Tag Archives: nostalgia

The Zack Morris Cell Phone Aesthetic

I was thinking about the aesthetic Marisa and I invented, the Zack Morris Cell Phone aesthetic, and I guess it’s in the same family as the Lisa Frank Sticker, Hello Kitty Lunchbox, Which Baby-Sitters-Club Character Are You aesthetic (which are part, but not all, of the Gurlesque aesthetic), but in lots of ways it’s the opposite. Because it’s fun to put stickers and songs in your poems—there’s a pleasure in the nostalgia and in the flipping-off of those who want to police the pop out of poetry (say it like “police the fuck out of poetry”), but the Zack Morris Cell Phone aesthetic has to be slightly embarrassing. Like that feeling you get when you see a giant cell phone or a boxy computer monitor on an old TV show. Like, you’re trying to pay attention to the story but you can’t, because god that thing is so big, uhhhhhhh…. It is pure spectacle, that thing that freezes narrative. But it wasn’t distracting at the time: that was just how life looked then. For most of human history we don’t have tons and tons of examples of how life looked so now that they’ve started to pile up and life has started to look so different so fast it’s kind of mortifying. Like your mom did something humiliating but “culture” = your mom. “Your mama’s cell phone is so big….” To get this kind of feeling into your poetry you’re going to have to dig out not just the memorable kitsch but the toys you never told anyone you played with. Your secret collections. Maybe that bag of troll dolls with their hair cut off you found in a closet at your mom’s could count, but that might be too cool. To achieve the Zack Morris Cell Phone aesthetic you can’t be a complicit consumer in a winky way, it has to be something you’d prefer to never tell. Is this just Confession all over again, but with more stuff? (And what would it mean to want it more than wanting to stand in line outside the store to get the six, seven, eight, nine, ten…?) What it offers for nostalgists like you and me is the reminder that the past isn’t always cute, but also full of space junk. And we play Kick the Can in the landfill of our own obsolescence.

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She Was an American Girl: What American Girl Dolls (Mis)taught Me About Race and Class


I grew up in rural New Mexico, north of Santa Fe, an area sharply striated along race and class divisions. My quasi-hippie mom banned Barbie because she feared bad body image. American Girl dolls seemed like a healthy alternative to her—and to many other families in the 90s. They were multicultural, historical, and aligned nicely with a “progressive” education. They were the PBS of doll-dom.

When I first paged my stubby baby-fingers through the Pleasant Company catalog in the back of our Volvo, the cast was composed of Felicity Merriman, a Revolutionary War-era firecracker; Kirsten Larson, a pioneer from Sweden to Minnesota; Samantha Parkington, an Edwardian orphan raised by her mega-rich, stuffy grandmary; and Molly McIntyre, whose father is a soldier in World War II. Addy Walker, who escapes slavery and was the first non-white character, had just been launched like a token ship.

While I was still old enough to vaguely care, Josephina Montoya, from a rancho in 1820’s New Mexico, was released. All of Santa Fe was super-stoked. Not much happens there.

The classism and status anxiety embedded in American Girl dolls were integral parts of ownership, often trumping any historical or cultural knowledge gleaned. $95 (now $110) a pop was flat-out unaffordable to most of the kids in elementary school, where I was one of the only white students. I could tell precisely how rich my white friends at my after-school acting class in Santa Fe were by how many dolls and accessories they owned.

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Filed under Everything Else