Zoomers Know They’ve Been Robbed of Something
When I was a kid there were still a few dime stores around. Nothing in them cost a dime by then but they still existed. What didn’t exist was dime-store culture.
That lost bit of Americana where a bunch of bare foot boys wearing coonskin caps and carrying their bb-guns would wander into one to buy pop, candy and comic books with their paper route money.
And honestly, it never even occured to me to miss it.
So, why bring it up? Because of something I discovered recently about Gen Z. They are desperate for 1980s mall culture. The trend is that they like to play stuff like this on their smartphones and wander around them.
That music is called vaporwave and yes, it’s the mall muzak I used to hear it back when I would wander around malls when I was an aimless kid with a little time to kill.
When Michael Tills from Kentucky wants to escape, he goes to the mall. He visits the old ice cream parlor and orders his favorite: mint chocolate chip with a scoop of bubblegum. Tills heads over to the skateboard store where he used to buy chunky DC sneakers and griptape for his board. He stops by the water fountain at the center of the mall, the place where he took his first date and had his first kiss. The mall is a happy place, reminiscent of a time when he was younger and carefree — where his life played out to a soundtrack of Weezer, No Doubt and the Counting Crows.
Except, Tills never experienced such a mallrat adolescence. In fact, the closest mall to his home, the Fayette Mall in Lexington, is so small that you could probably visit every store in under an hour. And being born in 1999, his friends are more likely to be listening to Drake, A$AP Rocky, XXXtentacion, or more commonly, the artists that appear on Spotify’s curated playlists.
Indeed, Tills’ life at the mall is imaginary. He’s nostalgic for the 1990s, which he thinks was a better time to live. At the core of this mental construction is “mallwave,” a lo-fi subgenre of vaporwave that listeners refer to as “music optimized for abandoned malls.” Like Vaporwave creators, Mallwave musicians use soft drum tracks, ambient sounds and low-quality synthesizers to create soft, calming electronic music. But they also mix in pop music associated with the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, with the purpose of creating a holistic “nostalgic” experience, one that recreates the experience you would have had when visiting the mall. Or, in Tills’ case, what that experience might have been like, for people who lived it.
Gen Z knows they’ve been dealt a bad hand.
Of course, they are going to look back to a world where you could head to the mall to hook up with your friends, see what new albums had been released at Sam Goody. Then cruise through Waldenbooks. By then you’d picked up a few of your friends so you would head to Babbages to look over the latest computer games, which would all be too expensive, so you go to the arcade for a bit. Then it was time to visit the food court. Not that you were that interested in finding food. What you were looking for were slim girls in sprayed on Jordache who were covertly checking you out. At that point, it was time to go say, “hi.”
Even if they can’t be a part of that culture, they can at least shake hands with it.
The Millennials were raised to be so invested in the Lie that most of them could never even think about finding the truth. No surprise. They had Boomer parents who were even more invested in the Lie than they were and pushed the illusion constantly. Just get a college degree and everything will fine. It’s worth the debt.
Zoomers were raised by Generation-X. We couldn’t do that to our children.