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Jim Carrey’s The Cable Guy remakeCourtesy of Verizon

Oh god, even adverts are nostalgia-driven now

This year’s Super Bowl will see brand-sponsored revivals of Austin Powers, The Fresh Prince, and Jim Carrey’s The Cable Guy. Will it ever end?

Stop what you’re doing and listen closely. Can you hear that sound, that unpleasant grating coming from all over? That, my friends, is the bottom of the nostalgia barrel being scraped for dear life. As the Super Bowl looms and 160 million people get pumped to watch two hours of advertising and also some American football this Sunday, we have been treated to a few announcements of what’s to come. Among the most talked about as far as ads go are:

Jim Carrey will be reprising his role as The Cable Guyin an advert for Verizon!

Mike Myers will be reprising his role as Austin Powers villain Dr Evil… in an advert for General Motors!

Doja Cat has done a cover of Hole’s “Celebrity Skin”... to play over an advert for Taco Bell

Meanwhile, Will Smith has helped reimagine the soundtrack to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Airin an advert for the streaming platform Peacock, which recently rebooted the 26-year-old series under the new name of Bel-Air!

A lot of ads run during the Super Bowl, obviously, but there is a very prevalent tone of ‘hey, remember this?’ to the proceedings this year. It comes as no surprise, considering it’s been the defining narrative of mainstream pop culture for the last few years. The nostalgia machine, having been in ultra-drive for the last six months in particular – reviving the smokey eye, mainstream emo, flip-phones and CDs (I guess?? Kim Petras please explain) – has now moved onto advertising. Which, much like a dog looking for a quiet spot, is typically the place it goes to die.

Similar to slut-shaming the Green M&M, it feels like marketing that’s vaguely meant to appeal to a younger audience but mostly stops with millennials – both creatively, because millennials are the only age bracket old enough to remember but also young enough to have enjoyed such cultural monuments as the Austin Powers franchise, but also spiritually. The role of advertising was originally aspirational. Drink this and you could become this, drive this and you’ll feel like that. Now there’s so little room for aspiration or hope it’s no wonder that what’s come to replace it is: remember this, and feel safe. 

Remember The Cable Guy, the beloved cult classic made at a time when it was still possible for people like Ben Stiller and Jim Carrey to make a film and have it kind of flop at the box office and that not matter? Remember when there was room to be creative and fail? Remember Austin Powers? “One billion dollars”, haha! Well here are all the same cast members and joke formats again, only this time Dr Evil’s co-conspirators are trying to sell him on the idea of an emissions-reducing programme and he keeps calling Seth Green’s newborn son “Baby Me” (which is kind of a tasteless joke, considering Mike Myers’ longtime co-star Verne Troyer, who played Mini-Me, is the one henchman missing from the advert as he tragically died of alcohol poisoning in 2018). Doja Cat is driving pop music forward in so many other ways that she can kind of do what she wants to be honest, though it would’ve been fun to hear more of her quirks on the song rather than a like-for-like remake. The Fresh Prince thing is just sad.

In the end, it doesn’t matter. It’s just ads. There are only so many ways you can flog a car, at the end of the day – though having Dr Evil honk on about going “all-electric” is a truly bleak way to go. It would just be nice if, on our collective journey to hell, we could see some different scenery along the way.

Do not ask for whom the nostalgia barrel is scraped, it is scraped for thee.