Vanilla Ice is selling Kraft macaroni and cheese now. The dudes of Full House are selling Greek yogurt. Boyz II Men recently made a cameo on How I Met Your Mother. This year's Super Bowl featured, of all people, Flea. We are having a moment of '90s nostalgia, occasioned in part by millennials (or The Youths or Those Kids or whatever you want to call them) who are aging into adulthood and therefore eager to relive their childhoods.
Which leads to, among other things, Ice coming back—yet again—with a brand new invention. And he's in good company, too. The boxed dinner the returned rapper would like you to buy? It features noodles that are shaped like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Nostalgia, the copious literature on it suggests, comes in two basic forms. One is organic, the kind that washes over you when you see an old picture of yourself and your cousins, aged 7 and 9 and 10, giggling maniacally while innertubing on Lake Michigan. The kind that emergences unexpectedly, as a kind of pleasant pang—the stuff of sudden songs and serendipitous scents and sour-sweet Madeleines.
The other form—the form that may well feel most familiar to us at this point—is a media product. It's the re-introduction of Uncle Joey and/or Dawson’s Creek's Joey and/or Blossom's Joey, appropriated to arouse a vague sense that we have lost something as we’ve moved, inexorably, into our future. This form of nostalgia is usually invoked, in one way or another, to sell us stuff. You could, because of that, dismiss its validity (fauxstalgia?). But it will live on, inevitably, because media producers know exactly what advertisers have long understood: that nostalgia, like sex, sells.
The products of that basic insight, whether they're movies or TV shows or weird appearances on terrible CBS sitcoms, tend to permeate the culture miasmically, their shiftings shaped by Hollywood and Wieden + Kennedy and the producers of Super Bowl Halftime Shows. And they can be good. They can be, sometimes, great! Take The Lego Movie (pardon me, The LEGO® Movie). And also: Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire and Masters of Sex and any theater that has ever offered a midnight showing of The Big Lebowski.