Millennials, Nostalgia, and the Longing for Safety
Do Millennials long to feel safe?
Jessica Furseth of Quartz Media reports trends in fashion suggest that yes, Millennials do long for safety, and they are finding comfort in classic, established brands. Furseth writes, “History shows that people tend to retreat toward classic fashions in times of austerity, war, and political unrest.” She quotes several sources that argue established brands are associated with optimism, hopefulness, and a longing to return to an idyllic past. Read the article here.
I’m skeptical that these particular fashion trends are indicative of a surprising, formerly unknown undercurrent that is unique to Millennials. After all, we all long for safety, and if you have disposable income, why not spend it on shoes and clothing from reputable, stylish brands with an excellent reputation for customer service? Consider the alternative thesis: “Millennials are content to spend their hard earned dollars on cheap, tacky, and disposable products to communicate their feelings of utmost security.” That just won’t hold up.
The broader and more significant trend that is worthy of notice regards the appeal of nostalgia. This can be seen clearly in the response to Netflix’s hit show, Stranger Things, set in the 1980s. Stranger Things speaks directly to a widespread desire for a simpler, more innocent time. The action takes place in the small community of Hawkins, Indiana. The heroes are kids, parents are noticeably absent (no need for helicopter parenting!), and the cultural references are familiar and charming. Ghostbusters. Dungeons & Dragons. And don’t forget the soundtrack.
Stranger Things also gives us two clearly defined points of opposition: The Upside Down on the one hand, and a secretive government organization on the other. Good and evil are clearly divided, and we’re glad to take sides.
The form of escapism found in Stranger Things can be suggestive. Our longings for a simpler time are indicative of something deeply human. We know the world is not as it should be. We want our present moment to be different.
But when we’re thoughtful and reflective, we remember that brokenness and struggle has been an ongoing fact of history. After the Garden of Eden, there has been no “Golden Age.” Some moments have been better than others. But, nostalgia aside, the world of Stranger Things is set when global nuclear war is a real possibility, the Challenger explosion occurs, and the Iran-Contra affair takes place. Hawkins is at the forefront of our mind as we binge the show, but the wider world marches on.
When we are able to discern the longings of a given culture, Christian people stand on the precipice of opportunity. The Millennial longing for safety, in some measure reflected in fashion but in a more profound way expressed in an attraction to nostalgia, reveals a longing for another world. The Christian gospel offers that possibility, a new creation which has begun in Jesus Christ. With God, we find a deep and unshakeable kind of security as citizens of the kingdom, but also a sober outlook concerning the world as it really is in our present moment. We know that in this world we may have trouble, but we can take heart, because Jesus has overcome the world (John 16:33).
Yes, Millennials long for safety. We all do. But fashion trends will change, and nostalgia can lead to historical distortion. Millennials need firmer ground to stand upon. Name the longing. Note where the culture speaks to those longings. But show how the gospel truly fulfills those longings, providing millennials a rock upon which to stand.