Why is the media consumption of adult millennials the same as it was when they were children?

[Random musings.]

Recently, I’ve seen ads for number of TV shows that are re-instantiations of TV shows from the the early 2000s, apparently targeted at at people in their late twenties and early thirties, today.

For instance, there’s a new Lizzie Mcguire show, that follows a 30-year-old Lizzie as a practicing lawyer. (In the original show, she was a teenager in high school.) In a similar vein, there’s a new That’s So Raven Show, about Raven being a mom.

Also, recently, Disney released a final season of Star Wars the Clone Wars (which ran from 2008 to 2014).

These examples seem really interesting to me, because this seem like a new phenomenon. Something like, Millennials unironically like and are excited about the same media that they liked when they were kids. I think think this is new. My impression is that it would be extremely unusual for a 30 year-old in 1990, to show similar enthusiasm for the media they consumed as a 12 year old. I imagine that for that person there is a narrative that you are supposed to “grow out of childish things”, and a person who doesn’t do that is worthy of suspicion. (Though I wasn’t there in 1990, so maybe I’m miss-modeling this.)

My impression (which is maybe mistaken), is that Millennials did not “grow up” in the sense that earlier generations did. Instead of abandoning their childhood interests to consume “adult media”, they maintained their childhood interests into their 30s. What could be going on here?

  • (One thing to note is that all three of the examples that I gave above are not just Disney properties, but specifically Disney+ shows. Maybe this is a Disney thing, as opposed to a Millennial thing?)

Some hypotheses:

  • One theory is that in the streaming era, demographics are much more fragmented, and there is an explosion of content creation for every possible niche, instead of aiming for broad appeal. So while there always would have been some people who are still excited about the content from their childhood, now media companies are catering to that desire, in order to capture that small demographic.
  • Another possibility is that the internet allowed for self-sustaining fandoms. In the past, if you liked a thing, at best you could talk about it with your friends, until that content ended and your friends moved on. But with the internet, you could go on message boards, and youtube, and reddit, and be excited about the things you love, with other people who love those things, even decades after they aired. The internet keeps your childhood fresh and alive for you, in a way that wasn’t really possible for previous generations.
  • Maybe being a geek became destigmatized. I think there is one group of adults in 1990 that would be unironically excited about the content that they enjoyed as kids and teen-agers: Nerds, who still love Star Wars, or Star Trek, or comic books, or whatever. (I posit that this is because nerds tend to like things because of how natively cool they seem, which is pretty stable over a lifetime, as opposed to tracking the Keynesian beauty contest of which things are popular with the zeitgeist / which things are cool to like, which fluctuates a lot over years and decades.) For some reason (probably related to the above bullet point), being a geek became a lot less socially stigmatized over the early 2000s, and there was less social backlash for liking nerdy things, and for being unironically excited about content that was made for children.
    • I feel like there is deeply related to sex. I posit that the reason that most young men “grow out of childish things”, is that when they become interested in girls, they start to focus near-exclusively on getting laid, and childish interests are a liability to that. (Nerds either 1) care more about the things that they like, so that they are less willing to give them up, even for sex or 2) are more oblivious of the impact that their interests have on their prospects for getting laid). But I have the sense that unironically liking your childhood media is less of a liability to your sex-life in 2000, than it was in 1990, for reasons that are unclear.
    • (Again, maybe it is because the internet allows people to live in communities that that also appreciate that media, or maybe because nerds provided a ton of social value and can get rich and successful, so being a nerd is less stigmatized on the dating market, or maybe because special effects got so good that the things that were cool to nerds are now more obviously cool to everyone (eg superhero movies have mass appeal).
  • Maybe the content from the early 2000s is just better, in some objective sense, than the content of the 1970s – 1980s. Like maybe my dad grew out of the content that he watched as a kid, because it was just less sophisticated, where as the content that my generation watched as kids, is more interesting to adults?
  • Maybe the baby boomers had an exciting adult world to grow into, which was more compelling than their childhood interests. Millennials feel adrift in the world, and so default to the media they liked as kids, because they don’t have better things to do?


6 thoughts on “Why is the media consumption of adult millennials the same as it was when they were children?

  1. Sports follows the same narrative. You root for the Mets in 1990’s, its likely you will still root for them in 2020 (unfortunately). Except we still want to have sex.


  2. I think you’re wrong that this is a new trend. In the 90-00s there was a string of movies remaking 60s-70s tv shows (The Flintstones, Brady Bunch, Charlie’s Angels, Dukes of Hazzard…) (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_films_based_on_television_programs). If I had to guess, there’s been a shift in remakes from movies to TV because there’s been an overall shift from movies to TV, but it’s not immediately obvious to me that the inclination to remake has changed.


    1. This is helpful!

      Maybe you’re just correct about this.

      I still have some sense (probably just an illusion) that something in this space is different though…


      1. Ah yes.

        Remakes have been a thing for a long time, because capitalizing on nostalgia is a safe bet, over taking risks with new properties.

        But I’m under the impression that when you remake Charlie’s angels, you’re aiming to hit the same basic demographic age-range as the original was targeting. You’re “updating the franchise _for a new generation_.”

        Compare making a new star wars trilogy with a new “That’s So Raven”.

        A new Star Wars _is_ for sure resting on all the boomers coming back for the nostalgia benefits, but it is also aiming to appeal to kids, just like the original star wars was aiming to appeal to kids. The idea is to capture a new generation of viewers.

        Not so with a new “TSR”. There, the only goal is to capitalize on nostalgia. The new show is not targeted at tween, the way the original show was. Instead of a property tracking a demographic age group (that turns over with new people every generation), it is targeting a specifc generation as it grows up and gets older.

        But maybe this still isn’t unusual. As I said, SWs is also riding on nostalgia, ie targeting adults who liked the original, in addition to new kids.

        Anyway, this analysis makes me think that the main thing is just that movies tend to aim for a broad demographic, and TV shows in the streaming era can aim for a niche market.


  3. | “that Millennials did not “grow up” in the sense that earlier generations did”

    I haven’t watched any of the shows in question, but both the examples you give (LM, TSR) seem like they show the characters grown/growing up, which I think doesn’t support the hypothesis, although the fact that this is new is interesting and suggests *something* is going on.

    OTOH, I’ve heard the new Gilmore Girls does basically regress the characters.


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