The Nineties

THE NINETIES – Chuck Klosterman

The final chapter of Chuck Klosterman’s new collection of essays, The Nineties, is titled, “it was the end of the decade, it was the end of decades.” I suppose that’s true. Maybe it comes with getting older and being unplugged from the popular culture to a certain extent but the last twenty years feels muddled together. Or maybe it’s the awkwardness of saying “the aughts” (2000-2009) or “the tens/teens” (2010 – 2019).

But if you look back through the last sixty years or so, there is a clear distinction between the cultures within the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. I mean, we’re twenty two years removed from the 90s and people are still nostalgic for that decade. Is anyone nostalgic for 2005 or 2013? Maybe. But we seem to exist in an era where culture feels static. TV shows and movies are rebooted more than ever. Sequels are constant. It’s not uncommon that a TV series will run for over ten years.

As Klosterman writes in the book, there is always a hangover between decades. 1990 very much felt like it belonged to the 1980s, but when Kurt Cobain and Nirvana unleashed their 1991 album Nevermind into the cultural zeitgeist, the nineties truly arrived. Klosterman writes, “Smells Like Teen Spirit was nothing, so close to something, that it became everything”. With that song, a fundamental shift in culture arrived and with it, a single commonality – the appearance and execution of apathy.

Klosterman examines much of the decade’s political and international touchpoints like the three US elections, the rise of Ross Perot, the Gulf War, and the LA riots. And what would a book on the 90s be without a closer look at television, movies and music? Alongside the aforementioned arrival of Nirvana, Klosterman looks at the explosion of the grunge genre out of Seattle as well as the rise of hip-hop and the subsequent West Coast/East Coast beef that would lead to the murders of the decade’s most influential artists in Biggie and Tupac.

Television shows like Seinfeld (“it altered the language and shifted comedic sensibilities, and almost every random episode was witnessed by more people than the 2019 finale of Game of Thrones”), a series that would be impossible to exist in any prior decade, and films from major studios (just look at 1999 alone) that seemed to be more experimental than the big budget superhero movies that have gummed up the cinematic landscape in the last fifteen years.

When looking back at the decade from 2022 eyes, Klosterman notes that “it is not nostalgia for a time that was more wholesome, it is nostalgia for a time when you could relax and care less”. With today’s world and the influx of social media, we all feel a certain pressure to prove to people we don’t know or have the most tenuous of relationships with, that we are living our lives to the fullest. Remember just watching TV because it was on? You would watch anything. Literally any show. You would watch any movie. You would listen to whatever the radio played. We didn’t care as much. Our tastes weren’t as niche as they are now. I’m not advocating for a return for that, but I think that’s why we miss the 90s so much – an appreciation for the lost art of wasting time.

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