The perks of nostalgia

When The Perks of Being a Wallflower came up in my Netflix queue recently I expected to like it because I liked the book, but I liked it even more than I expected for one big reason:

Early 90’s Nostalgia!!

Part of me dislikes that the early 90’s took place long enough ago that they are now nostalgic. (1990 was ten years ago tops, right?) The other part of me thinks it’s cool that I’ve lived long enough to see the world change in such significant ways. When I was a kid, I’d watch Nick-at-Night shows from the 50’s and 60’s that seemed so far away and untouchable because everything happened before I existed. Now I’m old enough that I can look back on older times and remember being a part of them. And yes, that means I’m aging, but it also means I’ve seen some cool shit go down. Experience: It’s a good thing.

According to the IMDB the kids in The Perks of Being a Wallflower are attending high school in 1992. I was in high school from 1994-1998, so the film is set just a smidge before my time, but close enough that it doesn’t really matter. If you too attended high school during the 90’s you might appreciate the nostalgia too.

Mixed tapes

Handwritten cassette label
Dual tape deck

I come from a time when a mixed tape was actually a tape and not a playlist you shared with someone on iTunes. Not only that, I had the same exact cassette tapes that are in the screenshot above! I remember the brightly colored Memorex one in particular because it was a 90-minute tape instead of the 60-minute tapes I usually bought. Not only that, I still have it in my car in case my MP3 player dies, the CD player breaks, and the radio ceases to work, yet somehow the tape player still manages to function. I also loved seeing the playlist handwritten on the cassette label. I still have a Tori Amos rarities mix a friend made for me and seeing the tracks written in his handwriting makes it feel more personal and precious than an iTunes playlist ever would.

Suitcases without wheels

Look, no wheels!

That’s right, kiddos. We used to buy suitcases without wheels! We had to carry them around and they were heavy and we are all much better off now.


Flannel. Lots of flannel.

I wore a lot of flannel in high school. I wasn’t into grunge and I didn’t live in Seattle, so I’m not sure why I was always wearing flannel other than it was comfortable and easy to layer. There is definitely a lot of flannel going on in this party scene.

SAT Scores

SAT form

I didn’t remember what my SAT report looked like until I saw this prop in the movie and was like, “That’s exactly what our SAT results looked like!” The blue border, the red type, the maximum total score of 1600. Spot on. Well played, prop department. This is also a great time to brag about my SAT score. 1530 total! 750 verbal, 780 math. I was so proud of this score, yet it serves absolutely no purpose after you’ve gotten into college. It’s funny that I spent so much time studying for and stressing over a test that has such a short period of usefulness.

Trapper Keeper

Trapper Keeper

I think of the Trapper Keeper as an 80’s artifact, but I suppose they were still popular enough in the 90’s. I loved mine so much, even after the plastic cracked.

Ani DiFranco

The real Ani mix

I had a friend who worked at a big-box electronics store and managed to get a copy of Ani DiFranco’s Little Plastic Castle album a week before its release. She snuck it home, made a tape copy for herself and then made a copy for me. This made me feel like the coolest kid in school. Nowadays you can just find a torrent file and illegally download an album before it’s released if your morals are flexible enough, but back in the 90’s getting a pre-release copy of an album was a rarity.

Simply identifying music was more difficult too. In the movie the kids hear a song on the radio that they love, but they don’t know who sings it or what the song is called. These days you can search for the lyrics online or use the Shazaam app to identify a song. Back in the 90’s if the DJ didn’t tell you what the song was, you were kind of screwed. It was particularly hard if it was an older song that wasn’t in heavy rotation. It took me months to find the names of certain songs and when I did I felt like I’d achieved a massive victory. All of this made mixed tapes more precious since it could be really difficult to get a hold of music without the iTunes store or Spotify around. I much prefer how things are today, but part of me misses how those difficulties made the music more precious.

Other stuff

The movie contains various other things that reminded me of the 90’s. They attend a showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show which I did once or twice with friends. The cafeteria chairs at their school are like the cafeteria chairs from my school, the kind that would lose the foot topper and cause the chairs to make a horrible screeching sound as they scraped against the tile floor. There’s a copy of A Separate Peace on someone’s bookshelf which was part of our required reading. No one has cell phones or the Internet or Facebook. One kid even has to get off the phone when his father wants to make a call because they have only one phone line.

The only thing that was anti-nostalgic was how it was for gay kids at that time. One of the main characters is gay and in a secret relationship with a football player who is not out. Things don’t go so well for them. I went to a magnet high school, so it was a pretty good environment for geeks and people who wouldn’t have fit in at other schools, but I still only remember 1 or 2 people being out. Many years later I learned that several of my friends and acquaintances were gay, some of them rather close friends whom I had no clue about. I think if we were all in high school today a lot more of them would be out. I know it’s still not safe for gay kids in lots of parts of the country, but in our particular school I think it would be ok.

We did have a Spanish teacher who was a lesbian and it was a secret people whispered about like it was sooooo illicit. “Did you know Senora Schaeffer is gay?” It was as if none of us had ever encountered an actual lesbian in the flesh before. Nowadays I doubt that would be a big deal either.

I enjoyed the 90’s nostalgia in this film because it wasn’t overdone. It had such a natural feeling. I suppose as I get older there will be more and more films that do this for me. I’m ok with that because it triggered memories I hadn’t accessed in a long time and made me remember things I didn’t realize I’d forgotten. Those are the perks of nostalgia.

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  1. JenFul says

    @nacho – Yep, I still have it! I don’t have a tape player though, so it’s more of a keepsake than anything.

  2. Jen in SC says

    Loved this post!!! I adored The Perks of Being Wallflower in part for the nostalgia reason, too :) I went to high school 1992-1996, so it was like looking at a picture of freshman year for me.
    This movie stayed on my mind and in my heart for awhile after I watched it. I never read the book, but thought the movie was well-done, memorable, and moving.

  3. Cristy says

    This makes me want to watch this movie, as I liked the book quite a bit. This post also made me want to listen to Little Plastic Castle!

  4. JenFul says

    It’s weird but cool that the two people I mentioned in this post who made me mixed tapes have left comments. It’s only been, what, sixteen or seventeen years? There is no bond in life like the bond of a mixed tape!

  5. MelPo says

    FLANNEL!! I am a high school teacher and I often think what a blessing it is to have gone to high school when cut-off corduroys and a huge flannel shirt was cool. The most skin I ever bared was if I took off my flannel to tie around my waist and was wearing a men’s tank top underneath.

    Today’s poor girls– teen fashions are not only hyper-sexualized but also just plain uncomfortable. And they can’t really steal stuff from their dads to wear to school like I did…

  6. Kathy W. says

    went to hs long before, but I was also getting mix tapes from my friends in the early 90s! (I still have a bunch, actually.) Not to mention wearing flannel in the 80s. good times. High school movies are one of my favorite genres (Fast Times at Ridgemont High & so many more), so will def. have to check this out!

  7. says

    I had a flashlight set up to point at the record needle so I could start the tape recording exactly when the music started. I made elaborate labels and every mix tape had a special title.

    I’m a lot older than you so the movie that most makes me think of high school is actually The Virgin Suicides. I will always be amazed that Sofia Coppola so perfectly captured the look of a mid-70s high school when she was too young. There’s a scene when Josh Hartnett walks down a school hallway and everything about how he moves, how he looks, and even how his clothes fit are perfectly 1975.

  8. Katie says

    I’m about your age and from Pittsburgh, and some scenes in the movie were shot in places where I actually did hang out in high school. Watching the movie was actually a little eerie.

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