Livin’ La Vida ’90s: Why it’s time to start looking back

Written by me and Carly Roye. Published by the New School Free Press in the fall of 2010.
The defining qualities of the ’90s are resurfacing everywhere. Pee-wee and the Spice Girls are on Broadway. Pavement, Pulp, Backstreet Boys, Soundgarden and Blur have all reunited or are planning to reunite. The New York Times wrote a whole fashion feature on the aesthetic of “Elaine.” Even television’s biggest slackers, Beavis and Butthead, are back on their couch to save the ever-shitty network MTV. The children of the ’90s are becoming adults. And what do we immediately do? We turn back and reminisce about our readily available childhood — and we’re not alone.
At first glance the ’90s seem to have been a simpler time. We were more comfortable economically, our political focus was on a certain intern in the Oval Office, and while there were racial tensions within our nation, they weren’t the global tensions we’re dealing with today. But while we remember this romanticized version of the ’90s, there’s always that lingering memory of just how much it sucked. Decades are never simple, but they’re often idealized. We revere the ’90s for nostalgia for our childhood, but more importantly we’re looking back as a nation to forget our current situation. We look back because we’re going to be college graduates who have degrees that we can’t use, and yeah, that reality bites. But what’s making everyone else reminisce?
“The ’90s really were better,” said Lang professor and n+1 editor Mark Greif. “The ’80s were horrible, the ’70s somewhat miserable, but the ’90s… Fun times, and the spirit of the ’60s seemed alive again in the youth movements against ‘corporate control,’ brands, and corporate globalization. Certainly it was as optimistic a time as I’ve ever experienced in the U.S. before Obama’s election,” Greif said.
But if there was anyone that the decade affected more it was our generation, the children of the ’90s. When we were young we were taught that we could do anything. Our parents were working to give us a more comfortable life than they had. They worked the harder jobs because they didn’t want us to. But this nation changed on September 11, 2001, when all the things we were promised in the ’90s suddenly came with a disclaimer. The lessons we’d learned in history books about wars, which at the time had seemed like a distant nightmare, became real. We were still young, but that event changed our generation forever. It ended our childhood and with it took the idealism we’d learned from the ’90s. Not only did it end our childhood, but it changed the political and economic environment in ways that we’re still feeling today.September 11 was a global event that seemed like it happened over and over and over again. The 24-hour news cycle and the Internet, popularized in the ’90s, were used in such a way that anyone could watch and re-live the horror, the terror, the added fear that still permeates our daily lives. We were the last generation to experience a time before that technology existed. We remember picking up the phone and not knowing who would be on the other line, waiting ten minutes for a page to load on your browser, running down the block to see if Timmy could play instead of texting him, being kind and rewinding. We thought life was moving fast but never stopped to realize just how fast it could get and how heavy it would become.In the moment, things never seem as important as they will be in the future. We wait, we reflect, and then feel a pang in our stomachs when we realize it’s all gone.
For a nation dealing with our current set of problems, the ’90s is now a decade we yearn to emulate. We grew up thinking that Chris Farley was the funniest man alive and that Kurt Loader was the only newscaster worth listening to. Now, “Saturday Night Live” is almost never funny. The Simpsons and the Bundys were our favorite TV families, we thought New York was just like how we saw it on “Friends,” and we couldn’t wait for the O.J. Simpson trial to be over. It was a crooked time, but nothing compared to what was to come. The deficits that we face now are in our government but they’re also reflected in every aspect of our culture: music, television, et. al.

In the ’90s the political weight wasn’t on our shoulders — we were too young. Now, we’re old enough to vote and to have a say in what happens to our generation. We have a stake in it now and it’s scary. Our economy is so different than it was when we were young and that makes it so that we’re having to settle earlier, accepting any job that will help us pay for our student loans. The added fear that has come from the former years’ terror has changed us and changed the way that we think about our past, present and future. We reflect because we want to, because we need to, because we desire to be part of a time when our dreams didn’t seem so impossible.

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