Sunday, June 05, 2005

Backbeat the word was on the street

What is the true legacy of the 90's? I attempted to answer that back in 1997 via this college newspaper column. Was I onto something? Or just on something? And is this just an easy way to avoid writing a new post by repackaging old material? Only you can decide.


It used to take 20 years for a decade to be appreciated. The 1970’s weren’t fully appreciated until earlier this decade, when bell bottoms and John Travolta emerged from a rightfully-imposed exile. But the American attention span has gotten shorter, and we are now nostalgic for the history we can remember.

In recent years, the 1980’s have enjoyed a resurgence. On campus, WTSR is stuck in the 80’s every Monday night and The Signal frequently features a 80’s-themed crossword or column. There’s even a website (www.80s.com) devoted to all things from the decade of Pac-Man, Ferris Bueller, and Wang Chung (Does anyone know why, or how, we should Wang Chung tonight?).

Assuming this cycle remains constant, we will find ourselves five years into the new millennium longing for relics from the decade past, and this creates an important question: What will be the cultural legacy of the 1990’s?

Most would like to think that our cultural contribution consist of such respectable fare as Seinfeld and Pulp Fiction, but Billboard charts will tell future generations that we admired the Beverly Hills of 90210 from afar, and jumped-jumped ‘cuz the Daddy Mac made us. For every Braveheart, there has been a Dick Tracy; for every ER, a Herman’s Head. The durability of CDs and VHS ensure us that what is too painful to remember, we cannot choose to forget. So to ease our future shame, let’s relive the forgotten moments and minor celebrities of the decade so far.

The music that has entertained America for the last seven years induces the most cringing. Even though few would admit to MMMBopping with Hanson or zigazigha-ing with the Spice Girls, their recent success cannot be ignored. Similarly, the most popular group in 1990 was the New Kids on the Block. They had the right stuff, at least in the eyes of several million pre-pubescent girls. More inexplicable was the rise of Vanilla Ice, who further shamed the institution of white-boy rap, yet entertained thousands with his Ice, Ice Baby. Millions more pleaded “Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em”, as they snatched up the compact discs and parachute pants of MC Hammer. No weatherman could have predicted the outbreak of Snow, who warned us of the Informer that had the mythical power to licky boom boom down.

Those turned off by hip hop took solace in Wilson Phillips, but the group couldn’t “Hold On” for one more album. Similarly, Right Said Fred apparently isn’t “Too Sexy” for obscurity. Also missing in action is Billy Ray Cyrus, who is doubly dishonorable for having brought both country music and line dancing into the mainstream with his “Achy, Breaky Heart.”

The alternative to all of this, so-called alternative music, also produced its fair share of one-hit wonders. Discarded Spin Doctors and 4 Non-Blondes CDs clog the clearance bins at Tower Records. These musicians are the forgotten victims of the recession and remind current chart toppers that success fades faster than an hand print on a Hypercolor t-shirt. Mr. “Butterfly Kisses,” invest your royalties wisely.

This glut of forgotten celebrities can perhaps be linked to the divorce between success and talent. This is most evident in the movies and TV programs of the 90’s. Even Clarissa can’t explain why there were once two prime-time shows featuring Bob Saget. Pauly Shore wasn’t just an MTV VJ, but also an Encino Man and a Son-In-Law. Kevin Nealon was rewarded for flubbing jokes on Saturday Night Live with not one, but two sitcoms.

Those who actually posses a modicum of talent foolishly try to expand and conquer. Witness Shaquille O’Neil as “Shaq-Fu” and “Kazaamm,” or the Bo Jackson Saturday morning cartoon show. A good lesson to take from the 90’s is that you should stick to what you know. In the case of Jackson, all Bo knows now is physical therapy.

But the 90’s have been cyclical within themselves, where washed-up stars can reinvent themselves in new guises. The artists formerly known as Marky Mark and Fresh Prince have become respectable actors. A new show starring Dan Cortese is deemed “Must-See TV.” And Bayside alum Jessie Spano has lapdanced her way back into our hearts. Perhaps snap bracelets and Skidz shorts will return to the fashion runways. Maybe Macaulay Culkin will team up with Kid N’ Play for a Home Alone House Party.

The comebacks of these and other forgotten celebrities are inevitable. Pop culture is too legit to quit.

1 comment:

Bob Jingle said...

First post!

Glad to see you joined the corps of random thinkers. And thanks for the link, nooch.