Food For Thought: Vanity Fair & Pop Culture Nostalgia

In a recent episode of Bierdos, a podcast co-hosted by my friend Cody Eden, an interesting subject perked my interest: pop culture nostalgia.  This is a particular phenomenon for my age group.  Actually, it is one of my favorite parts of being Generation Y.

A little confused?  Well, basically this is how pop culture nostalgia was discussed in the podcast: we’re nearing 30 and we’re already acting like we’re 65.  What “kids” are into these days is just freaking dumb and we prefer to stick to our own.  One joke on the podcast was about the uselessness of Justin Bieber since we already had a smooth-voiced, sexy-dancing Justin, like, five days ago when we were teenagers (strangely enough, a recent SNL sketch revealed that Justin Timberlake doesn’t care much for the Biebster himself).  Pop culture history tries to repeat itself but we’re already bored.

But overall this trend reaches much further than a recorded three-person conversation.  On the internet you can find all sorts of nostalgia, explaining popular posts like this.  Or this.  We love the artifacts or our childhoods and adolescence and, to a certain extent, are cherishing and maintaining our youth longer than any generation before us.

But recently I thought of a personal example.  A small film-related one, perfect for discussing here at the Shrine.  In the mid to late ’90s my mom and I looked forward to the Hollywood Issue of Vanity Fair every year.  We were always curious about the unknowns (or quasi-knowns) who would appear on the cover.  It was an interesting guess list of who would be jump-starting their acting careers and, for a while, it was alarmingly spot-on.  My favorite covers were for 1998 (above) and 1999 (below).  Do you recognize a lot of the people in the pictures?  Probably.  The thing is, back then hardly anyone had a goddamn idea who they were.

(For a full list of who’s who in the pictures above, you can visit here and here.)

Then the 2000 issue happened.  The dream of the late ’90s was dead.  When I saw the cover the first word out of my mouth was, “Ugh.”  I knew that most of these people weren’t talented, just popular for something coming out that month.  I also felt sorry for Selma Blair being forced to wear that hideous polka dot bikini.

I don’t mean to sound cruel but… almost none of these people are really successful today.  Do you recognize some of them?  How many of them prompted you to think, “What happened to them?  Do they work anymore?”

It’s kind of sad.

I suppose this was the beginning of my pop culture nostalgia.  A small tradition my mother and I had wasn’t the same anymore.  This wasn’t a tragedy, really.  It was just a disappointment.  It’s like realizing your favorite TV show has jumped the shark or a band you like has licensed their music for car ads.

Every year it seemed that the Hollywood Issue got more boring and just plain worse.  There was no guess list anymore and no one new or exciting, mostly people who were already famous or had already appeared on a Hollywood cover.  In 2010 the choices for the issue weren’t half bad.  The only thing is that no people of color were on it.  The future of Hollywood was so white you had to wear shades.

But there was plenty of disappointments before then.  There was dumb shit like this in 2006:

which was considered the most misogynist issue Vanity Fair ever did.  I’m not just talking about the cover, but the contents inside.  There were numerous complaints about the photo spreads and how women (and men) were represented.

The magazine tried to smooth things over by parodying their own shoot two years later:

It didn’t help.  Nope.  No, it did not.

In 2007 the magazine decided to celebrate Hollywood with four guys people already considered overexposed (and, in some cases, overrated).  Also, penguins (why?):

Fortunately they weren’t naked.  That would have been weird.

I recently came across some of the older covers and remembered what it was like to see the Hollywood Issue at fourteen or fifteen and think, “Yeah, I saw this person in a supporting role somewhere.  They were really good.  Maybe they’ll amount to something…”

It was fun back then.  But not anymore.

Some people miss Sega Genesis or the dream of competing on Legends of the Hidden Temple.  For me, this is one of the small things I miss.

Next year I’ll see the Hollywood Issue in passing, maybe at a grocery store.  Perhaps the Biebster will be on it or a bunch of naked child starlets.

And I’ll think to myself, “Ahhh… back in my day…”

Maybe I’ll even shake my cane.


4 thoughts on “Food For Thought: Vanity Fair & Pop Culture Nostalgia

  1. ah, you got me all melancholy about the “good ole days”. I suppose shock value has become a leading standard in some of these publications. That’s too bad, because we, of the good old days, know that quality trumps shock every time.

    BTW, I am stealing your “612 years” , it will make people think I look really good for my age!

  2. LOVED IT. I couldn’t agree more. How hard can it be to just sit down for a moment and really make a serious list of actually young rising talent vs. faces that are making some money for a while. Beauty is so superficial. I also can’t help but think that reality TV has brought into “celebrydom” a lot of people who so don’t deserve five seconds of our time. Yuch. Movies being made because a formula works. Hey, we make a boatload of money on this one, lets’ make ten sequels about it.. The bottom line always seems to add up to getting the most almighty dollar. But it’s good to know that there is an oldie-but-goodie- “old fashioned” crowd out there, that is willing to wait for movies with substance and real talent. I’ll glady spend my dollar going to an obscure little independent movie theatre and give my money to those in movieland who still want to make quality films. To hell with the blockbusters.

  3. I think your post is extremely indicative of what’s going on in Hollywood right now. There are no up and commers. The studios are lacking in good script ideas so rather than try to write something worth shooting they figure they’ll just add some big stars to a POS movie and it will make some money.

    I had the misfortune of watching “Knight & Day”, Justin read the script and wanted to see the film version. I think this movie is probably one of the biggest examples of this. This movie was horrible, there was literally nothing original or even redeeming about the movie, it made no sense, half the time I was going “How did they get to a beach? Oh, they just want to show off Cameron Diaz’s body. Ugh” They put two big names in this crappy film and called it a day and as such Vanity Fair is following suit.
    Look at all the new actresses that are just starting to become famous, they are all in their late thirties. I have nothing against older actresses but I remember back in the day people could become famous a heck of a lot younger than that. I’m thinking of Natalie Portman, Claire Danes, Kate Winslet, etc, etc… Whearas today the up and commers are all over the age of 35. I’m talking Isla Fisher, Elizabeth Banks and Jenna Fisher.

    Once again, great post! Thanks so much!

    • I agree. For a while I was thinking of the actresses I like and none of them were under the age of thirty. I particularly respect actresses like Amy Adams, Elizabeth Banks or Naomi Watts- women who hung in for years and paid their dues before breaking through.

      Nowadays I do see potential with some of the younger ones. I loved Gabourey Sibidie’s performance in Precious and was amused with the quick casting of Anna Kendrick in several films since she isn’t “typical” in any sense. I’m also interested to see where Emma Stone is heading. I saw her in some unsuccessful comedies (The Rocker, The House Bunny) and thought, “This girl is like some burgeoning comic genius.” If they had cast her as the The Black Widow in Iron Man 2 I might have cared a hell of a lot more. She has the wits to take on Robert Downey Jr. And that’s saying a lot.

      Also, whenever I’ve seen Amanda Seyfried interviewed I’ve been shocked with how similar her tastes are to mine. She wants to be in a David Lynch movie or do something like The Science Of Sleep. But, for now, she’s stuck doing stuff like Dear John, Letters To Juliet and Red Riding Hood. Here’s to hoping she gets a chance to do what she wants (and something I’d actually want to see).

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