You Just Had to Be There

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This past week’s Twitter trend of “you just had to be there” has provided us with a generous helping of nostalgia. The trend features a series of images containing things users miss. Some of the most popular were television shows, movies, clothing, or just general years, like the trends of 2014 or 2016. The trend spread like wildfire, practically my whole timeline consisted of things people missed. I’m not entirely sure where this came about, but I can guess it’s linked to our constant need to romanticize the past. At first, I enjoyed looking back on past films, toys, and experiences of childhood. But, when we got to the trends of 2016 I thought, Oh no… it’s gone too far. I did not need to be reminded of the Snapchat dog filter, those colorful camouflage pants, or Drake’s “One Dance” (Sorry Drake, great song, but it brings back many cringe memories of my sophomore year of high school). It also drew a question to my mind – how soon is too soon to romanticize the near past? We have always been obsessed with the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and now the early 2000’s, but it’s hard to grasp that we are already feeling nostalgic for the trends of five years ago. I hypothesize that this is mainly tied back to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of us are constantly on our phones and laptops rewatching old movies and television shows, mainly out of sheer boredom, but also for a longing of pre-pandemic life. While we can’t predict the future, and see when this will actually be over, we can relive the past. It’s particularly unfortunate, given that we aren’t able to live in the moment as much as we should, but also expected. We, Gen Z (and even Millennials), have always needed times to romanticize and look back on. This is practically in our nature, and the pandemic has definitely not helped.

Photo from the author’s Twitter.

I think my favorite “you just had to be there” meme was when users began dissecting 2013-2014, my personal favorite years to look back on and slightly make fun of. I myself participated in the trend, sharing photos from my Instagram dating back to 2013-2014. The first was one of me in eighth grade wearing a floral yin-yang T-shirt. Then, I chose a photo I took of my copy of A Fault In Our Stars. Next, I picked a picture of three graphic tees I got for Christmas in 2013, adorned with the phrases “Stay Weird” and “Me + Wifi” in the middle of a heart (seriously, what was up with 13 year old girls’ obsession with Wi-Fi back then!?). Lastly, I chose a photo I posted of a hand painted sign that says “Sweater Weather” with a pumpkin Bath & Body Works candle in front of it. All… so, so cringe. But, I think it’s enjoyable to look back on our past selves and laugh at who we used to be. I was 13-14 back then, obviously I am going to post things that seem wildly cringy to my 20 year old self. And I assume when I am 25 I will be laughing at what I am posting on Instagram today. It’s a vicious cycle, but always a fun one to participate in. 

So, whether you love or hate to be reminded of the past, I think we all got some pleasure out of the “you just had to be there” memes. They’re light and an easy laugh, something that is harder to come by these days. While the trend may have brought up some unfortunate memories, at least it was another way to entertain ourselves in the pandemic and draw upon some old things we love or love to hate. What nostalgia did this trend stir up for you? Or maybe it just made you realize you are so glad we are out of the Tumblr “flower crown” era.