Maybe it’s a dumb, binary question, but I can’t shake it after doing this podcast with Chuck Klosterman on his excellent book. Figured it’d be a good thread prompt. So the 90’s…relatively idyllic or something far worse?
I think they were substantially better than what came after, yes. I graduated high school in ‘92 and college in ‘96, though, so there are definitely rose-colored something or others going on.
Part of it was the end-of-history thing, definitely. It was a good time to be an American. The country was in good shape, the world, from an American perspective, was peaceful and safe.
The culture was in good shape. I think a good case could be made for 90s rock being particularly excellent, but again, rose colored ears or whatever. Everyone likes the music of their youth. TV wouldn’t reach its apotheosis until the 00s-10s, but movies were much better, and movie theaters worth going to.
But there’s also the “what it wasn’t” factor. The 90s were essentially pre-internet for most of us, and the internet has done terrible things to everything. I feel bad. I’m not sure any of the following generations will ever get to experience the joy of being someplace novel, the particular power of the ephemeral, of being on your own and left to your own resources. Everywhere you go now you go with a parachute. Homebase was boring enough to propel you outwards; now I worry that young men in particular aren’t as compelled to go out and explore.
And it’s paradoxically scarier now. It used to be that if you wanted to you could escape. Now everyone can find you everywhere. You might as well stay home.
Yes. Take the NBA for instance. Guys actually played back then! In the 96-97 season, the top 19 scorers all played in at least 76 games. Compare that with our current abundance of caution era. Only DeMar DeRozan has played in 76 games among the top 21 scorers. Load management has made going to games a crapshoot, which is why I quit on my Blazers.
I mean, everyone likes the decade they were a teenager in, and for me personally, the 90s started with my NFL home team going to the Super Bowl 4 straight times (we don't need to get into the results of those individual games), and ended with the NHL team going to the Cup finals (really don't need to get into that series either). So sure, I think the 90s are great.
But there really is something that we had in the 90s that I genuinely miss - sleaze. Stuff that was offensive or distasteful to a lot of people, but that was part of the appeal for its fans. Things that made suburban moms clutch their pearls and implore us to "think about the children". Gangsta rap, violent video games, ECW, Jerry Springer, Girls Gone Wild, etc.
A few of those things became mainstream and accepted (and thus less fun), the rest of them could not exist today in a mainstream, "something people just generally know about and might even acknowledge exist" sort of way. They'd be canceled or driven underground by the Twitter Outrage Industrial Complex. Not that people didn't try back then, too, they just weren't as successful.
Today, it seems like anything really offensive to people's sensibilities is mainly political, and exists for the sole purpose of triggering the other side. Offense is the entire point rather than an appealing bonus feature. There's no "this is fun but also distasteful to a lot of people" and life's less interesting for the loss.
Considering the war on terror was not on anyone’s mind and getting thru the airport was pretty easy then. And the fact that your average 13 year old or anyone under 18 for that matter didn’t need to give much thought to national politics and now we have young ppl that witnessed the capital insurrection where you had a sitting President try to overthrow an election…I’m very concerned for how America will look in 20 years when these kids come of age compared to what has happened over the last 20 years… so yeah I would say that the 90s were pretty freaking good just by mere comparison to the last 2 plus decades.
The 90s represented 7th grade through the end of college for me. They were an amazing adventure, though coming of age probably always is. In addition to the tech stuff (which was exciting), the national economy was really growing and standardizing. The local and regional chains were dying and shinier, better national chains were replacing them left and right. The internet allowed for cheap and fast cultural transference. Uncool places were getting cooler, but maintained their charm. Eventually, of course, the charm and mystery of new places, people and ideas wore away altogether. This is the plague of the 2000s-2020s. There is no boredom and no lure of the unknown, no payoff in exploring. The 90s were a trip, but we had laid the groundwork for all that followed.
I don’t know if they were good, but they were better than the 2000s, 2010s, and has an early lead on the 2020s.
Anybody who says no was not an American traveling internationally. America stood astride the world, and our passport was status anywhere you went. Holy crap it was great.
Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be
Not only were the 90s good, they were the last time anything was or will be good.
I graduated high school in '99. There were some great things and not so great things about the 90's. But remember that the "great" rock of the early 90's was the grunge rockers full of despair and rage supposedly giving voice to a generation. What was one of the most acclaimed rock albums of the late 90's? OK Computer. You think the message of that was a bundle of sunshine? What were the messages of much rap and hip-hop through much of the 90's? Depictions of grim urban environments and also rage against injustice. The things I see commenters saying about the withering away of childhood . . . guess what? Grown ups were saying that in the 90's!!
I could go on. Maybe the 90's were better "overall" in some sense for many if we were to somehow accurately do all the proper measurements. But they certainly weren't some golden age compared to today.
Interesting question Ethan. It supports my theory that the internet's purpose is to tell you the thing you like actually sucks.
I feel like the 90’s was the last decade with so many cultural touchstones. Friends, Nirvana, Seinfeld, TRL etc. Everyone who grew up in this decade vividly remembers all of these. Is there anything like that now? I teach 6th grade and many of my students are depressed and apathetic about life. They are obsessed with social media and it is clearly affecting them negatively. Life wasn’t perfect, but I don’t remember feeling this way growing up in the 90’s.
It was a much better time to be a kid.
That said, Helicopter parenting, sports specialization, sitting in front of video games and AOL for hours a day, zero tolerance policies, safetyism, and the early sprouts of the nuttier components of the social justice movement were all born in the 90s. Still, it felt great to be a kid in America in the 90s. Not sure it was better time to be an adult, however. There was so much inner city crime in the early 90s and many auto manufacturing jobs went extinct.
It was. The hope of the internet, personal pcs and mobile phones left everyone optimistic and excited for the future.
I remember the Onion at the end of the 90's writing Nation's Decade of Peace & Prosperity Finally Over. Do not think they wrote that in 209 or will be in 2029.
Personally for me the 90s were rough - started on a high note finishing high school with very high marks and getting into the university of my choice, but then everything went to shit. Personal disappointments, struggling at uni, binge-alcoholism, driving a taxi to make ends meet. I later learned this was typical character-building stuff for your early 20s, although at the time it felt horrible because when you're 19 you think the world is your oyster when actual you are the oyster shell (annoying, and to be casually discarded).
But objectively, the 90s were great - rent and food (and alcohol!) was cheap, the music was fantastic from hip hop to Seattle sound and Britpop (and you could still get a ticket to a concert or festival pretty easily), the world was relatively stable, and social media hadn't yet ruined the objective basis of reality.
I was not in the US/Americas in the 90s, and was in India and it was different. We got cable television, the economy opened up, got internet and had some really sports figures, but I think that's what I choose to remember. Peeling the layers, I think I found rising communalism, riots, bomb blasts in major cities, we had a war . It was overall an okay decade, just like the ones before or the ones that followed.
I think that the same would be true of the US too I guess, though as Chuck Klosterman told in your podcast, nostalgia, the feelings we like to associate with certain events/things overpowers the exact events that happened. And 90's had Michael Jordan - and how could that be anything other than the best?
i like to think of the 90s as a time of ignorance and bliss where a lot of ppl got very wealthy, and a lot of ppl were happy disconnecting from politics and trusted those in charge to at least keep it in the lines and on the road. unfortunately, it was also full of rampant discrimination and misogyny, and it produced an incredible amount of inequality...sins we're now paying for tenfold
Waco. Ruby Ridge. Oklahoma City. Centennial Park. Abortion clinic bombings. Bosnia. Somalia. Kosovo. More frequent and deadlier airplane crashes. Levels of crime that still managed to be worse than those we see today. The media circus around a stained black dress. Satanic panic. Pop culture that nobody looks back on with nostalgia because it was actually shit (and I suspect that if we re-experience the pop culture people DO tend to look back on with nostalgia, we might find much of that to be actually shit as well). I'm sure I could go on.
The questions I'm more interested in asking (and hearing other people's responses):
"Assuming you believe the 1990s were better than now, what were the things in the 1990s that led to the bad things we see today?"
"Assuming you believe the 1990s were better than now, what would have to happen for society to get better? Is there any way for society to get better without merely wanting things to revert back to the way they were in the 1990s?"
Just turned 40 this year. 90s are by far my favorite decade. But then again it was the last time I didn’t have to worry about working or rent so maybe I’m bias
The 90s were a golden age: https://yuribezmenov.substack.com/p/how-to-make-a-golden-age-mixtape?s=r
I enjoyed the 90s, but I was only 14 at the end of the decade. Though, ever since entering the workplace, I’ve found a lot of those who were in their twenties in the 90s cynically disengaged from society and the consequences of their actions.