So VH1, the TV channel that brought us “I Love the ‘70s” and “I Love the 80s” is about to premiere “I Love the 90s.” Well, I’m sorry, but I really don’t love the ‘90s. And even if I did, it's just too damn early.
I was as relieved as anyone when midnight came on December 31, 1999 and the world did not come to an end. But why is it that the boundaries for acceptable nostalgia creep closer every year? If I were to put a scientific term to it, I’d call it “premature nostalgification”, as the tributes and retrospectives come way too soon. Will our society end up with a case of cultural short-term memory loss like Drew Barrymore's character in "50 First Dates," and if so, do we have to keep waking up next to Adam Sandler?"
What if we had been doing microwave-speed retrospectives in the past? If there had been “I Love the ‘60s” in 1974, the show wouldn’t have dedicated more than a few seconds to the original “Star Trek” (probably just long enough to display a picture of Spock’s ears).
It's not just cable channels desperate for time-slot filler that are guilty of a lack of perspective. The daily "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" quiz show just did a "90s Nostalgia" week, apparently proving that a million isn't worth what it was in 1989. And there is no more blatant example of history at microwave speed than President Clinton's 957-page book "My Life."
Marky Mark? RuPaul?
With promotional materials shouting “Presidential scandals, rap feuds, ‘Baywatch’ — man, what a decade!” accompanied by a picture of Vanilla Ice, the E! channel’s program “101 Reasons that the ‘90s Ruled” already took its turn as time-slot filler.
Astonishingly, many of the 101 were more valid reasons why the ‘90s Deserved to Be Impeached. Number 98: Marky Mark’s low-riders. Number 96: M.C. Hammer’s parachute pants. 85: RuPaul. 84: Anna Nicole Smith (You think her own show on E! might have earned her that spot?).
It gets creepier. Number 69: Lorena Bobbitt. Number 29: The Murders of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls. Apparently some sociopathically hip producers thought “Ability to Make Puns About Subject” equaled “Coolness.”
As if to add insult to dismemberment, E!’s Web site featured even more pop culture chunks not included in the show with the introduction “Call it the Forgotten History. Or call it History You’d Like to Forget... take a look back at these lost moments — you’ll remember why they got lost.” Which raises the question: why does all this ‘90s nostalgia have to be positive?
Why can’t we have shows with titles like “Best Riddance Ever: Fads of the ‘90s That Thankfully Died Young”, featuring Reebok Pumps, the Macarena, Furby and the Spice Girls. Or, a more neutral “If We Don’t Remind You Now, You’ll Never Remember This Happened,” hosted by the entire cast of “The Ben Stiller Show.”
Couldn’t we remember “The Stuff That Lasted For Decades And Then Disappeared In The 90s,” like audiocassettes, Eastern Airlines and the Soviet Union?
Or “Looking Back at Looking Back: What We Got Really Nostalgic For in the ‘90s,” hosted by "Greatest Generation" author Tom Brokaw, of course. But today's media atmosphere doesn't seem to have room for these kinds of shows, except maybe the History Channel when the World War II geeks take a week off.
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I love the ’00s?
Historical perspective takes time, and the farther you go back, the fuzzier the lines become between what we consider a decade. What most people identify as the ‘60s didn’t really get started until The Beatles came to America in 1964, weeks after President Kennedy was assassinated.
And you could just as easily stretch the end of that decade well into Watergate. The smartest move the creators of “That ‘70s Show” made was by starting the series halfway through 1976 — on the other hand, their dumbest move was thinking they could stretch 3½ years in real time into seven TV seasons with a rapidly aging cast. But I digress.
If you’re going to base the turn of a decade on big events, the Y2K crisis was a dud, and the last day of the 20th century would be Sept. 10, 2001.
M.C. Hammer is considered a ‘90s phenomenon, but his first hit “U Can’t Touch This” balanced on the cusp between 1989 and 1990, and it was all downhill from there. Both the 10-year run of “Friends” and the seven-year run of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” were almost perfectly halved by the turn of the Millennium; so why are Ross and Rachel considered a ‘90s thing while Spike and Angel are not? Did “Seinfeld” become the TV show of the ‘90s just because its long run was totally enclosed in the decade, like “Dynasty” (1981-1989) for the ‘80s, “All in the Family” (1971-1979) for the ‘70s and “The Andy Griffith Show” (1960-1968) for the ‘60s?
Karma is going to catch up to the purveyors of instant nostalgia, just as their short-term memory trips catch up to the rest of us. Because on Jan. 1, 2010, the nostalgia vultures will circle, begin production on "We Love the '00s", and discover, to their dismay, that nobody has figured out how to pronounce "'00s". We may not have any historical perspective, but if we're lucky, we'll be able to look back on the days when Paris Hilton used to be famous.
Is it too early to remember the 1990s? Drop us a line with your thoughts, and share your favorite and least favorite pop-culture memory of the decade. We'll publish a selection in Gael Fashingbauer Cooper's Test Pattern Weblog.
Wendell Wittler is the online alias of a freelance writer from Southern California.
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