Angry Beavers, Zoo TV and Everything in Between: A Dissertation on the 90s from someone who survived the experience

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October 6, 2012 by NowhereButPop

By Andrew Doscas

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From head to toe, first to last, I am a child of the 1990s.  Well duh….what I mean though is that I am a byproduct of everything the 90s were and everything that they could possibly ever come to mean.  Simply put, the 90s were mindless, but it wasn’t an empty mindlessness; it was mindless because it was knowledgeable and witty and so enamored with its own pop culture which led to it being formless.  It’s from this formlessness (borderline meaninglessness) that makes the 1990s mindless.  I don’t mean mindless to be pejorative, but most things in the 90s didn’t seem to have a particular purpose to be, and yet still were.  Most aspects of 90s pop culture was witty and more aware of itself and of pop culture in general that its presentation was absent of form.  It was just doing because it could, not necessarily because it should, or to convey a purpose.  It seemed as the though the point of the decade was to make as little sense as possible while being as absurd as possible without being inane.

All of these ideas are very vague and abstract and if they don’t make sense I apologize.  Let me put it this way, Hercules, as per his 12 labors had to clean up horse shit from immortal horses that were constantly shitting.  That’s what I’m trying to do in summarize the thematic value of the 1990s.[1]  The 90s made no sense, and through that it crafted its own shape and feel that we all still remember.  When we say something is “so 90s” we know what it means: something ridiculous and absurd that almost as no sense of being, and yet still nonetheless works not in spite of, but because of its sheer lack of reason.

To help illuminate my point, I’ll need to call on several examples.  When I think of the 90s, more specifically in the context of what I’m trying to convey, the first thing or person that comes to mind is Ross Perot.  For those of you who don’t know, Ross Perot was just some rich white guy from Texas who decided to run for president in 1992 and 1996.  Why?  I don’t know; he even challenged Americans to put him on the ballot……and we did.  Here was a man who loved his pie charts; every time he was on TV he had pie charts that could explain everything.[2]  As a third party candidate he held a commanding lead in the polls at 39% in the summer of 1992.  He forced his employees to sign loyalty oaths, owned a copy of the Magna Carta and would become irate every time he was cut off during the presidential debates (yes he was invited to them).  On election night, this man with zero political experience won about 19% of the popular vote, the highest for a third party candidate.

He ran again in 1996 and as an impressionable five year I was instantly mystified and amused by this crazy old man and all his pie charts.  I had no idea what his points were, but I knew this guy would certain make things interesting.  Ross Perot had no reason to run or to even be taken seriously and yet got 19% of voters to choose him to be our president.  That’s what the 90s were, they didn’t make sense, but they did because no one wanted common sense anymore.

Anyone born after 1994, that says that the remember and adore 90s cartoons is bullshitting you.  They don’t remember nearly enough to understand what most of these cartoons were about.  Most of these shows really were not geared towards children at all.  In hindsight, I have no idea how two of the well-remembered cartoons of the 90s, “Ren and Stimpy” and “Rocco’s Modern Life”, ever got past the censors and were deemed suitable for kids.  Obviously “Ren and Stimpy” featured all the violence of standard cartoons, but to the nth degree.  I’m pretty sure there was one episode where Ren ripped off Stimpy’s skin and wiped his ass with it.  I know for certain though that there was an episode of “Rocco’s Modern Life” where Heffer goes to Hell, appropriately renamed “Heck”.  Obviously, violence is a part of cartoons, and that’s why we love them, but on top of the double entendres and sexual innuendos of both shows, I’ll never understand how censors thought that it was ok to show to children.  I watch these shows now, and I realize that every episode of “Rocco’s Modern Life” has at least one sexual innuendo every five minutes.  Despite being a kid’s show, no kid would get the joke at all.  But of course it was the “Modern” life of Rocco and it was the 90s, and so Rocco became a paradigm for all the absurdity and mindlessness of the decade.  “Oh it’s a show rife with dirty jokes and violent imagery, but it’s a cartoon…..alright let’s show it to kids.”  That must have been the rationale.  You never saw Roadrunner beat the shit out of Wile E. Coyote, or Jerry maim Tom, but as U2 said “everything you know is wrong”, never has this rang truer than in the 90s.

KaBlam! anyone?  You guys must remember that trippy 90s kids sketch show on Snick at Night on Nickelodeon.  It was a cartoon that made absolutely no sense.  The entire background music was from shitty 90s ska bands.  Henry and June were the hosts and some of the shorts included “Action League Now” about a quartet of inept superheroes, “Prometheus and Bob” about an alien trying to teach and civilize a caveman, “Life with Loppy” a stop motion cardboard sketch about a girl who plays with her toilet, and “Sniz and Fondue” basically the Odd-Couple for kids.  I hope as you’re reading this, you’re thinking to yourself “This makes absolutely no sense, what a stupid concept”.  Now you’d be totally right, but back then it was hysterical.  Why?  Because it was the 90s.  There’s no better explanation.  I don’t understand why or how KaBlam! was a thing, nor will I ever comprehend who came up with such a concept.

I couldn’t in good conscience talk about the 90s and forget to mention the music.  What the hell was 90s music about.  For one, what the hell is tubthumping?  Or Chumbawumba for that matter?  We all remember the whole Euro-pop craze from 1993-1998.  One-hit wonders from Europe came over and dumped their dance/electronic songs on an unsuspecting and naïve U.S. population.  For your viewing pleasure: Haddaway, Ace of Base, Le Bouche, Amber, Aqua, The Real McCoy, and Eiffel 65.[3]  Why in all that is holy would we ever allow this happen?  At the time it was the pop music and everyone loved it, but looking back, it doesn’t mean anything.  There was no purpose for this kind of music, but it went on to become the music that the 90s is most remembered for.  I don’t get it.

You also had the final splintering of rock music from hard rock and punk to alternative, indie, pop punk, and grunge, or other like Fastball, and Deep Blue Something.  Earlier in the decade you had the whole pre-industrial rave rock thing going on led by the British EMF and Jesus Jones.  That seemed like the hot new thing, and the next thing we know grunge becomes the scene music instead.  Imagine if the entire music industry had ADHD, that’s what 90s music was it was.  The scene and the music were chaotic, and here-one-minute-gone-the-next.  We all had appetites that could not be whetted apparently, and the music is reflective of that.

Look at modern musicians who grew up in the 90s, they embody that 90s chaos and absurdity, and from that insanity craft who they are as artists and entertainers out of it.  Lady Gaga and Odd Future are the first that come to mind.  They are both representatives of the 90s and it shows.  They are walking effects of the 90s and everything that the 90s ever was.  Everything that Gaga does fails to make sense or have a logical reasoning behind it, but in actuality it does.  It’s because she can do it and still have an army of little monsters at her disposal.  She’s absurd, always doing something else, and over the top, but she’s never inane or insincere.  Bjork had the swan dress, Lil Kim had the pastie jumpsuit, and Gaga has her meat dress.  It’s all a response to what happened in the 90s.  Born This Way is a homage to 90s pop music!  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Lady Gaga worshipped Madonna and the Spice Girls back in 1996.  She is a reflection of the initial purposelessness finding purpose within itself.

Odd Future is made up of a bunch of guys my age who, like Gaga, worship the 90s.  Their image tips their hand.  They have the prankster/jokester quality of Cypress Hill and Digital Underground mixed with the rawness and controversy of early Snoop Dog plus the alternative edge of A Tribe Called Quest.  They are the result of everything that 90s rap music inundated them with.  The clothes that they wear, the bright neon shirts with the black jeans, snapbacks, and beat up kicks all screams out early 90s.[4]  For us, people in my age group, this is the first time that we’re starting to see famous people our own age, and in music they’re all harkening back to the 90s.  I could be wrong, but I think it’s because they are all aware of the absurd nature of it all where things that didn’t seem to have a purpose or reason to matter, actually had purpose and meant something.  The difference between in pop culture between the 90s and the 00s was that the 00s were inane and stupid but didn’t realize it, the 90s were absurd and purposeless but knew it and found purpose in that as a result.

Of course I have to bring it back to basketball and the NBA somehow, but it fits, I promise.  From 1989-1998 only three teams one the Finals Championship and every one of them repeated.  The Pistons in 1989-1990, the Bulls in 1991-1993, and 1996-1998, and the Rockets in 1994-94.  That had and has not ever happened since.  Even the players who played were “so 90s”.  The first that comes to mind is Dennis “The Worm” Rodman.  He was a great defensive player and a hall of famer, but he’s just as famous for his off the court antics.  We have the crazy hair (dyeing it with leopard print or just multicolored like a clown), the wedding dress, Carmen Elektra, and all the shitty action movies.  Despite all his absurdities he won 5 rings and was one of if not the best defensive forward of the 90s.

Another great forward who was “so 90s” was the round mound of rebound himself, Sir Charles Barkley.  He was really the first “people’s player”.  Someone who would bullshit with fans out in the streets, and soak up all the adoration, Barkley reveled in the 90s.  I think out of every NBA player, it was Barkley who suffocated the most under the dominance of Jordan (who we’ll get to soon), which fueled his intensity and public appeal.  In the 90s, controversy in the NBA was just becoming commonplace, and Barkley was at the center of it.  He accidently spat on a little girl during a game instead of another fan who was using racial slurs at him.  He was fined $20,000 for fighting Bill Laimbeer, and another $5,000 for fighting Charles Oakley.  Barkley stirred up controversy when he claimed that no sports figure should be a role model because it sets an unrealistic standard for people who aren’t nearly as athletic.  In spite of all the controversy and his larger than life persona, he still remained unnaturally popular because he was able to make fun of himself and call himself a dumbass.  Barkley was the nominated everyman, someone who people could joke with, and because he never won a championship seemed more human because of it.  This coupled with his self-awareness differentiates the culture of basketball in the 90s from the preceding decades.

Speaking of larger than life, Shaq more than anyone represents the influence on basketball that the 90s had.  From the day he was drafted by Orlando, Shaq had designs to play for the Lakers and move to Hollywood, and be bigger than the game.  He loved all the attention he got and did anything he possibly could to maintain it.  Before he even won his first championship, he had a horrible rap album out and starred in shitty, shitty movies such as Steel and Kazaam.  Shaq wanted to be as well known as Michael Jordan was off the court, and did everything in his power to do so.  He was just going along with the tide; Shaq saw all the fame and adoration that guys like Jordan and Barkley had and wanted that as well.  Prior to Jordan no basketball player had a public persona that existed outside of basketball.  That’s a trend that purely unique to the 90s, the merger of different realms of pop culture into one Frankenstein-like monstrosity.

Shaquille O’Neal is a representation of the 90s influencing basketball, while Michael Jordan is the living embodiment of the opposite, of basketball influencing pop culture.  Everybody wanted to be Michael Jordan.[5]  In the 90s, Jordan was the coolest person on the planet; he could do no wrong (except play baseball).  The Babe Ruth of basketball, Jordan is the face of the sport and even to the younger generation, we knew we were watching the greatest player to ever play the game, and best/worst of all he knew it too.  Because of his prowess, everyone wanted a piece of him and Jordan absolutely loved it.  Nike, Coca-Cola, Hanes, Wheaties, Gatorade, the list of endorsements goes on and on.  Oh yeah and I’m pretty sure he won 6 rings and 5 MVP awards on the side too.  For an entire decade he was the most famous and popular person on the planet.  Jordan is the only person on the planet who I would allow to be as arrogant as he wants to be.[6]  Michael Jordan is the clearest example of the lines of pop culture breaking down and forming a hyper-manic bastardized sense of entertainment, which is the most striking paradigm of the 90s.

After writing all of this about the 90s, I’m starting to think I didn’t do a good job of making my point.  If I did, well then this is wonderful news; If I didn’t it’s because I can’t, and this article will be the closest I will ever come to such an arduous task.  Whether or not you agree with me, as long as you can understand what I’m getting at is the most important thing.  The 90s were absurd and rife with mindlessness, but it created an intellectualism about it because of all the things that came out of it that didn’t seem to have a reason to be.  Yet despite it, these cartoons, songs, and people existed and did what they did not in a vacuum, but within the scope of the sphere that were permitted to do so.  In the 90s merely being able to became just cause for doing and being.  If you could make and sell a ferbie or a tomagachi or a beanie baby, then why not?  If Shaq could have a cameo in Good Burger, then why not?  “Because” was a good enough reason and people accepted the madness.  When we look back and say “oh it was the 90s” that’s what we inherently mean, it didn’t seem to mean anything, or have any reason, but it nonetheless was there and we embraced it and as a result whatever “it” was found purpose in itself.  This absurd mix of everything under the sun indoctrinated me and countless other kids with this manic sense of memory.  Our memory of the decade is predicated on all the absurd references and innuendos that surrounded us and represented this Frankenstein-like monstrosity of a hyper-combined reconstruction of pop culture.  Why did this happen?  Well…….because it could happen.


[1] Yes I am comparing myself to Hercules and his laborious tasks.

[2] Had he won the presidency, I’m fairly certain he would have pulled out a pie chart explaining the meaning of life.

[3] You can’t know how much it pained me to just do this.

[4] For those of you unfamiliar with the 90s, the best part was the early 90s, with the golden age being January 1991-June 1993.

[5] That is nowhere near an overstatement.

[6] Myself notwithstanding.

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