Searching for the Zeitgeist with Nymphet Alumni

Think of those “Touch my butt and buy me pizza” crop tops, of American Apparel Tennis skirts. Remember when Joanna Kutcha and Baddie Winkle were all the rage on Instagram, and when Rookie Mag and Petra Collins dictated your adolescence.

If all of the above sounds familiar, you are part of the generation of young people raised and fed by the internet. The latter has seen each and every single one of these trends grow and die, and now those pictures of AA changing rooms and Starbucks galaxy mugs are a distant memory at the bottom of their Instagram profile, or meme material for pages such as @on_a_downward_spiral.

But with the advent of sociological media studies such as “digital cultures” - an experimental and brand new field of research that is constantly evolving as we study it - each of these apparent forgotten trends are almost surgically analyzed to comprehend contemporary art and global dynamics. The children of the internet have lived through each of these digital trends as if they were historical eras, and they are the only ones able to analytically criticize them and observe the significant impact they had.

The field of Digital Studies faces the same question previously encountered with the term "Net Art" and what it concerns : can we separate internet art from contemporary art? Can we really still consider the web as a space separated from reality when it is now more real than life itself?
Each and everyone of us has and is contributing to transforming the internet into a digital subconscious that feels individual and collective at the same time.

The Nymphet Alumni podcast goes through the internet trends that were, are, and will be, Scrutinizing each’s backgrounds and their mediatic influence and aftermaths. Alexi (@alexineutron), Biz (@markfisherquotes) and Sam (@bloodgobbler) are the minds behind Nymphet Alumni. In each episode they dissect each digital era obsessions and flops free of prejudice, sharing their personal experiences as Gen-Y pioneers.

Unkanny Mag asked them a few questions on Media Studies, Zoomers vs Millenials feud, and the rise and fall of O’mighty crop tops.

First off: we’d like to get to know more about your backgrounds! What are your interests, what have you studied, and how did you guys end up having the idea for Nymphet Alumni?

Sam: My house is in Texas but I live in a state of grace. I studied at the school of hard knocks but I had to drop out because I’m kind of low-iq, thats why I’ve ended up going to regular college to get an English degree. Generally, I’m interested in digital culture and digital communication. Biz approached me about the podcast after we spent like two weeks sending each other dozens and dozens of voice messages about like, anime girls and America or something. I met Alexi through her and can honestly say I am shocked and honored that I am lucky enough to work with these geniuses.

Biz: I studied art history at university and honestly in the past year my main hobbies and interests — fashion theory and somehow coalesced into my full-time job. So now I’m trying to cultivate my non-monetized interests — normal things like watching movies like Saving Private Ryan, drinking hot chocolate, and walking around with headphones in.

Alexi: I originally set out to be an art critic, but at some point a few years ago I realized the art world was in a bit of a flop era and I was way more interested in spending all of my time online. I ended up writing my thesis about Aliexpress, Catfishing, being a K-pop stan, and viral skincare routines, among other things, with a lot of critical theory sprinkled in. I’d been lowkey stalking Biz since high school so I was shaking and crying and throwing up when she asked me to co-host a podcast with her.

Biz: I was putting out a lot of fashion analysis content online for fun and some people were like, MAKE A PODCAST!!!!!!! I had been talking to Alexi and Sam all the time and I was deeply impressed by their intelligence and insights on culture and I really wanted them to do it with me. I’m so happy they did because now we share bunkbeds in a Team 10 style podcasters dorm.

How is that the topics you discuss in your podcast appear to be so Niche and so universal at the same time?

Sam: I’m not totally sure, I think niche cultural analysis is always used as a sort of proxy for grander social commentary, but we also almost always cover topics related to the internet, which is the collective unconscious digitized.

Biz: I think it’s because of the internet. Many of us belong to these hyper-niche online corners of the internet that seem really small, but there’s actually more people in them than we think, and even more people spectating but not participating. Also, Gen Z and younger millennials literally grew up on the internet. We have all these shared memories that are actually just memories of shared online media consumption. Like we did an episode on the brand OMIGHTY recently, which was big on Tumblr and Instagram in the mid 2010s, and we talk a lot about the type of girl who wore this style and remembering her felt so visceral to me. But looking back, I barely saw this type of girl in the town I grew up in, I just saw her online in images, which felt like a real approximation of knowing her.

As 2 Gen Z’s, we notice a very clear gap between early and late zoomers; there’s a huge discrepancy between the ones born before 2003-2004 and the ones who were born after. Do you think there is any discrepancy between groups of Millennials too? And what do you feel is the biggest difference between Millennials and Zoomers?

Sam: There’s definitely a huge difference between older millennials and younger millennials, older millennials were not as online and therefore have a totally different lens with which to view the world. Once the internet expanded, we started to see something like mirco-generations that cycle between 2-5 years, I think this accounts for the majority of the inter-generational differences. I’m sure the youngest zoomers, the ones who are still in lower grade school, will be unrecognizable af.

Biz: Yeah, what Sam said. Micro-generations are so real — the sociologists or whoever should listen up because their big dumpy generational assessments suck. I could write a book on micro inter-generational differences but I’ll spare you the word count. I think one of the biggest differences between Gen Z and Millennials is that Millennials were so morbidly obsessed with tight curation as a cope, a cope for socioeconomic instability and honestly everyone being really mean to them. Gen Z is obsessed with finding the balance between chaos and curation, which seems even harder.

Alexi: I agree with Sam – older millennials definitely still hold on to their childhood of physical media and are more likely to collect vinyl or something.

What’s a trend you guys hope will live a comeback and what is one that you hope will never see the light of day again?

Sam: One trend that seemingly died with Gen X is wanting to be a wise, rugged old man. Aspirational aging is super healthy for society. Hatchet-faced actors, “these wrinkles tell a story” culture, talking to elders in cowboy hats at the bus stop about the meaning of life. Suffering in silence and private glories seemed to die away when this sentiment was forgotten. I couldn’t tell you what I hope will never see the light of day, maybe like, a renaissance of Youtube/Twitch debate personalities. That would seriously trigger some sort of seismic extinction event. We can’t let that stuff come back.

Biz: I’d love to see dressing your age and wearing your Sunday best come back. All clothes are so casual and baby-fied now, at least in the US. Like I saw this TikTok made by a woman in her late 20s saying she had to borrow her mom’s Tory Burch flats for a job interview because she only owned Demonias and Crocs. I think there’s something beautiful about your style maturing as you do and that’s something that’s really been lost with the casualization of clothing. So yeah, everyone stop dressing like a sexy toddler with a belly button piercing and start dressing like Joan Holloway or Sophia Loren something…

Alexi:  One thing I’d like to disappear is the general atmosphere of desperation, yearning, and jealousy. Thinspo, celebrity worship, having a “desired reality,” things like that. On the Internet it’s way too easy for your goals to seem distant from your reality. But also I was raised on the teachings of Marianne Williamson so I’m obsessed with gratitude and self love, and it makes me sad to see my peers suffer because they’ll never be Lily Rose Depp. I think what we need is a New Age-y motivational speaker for our generation.

What’s the trend you think is next to a big comeback?

Biz: Being obsessed with the mall but in a very feminine, normative way, not in a "mallgoth" "emo" way. It’s already happening, but basically loving Victoria’s Secret, buttercream and vanilla scented candles and lotions, conspicuous display of sweet Starbucks drinks, light pink and giant teddy bears (but not in a kawaii gamer girl way!!!). Very much the girlier Snow Princess sister of Christian Girl Autumn (but not Russian bimbocore!!!). Also Pretty Little Liars, Miley Cyrus in 2012 and Ariana Grande’s old Tumblr Photobooth photo era.

Sam: I feel like impressionistic memes that recycle content from iFunny or Ebaum's world might make a big comeback, humilty and kindness for sure, being melancholic and tragic instead of anxious and depressed, Jack Wills, Beverly Hills Polo Club cologne re-gifting, sitting in silence, some sort of straight-edge adjacent sobriety culture, women who wear normal sized ties, Jazz shoes at the club.

Alexi: I want us to have a period where fashion is less body conscious… I want everyone’s hip to waist ratio to be a well-kept secret. I love 1910s silhouettes, like those in Paul Iribe’s illustrations, dresses shaped like barrels, sacks, and columns. And what I like to call volume dressing, like early Balenciaga. I also think it’s beautiful that so many cultures, if you go far back enough, have some version of a draped and wrapped garment with a lot of fabric, like saris, togas, and hanfu. To me the only way we can escape the allure of fast fashion is by returning to this ancient global village style of dress.

At the end of 2021, is it possible to determine a Zeitgeist of the first 20 years of the 2000’s? 

Sam: Definitely something along the lines of expansion, generalization, and integration. Basically, all boundaries have dissolved or are dissolving, even the boundary between thought and communication. It’s difficult to surmise, we are still on the precipice of something, a strange ontological abstraction if you ask me. It feels like everyone is waiting for something to change, yet somehow unable to see how much the world has changed already.

Biz: I’m not sure true Zeitgeist exists anymore going forward, not in any definitive sense. On the podcast, I often say “zeitgeist-y” rather than labeling something a zeitgeist, because culture is so fragmented now that nothing sticks around long enough to really define the spirit of the times. We don’t have the attention span nor the comprehension skills for that. Maybe the Zeitgeist of the first two decades was just relentless synthesis — everything smooshing together into something the texture of a Starbucks cakepop with glitter rainbow sprinkles on the outside.

Unkanny Mag