If you've ever explored the New York Times Chronicle tool, you know that it's not just an interesting reflection of the newspaper, but our culture as a whole. It's a tool that tracks the use of language in The New York Times over time, but it allows you to do so much more. You can track American history through it. You can track the prominence of civil rights, see when prohibition came in and out of fashion, and watch the rise of feminism.
But it's just as interesting a tool to take a look at American pop culture. Specifically, the progression of nostalgia: when did it start? And which decade do we reminisce about the most? It also reveals a lot about subcultures — which ones were popular when and which terms are outdated now? And, of course, it tells us when some of our favorite things in entertainment became popular and how popular they still are today.
So, I took a look at the Chronicle to see what conclusions I could draw. Some may surprise you, and some may not. Some things I wasn't able to look for at all (The New York Times has never written an article about seapunk or vaporwave, and it's hard to search for Friends without returning a ton of results from before the show even aired). But here are some of the most interesting things I found:
Nostalgia is a Modern Phenomenon
Sure, the word has been around for some time. But we didn't really start discussing the concept until the 1970s.
What Decades We Reminisce About
Interestingly enough, the decades all follow a similar pattern. There seems to be some past hand-wringing about the future, but in the last 10 years or so, discussion of the previous decades shot up immensely. And although we seem to be dominated by '90s nostalgia now, it's actually the least discussed decade.
Hipsters Are Dead
As much as The New York Times loves hipster fear-mongering (they're taking over Park Slope! They're taking over Paris! They're taking over me! Watch out, it's a trap!), coverage of hipsters has practically dropped off a cliff since 2010. So, since the term peaked in 2005, nearly 10 years ago now, can we finally determine it's dead, once and for all?
We're Still Searching for Nirvana
We've always been trying to reach nirvana. But in the '90s, capital-N Nirvana entered the picture, and the band hasn't left the culture since.
The Golden Age of Nickelodeon
Here's a look back at when kids were watching Rugrats, instead of having them. Because that spike around 2007? That's from Jamie Lynn Spears' pregnancy.