The Nostalgia effect

Siblings Leonora & Eve Epstein go head to head about the differences between Gen X & Y

welcome to the dollhouse
Still from "Welcome to the Dollhouse" Courtesy of Suburban Pictures

Yesterday, in a Reddit thread titled "Redditors, what thing 'just ain't the same anymore'?", the peanut gallery went to town: "Hershey bars. Driving. Calling somebody," they all chimed in. "Concerts. I CANNOT SEE OVER THE CELL PHONES!" shouted one angry Redditor into his keyboard. Then someone said "Nostalgia." Nostalgia is a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations (ICYMI). And we're reminded about our intertwined pop cultural history on the daily with sites like BuzzFeed, Cracked and Thought Catalog. While nostalgia has seemingly been ramped up in the past five or so years, it remains one of the best ways to find commonalities with a boozy stranger at a party like that epic one with Seth Green in Can't Hardly Wait or The Rules of Attraction.

Two sisters, Eve and Leonora Epstein, are separated by a long, culturally-superfluous 14 years. They are from Generation X (defined as people born in the mid-60s to late 70s) and Generation Y (defined as being born in the early-80s to the late 90s), respectively. And after many lengthy, pajama-clad conversations over Dreamphone they sat down to write a book to explore their generation's differences and cultural nostalgia. Told through hilarious anecdotes, text messages, and fun Venn diagrams, X vs Y: A Culture War, A Love Story is a chapter-by-chapter rundown of which cultural touchstone is embedded in which generation. I rung them up on my Dreamphone for a quickie about all things nostalgia.

Dazed Digital: Do you think people now are more nostalgic?

Leonora Epstein: It’s not that people are more nostalgic, it’s just that we have more modes of communicating. Our feelings and memories are more pronounced and louder than we’ve ever had before. I don’t know if our relationship with nostalgia has necessarily changed from generation to generation, but I think that it definitely feels like there’s more intensity nowadays, just because we have such a great forum that is the world wide web.

Eve Epstein: I think America in particular has always been pretty nostalgic, or at least certainly within my lifetime. But from Leonora’s point, just the web and digital culture has allowed us to accelerate that. It’s so funny because there’s such a large space on YouTube now, occupied by commercial compilations from the 80s and 90s. It’s so funny the things that you don’t even realise you’d remember. Seeing things that take you back to your living room when you were five or six years old.

Leonora Epstein: The funniest conversations for us often happen around the more marginal elements of culture that get remembered. We did a feature about different aspects of the culture from an X perspective and a Y perspective. Instead of choosing obvious basic things like hairdos, we chose things like the most useless accessories.

Women in TV Trading Cards
Courtesy of Abrams UK

Do you think that we’re gonna be stuck in this pit of nostalgia for things that just happened?

Leonora Epstein: Well I work at Buzzfeed and I work specifically on a vertical called Rewind which is our nostalgia vertical. I remember from when I started, that a large majority of my content would be from the 70s, 80s, and 90s, but very quickly I was encouraged also to look at the early 2000s, which to me feels like just yesterday. But the early 2000s, that topic performed amazingly well on the web. I think the problem is that our sense of time becomes warped. We’re always constantly shocked by how much time has passed, but we also feel like looking back to five years ago, which isn’t such a long time ago, that things have changed so quickly. I tend to think that’s a little dangerous. I think that we should give ourselves some distance between all the horribleness that was the bad TV shows and fashions of the early 2000s. But people love it, so I guess that culturally it’s something that we embrace.

“The danger is almost in when you have people who are just consumed by nostalgia, and who are almost sort of defined by it. I think the real danger is that you start to actually view and experience things in the present through the lens of nostalgia, before even any time at all has passed” – Eve Epstein

Eve Epstein: I think for me the danger is almost in when you have people who are just consumed by nostalgia, and who are almost sort of defined by it. I think the real danger is that you start to actually view and experience things in the present through the lens of nostalgia, before even any time at all has passed. It’s this idea that it’s only going to be interesting to you insofar as it’s something that you can look back on and miss, or reminisce about, or make ironic jokes about.  The danger there is that it almost distances us from the present moment in time. To me that’s where the danger is, and I do think that now because we’re so hyper–conscious of our need to have that experience some time in the future, we’re already anticipating it in the present.

Leonora Epstein: One of the things that Eve and I have discussed is also what kind of nostalgia will define the next generation, and I think people seem a little bit confused because this generation of teenagers now, they won’t ever have a separation from the images that defined their childhood. I think part of the nostalgia craze that’s happened online the last few years is that all of a sudden we began seeing these images that we hadn’t even thought about or seen for years and years. Kids nowadays, aren’t gonna have that experience of revisiting something, because they have the option to keep their touchpoints always within their grasp.

photo credit Lauren Wade
Eve (left) and Leonora Epstein photograph by Lauren Wade

DD: There used to be so many distinct subcultures such as emos, goths and metalheads that now don’t really seem to exist as much, if it all. Has it been destroyed by the fact that we’re not separated from images and things like that?

Leonora Epstein: There has definitely been such a mixing and melding of everything now. Teenagers these days all look cool! They all look awesome. I look at them and I kind of wish that I was growing up now, because I would be able to be an awesome girl on Tumblr.

“It’s kind of nice that everybody is cool, but also the Gen X in me is also of annoyed by it. It’s like, ‘Well how will I know who really is cool?’” - Eve Epstein

Eve Epstein: I feel like that was a change that I really observed, coming out of very solid background where subcultures and the distinctions between them really existed. As everything got mixed together in this way, that made less and less sense to me. It used to be that by looking at somebody and the way they dressed, you could probably tell what bands they listened to, what sort of people they hung around with, what their politics probably were, and even what movies they liked. Nowadays, it’s much harder to have faith in those signifiers. They’ve all been jumbled together. I think that’s very confusing for people of my generation, of generation X because we actually came out of that idea of subcultures that sort of came out of the 50s, 60s and 70s, which really did allow a subculture to get a lot of legs under it and really develop it’s own internal language and symbolism.

Now, I don’t think anything has that much of a chance to turn into its own movement. There aren’t that many new (movements), so we just kind of keep borrowing from the ones that already exist. It’s kind of nice that everybody is cool, but also the Gen X in me is also of annoyed by it. It’s like, ‘Well how will I know who really is cool?’ That person who looks really cool might actually be a raving Republican. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Leonora Epstein: Gen Y had our fair share of subcultures growing up. I think Gen X looked at us as kids, and didn’t think that our subcultures were very legitimate. But we had ravers, we had goths, we had skater boys, we had preppy Juicy Couture girls. I guess I had that kind of TOWIE, Lauren Conrad, Heidi Montag thing going on for a while. So I would say that there were subcultures but they maybe they didn’t have as much depth as Gen X’s did. But the other thing about that mixing and that kind of easing up of those distinctions, is that people like me assigned too much importance to those distinctions, and became very trapped or ostracised in our own ideologies, in ways that didn’t allow us to actually cross over and mix with people in a way that in the end probably wasn’t all that healthy. There’s actually something to be said in a broader sense, for not being so enslaved by those ideas about yourself.

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via http://rihannasclitoris.tumblr.com/

DD: How come you felt now was a good time to write this book?

Eve Epstein: There were two reasons. One was more internal between us because it was a conversation that Leonora and I had been having for years. And that was sort of the context of our relationship, which was the culmination of the cultural artefacts, and things that we love from our various childhoods. We had reached a point in our lives where it just made sense to actually put it down on paper. But also I think with the growing mania for nostalgia online – nostalgia for the 80s, and for the 90s – it’s just been a really good time to put our heads together and create this conversation in a new and different way. We’re fortunately enough a familial relationship that gives us a slightly different sight into the generational divide.

Leonora Epstein: I would add that I think something that was really interesting when we started writing the book. It really felt like this was a conversation that people were having, and we felt like we were at a particularly fun and good position to talk about it.

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by http://let-me-loveyou.tumblr.com/

“Eve will never understand Saved By The Bell, the power of the Spice Girls, probably foam footwear...” – Leonora Epstein

DD: Were there any conflicting opinions that both of you really fought over?

Eve Epstein: Where we fought over territory, we’d use that in the book. So wherever we were inclined say over a film like Clueless, just to claim it as our own, we actually turned that into a trope in the book and in the writing of it. That was actually when we had the idea of the Venn diagram, the sort of populous that punctuates the whole thing. It’s this idea that there is all this crossover, and the way to find it is through these moments of ‘no that’s mine!’

Leonora Epstein: Eve will never understand Saved By The Bell, the power of the Spice Girls, probably foam footwear...

Eve Epstein: I have had trouble getting Leo to understand why Star Wars is the best movie in the world; it’s been a constant battle, and one that I will continue to fight. She definitely does not like those movies, and I don’t even know if she's ever watched them all the way through. But I’ve expressed doubt that Star Wars is a good movie. I think it’s a terrible secret fear that all Gen X-ers have, that some of the stuff they’re constantly talking about and have built their whole identities on loving, are actually not as cool as they think they are. That’s the peril of having these sacred cows. We all have them, and as a generation they’re ones that we share. That’s at the core of what I ended up writing about.

DD: What toys did you play with as a child?

Leonora Epstein: I liked My Little Pony, but I feel I was a little too young for its cultural moment ­– it was more of an 80s girl thing. I loved Barbies. I played with Barbies up until an age that people should not be playing with Barbies.

Eve Epstein: We both loved Hello Kitty so much. 

Leonora Epstein: For me board games like Dream Phone and Mall Madness.

Eve Epstein: Dream Phone was so amazing.

X vs Y: A Culture War, A Love Story is published by Abrams Image and is available now

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