Why do we like nostalgia in TV, movies, and other entertainment? What impact does the portrayal of a particular group in popular culture have?
Those were among concepts Pam Hollander, Ph.D., associate professor of education, discussed as the keynote speaker for the May monthly meeting of the Worcester Rotary Club.
The club, which brings community members together for community service, education, and the general promotion of good will and peace, invited Hollander to talk about the recently published book she edited, Gen X at Middle Age in Popular Culture. The book’s topics spurred a lively discussion about Gen Xers, Millennials and Gen Zers as they are presented in television, movies, plays, novels, and social media.
Nostalgia marketing is a huge money-making strategy these days, and the group talked about some Gen X product marketing tied in with shows like “Stranger Things,” including bright-striped knee-high athletic socks that the character Eleven wears on the series. The group also mulled over impacts the portrayals of different generations has on our perceptions of these groups.
Memorable shows that may have shaped the way generations were perceived that came up in the conversation were the groundbreaking shows “Girls,” a 2012 series about Millennials, and the 1985 sitcom “Golden Girls” that challenged stereotypes about senior citizens and the aging Greatest Generation.
The group also said it sees Intergenerational critiquing of each other’s values in today’s TV shows with multi-aged casts like “Modern Family” and “BlackAF” and in popular culture (think “OK, Boomer” and “Karen”) as opposed to values portrayed in earlier nostalgia shows like “Happy Days,” whose 1950s sock-hop values went unchallenged.
As editor, Hollander selected readings for the book that explore how members of Generation X are portrayed in popular culture, and how characteristics of Gen X—those born between 1964 and 1980—are influencing the younger generations. She also was a contributor to the book, which was published by Lexington Books in December 2020.
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