Jenco Jeans. Gameboy. Mission Impossible. The Backstreet Boys.
Love them or loathe them, the 1990s and early 2000s gave us some memorable trends - one of which was our obsession with adrenaline. Whether you were a self-confessed junkie or not, adrenaline was embedded in the culture of the nineties and early naughties.
A NEW REALITY
The dawn of a new millennium drew in huge cultural change. Reality television entered the scene in the early 1990s with The Real World, which followed a group of teenagers relocated to a new city, facing the challenges of the young-adulthood together.
The show was praised for its coverage of challenging topics at the time such as prejudice, sexuality, politics and even substance abuse. The Real World ran for three decades with its last season airing in 2017.
The Real World paved the way for reality television that followed in the early 2000s. Big Brother, Survivor and Idol quickly followed their example, all capitalising on the voyeuristic curiosity of the modern television consumer.
It's important to remember that ‘reality television is not the same as ‘structured reality television’. Modern reality shows such as Love Island, Seling Sunset and Below Deck fall under the ‘reality’ category, but due to the often scripted or staged scenes in the show, they cannot be considered authentic reality.
A WHAT A JACKASS
In 2001, a reality television show unlike any other appeared on our screens. It followed a group of friends who attempted toe-curling stunts and pranks, pushing the limits of what could be aired on television. You’d know to brace yourself once you heard those infamous words:
“Hi, I’m Jonny Knoxville. Welcome to Jackass.”
The content of the original television series was intensely graphic and left viewers polarised. Some considered Jackass to be the worst television to have ever been aired, as it contains a huge amount of stomach-churning stunts. Others delighted in watching the crew maim themselves for the joy of the audience.
Watching the Jackass series now is almost nostalgic. Its humble beginnings are like watching someone’s old videos of their youth, frittering away their young adulthood doing the same stupid antics we all get up to (just a little more extreme and with a bigger budget).
Jackass has since become a huge multi-million dollar franchise, with the films spanning over two decades. The stunts attempted in Jackass are insane and range from the hilarious to the vomit-inducing. But what do all the stunts have in common?
Jackass is a symptom of what we’re calling The Age of Adrenaline. From the early 1990s and into the 2000s, the adrenaline junkie lifestyle was etched into everyday life. Jackass is a great example of it but this adrenaline obsession could be seen in other popular trends of the late 90s and early 2000s such as:
Skateboarding and roller skating
The resurgence of punk and metal
Red bull and other energy drinks gaining popularity
THE DAYS OF DOPAMINE
For better or for worse, there's no way a show like Jackass would be made these days. That pitch would never be green-lighted by any production company, no matter how many ‘don't try this at home’ warnings you fill the screen with.
But it's not just the issue of safety or viewer discretion, it's because Jackass would most likely flop. The Age of Adrenaline has dissipated and has been replaced with The Days of Dopamine: people are now prioritising wellness and balance, partly due to our recent extended periods of self-reflection in the covid lockdowns.
The wellness industry has skyrocketed in the last couple of years and has influenced a myriad of areas of modern life. People are chasing the ‘that girl’ aesthetic more than ever before, desperate to appear as if your life is perfect with your flawless skin, impeccably low maintenance chic style and your clean, organised existence.
Everything from fashion to food has been influenced by the rise in the wellness trend. Plant-based options are more readily available than ever before because we’re aware of the benefits of the vegan lifestyle. Even if people aren’t 100% vegan, we are all more open to trying plant-based alternatives. For example, one in three Brits drinks milk alternatives now.
WELLNESS IS THE NEW BLACK
Fashion has always been influenced by cultural phenomena. In the 90s, we followed grungy trends in line with punk music and the resurgence of skateboarding. Heroin chic was soon catapulted to the height of sophistication, and we were all wanting to look like we were wearing mascara from the night out you went on three days ago.
Nowadays we’ve got the ‘wellness’ aesthetic. This attire evolved out of our need for a comfortable yet chic WFH outfit, or something that the neighbours would be jealous of when you popped out for your daily lockdown walk. What could have slipped into the micro trend death trap - think Dalgona Coffee and the Houseparty app (RIP) - proved to be a wardrobe staple.
The resurgence of manifestation in 2020 is another superb example of how we’re prioritising wellness. Manifestation is one of the key principles of the Law of Attraction which, in New Thought philosophy, is the belief that positive or negative thoughts bring positive or negative experiences into a person’s life.
TikTok was the birthplace of this new wave of manifestation. It capitalised on the amount of free time we could spend on self-reflection during the era of covid lockdowns as well as our newfound love for wellness above all. People are now prioritising self-improvement and goal setting as part of a daily or weekly routine.
DOSE OF DOPAMINE
Much like my once frosted tips, the hype surrounding adrenaline has faded.
Alongside that energised feeling you get when your body is rushed with adrenaline, you can also feel negative effects such as a rapid heart rate, sweating and a heightened sense of nervousness. Dopamine, however, is the ‘feel-good’ chemical in your brain, interacting with the pleasure and reward receptors alongside our endorphins and oxytocin.
Many of the wellness trends are focused on increasing our dopamine levels, whether that’s a happy by-product of the activity or the end goal. Activities such as a daily walk or sustaining a healthy diet will naturally encourage our bodies to produce higher levels of dopamine.
The Age of Adrenaline with its X-games and Neoprene jackets will always deliver us a dose of nostalgia, but dopamine has eclipsed this Red Bull fuelled era. The fight or flight adrenal response is short-lived, instead, we should seek to pump our brains full of the slower, more rewarding dopamine.