By Eric L.
Although, I’ve become more confident recently.
The Nineties: A Book by Chuck Klosterman is written in an extremely entertaining, journalistic style, a look back at the decade that has become so “in,” it’s “out.” Although, like Klosterman, I am almost a “caricature” of a “Gen X” caricature, so this book is a bit of an easy sell to someone like me. This is one of those time periods when something culturally progressive was happening, and to some extent, I’m a product of that. The art I experienced played a part, but perhaps I had a predilection for this sort of thing.
However, this book is not just for aging hipsters like me. Klosterman successfully argues that what we remember from the decade, the stereotypes, may be quite different from the reality. He alludes to the fact that we always misremember things, or rely on the stereotypes of decades to classify them easily in our minds.
Klosterman does an excellent job of highlighting all the things that I personally remember as positive for society, but the anecdotes and examples made me realize we have similar taste and beliefs. The films and the music were a considerable influence on my taste and my social awareness. He also mentions that art about the lives of Black people was consumed by white audiences like never before. The independent films and music were different than most things I had experienced before. Klosterman makes the remarkably interesting argument that the local video rental store, and later the chains, gave birth to the working-class auteur. In short, they could browse and watch films (e.g. Citizen Kane, Chinatown) multiple times which may have been only previously shown at an art house theatre.
That said, Klosterman points out that Titanic was the biggest movie of the decade, and this hardly qualifies as progressive art. Moreover, Tupac sold more records than Nirvana, and Garth Brooks sold more than both put together (and really birthed new country). So why is it that balding guys with cowboy hats and tight jeans are not proffered as 1990’s stereotypes?
The extremely high approval rating for a “liberal” President who was a serial philanderer and predator does not jibe with the ethos of 2020. Klosterman even asks the question many now ask: if the Democratic Party is worse off because of the Clintons. I was particularly interested in the discussion of the most successful third-party candidate in a century. The fact that Ross Perot received 19 percent of the vote almost seems unfathomable now. How the United States kind of “meddled” in the 1996 Russian democratic election is also an interesting sidebar.
There are too many interesting sidebars to mention, but many are things we may have forgotten. For example, Michael Jordan, the most successful basketball player ever, decided to play minor league baseball, primarily because he was bored and tired. It came as a shock to America that baseball players and cyclists were using performance enhancing drugs to put on superhuman performances.
These things may seem like minutiae to some, but I feel as though these events help us understand current America just a little bit better.
One of the most important chapters is “CTRL + ALT + DELETE” – extremely interesting in that it describes the way people, mostly tech people or insiders, viewed the internet in the 1990s. It reads like people selling a dream that became a nightmare, sadly. Academic careers are, and will be, built on how computers and the internet altered society, as we have only begun to appreciate the changes in our behavior. One of the most salient points Klosterman makes in the book is to consider the differences in America from 1960 to 1990, and then consider the differences in America from 1990 until 2020. Imagine disembarking from a time machine in 2020 from the year 1990. He discusses how some of us recall how the world worked before widespread computer and internet use and I’m obviously among these folks. To be sure, I appreciate all the things that have improved in my life, but I do long for the good ol’ days, too!
As a ‘90’s hipster, I do feel that the idea of physical place is something that is particularly important to a stable democratic society. And I want to let you know we offer this at the library. A young lady borrowing numerous films said “hey” to me as if she knew me, and I’d forgotten that we had a brief discussion about films. She is likely Gen Z, but had a very ‘90’s look. She was borrowing a stack again, including some Wes Anderson, and I said, “Have you ever seen his first film, Bottle Rocket?” She had not. I said, “I think it’s his best, or my favorite, we have it over there.” Borrow it. I had never seen another film like it in 1995.
Lastly, The Nineties: A Book is on our adult summer reading list (and also available in eBook and eAudiobook format via OverDrive/Libby). Another great reason to come by the branch and see us for our complete adult summer reading suggestions!
Eric is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at the Elkridge branch. He enjoys reading, films, music, doing nearly anything outside, and people.