I Can’t Wait To See You Again: Eight Things From 2008 That Are Due For a Comeback

When it comes to nostalgia, there doesn’t seem to be a true consensus about what schedule it operates on exactly. The New Yorker has argued for a “40 year Golden Rule”, while Entertainment Weekly takes the more immediate view that the itch to look backwards sets in somewhere around the 12 or 15 year mark. The entire internet is proliferated with retrospectives celebrating pop cultural anniversaries of almost every numeration— even years with no rounded numbers. If a natural law of nostalgia exists, it seems we have not yet found it.

I suspect this is because the phenomenon is often experienced more personally than collectively. I don’t believe that a certain tilt of the earth makes us all look back and long for the same bygone days all at once, or that a precise amount of time must elapse before a predictable and generalized craving will kick in. Human hearts and human memories are messier than that.

If we’re longing for a specific past, it’s probably because of whatever is going on in our specific present— something that’s missing, something we’ve lost, something we never even knew we had when we had it. After all, nobody ever knows when they’re living in a golden age.

But philosophizing soliloquy aside— eh, 15 years sounds like a good enough rule of thumb to me. Not because of any natural rhythm, but because it seems somehow both vividly recent and anciently past all at once. 2008 looks quaint from here; that age when iPhones were available but not omnipresent; when Facebook was the only social media game in town, their powers of societal destruction still far in the offing. To imagine life back then is to imagine a period piece— a period I still own at least two dresses from, but still.

And as with every other seemingly simpler time, there is much to long for from 2008; plenty of trends that have been passé for long enough that they are due a retread. We might never be able to truly harken back to the time when carrying the entire wealth of the internet around in our pockets was an exciting possibility, not a fatiguing reality. But we can dress and watch and cheer and listen just like we did back then; because nostalgia isn’t about some pinpoint accurate cycle. It’s about the recycle.

Dressing like Blair Waldorf

In terms of disposition, I have never been anything like Gossip Girl‘s Blair Waldorf, Queen B of the Upper East Side— but I have always coveted her closet. The bold tights, the lace dresses, the oversized handbags, the well-tailored coats, the HEADBANDS; all of these things are timeless to me. Contrasted with the muted neutral Instagram sameness of fashion today, Blair’s penchant for dramatic little flourishes gave her outfits a sense of actual personality. And that, even more than the preppy patterns and the superfluous bows, is what we should all be aiming for as we dress ourselves in 2023.

Miley Cyrus World Domination

2008 was a foundational year for our current landscape of pop music stars. It was the year Taylor crossed over into the mainstream with Fearless and Beyoncé reached a new level of artistry with I am … Sasha Fierce. Katy Perry and Adele each emerged on the scene, and Rihanna featured on half a dozen different hits. Miley Cyrus was as popular as any of them.

Before her 16th birthday she had completed one of 2008’s highest grossing tours, released one of the top selling albums, and filmed a movie that would go on to gross 80 million the following year. She also found herself embroiled in controversy for the first time— something about Annie Leibowitz, Vanity Fair, and a sheet. In the years that have passed since, the controversies have characterized Miley’s career more than any commercial success, but with her new chart-topping single “Flowers”, she looks poised to rejoin her peers at the top of the pop music mountain, where I personally have always believed she belongs.

Pre-Peak TV

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but there’s simply too much good tv out there today. Between network television and premium cable and the ever-multiplying streaming services, it’s impossible to watch it all. Any time a conversation with a friend turns to the topic of television, it inevitably goes something like this:

me: I’m watching {insert primetime network comedy} right now, it’s so good, have you seen it?

friend: no. I’m in the middle of {insert big budget of AppleTv+ title full of stars that received almost shockingly little promotion}, are you watching that?

me: no.

Repeat forever.

In 2008, things were simpler. You had your handful of prestige dramas (your Mad Mens, your Breaking Bads, your The Wires); your CBS Monday night comedies (How I Met Your Mother), your NBC Thursday nights (30 Rock, The Office, Parks & Recreation). Every one of these shows only dropped one episode a week at a time— it was all so clear-cut and manageable.

Realistically I know that we will never go back, and that most people would never want to. I just think it was nice, when you could go to a party and talk about television without somebody covering their ears for fear of spoilers of episodes they haven’t seen yet. Although, as someone who to this very day has to finish all of Breaking Bad, perhaps I am remembering halcyon days that never truly were.

The Juno Soundtrack

To be nostalgic for the Juno soundtrack is to yearn for another time that never existed, because its popularity was so incongruous with the music of the day. 2008 radio airwaves were dominated by the likes of Flo Rida, Lil Wayne, and T.I; certainly not a space where you would expect the hear Kimya Dawson’s wobbly playground game voice. Even the alternative music scene favored propulsive electric guitars, a la The Black Keys or Kings of Leon, not the acoustic strumming that featured in most of the Juno tracks. But the charm of the movie itself was largely in its anachronisms— no teenager has ever behaved or spoken like the Juno character, not in 2008, not before then, and not since— so perhaps it was this singularity that audiences responded to.

2022 was full of musicians chasing tiktok trends, and interpolating or remixing music that had already proven to be a hit. In this coming year I would love to hear something entirely unexpected, something that years from now will still stand out for having never quite fit.

A Celtics NBA Championship

In an ideal world, the Celtics would win the NBA Championship more than once every 15 years. In a fair and equitable world, they would probably triumph even less often— there are 30 teams in the league, after all, and 18 of them have never won a single championship. So I will accept this 15 year interval as a suitable compromise.

Blogs Being Cool & Important

Admittedly this is a self-serving wish, a bit like a farrier longing for the pre-automobile age, but I don’t even mean it purely from a blogger’s perspective. On an audience level, I miss blogs. In 2008, they played a critical role in the information ecosystem, serving as a generational bridge between the physical newspapers and magazines of the 90’s to the brief bursts of social media content we all consume today. Gawker and Jezebel, The Daily Dish and the Sartorialist, all of these were online but still substantive. They weren’t served up to us via algorithm, but places we had to choose to visit with intention and attention— the 08 equivalent of opening the Sunday New York Times.

Blogs still exist, of course— hello, here I am, trying to stuff as many words in front of your face as still feels polite— but their moment at the center of things is decidedly over. 15 second videos have altered our consumption habits forever, and getting quick hits of a bunch of different things will always light our brains up more brightly than a longer dose of just one thing. But consuming a blog also asks you to consider the person who is blogging— to actually get a sense of their voice and personality and what they care about, instead of operating as if all content comes from some automated unfeeling source. And if nothing else, seeing people as people is a 2008 trend we should all want to revive.

The Dark Knight style cinema

Whenever I am asked what my favorite movie is, I tend to say The Dark Knight, mostly because I know very few people are familiar with the 1956 musical High Society, which is my actual favorite. But The Dark Knight is 1b, and to me it represents the ideal nexus of creative and commercial achievement. It was an incisively made feature film that tried to grapple with conflicting ideas, in between dazzling set pieces that pushed the medium forward. Other comic book movies have attempted to reach its stature (Captain America: The Winter Soldier; Black Panther) but none have quite replicated its feats. Heath Ledger won an Oscar for playing the Joker. It grossed over a billion dollars.

The growing gulf between what gets rewarded at the box office and what gets rewarded at the Oscars is something I often wring my hands over, as a person who believes that movies should matter. For years now it seems that the only titles that can sell tickets are increasingly interchangeable CGI bonanzas, while the Oscars are only interested in honoring films that merely a handful of critics bother to see.

But 2008 style populism does seem to be making a comeback— the two highest grossing movies from last year, Avatar: The Way of Water and Top Gun: Maverick are both nominated for Best Picture. Sure, they’re both sequels to previously existing IP, and true, neither one has a real shot at nabbing the top prize, but it’s an encouraging sign to audiences that what they like actually matters. The next challenge is presenting what matters to audiences in such a way that it becomes something they like.

Hope & Change

I’m Canadian, so I do feel somewhat unqualified and impertinent, commenting on US politics, but a review of 2008 would be incomplete without pointing to the year’s most consequential trend. More than the club music, more than the peplum dresses, more than the rudimentary ways we engaged with technology, the Presidential candidacy and campaign of Barack Obama is evidence of how 2008 was indeed a simpler, better natured time.

It’s all right there on the poster: hope. Any politician who dares to strike such an optimistic tone today quickly gets ground up by the industrial online discourse machine, and either finds themselves getting cancelled or becoming a meme. New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern recently resigned because of unrelenting abuse and death threats aimed her way, and she was probably the most Obama-esque figure on the modern world stage. We’re all too jaded for hope. The world seems too fundamentally flawed to believe it will change.

I’m not here to argue that the Obama years were perfect. Even from my Canadian perspective I know that they weren’t, and in fact you might argue that running a campaign based on raising hopes could only ever lead to dashing disappointment. But I think that having hope is still important; not letting it erode despite an environment that rewards detached cynicism, that encourages us to only believe the worst about other people. Hope is what makes us try, and in a world where it is so easy to just give up, that’s what we need more of, leaders who won’t let us stop trying.

One thought on “I Can’t Wait To See You Again: Eight Things From 2008 That Are Due For a Comeback

  1. An interesting article Ainsley, making one stop and think more carefully about about one’s personal choices. I like your final statement, about replacing our propensity to think the worst of others with hope.

    I still use an oversized handbag, hang out on Facebook, watch basic TV, and remember President Obama with fondness. Yes, times were simpler even pre-2008, and apparently I’m still there.

    Thank you for still another thought-provoking article.


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