I sometimes suspect that the reason Pogs have become such a post-ironic icon is that they’re symbols of an era that never happened.
No, seriously. The popular notion of what “the 90s” were like actually starts around 1999 or so, and mostly occupies the early 2000s. Blink-182? Didn’t go mainstream until 1999. Shrek? 2001. The Tony Hawk series? Debuted in 1999 and peaked in popularity around 2003. You’ll struggle mightily to find a cultural touchstone of “the 90s” that dates earlier than maybe late 1998.
On the other end, everything up until about mid-1992 can be lumped in with the waning days of “the 80s”, but everything in between? That entire stretch from late 1992 through early 1998? As far as our collective cultural consciousness is concerned, it’s a big blank - and that’s right about when Pogs hit it big.
And that’s where the tension comes from. It feels like we ought to remember their context, but there’s just nothing there; trying to chase down that thread of cultural memory is like opening a door into an endless void.
Culturally speaking, Pogs are a symbol without a referent.