By Molly Lambert
Like Stevie, the main character in Jonah Hill’s Mid90s, I was a teen in Los Angeles in the mid-nineties, although I grew up in the Valley, not the Westside, and I didn’t skateboard anywhere further than down the street. Whereas Stevie was interested in impressing skaters, I was more into impressing the kinds of cool, older girls that even the skaters were scared of. I was born in 1983, which qualifies me for the title of ‘Old Millennial,’ a term often used to distinguish the generation of kids born in the early to mid-eighties from those born in the nineties, a.k.a the ‘Young Millennials.’
Mid90s captures something fundamental about Stevie’s and my generation of Old Millennials—the last gasp of kids hanging out without the Internet, shooting the shit and having to ask cool older kids the kind of embarrassing questions you would now just be able to Google. Stevie’s reverence for his new crew of older friends is in part because they have knowledge he cannot even believably fake, lore about skaters and local places that he fervently absorbs. It’s Stevie taking handwritten notes on his brother's CD collection, scrawling “Mobb Deep” on a yellow notepad to try and figure out what he should be listening to.
I would argue that us Old Millennials differ from our younger counterparts in several formative ways. We remember the eighties, the world before the Internet, and we have weird nostalgia for Y2K. We got our driver’s licenses during the Lewinsky scandal and came into adulthood voting in the 2000 election, many of us becoming disillusioned in its aftermath. Unlike Young Millennials, we tend to differentiate between the early to mid-nineties and the late-nineties, which seemed like an entirely different decade—a baroque, over-the-top contrast to the early to mid-nineties’ lo-fi blast of steam.
As the kid sibling generation to Gen X, “the MTV Generation” born from 1960-1980, we looked up to them as the consummate cool older kids. Our impression of what it meant to be a cool adult was so shaped by Gen X that it was more than a little confusing to then be called ‘Millennials.’ Millennials seemed so clearly younger and marked by the difference of never having their social life mediated by dial-up internet connection. The transitional generation of Old Millennials had so many vestigial markers of our relationship to Gen X: mixtapes, magazines, a slightly more antagonistic view to the general idea of “selling out” than most millennials. We were discovering culture for ourselves at the exact moment Gen X peaked in the public eye.
When I think of the cool older kids I wanted to fit in with at that time, I think of people’s carpool drivers or siblings’ friends, who smoked cigarettes and had the complete Twin Peaks on VHS. They listened to the Beastie Boys and Pavement and The Chronic and Bikini Kill and wore the Sonic Youth Washing Machine t-shirt. Gen X offered a brand of cool that was impossibly desirable, yet equally inaccessible. Weirdly, by the time I was as old as the Gen X artists I’d wanted to be like, most of those artists were no longer what was hip.
Mid90s captures something fundamental about Old Millennials—the last gasp of kids hanging out without the Internet, shooting the shit and having to ask cool older kids the kind of embarrassing questions you would now just be able to Google.
Young Millennials lack the same set of Gen X reference points. They were too young at the time to share the same specific memories of Kurt Cobain’s death, or to remember when all the poseurs started wearing Nirvana shirts afterwards. I am not even sure whether the word “poseur” strikes the same note of terror in their hearts that it struck in mine. Nothing feels more Gen X at this point than talking about the damned kids. In the 2000s, I wanted to make a shirt that said, “Too Young For Nirvana, Too Old For The Strokes,” but like a typical Gen X slacker, I never did.
But there are aspects of me that clearly skew more millennial than Gen X—a preference for texting over talking on the phone, formative life experiences accumulated during the W. and Obama presidencies, a working knowledge of the floor plan at Forever 21. I’m an adult now, supposedly, but Mid90s conjured that teenage desperation of wanting to fit in with the older kids. The actors who played the laid-back teenagers in Dazed & Confused were in their twenties when the movie was made and are now middle-aged, but Parker Posey as Darla is still what comes to mind every time I try to think of the quintessential ‘cool girl’ type I spent my entire coming-of-age trying to impress. At this point, maybe I’ve conflated those movies with my actual memories of the time period.
As a micro-generation, it sometimes felt like we got screwed all around, like when we graduated into the rubble of the worst economic crisis since The Great Depression. Maybe the cynical Gen X part of us expected that, but the optimistic millennial part was devastated. Now that all millennials will soon be old, being an Old Millennial feels less jarring than it used to. An increasingly younger generation, Gen Z, has arisen, as it always does, to make even the youngest millennials feel old as fuck.
Old Millennials are the perennial inbetweeners. Too young to have participated in the alt culture of the early nineties and too old for the teen culture of the early 2000s, we are distinctly ourselves, a mixtape passed between.