NakeyJakey is a YouTuber, Twitch streamer, and musician. More so, NakeyJakey is a mouthpiece for the strange intergenerational gap that exist between Millennials and Zoomers. These not-quite-digital-natives were born at a time where internet and digital culture was blossoming but not established. They saw the rise of video games as a major part of the entertainment industry but weren’t born into an established video game industry. They grew up with cassette tapes and VHS, knew how to use their grandparents’ rotary phones, but have grown into fully digitalized adults. This peculiar combination of experience is highlighted in many of Jakey’s videos which cover nostalgia focused topics like scholastic book fairs, as well as the emergence of digital trends that are weird even to these would-be Zoomers, like the rise of esports.
I want to examine some of ideas behind Jakey’s videos while further framing the conversation through the lens of experiences that this intergenerational group lived through. To do that, I’ll be breaking down the media that shaped that shared experience: music, movies, TV, and video games.
It’s difficult to frame the exact experience that folks have had with music. Music is an inherently cultural thing, and experiences with music will be influenced by where someone might have lived while changes were happening. Much like Jakey, I lived in a smaller, semi-rural town growing up, and my experience with music was influenced by my ability to go to a larger city. For me, that meant virtually no concerts growing up, as well as an almost constant delay with what was trending.
Despite this, many of these pseudo-Zoomers grew up with analog technology around them. It would have been common to see cassette tapes around the house, and their parents might still have had their Walkman despite the CD having been around for a while before the 90’s. This puts our Millennial-Zoomers in the middle of the revolution from analog music to pseudo-digital-CDs, which were physical despite being transferable to computers. These would in turn become MP3s – both the file type and the music player.
This revolution in the way that music was kept would be pushed further with the parallel growth of the digital space. Jakey has a video outlining the experience of downloading music online, often illegally. This experience shaped many and would in turn pave the way for media streaming.
Another line of parallel growth that spread popular music, pirating culture, and a common shared experience was MTV and the Warped Tour. This was of course the later MTV, just near the end of its music era as grunge left the spotlight. This explosion of skate and pop punk would emerge just as early Zoomers became teens, and their shared angst would come to a head when even wholesome family cartoons like Scooby-Doo would get a pop-punk makeover. This would-be rebel attitude would break down the moral barriers to pirating music, all the while popularizing pop, punk, and related genres.
“The band Simple Plan is strongly connected to What’s New, Scooby-Doo?. They perform the theme song and appeared as themselves in the episode ‘Simple Plan and the Invisible Madman’. Two of their songs appeared in chase scenes: ‘I’d Do Anything’ in the episode ‘It’s Mean, It’s Green, It’s the Mystery Machine’ and ‘You Don’t Mean Anything’ in ‘Simple Plan and the Invisible Madman’”
This is an important event to underline, as it marks the beginning of Gen Z’s viability as consumer market that can be catered to. Eventually, music streaming would become… mainstream, and Millennial-Zoomers would turn to platforms like Spotify and Apple Music to listen to their favourite albums, music groups, and songs. This is still the status quo, although something can be said for the niche movement to return to analog media.
The 90’s relied heavily on VHS. While DVD was invented halfway through the decade, most movie collections were VHS, and most Millennial-Zoomers grew up watching VHS rather than DVD. It was a slow process to begin amassing a DVD collection, and this always came after the initial costs of upgrading the television set and buying a DVD player. Because of the slow transition and the unavailability of certain films on DVD, many families had both VHS and DVD players well into the 2000’s. A key event for these Millennial-Zoomers is the integration of a DVD player with the Sony PlayStation 2, which came out in 2000. This would provide them a way to watch movies on their consoles, something that would eventually become more commonplace.
Along with the transition from VHS to DVD, early late Millennials also experienced the second wave of Star Wars fandom. With the release of The Phantom Menace in 1999, many of them would be taken to the theatre for the first time. Even late bloomers would be able to find Star Wars in their theatres as late as 2002, when Attack of the Clones released. This would spark an interest in going to see movies in theatres, but the rise of the home release would balance this out soon enough. The role of theatres has certainly changed in the last few years, and with the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, their existence in the future is uncertain at best.
One of the issues that movie theatres faced in the early 2000’s is the rise of formulaic movies. Jakey speaks of Disney Channel Original Movies as being a staple of his childhood, but one that wasn’t very engaging despite the effort being put in the production of these movies. In parallel to Disney Channel Movies came Hallmark Channel Movies, which would churn out formulaic Christmas feelgood movies to the present day. As movies lost their charm, Zoomers lost interest in going to theatrical releases. Folks kept amassing DVDs and would develop a culture of watching movies at home when there was nothing else to do. This was similar in nature to the hoarding of CD’s, with the remnants of the trends appearing at garage sales everywhere since.
This brings us to the current era of movie watching. People have gotten used to watching movies at home and the appeal of the theatre has gone down, especially in these pandemic times. This has also allowed movies to adapt to smaller budgets and more experimental takes, as their core revenue isn’t from box office releases anymore. Overall, the culture of both watching movies and going out to movies has changed significantly for Millennial-Zoomers. They’ve seen the rise and fall of plenty of genres and styles, and this has made them sceptical of future trends.
Cartoons and Television
It was Millennials who saw the change from cable to network TV. Being able to access channels from all over made television more interesting than ever. Television was already established as an essential in every home, but this greater diversity in programming only worked to reinforce that trend. In turn, kids and teenagers would watch shows that would cater to them, and these would become classic of their childhood. This is certainly true for Millennials, who saw the rise of accessible cartoons, cartoons that would also become classics like the Simpsons.
Zoomers saw a similar pattern emerge through their experience with television. Cartoons improved in quality and became more commonplace. Zoomers had access to a plethora of new shows covering new topics, and new heroes would shape their childhood form the 90’s well into the 2000’s. One notable trend was the rise of anime. Millennial-Zoomers would be the first generation to see the widespread distribution of anime to their television sets and shows like Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z, and Cowboy Bebop would demark themselves as classics for that generation.
While some Millennial-Zoomers were too young to enjoy shows targeted for adults like the Simpsons, King of the Hill, and other weirder shows of the 90’s, some shows would still come to revolutionize the genre well into the future. Genndy Tartakovsky would be a major driving force in this revolution, creating what I would call the most distinctive animation style of the 90’s, characterized by shows like Samurai Jack, The Powerpuff Girls, and Dexter’s Laboratory. The 2003 Star Wars: Clone Wars series would also fuel the flames of the Star Wars fandom reignited since 1999.
One show that deserves particular mention, both for me personally and as an important steppingstone towards the absurdist Zoomer humour I mentioned in a previous article, is The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy. The Grim Adventures would feature the iconic Tartakovsky style but would also deal with topics that other cartoons would avoid. These darker themes would create a sense of understanding between Millennials and Zoomers, an understanding founded in the dark shows of the 90’s like The Ren & Stimpy Show and Rocko’s Modern Life.
In turn, these darker topics would become staples of later Zoomer shows that would rely heavily on a certain absurdism. These shows would present a certain nostalgia to Millennial-Zoomers and would come to be classics in their own right. Shows like Adventure Time, Gravity Falls, Steven Universe, and of course Rick & Morty all call back to a certain brand of confusion based in the 90’s, and there lies their appeal.
The last key to understanding the media that would shape intergenerational Zoomers is video games. Zoomers and Millennials both see video games as an essential part of their childhood and teenage years, and this remains the case to this day.
To understand the importance of video games, we have to go back to about 1995. While this date coincides with the intergenerational period between Millennials and Zoomers, it also marks the release of the first PlayStation console. One year later, the Nintendo 64 would come out. While the release of these home video game consoles would mark the childhood of Zoomers and Millennials alike, it would be internet connectivity that would change everything.
With the internet came a new brand of video games. As computer fluency was on the rise, young animators and creators began creating short video games that ran on Adobe’s Flash Player. These flash games would be the introduction to video games for many Zoomers. It would also become a major source of entertainment through the sheer volume of games and content being created. Unlike television shows which still suffered from long production periods, new flash games would come out each week, ready to be enjoyed by all. Jakey also speaks at length about the importance of flash games during his childhood.
Next, consoles would be internet enabled, and the video gaming experience would connect Millennial-Zoomers to create a global community of like-minded teens. While this would shape digital communities forever, it would also shape the collective understanding of the gaming experience for those that would take part in it. With the release of the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360, all Zoomers would garner a sense of what it means to find friends online, and this would pave the way for the viability of digital friendships.
With video games already being a pseudo-digital medium, and with Zoomers consuming an increasing number of media over their internet connection, it was only natural for the two mediums to combine. YouTube was rising as a platform at the time, and the result was a digitization of television onto the internet in the format of Let’s Plays. Let’s Plays would in turn become live streaming, but we’ve talked about Twitch already.
Now, video games, movies, television, and music all take place online, and all these media can be live streamed for entertainment. While trends have involved over time, it still is unclear whether the future will follow suit or if new methods of entertainment will be developed.
Growing up, Millennial-Zoomers were exposed to a large amount of rising technology, and they would help shape the functions of this technology towards their needs. Not only did this role define their childhood through the way they interacted with technology, it would also pave the way for how technology is used now.
If it weren’t for Millennial-Zoomers unique experience with television, movies, music, and video games, the entertainment and media industry of today would be vastly different. The rise of the internet and the interconnectivity of media would play a vital role in the development of modern technology, and the response by Millennial-Zoomers would create the necessary framework from which things like digital streaming could happen.
It’s important to reflect on the past 20 years as being some of the most important in shaping how we view technology now. It’s also essential in understanding rising trends in technology and media. If there’s ever confusion about a trend, it’s easy to look back on how Millennial-Zoomers grew up to see the root of the trend, and why it might still be market viable today.
*It’s difficult to remain consistent in what we’re calling “Millennial-Zoomers” because of the range of experiences being covered in the article and the range of folks that overlaps with those experiences. I apologize if this make the article confusing, but this confusion is inherent to the topic.