Maisie Williams – Arya Stark on ‘Game of Thrones’ – said it most succinctly on MTV’s ‘Teens React’ video for ‘Saved by the Bell’’s 25th anniversary. While wearing an oversized baseball shirt over a tie-dye-esque top, an excessive number of bracelets of various colours and materials, and capping the look with a backwards cap, she declared: “We’re kind of coming back to this fashion now. Everyone is like wearing this stuff again.”
Teens, at least, seem to have moved into an alt-normcore version of ‘90s retro fashion. Unburdened by the angst of their yuppie-aged compatriots – who tend to go for the drably inconspicuous art-student/middle-aged-tourist look – these young alt-thinkers have adopted the bright patterns, colours, and accessories of ‘90s fashion.
They’re coming of age in an age that’s tired of being tired. Exhausted by the effort of trying to be cool, think different, and act smart, young people – and, arguably, society in general – is embracing the freedom of exuberance. Emblematic here is the general ardour and excitement following Pharrell’s #Happy movement, where thousands of people all over the world danced like no one was watching to make their own versions of his astonishingly popular song of the same name.
The #Happy Era is an age in which the natural exuberance of young people finds unfiltered expression through ever-increasing social media outlets, giving them a disproportionate influence in defining the hallmarks of our zeitgeist.
Though, sometimes this is displayed as an excessive concern for all manner of things light-hearted and self-centred, such as cats, pranks, dancing, slang, clothes, luxury goods, vacation pics, pithy quotations, self-portraits, &c.
In ages past, young people were told to sit down and shut up when they got too enthusiastic or curious. But, their inherent enthusiasm and curiosity have now found an outlet behind the backs of adults, who, for the most part, are unaware of this phantom world their children inhabit, which, due to its speedy growth, is having an actual effect on the physical world.
This is not to say that young people today are wholly different from their predecessors. Youth has always been marked by un-jaded joy. Rather, the difference is that more young people live in societies wealthy enough to provide them with the freedom to indulge that joy, and the ability to voice their thoughts. They have now an audible voice, which seems to say that they are aware of the manipulations of a consumerist culture that tells them what to buy and how to look, they are aware of a media that forces upon them biased viewpoints, and they are tired of being told what to be and what to think.
The point here is that the exuberance of young people has become a driver of the times, because, for the first time ever, they have powerful outlets to express themselves. Most interestingly, that exuberance has not been limited to trivial or self-centred expressions like borderline abusive feline obsessions or a psychologically damaging absorption with their own faces. Rather, they have been able to use social media to galvanise their exuberance for real social and political change.
The #Happy Era is one in which, for the first time, the voice of young people is so loud that it cannot be silenced and set in a corner. The democratising effect of social media has been so powerful that it has allowed the exuberance of youth to cause change on a scale that is remarkable in human history.
Perhaps, then, the current popularity of bright clothes and bright music is a well-earned celebration – the uniform of the victorious revolutionaries. Perhaps we are about to see again TV shows that take place in the bright, halcyon world of ‘Saved by the Bell’, where, as one kid watching the MTV video while wearing a neon shirt and backwards baseball cap put it: ‘these guys are just like, happy … happy kids.’
Perhaps it’s time we embraced the power of #Happy. Maybe we even deserve it.