Media Trends, Viewing Habits Reflect Childhood Nostalgia

2022’s Minions: The Rise of Gru was the third-most popular movie on Netflix as of Feb. 28. This movie comes as the latest addition to a franchise which is now almost 13 years old. The first Despicable Me movie was released in 2010, when current undergraduate students were the age of its target audience. Flash forward to when The Rise of Gru was released in 2022 — teenagers and young adults swarmed to watch the movie in hordes, many donning formal attire for the occasion. They were no longer the target audience of the film, but participants of the “Gentleminions” trend were clearly invested in this piece of media, regardless of who it was made for. Some of this can be credited to the fact that many high school and college students grew up watching the earlier Despicable Me movies and wanted to see what would happen next in the franchise, but this is part of a larger phenomenon that I’ve noticed (and participated in) amongst younger generations—we’re obsessed with the media from our childhoods.

“I think we are in a weird period, the era of reboots and everything is getting brought back and we’re very much steeped in that weird nostalgia media of like, ‘Let’s bring back everything you liked as a child,’” College third-year Nora McIntyre said.

The reboots McIntyre is referencing are a dime a dozen. She specifically mentioned the Winx Club and Monster High reboots, but others have come out in recent years, like High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. There are even more made for media that millennials grew up with, like the recent reboots of Gossip Girl, That ’70s Show, and Sex and the City. This is not to say, of course, that Generation Z or millennials are the first generations to be obsessed with the media from their childhoods, nor are they the first generations to see reboots or additions to media they enjoyed — how many Star Wars movies and spin-offs are there? Younger generations simply have access to media in ways that older generations historically have not.

“It could be due to access and technology,” Assistant Professor of Psychology Clinton Merck said. “I think the media that we interact with in our youth kind of automatically inherently gets linked to our identity over time because as we’re growing, we’re developing an identity. And so as we associate different media with our values, our preferences, beliefs and attitudes, we kind of then associate them with who we are as an individual.”

There are also franchises that have been around for generations that have shifted and developed with the times, like Mattel’s Barbie franchise. This past fall, McIntyre taught an ExCo on Barbies, providing an overview of the franchise’s history, as well as using an adult’s lens to look at the doll. It’s not the only ExCo about children’s media — YipYipCo is an ExCo focused on Avatar: The Last Airbender.

“We focused on bodies, gender, [and] race,”McIntyre said. “One of the main takeaways is how society has shaped Barbie and how Barbie has shaped society in return.”

When asked about what she thinks attracted people to the class, she said that people enjoy childhood media because of its familiarity. “I think people are drawn into things that you already have kind of that nostalgia for,” McIntyre said. “Because people have that nostalgia for it, they wanna dig deeper and be like, ‘I didn’t know that much about this as a kid, I want to learn more about it.’”

College third-year Alejandro Jorge disagrees that nostalgia is a driving factor in bringing people back to the media they enjoyed as a kid. They find instead that they’re more drawn to the media they grew up with because looking at it again with an adult lens allows them to uncover new details.

“Nostalgia is kind of a nebulous concept for me,” Jorge said. “I don’t enjoy the works I used to like because I used to like them. I enjoy them because I like them now.”

For me, it’s a combination of nostalgia and exploring and seeing more. I’m not watching The Magic School Bus again with the hopes of and expanding my knowledge. I’m watching it both because I have fond memories of watching it and because it still holds up as decent entertainment to me, even as a 20-year-old.

Merck believes that the novelty of things we watch as children may contribute to why we continue to engage with such media.

“We tend to remember first experiences better than later repeated experiences of the same thing,” Merck said. “For instance, the first song or album you hear by an artist is often your favorite song or album … Initial experiences have a greater impact. They provide us with more lessons, more information.”

This may explain why we continue to return to them even as adults. According to Merck, the fact that we experience so much media for the first time when we are younger can contribute to why we remember it so well and hold it in such high regard.

“When we reflect on experiences with media from our youth, we tend to view the more distant past positively,” Merck said. “The tendency is to view childhood as a positive time, right? Like, when we’re innocent and happy, things are easier.”

It seems that childhood media can bring us a sense of comfort because of the memories we associate with it. So many of us seek comfort amidst the chaos of the world we live in and get away from the doom and gloom of the news. When I asked McIntyre about this, she agreed.

“Maybe there is something there that’s like, ‘Life sucks. I want to go back to being seven. I wanna play with Barbies,’” McIntyre said, laughing.