Have you seen Friends? Actually, a more appropriate question might be: Who hasn’t seen Friends? There’s probably a few people who have abstained from the cult phenomenon, but more often than not, people have watched at least an episode of the show; people have even gone out of their way to watch the show. It’s been almost 14 years to the day since the Friends series finale, but the show still garners views as if it’s new—and sits in the consciousness of the public the same way. Children born after the show was over and syndicated are at a point where they can now discover it, and watch away.
This is the feature of a world where Netflix streaming is a readily available source. Kids who weren’t alive during a show’s heyday can simply and easily access a back catalogue of episodes and be introduced to a whole new world of the past. This isn’t unique to Netflix, but rather all streaming and archival sites (Spotify, YouTube, Hulu, etc.) offer an opportunity to access the past in a way that was unthinkable in the early aughts. Our relationship with the pop culture of the past was once more difficult than utilizing a search bar, but with streaming’s heightened availability, we are now connected to all of history—and nostalgia is steadily rising because of this.
The nineties is the best place to begin. It was a time with little internet access, no back cataloguing, and less immediate nostalgia for the past decade. Understanding the past meant going out of your way to purchase vinyl and VHS, and it meant committing to discovery.
Simon Reynold’s Retromania captures this phenomenon quite perfectly. In the book, specifically one chapter, discussed YouTube and streaming services as means of drawing back on pop culture. The prominence of back cataloguing, or storing older files (videos, songs, etc.).
One reason for this increased back cataloguing is the process of the MP3. Files are much smaller, as Reynolds pointed out in his book, and therefore easier to share through the internet.
Once upon a time we had to buy physical discs, but now we can type “Bruce Springsteen” in the Spotify search bar and–BOOM!–there’s all his music on the same platform as bludgeoning pop artists.