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the gay '90s: 1990-1994
too early for instant nostalgia
by joe procopio (@jproco)
pop culture

I'll tell you what I don't want. What I really, really don't want.

I don't want to relive the '90s anytime soon -- certainly not now, probably not next year, and maybe not even during the next decade, one which I've already named the Troubled Teens.

When I think back to the '90s, I don't see much to get all misty about. There was a lot of drinking, of that I am sure, and there was quite a bit of cavorting, reveling, scheming, abetting, associating, coupling, evading, and apologizing. I look back on those days with the dread I used to feel bringing a new girlfriend to my folks' house, where she would see the giant family portrait from 1988 when I had John Taylor hair.

VH1, the television equivalent of my arch-nemesis, thinks otherwise. They've decided to cash in by extending their successful I Love Theā€¦ series to the decade of flannel and interns. This idea led to a collective shrug, a big cultural "huh?" -- with the exception of a few media outlets who, based on this one stupid shot by that other music channel that no longer shows videos, picked up this non-trend and ran with it. Headlines were tossed, ink was splashed - THE NINETIES ARE COMING BACK!

And then they went and didn't.

Ah, but they will. You know they will. And when they do, you're going to want to make sure you relive them right -- because one man's nostalgia trip is another man's John Taylor haircut.


While "Twin Peaks" and David Lynch were interesting, maybe groundbreaking, both the series and the director stand today as amazing examples of unfulfilled potential. Let's face it, even if "Peaks" had not been shockingly cancelled mid-stream, honestly, where was it going? Too many dancing midgets, not enough plot. And Lynch pissed away his entire career on the underperforming trio of Wild at Heart, Lost Highway, and Mulholland Drive.

VH1 says: "In 1990, Linda, Christie, Naomi, Tatjana and Cindy put the 'super' in 'supermodels.'"

And in 2004, they're all still working.

It's too early, people.

Movies? Pretty Woman and mothereffing Ghost. Come on. These had just gone away. I thought I would get through my entire life without having to endure either film. And I just had to sit through Cold Mountain (thanks to all of you for nothing, by the way, as not one of you warned me about this melodramatic pile of garbage). You just know that Hollywood is five minutes away from Ghost 2 with Demi and Ashton. Oh crap. I probably shouldn't even have typed that.

VH1 says: "And speaking of hot, who can forget Henry & June, the movie so raunchy that the MPAA had to create the NC-17 rating!"

Henry and who now? I honestly don't remember this movie. Do you? I didn't think so. Were there a lot of boobies or something, because it looks like it's about Anais Nin?

Mayor Marion Barry, Roseanne Barr, Michael Bolton, MC Hammer, Wilson Phillips, and Dee-lite. Can you see why nobody is throwing '90s parties yet? This reads like my own personal rotary club in hell.

Edward Scissorhands was a great movie.


Nirvana. Period. This is all you need to remember about the '90s. But it takes VH1 exactly two sentences into 1991 to make my skin crawl:

"Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain inspired a generation of young fans to don dark, depressing colors, flannel tops and as much stubble and hair as they could muster."

Wait. Yeah. I can't remember when I've ever seen a more disgusting display of ignorance. Kurt Cobain was many things, but one thing we can all be sure of is that he was the epitome of the antithesis of the above sentence. It also proves the freakin' boomers are still in charge -- especially at VH1.

My generation will remember 1991 like the hippies remember 1969. It was the year everything changed, and the only year we got in and out of before the copycats and the hangers-on and the cashers-in showed up. By 1992 "grunge" was a catch-phrase and everyone's creepy uncle had a Van Dyke that they called a goatee.

One thing that did stand out during my research was what a horrible decade it was for movies. In 1991 alone, VH1 lists the breakouts as Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Boyz N the Hood, Point Break (perhaps the Swayziest movie of all time), New Jack City (the West Side Story of LA gang movies), Thelma and Louise, and City Slickers.

Hey, remember when Billy Crystal was funny? Me either.

I do believe, however, that there is a bit of a con element to this whole VH1 thing. I just can't believe:

"The year also brought us great shows like Herman's Head and Family Matters. Erkelmania hits primetime!"

First of all, it's Urkelmania. Second, it never was. Third, I defy anyone except Intrepid's own Adam Kraemer to recall an episode of Herman's Head without using the Internet.

Bugle Boys? What the hell are Bugle Boys?


Look, I love Mike Myers. I think the Austin Powers movies rank up there with the Godfather movies and the Star Wars movies. But Wayne's World was not only a slow and plodding goofride that missed its target demographic and its irony demographic, but it eventually spawned both the Al Franken Stuart movie and the Tim Meadows Ladies Man movie. And for that, Mike Myers should owe a lot of people a lot of money.

Speaking of begetting. In 1992 The Real World debuts. This will eventually evolve into Wifeswap. Thanks, Kevin and Julie! Although I must say that today's "reality" casts make them look like Denzel and Julia.

But see, if Achy-Breaky Heart was such a phenomenon, then the few times I heard it, as annoying as it was, why didn't I want to stab people like I do when I hear Hey Ya! (a song I used to like right up until the millionth time I heard the springy retro keyboard part, which seems to be the clip that Andre was able to sell to everyone)? Was Achy a phenomenon, even a fad? Did it happen at all? Wasn't this more about a mullet than a tune?

Speaking of non-events, VH1 says: "Then there were Dan and Dave who made the big stakes Reebok ad campaign until Dan didn't qualify for the Olympics."

What? Dan Fogelberg and David Letterman? Danny Kaye and Dave Foley?

In all seriousness, how much were the early '90s a low point for rap? I remember LL had some good stuff, and the Beastie Boys were just starting to hit their stride, but... Sir Mix-A-Lot? Snow? Naughty by Nature? Criss-I-Want-To-Kick-You-In-The-Face-Cross? That horrible Whoomp song? Set the whole genre back decades. Still hasn't recovered.

The Replacements implode. R.E.M. tours off of "Shiny Happy People." U2 is thinking up Zooropa. Bye-bye '80s.


The posers come out of the woodwork.

The last gasp of grunge produces so many misses that the bloat eventually crushes the promise the genre first held. Spin Doctors, 4 Non-Blondes, Blind Melon, Bush, Candlebox, Goo Goo Dolls, Gin Blossoms, the list goes on and on. This is the year when if it smelled like Seattle, it got signed. It was also the year rock gave the cultural reigns to hip-hop with a defeated, "Here. You fix it."

And Scott Weiland is STILL IN REHAB.

Beavis and Butthead debuts this year. And while it takes all of 1993 to grow on me, I eventually become a fan. Mike Judge will go on to hit his high-water mark with Office Space, but they still let him do King of the Hill, and that mystifies me.

Jurassic Park kicks off the phenomenon of the summer blockbuster. A semi-smart movie carved out of a pseudo-smart novel, it really leaves nothing in its wake, except the iffy sequel and horrid second sequel. Is there nostalgia value here? Not sure. We can look back fondly at the last summer not dominated by a Fresh Prince movie but, for what it's worth, Smith's movies aren't all that bad.

The X-Files. Look, I'm sure there are a bunch of you out there, and I assume it's the same ones who ran with Buffy and other ill-fated TV shows that deigned to be the thinking viewer's alternative. But television doesn't allow for thinking. Television sucks the think right out of you. X-Files caused a huge dust-up by being the pivot point between those who equated X-Files with, say, Douglas Coupland books and those who equated X-Files with Xena: Warrior Princess. In the end, no amount of X-Files could make admitting to being a Xena fan not creepy. And that internal struggle is also probably where the Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons came from.

Nirvana pukes up In Utero. I still, to this day, believe that record was a hoax.


Now 1994 was a damn good year, but a lot of that was my fault.

However, it was 1994 when our culture, us being the tail end of the misgrouped Generation X, came into its own. Hell, we even had our own Woodstock, and it was the best of the three.

But it isn't really anything to reminisce about. Yet. VH1 tries to corral Forest Gump, Dumb and Dumber, and Ace Ventura into the same category of stupid, but that's like putting Courtney Love, Osama Bin Laden, and Hitler into the same category of evil.

Wait. Maybe that does work.

What 1994 did give us was a wide variety of niche to subscribe to. Pulp Fiction, Clerks, Reality Bites, Before Sunrise, and Friends all were directed at us and all had a vibe. The funny thing is, it still plays on today with Kill Bill, Jersey Girl (although, you know, oof!), the omnipresence of Stiller, the Wilson brothers, and Vince Vaughn, Before Sunset, and... well... dare I say, Joey?

Another way to look at 1994 as a beginning is to realize 1993 as an ending. At the dawn of 1994 there was no more Cheers, Designing Women (which still makes me cringe), A Different World (marking the end of the Cosby era), and boomer garbage Life Goes On and The Wonder Years. Dave went from also ran on NBC to top dog on CBS (and would later be abandoned by my contemporaries for Jon Stewart).

And on top of that, 1993 was the official end of grunge, as bands like Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots and Alice in Chains gave way to the more varied sounds of Weezer, Green Day, and Beck. Soundgarden would hang around a little while longer and, oh yeah, Kurt Cobain checked out.

1994 was also the first year email went widespread, opening the door for AOL and eventually the dot com bubble. So while it may not make sense to reflect, it certainly helps to remember.

The Gay '90s II: 1995 - 1999 will appear on October 1st. Look for Intrepid Media's fifth anniversary state-of-the-site column from Joe on September 1st.


Joe Procopio trades in pop culture and tech culture, allowing him to poke fun at so many things. He's written for a number of online and offline publications from the late, lamented Smug to the fancy-pants Chicago Tribune and also for television. He's a novelist, a shredder, a joker, and a family man. Scoff at joeprocopio.com or follow on Twitter @jproco.

more about joe procopio


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topic: pop culture
published: 4.4.05

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tracey kelley
8.2.04 @ 9:54a

Oh man. You were hot with John Taylor hair.

"but that's like putting Courtney Love, Osama Bin Laden, and Hitler into the same category of evil."

You know by typing this sentence, I'll be a slave to whatever you want from now on, don't you?

I've watched some of the 90s stuff- and I barely laugh or go "Oh yeeeeahh..." - it's just lame. But then, Video Hits One has always been lame, even when they weren't owned by MTV.


joe procopio
8.2.04 @ 11:03a

Having just gotten back from Vegas this morning, I can say with certainty that there are pockets of America that have yet to even let the '90s go, let alone relive them.

And please help me spread the word. Denim shorts, which were never a good idea in the first place, are officially way past done. Thank you.

jeffrey walker
8.2.04 @ 12:02p

excuse: demin shorts not a good idea on men. Ladies demin cutoffs: priceless.

jeremy mullis
8.2.04 @ 12:12p

On our first date, my wife and I went to this 80's dance. All of the college kids were making fun of the songs and we were enjoying the memories. The college kids thought Ghostbusters was the best song of the night. The 90's need about one more half decade before you can really start remembering them. I guess it isn't that surprising seeing VH1 remembers last week with those Best Week Ever shows.

jeremy mullis
8.2.04 @ 12:22p

I thought Road House was the Swayziest movie of them all. Don't ever talk bad about SNOW again. My man lick the boom boom down. Or something like that. Joe, I think you are the funniest person - ever.

robert melos
8.2.04 @ 2:46p

You had to go and mention 4 Non-Blondes. I really liked their one hit, but now I can't get that song out of my head.

joe procopio
8.2.04 @ 6:27p

I think you are the funniest person - ever.

Wow. Thanks.

dan gonzalez
8.2.04 @ 6:35p

Jeremy must have meant "funny-lookingest". He must have. MUST HAVE, I tell you.

tracey kelley
8.3.04 @ 9:33a

I caught an ep of one of the "I Love the 70s" the other night, and you could tell the guests were having fun with it all. They are pretty much going through the motions on the 90s stuff.

Although watching Hal Sparks do a conversation between Forest Gump and the Swingblade guy had me on the floor laughing.

adam kraemer
8.3.04 @ 10:40a

And Adam's useless font of TV trivia gets him the coveted Herman's Head mention. I miss Jane Sibbet.

Oh, and don't dis Snow. That man was the article don.


mike julianelle
8.3.04 @ 1:10p

Herman's Head wasn't even thad bad. Fright Night, Azaria, Hedy...amazing, amazing cast.

None of the talking heads on those nostalgia shows are funny at all.

brian anderson
8.3.04 @ 1:14p

I remember an episode of Herman's Head where the character played by Yeardley Smith said angrily into a phone "I do not!", slammed it down, and asked "Herman, do you think I sound like that Lisa Simpson character from TV?"

mike julianelle
8.3.04 @ 1:19p

Fair is fair!

tim lockwood
8.4.04 @ 11:28a

Achy-Breaky Heart: Yes, it was both a fad AND a phenomenon, and yes, it was stab-yourself-in-the-eye annoying. You were probably not in heartland America at the time, like I was. You have NO idea. It was the song that consigned Billy Ray Cyrus to both immortality and obscurity all at the same time, which proves that there really is justice in the world, sometimes. It was about the song, the mullet, and the birth of country line dancing among otherwise normal people.

Woodstock '94: From where I stood, it was just another over-hyped concert with a huge corporate sponsor. The only reason I even remember it is because I managed a convenience store in a regional chain at the time, and the buyer for the chain made a huge "investment" in the Woodstock '94 t-shirts. We started off selling them for something like $14.99 or $16.99. All the employees were given one to wear to work in order to promote them. Customers didn't so much as touch them until they were marked down to around $4.00 more than a year later. I still have mine.

joe procopio
8.4.04 @ 12:01p

Well, there were no hippies and no one got molested, so, in retrospect, it wins.

mike julianelle
8.4.04 @ 12:10p

So, Joe, what's your beef with In Utero? Articulate, please. I know it's hard.

joe procopio
8.4.04 @ 12:33p

I don't really have that much of a beef with In Utero. I like it. But I don't love it. The Albini mix was dreadful and some of the songs just didn't hold up. Radio Friendly Unit Shifter and Scentless Apprentice... and Tourette's are just screamers. Dumb is just horrible. Very Ape is average but it's just another In Bloom.

Rape Me was a joke. Heart Shaped was all right. Serve the Servants and Frances Farmer stand out a bit, and Pennyroyal Tea is one of their best.

Maybe it's me, but the Butch Vig mixes were beautiful without being bombastic like Bob Rock. Why they fought for and chose Albini is beyond me.

Where Nevermind was meant to provoke, In Utero was just meant to annoy - as in "This will really piss of your parents."

adam kraemer
8.4.04 @ 2:17p

My dad once commented that if they'd just changed "Achy Breaky" to "Akin', Breakin'" the song wouldn't have been half as annoying. I tend to agree, though even half as annoying would have been more than I could bear.

mike julianelle
8.4.04 @ 2:24p

I LOVE Serve the Servants.

joe procopio
8.4.04 @ 3:02p

Let's call it the second best song on the record then. But, especially on that track, Albini took the best drummer in rock and made his kit sound like timpanis. No crunch at all.

sandra thompson
8.6.04 @ 9:11p

You straight guys will never understand why 1994 was the year of the vampire. I mean, really, BOTH of them? And Antonio just thrown in for extras?

I find it interesting that none of my male friends liked Thelma and Louise either. I suppose there is something surreal about Madsen playing a good guy....

No mention whatever of 92's A River Runs Through It? Nor 93's True Romance?

Yes, you do discern a pattern here.

robert melos
8.6.04 @ 9:46p

Joe, two words. En Vogue.

joe procopio
8.7.04 @ 9:20a

Sandra - Brad Pitt - what do I win? Did you ever get a chance to read my SS "Brad Pitt Checks Out?" If not, ping me and I'll send it to you.

allison procopio
8.12.04 @ 11:32a

Hal Sparks (I think its him) has to be related to Michael Driscoll. They have the same sarcastic sense of humor.

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