To cap off what’s been a surprisingly successful series on the ‘90s, I want to impart some wisdom that could very well save our culture. Not everything from the ‘90s is worth hanging on to. So when we plan our revival, let’s carefully curate the things we revisit and leave these duds behind.
1. The laugh track
No, it wasn’t invented in the ‘90s, but near the end of the ‘90s, good writing started to phase it out. Shows like Dream on, Ally McBeal and Sex and the City proved that people could laugh in all the right places without taking cues from a phantom audience. Sure, the ‘90s gave us Seinfeld and Frasier, but they were also responsible for Caroline in the City, Just Shoot Me and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. When you look back at some of these, it’s staggering how un-funny they are. Such punchline-driven cheap shots. Such meaningless catch phrases (or in the case of The Nanny, a series of grating groans). So will someone please send Two and a Half Men back to 1995 where it belongs? We’ve got 30 Rock and The Office now. We’ll just take it from here.
2. Dimestore spirituality
Though I’m not the biggest fan of self-help, some of it speaks on a tangible, grounded level. Unfortunately, the ‘90s wanted to balance that out with a new brand of New Age, and it was never very clear what doctrine a person was following. Oprah’s “Remembering your Spirit” segment invited guests to describe their calming rituals, like drawing a bath or, in the case of Martha Stewart, berating the help. Books like The Celestine Prophecy became hugely popular, and despite being a work of fiction, some still adhered to some of its proposed “insights.” And TV producers played fast and loose with Christian dogmas to make Touched by an Angel and Seventh Heaven more mainstream. The ensuing melting pot didn’t use the best ingredients, just the most popular.
3. Whiny pop that tried so, so hard to sound like alterno
Grunge did something to the music industry. It opened up a whole new market. But true-blue grunge artists cared a lot more about the music than their labels did. So labels started working with musicians who were willing to follow orders. That’s how we ended up with the radio-friendly, easy-listening drivel of the Goo Goo Dolls, the Gin Blossoms and that Friends band. There’s still some of that going around today. You have the Stereos, who are just enough emo to bellyache through each song, just enough rock to distort their guitars, and just enough hip-hop to sing every note on auto-tune. It’s just awful. And hopefully it’ll move back in with its mother Cher, circa “Believe.”
Despite one very enticing Gap ad campaign, khakis just don’t look as good on people who aren’t professional dancers or models. They seem so promising because they’re classic, but that doesn’t translate into staying power when the trend resurfaces. So this time around, if the khaki comes back, let’s just act like we don’t know it.
5. Will Smith
He and I were cool until he became a Scientologist.