nostalgia, gen Y, and jimmy fallon

This is my 6th post on Jimmy Fallon’s Millennial methods. See the series here.

One of the most interesting facets of Millennials – and perhaps late Gen Xers as well – is a surprising nostalgia, even at their young age. As the New York Times recently pointed out,

Even though nostalgia hits every generation, it seems awfully early for 28-year-olds to be looking back. One possible explanation, say authors who focus on generational identity, is the impact of the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The political and economic climate of the late ’90s had been as soothing as a Backstreet Boys ballad: no wars, unemployment as low as 4 percent, a $120 billion federal surplus.

It certainly does seem that nostalgia is particularly “in” right now – just look at all the recent sequels of long-lost-but-well-loved movie franchises. And the “Pre-9-11” theory certainly makes sense as a potential reason.

I would also argue that Millennials might tune into nostalgia for another reason as well: their appreciation for “roots.” Even though personal nostalgia may only go back a decade or two, there’s still something that feels more real about such childhood enjoyments and preferences. This “authentage” effect (authenticity proven by “vintage” status) certainly inspires a fondness for the past.

So, for all these reasons, nostalgia seems to have become a favorite Millennial diversion. And one of the clearest ways Late Night with Jimmy Fallon both courts Millennials and reflects them is in its clear adherence to nostalgic themes. Show after show, week after week, “recent-vintage” makes an appearance. For example, Jimmy regularly discusses “old-school” topics, both in sketches and with his guests. Ashton Kutcher’s recent appearance is a perfect example of the latter; in the span of that interview, they discussed Intellivision, blowing into Nintendo games to get them to work, the famous Contra cheat code, carnival games, and Skee-Ball. Even the choice of Late Night’s house band, The Roots, is a nostalgic move; both their genre (early hip-hop / R&B) and the band itself bring back mid-90s memories for some.

And the most talked-about instance of Fallonostalgia has been the now long-running effort to gather some particularly beloved characters from our past. As that same New York Times article notes,

Another early warning sign [of Gen Y nostalgia] is a sudden longing for a reunion of the cast of the high school sitcom “Saved by the Bell,” which went off the air in 1993 but was beloved by those in grade school at the time. Jimmy Fallon, on his talk show’s Web site, has collected nearly 80,000 petitions to reunite the cast.

If you haven’t seen the most notable salvo in that effort, Mark-Paul Gosselaar’s incredible appearance back in June… it’s surprising in its spectacularity, to say the least. It’s even packed with trivia and quite specific references – just the thing for the nostalgiac among us. I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but you can take a look here.

And here’s one more thing I’ve noticed: Jimmy is clearly a nostalgic person himself. Not only does he get excited about “vintage” themes that are brought up within the show, but he even gets personally nostalgic as he reminisces with former Saturday Night Live cast members, tells story of past interactions with other guests on his show, displayed his thrill over receiving his long-awaited college degree (and returning to his alma mater to do so), and so on.

But while this may be one of the clearest connections between Fallon’s show and his younger viewing audience (including Millennials), it seems like one of the trickier ones to make use of in ministry. Besides just making sure we include an 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System or a Sega Genesis alongside the Wii at College Ministry Game Night, are there other ways to incorporate nostalgia into our Millennial work?

I think there probably are, but it takes really knowing your own audience to know which forms might work. Maybe it’s introducing old “camp songs” within your worship sets. Maybe you should make an occasional VeggieTales reference within your messages (and being up on your secular vintage examples doesn’t hurt, either). It may involve choosing forms that “feel like home” to our students – and being understanding when students surprisingly bristle at our efforts to make needed changes to our ministries. Incorporating nostalgia may even involve going back to basic methods, “cliché” ideas, and favorite passages on occasion, remembering that what was learned on flannel-boards, though at times less exhaustive than complex theological expositions, was not necessarily less true.

Applying nostalgia isn’t only to connect with students, then. It’s also a chance to remind them of their own testimonies, of times when their faith was actually childlike, to moments before they learned the secret things of “deep theology” or got challenged by their professor about Creation. Of course we need to give them large doses of meaty, grown-up Christianity. But if their generation relates “roots” with “realness,” then it seems that reminding them of the Christianity some of them met years ago might touch their hearts in a unique way. If they need to know faith under fire, let us prepare them through careful exegesis of Daniel. But if remembering “Rack, Shack, and Benny” adds to that foundation, all the better.

For more on the Millennial attention to nostalgia, read the full New York Times article here.

Any other ideas for incorporating nostalgia (productively and wisely) into Christian ministry? Share in the comments!

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2 Comments

  1. Good insight Benson… Thanks!

    One thing I noticed our student leaders for our mid-week worship service do last year was make the choice to use a simple black screen with white words to display the lyrics to the worship music instead of using media shout. They made the comment back then that they were going for a “more simple and ‘old school’ approach to worship.”

    Good stuff man!

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