self-awareness, independence and wisdom – we just let someone else sit in the pop culture driver’s seat. And really, we can’t claim to have done a very good job so far. Our generation is responsible for “”The Hills”” and “”Sexy Can I,”” both of which, unless we change something fast, will absolutely be remade in 2016 by Victoria Beckham’s and Will Smith’s children, respectively.

    As many of us have always secretly believed, we’ll do a much better job at running the world than our parents’ generation has. Let’s prove them right by giving those coming after us the respect and the space to create their own art identities, rather than shoehorning themselves into ours. Art needs space and time to breathe, or it becomes repackaged and recycled until it loses all of its meaning. By taking a step back, we can let ourselves be pleasantly surprised by pop culture again.

    Sarah Devlin is a sophomore majoring in English and political science. She can be reached at

    More to Discover
    Activate Search