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The twenty-to-thirty-year lag between reality and TV-land. Shows that first ran in The Nineties often reminisced The Seventies, shows in The Eighties carry a lot of cultural baggage from The Sixties, shows that first ran in The Seventies hearken back to The Fifties, and shows in The Fifties and The Sixties had its nostalgic setups between The Gay Nineties and The Roaring Twenties. At the start of the 21st century, this can be seen in how some works seem to suggest that they took place in The Eighties when they are supposed to be set in the present-day or a little earlier. In such settings, the "cool kids" still rap and skateboard and the lingo is still Totally Radical (even in cases where it was not relevant to begin with). In many cases, it's clear that someone Did Not Do the Research.

It happens because TV writers tend to be busiest in their late 30s and early 40s, and (like everyone else) their tastes and preferences were formed in their teens and early 20s; by the time they reach the big time, what they think is fresh and modern is actually 20 years out of date. This is closely related to the fact that such franchises as Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and He Man are getting revamped ~20 years after the peaks of their popularity; in fact, G.I. Joe the Rise of Cobra (2009) was a revival of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero from the 1980s, which was, in turn, a revamp of the original Joes from the 1960s.

While television shows of the 90's, 2000's and 2010's are generally better at portraying their respective time periods than shows from the 50's-80's (no doubt, due to how much more easily information started getting around during the late-80's/early-90's), they still aren't without their fair share of dated slang and cultural tropes. Modern-day kid shows, in particular, still seem to fall victim to this. Even though information about modern-day kid culture is quite easy to obtain now, with all the books and websites devoted to it (not to mention networks like Nickelodeon).

See also Pac-Man Fever and Popularity Polynomial. Contrast Present Day Past, Anachronism Stew, and Purely Aesthetic Era. Disco Dan is a character who personifies this trope.

Examples of Two Decades Behind include:


  • Chuck E. Cheese kept running the same commercials from the early 1990s until very late in the 2000s. The new ones are still just as Totally Radical. And Chuck is still in his not-fooling-anyone skater drag. Seriously, it's like watching Abe Vigoda play a surfer or something.
  • The incredibly 80's commercials for the toy Skip-It remained on TV from the late 80's all the way through the 90's, perhaps because it was such an Ear Worm.
  • The original Baby Bottle Pop commercial, from 1998 mind you, looks like it's straight out of 1988.
  • TV spots for the Brooklyn, NY area burger joint Roll N Roaster have run in a mostly unedited form for about forty years. You can see it here. Unfortunately, the waitstaff no longer wear berets.
  • A 1995 commercial for Eggo Cinnamon Toast Waffles exemplifies this trope to a tee. In it, a kid suggests combining his school with a music video. What follows is a school with its kids dressed a decade out of date, wearing spandex and ridiculous amounts of hairspray. If the advertisers did their research regarding what was hip when the ad came out, the boys would've all had Kurt Cobain haircuts and dirty clothes.

Comic Books

  • Marvel Comics' disco-themed Dazzler (aka, sometimes "The Disco Dazzler") got her solo series in 1981... by which point disco was considered, well, Deader Than Disco.


  • For One More Day has flashbacks that portray the main character being a child in what appears to be The Fifties. However, he is played by a 41-year-old Michael Imperioli (born in 1966) who doesn't look at all like someone in his 60s. You could argue that the film isn't set in The Present Day (after all, Imperioli uses a rather old car and a pay phone), but a flashback to nine years earlier shows him working in an office with fairly new-looking computers.
  • The Craft, released in 1996, has one teenager refer to another as looking like Loni Anderson, who was best known during the 1970s. The comparison was true, however.
  • Check out some of the Disney live-action comedies from the 1970s, where it's Still The Fifties: milk is still delivered to doorsteps; women are still housewives; and the chances of seeing any hippies, punks, or glam rockers are slim to none.
  • A common comment of the original Fright Night is that despite its Eighties setting it feels very much like the Fifties with the way it portrays teens and the way they act and speak. Aided by the fact that the monsters are heavily inspired by Hammer Horror films from the 1950s.
    • Though the soundtrack is very distinctly 80s, with bands like April Wine and Autograph.
  • As often happens with portrayals of ice hockey in U.S. media for some reason, The Love Guru did this through Justin Timberlake's character (really Still The Seventies). His Jason Voorhees style goalie mask was about thirty years out of date, as was his personal appearance.
  • The 2006 Casino Royale has James Bond requesting a martini (which he eventually names after Vesper Lynd), taken word-for-word from the original 1953 novel. The trouble is, one of the key ingredients, Kina Lillet, was discontinued in 1986, replaced with the reformulated Lillet Blanc (which lacks the quinine that gave "Kina" its name). The film is set in the present-day, yet still mentions Kina Lillet by name. This also occurs in the next film, Quantum of Solace.


  • In Twilight, it appears that Bella lives in the early nineties where they don't have pop-up blockers yet. Justified, since she is also supposed to live in the town where time stood still. Even so, she could probably have brought some technology from Phoenix.

Live Action TV

  • Spoofed with the Robin Sparkles videos in How I Met Your Mother, which were supposedly from the mid-1990s but look as if they were made in 1986. Robin explains that "The Eighties didn't come to Canada, Eh? until 1992."
  • Shawn and Gus do this very self-consciously on Psych, where it's obviously supposed to be an In-Universe character quirk (other characters often call them out on it), but in the High School Reunion episode, their reunion seemed to be playing an awful lot of 80s music, given that they graduated in 1995... (Though, in fairness, Gus organized the reunion, so it's not entirely implausible.)
  • The first season of Friends, despite being made in 1994/1995, seems stuck in a bizarre 80's/90's hybrid universe. The general looks and mannerisms of the six main characters are a little (though not entirely) on the 80's side. While some of the haircuts, particularly Matt Le Blanc's feathered/over-gelled style (which he uses throughout the entire season, despite modifying it slightly around the seventh or eighth episode), are VERY 80's. Fortunately, by the second season, the show had the 90's zeitgeist down pat and looked/felt completely appropriate for the period.
  • Camden in My Name Is Earl seems to be stuck in the late 80's or early 90's, even though that time was at least 10-15 years before the start of the series.
  • Many family sitcoms, well into the early-90's (case in point: just about any TGIF show on ABC), continued to play into cultural tropes and stereotypes that were more-or-less obsolete by then. Such as the old "rock and roll teenager versus bitter/culturally-unaware parent" conflict of the 60's and early-70's. By the early 90's, most real life children had baby boomer parents who were every bit as "rockin'!" as they were.
  • Inverted on M*A*S*H; while the show was set in the 50's, the attitudes and fashions (that hair!) of the characters was much more reflective of the 70's, when the show was filmed.
  • Done intentionally in Flight of the Conchords, where all the media from New Zealand is several decades behind the times. Their technology is also several decades out of date, to the point that they are currently running TV ads for "the telephone."
  • The premise of Portlandia, as explained in the debut episode's first sketch, is that Portland, Oregon is still stuck in The Nineties.


  • The Bowling for Soup song "1985" is about a woman whose tastes are still stuck in the 1980s, which are contrasted with some very dated "current" styles from the 1990s.
  • Parodied and deconstructed in "Last Friday Night" by Katy Perry.
  • The videos for The Lonely Island songs for "Dick in a Box", "Motherlovers," and "3-Way" go straight for the full 80s style. The clothes, the hair, the interior decorations, and even the backgrounds in the outdoor shots are as 80s as possible.
  • 80's style Synth Pop is still big in Europe, particularly in Germany. While the style faded out of popularity in the U.S., there it branched out into EBM and futurepop, still retaining a very 80's feel in most cases. Makes sense because that's where the style really originated.
  • Power metal is still very popular in some areas. Scandinavia in particular is home to many bands whose style derives from 80's metal bands like Scorpions.
  • The Eurovision Song Contest is often about twenty years behind what is actually popular in Europe simply to garner as much mass appeal as possible (and perhaps for the Camp factor).

Pro Wrestling

  • Pro wrestling is often said to always be about five years behind pop-culture wise, particularly WWF/E. Thus watching any old WWF programming until about 1995 always has a very 80's feel to it. The 90's didn't really start to kick in until the Attitude Era. In modern times, a lot of the haircuts (such as Edge and Dolph Ziggler) look like they've been time-warped from 1984. One explanation might be that Vince McMahon, who has final say on everything, is such a workaholic that he is very out of touch with modern pop culture. For example, in 1992 he had no idea that Razor Ramon was directly quoting Scarface as his gimmick.
  • Shawn Michaels was a pretty good personification of this trope all through the 90's and the 00's, thanks to his hair, attire and ring music, which he never changed. And everybody loved it.
  • Hulk Hogan had this problem in the mid-nineties, as the gimmick he had in The Eighties had become old and stale. He solved it by making one of the most notable Face Heel Turns in pro-wrestling history and forming the nWo, which were decidedly Nineties (they wore a lot of black and had a "graffiti" graphique). Later when he re-joined WWE he reverted to his Eighties gimmick though, by which point it was nostalgic.
  • There was also Jay Lethal's "Black Machismo" gimmick in TNA in 2010, which was literally this trope.
  • Thanks to the popularity of Jerry Lawler, Memphis-based USWA was the last full-time wrestling territory in the United States and continued to produce television straight out of the early eighties, complete with MTV style music videos and cartoonish gimmicks. Alas, the Monday Night Wars inadvertently led to the death of USWA, as Mondays were traditionally the promotion's biggest gates. For fans of regional promotions, it was the End of an Age.

Video Games

Web Original

  • Survival of the Fittest's v4 prom had started out with this trope, due to the fact that much of the music requested early on consisted of '80s releases. To be fair, some of the characters involved were of the Disco Dan variety, and one of the songs requested was a certain well-known tune. Didn't stop Lampshade Hanging both in and out of character, though.
  • Cracked discusses this trope in its article, 7 Ridiculously Outdated Assumptions Every Movie Makes. The example that most fits this is #2, which discusses how high school pranks are often seen as extremely funny in movies, but in real life nowadays students will get arrested for less. Pre-Columbine, the pranks would probably be seen as harmless.
    • Even pre-Columbine, there was far less tolerance for high school pranks than there used to be. This is due mostly to the birth of the Self-Esteem Generation (basically anybody born from about 1975 to 1995 was a part of this), the various child/teen-related social issues that sprung up during the 80's (AIDS, molestation, etc.), and the fact that by about 1980 school teachers could no longer enforce physical punishment on students. In fact, one of the central points of the movie Dazed and Confused (made in 1993) is to glorify the comparable freedom teenagers had during the mid-70's.
    • Cracked itself might actually count as an example. Since the majority of their writers and their audience are in the late-20's and early-30's demographic, the majority of their articles reference Eighties pop culture, with references to the likes of He-Man, Thundercats, and the Eighties versions of Transformers and the like.

Web Comics

Western Animation

  • The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are still Totally Radical, as well as bodacious, awesome, tubular and like, cowabunga, dude. This may be a Grandfather Clause, though.
    • Also, in more recent adaptations, Michelangelo is the only one who's still Totally Radical, and the others usually mock him for it.
  • Tying into the above, the 2013 Simpsons Episode "The Saga of Carl" features a Teenage Mutant Samurai Wombats parody called "Ki-Ya Karate Monsters", when the Turtles were really popular when the Simpsons were just starting out in the late 80s and early 90s.
    • However, this could be considered a subversion as the TMNT had another cartoon that came out in 2012, a year before the Simpsons episode aired (and there was a 2003-2009 TV series too of course, but that's neither here nor there), meaning the joke may seem more relevant than it seems.
  • In an episode of The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy where the three main characters go to a old folks' home for monsters. "Dracula" [Blacula], The Wolf Man and the Bride of Frankenstein are all treated as "Classic" monsters (fair enough) but the "New, Modern" monsters are Freddy and Jason. The episode aired in 2005, after several generations of horror fads had come and gone since the old supernatural slashers of the 1980s.
  • Family Guy does this intentionally, as many of its gags are reliant on nostalgic pop culture references, particularly from the 1980s. For example, a gag in the episode "Big Man on Hippocampus" (which aired in 2010) has Richard Dawson as the current host of Family Feud (despite the fact that it's been 15 years since he left the show), John Hughes referenced at a rapid-fire pace, Macho Man Randy Savage cutting promos at live wrestling events, and O.J. Simpson's case treated like a current event. The fact that all of the high school scenes look like they're straight out of a '80s teen film might be intentional.
  • Betty Boop was an Older Than Television example of this, being a flapper throughout The Thirties when flappers were more popular during the 20's.
  • The Disney Channel's Disney BLAM, which consists of scenes from Classic Disney Shorts dubbed over with a Totally Radical narration explaining why each scene is funny, seem to be made with the idea that it's still the early Nineties.
  • Whatever Happened to Robot Jones does this seemingly intentionally, with an art style and musical sequences seemingly inspired from Schoolhouse Rock. Episodes also feature flopppy disks, Rubik's cubes, and characters with Devo hats and Venetian blinds glasses, despite the show being made in the early 2000s. It even has curiously low-quality and grainy audio.

Real Life

  • Take a look at your own grandparents. If they haven't gone completely casual for the sake of comfort (wearing sweatsuits, sweatshirts, etc,) then they probably dress about 20 years out of date. In The Eighties, many grandmothers wore polyester dresses that looked more suited to The Fifties or The Sixties. The aging Casanova who dons a polyester Disco suit (complete with chest medallions) before going out on a date is also a common image from media of that era. In the 1920's, it was common in movies to portray old women wearing clothing with long skirts that wouldn't have looked out of place in the 1890's. Before the age of television or the movies, fashions dispersed very slowly. It wasn't uncommon in Renaissance Europe for people out in the countryside to dress in fashions that were about 20 years behind the clothing worn by people at court.


  • Pick any feel good Christmas special out there, set anywhere near to the present day, in any supposed geographic area. In terms of scenery, dress, manners of speaking, and toys, you will immediately be transported to A: Mid 1800's London a la Charles Dickens with carolers, long scarves, and lovable chimney sweeps, or B: 1950's New York City with picturesque store front windows to look in through and sidewalks to stroll down merrily, or C: 1950's New England with rolling hills, stone walls, and early snowfall for sledding or D: A combination of all 3.
  • Paintings by fantasy artist Larry Elmore almost always feature characters with 1980s hairstyles, even if said painting was created in the 1990s or 2000s.