July 6, 2022

IRL in the '90s (new series overview)

Back in the late 2000s and early 2010s, when the '80s revival was raging, a large part of my writing was focused on that trend, but putting a lot of separate pieces together into a more coherent sweeping vision of what was going on.

That led to my discovery of the link between crime rates and an outgoing social mood, and vice versa, falling crime and a cocooning social mood. I elaborated this over several rise-and-fall time periods, from those of the 20th century, as well as much earlier rising-crime eras (late 1300s / early 1400s, late 1500s / early 1600s, and late 1700s / early 1800s).

Use the sidebar to navigate through my posts from late 2009 through 2012 or so. Or leave a comment asking about a specific topic, and I'll try to remember if I covered it. Or use google to search this blog on your own.

I was never a huge fan of the '90s, either at the time, during the '80s revival when a handful of people tried to include the '90s as well, or even now when the Zoomers are trying to launch a '90s / y2k revival. However, the '80s have been revived to death by now, and I've written everything I can about that period. So I might as well focus my attention on the '90s — both to recreate the zeitgeist, and to understand the dynamics behind what made it the way it was.

During the work on the crime-and-cocooning cycle, I was already talking a lot about the '90s, as an example of a falling-crime / cocooning environment. But that was always on a downer side of things, counterposed to the exciting '80s just before. And putting down the '90s was a way to take part in the '80s revival of 10-15 years ago — and now the only revival going on is for the '90s and y2k, so I can contribute to another nostalgia wave, by playing up the '90s (while still be honest).

And by now, I've also discovered the 15-year cultural excitement cycle, as well as the 30-year cycle, whereby each 15-year cycle alternates between a high-energy version and a low-energy version. Along with the crime-and-cocooning cycle, that will help to explain the '90s pretty well.

I will be focusing more on IRL, daily life, and social contexts. It's not going to be a nostalgia trip of mass-mediated pop culture. To the extent that movies, TV, video games, etc. show up, they will be as part of a vignette about how people related to each other. The focus will be more on the video rental store than what movies people checked out. I'll do some posting about the aesthetics themselves, but only if they're largely forgotten (including by today's revivalists) and would really jolt your memories back to that time (such as the wacky colors and patterns on bed linens).

The perspective is from a very late Gen X-er, which is necessary because Millennials were helicopter-parented from infancy and don't remember much of IRL, due to being insulated in a mass-media / pop culture bubble, which their paranoid parents rationalized as being better than letting them roam around outside and potentially interact with Bad Influences unsupervised. But Gen X was still free of helicopter parents, and continued living as latchkey kids, throughout the '90s.

As always, I reject technological determinism and won't be blaming / crediting the internet for anything in the '90s. In fact, one over-arching theme will be how little of a role the 'net played back then. Life didn't get sucked into the terminally online mode of tech until social media took over during the 2010s. The 2000s and Web 2.0 were a transition between the offline and online eras, so I might also cover the early 2000s along with the '90s.

Nor will I be covering political or economic dynamics — this is a strictly social and cultural zeitgeist approach. The most I can say is that, in Peter Turchin's "fathers-and-sons" model of civil unrest / rioting / etc., the '90s were a calm valley — in between the turbulent peaks circa 1970 and 2020. It was one of the least politicized periods ever, and anyone who did try to politicize things was immediately shut down by everyone else as a politically correct whiner and killjoy.

The "end of history" added to that sense of de-politicization. The only empire to rival America, Russia, had begun imploding, and there were no other empires that had even begun to expand, let alone reach maturity. It had nothing to do with capitalism, communism, or any of that superficial stuff. It was strictly about imperial rivalry, and we were suddenly the last empire left standing — and we had not yet had our knees wobbled by the failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nor the never-ending 2008 Depression.

This was not as strong of an effect on our zeitgeist as the domestic political cycle (minimum of civil unrest), because the international picture only strongly affects us if it's close to home, and the Russian sphere of influence has always been distant. But it was one of those minor factors that I probably won't write about any further.

To recapitulate the forces at work, the '90s saw:

- Falling crime rates (peaked in '92).

- Cocooning social mood.

- Low-energy excitement cycle (1990-2004, unlike the high-energy cycles of 1975-'89 and 2005-'19).

- A restless phase ('90-'94) and a manic phase ('95-'99) in the excitement cycle (and a vulnerable phase in 2000-'04). The '90s proper did not have a downer / emo phase, although y2k did.

At the most general big-picture level, I would capture the essence of the '90s as the most boring decade ever. But others would interpret it in a glass-half-full way as the most cozy or low-key or just-straight-vibin' decade ever. When I try to think of how I felt at various times, the recurring impression is of a lull, a void, a vacant non-space that is hard to go back to through your own recollection (unless you remember everything, like me), and the nostalgia feels like taking a trip to nowhere.

How do you vividly evoke the world of the Decade From Nowhere? I'm sure this will be far less engrossing and memory-awakening than my exploration of the '80s, but then that seems to be the appeal for the '90s revivalists — that it was not a sensory overload, social overload, political / economic overload, or even technological overload.

In fact, to get more immersed in that mood, I'm writing this series on my y2k set-up, whose defining feature is the beige / light gray color palette. The PC tower, the CRT monitor, the mechanical keyboard, the rollerball mouse, the speakers, and the disk case. It is absolutely mind-boggling to me how this blandest of computer rigs has been all the rage for the past several years. What's so fascinating about beige?

But that's just it — people have grown tired from over-exposure to the super-sleek black or pure blinding-white colors, the very high-contrast RGB streamer lights, and the rest of the aesthetics from the high-energy cycle of 2005-'19. They want to take things down a notch, to the beige computer, forest-green Subaru, Gregorian chant, baggy sweatshirt Nineties.

Exactly as the literal '90s people were reacting, after the intense cycle of 1975-'89 — time to take things down a notch for a little while. From bright pastels, synth, and gay, to heavy earth tones, Unplugged, and lesbian.

Let's end with one of the most iconic songs of the '90s, which ought to resonate all the more strongly in the current climate of nostalgia for a less corrupted time.


  1. Vladimir Berkov7/7/22, 3:52 AM

    The Ken Burns Civil War documentary (late 1990) almost feels like it set the tone for the decade.

    It takes a literal civil war that tore apart the country and turns it into a peaceful and almost elegiac ode to a simpler time, of letters to home and low key folky music.

  2. It should be noted that the 90s were the last decade when interesting/innovative things were happening in music.

    The 90s black metal scene was a hell of a lot of fun. At that time, it was like gangster rap for edgy high-IQ white kids. It quickly went to shit -- or, rather, totally exhausted itself -- after Y2K.

    The same is true of industrial, power electronics, noise, etc. The 90s were a golden age. Nothing new or interesting has been done since. The cyberpunk aesthetic was also, at that time, not yet a joke.

    So it seems to me that extreme music subcultures all hit a wall in the 90s. They reached a limit, and haven't since figured out how to advance any further.

    I literally feel sorry for kids who are into black metal today & missed the 90s.

    What has emerged since? Synthwave is solipsistic and rode the 80s revival like a leech. Vaporwave is derivative of 90s ambient (think Cold Meat Industries) with a Windows 95 aesthetic. Has the well not run dry?

  3. It's not just sub-cultures that are dead, even mainstream music has stopped functioning. They don't release much new music, and when they do, it's quickly discarded. And there are no new groups or singers either.

    Nothing sticks long enough to glue the listeners together -- because we're fragmenting as a culture and society, no longer feeling like "our fellow Americans" is a meaningful phrase.

    This breakdown began in 2021, which I chronicled all year long, and wrote up at the end once the Billboard year-end charts came out. Half the songs were released in earlier years! That's never happened before.

    Turn on "contemporary hit" radio stations, and it's mostly old stuff (several years at least). The handful of new songs stay in rotation for all of a few weeks or months, not even a full year.

    But that's how it's going to be for the rest of our history. It's not about what's new, but about picking and choosing from what's already been made, what to include in the canon -- or some sub-culture's canon, at any rate.

    The last all-American song was "Driver's License" by Olivia Rodrigo, released during the final days of the Trump era.

    1. This is why I believe Vaporwave and related genres are exploding in popularity. There’s a punk DIY attitude in its creation, using your computer and music recording software in ways it’s not truly intended for. But in the use of older, and foreign songs as source material. Even artists that compose original pieces use cheesy sound midi samples and cassette and vhs saturation to bring about an “older” feeing.
      It’s audio collage, and while innovative in some regards, is still just repurposing what has already been created.

  4. I like Gura's performance better than the original, speaking of "Driver's License". Not as much of a downer / sad-girl vibe as Olivia Rodrigo, Billie Eilish, and others born in the early 2000s vulnerable phase.


    The sharky chanteuse is a late '90s manic-phase birth, allowing her to get worked up -- but in order to re-connect with the imaginary ex in the song. Olivia Rodrigo sounds too resigned and avoidant for it to sound like the "let's get back together" song that it's intended to be.

    I predicted there would be a re-incarnation of "Nothing Compares 2 U" during the early 2020s, and it was "Driver's License". I said the prediction was fulfilled the very weekend the song came out on YouTube.

    However, Sinead O'Connor is a manic-phase birth (late '60s), not a sad girl, and that was crucial to making the tone sound like she was trying to patch things up, be resilient, and overcome their obstacles in order to get back together. It wouldn't have sounded that way if a sad-girl born in the early '70s vulnerable phase had sung it.

    So, I'm glad that a manic-phase birth like Gura came along and gave that song the proper interpretation, going for a tone of resilience rather than resignation.

  5. Thanks again to the streamers who got me through the worst of the recent bout of COVID, those several days where you don't even feel human.

    Your body doesn't feel like healing itself if the future is hopeless -- what's the return on investment? And if nobody visits you or takes care of you while you're sick, that's pretty bleak, as far as your body is concerned (however much you may cope about it not being a big deal).

    That's the value of people being there with you, to convince your body that it should invest in repair and maintenance, since it has a bright supportive future ahead. Rather than not invest because it has minimal support ahead, and in a social species like ours, that might as well be a death sentence, so just start winding down operations now.

    Studies used to show -- and maybe it was all part of the replication crisis -- that giving elderly patients a social connection helped their outcomes, but if it was taken away, that made things even worse than not giving it to them in the first place.

    But streamers, as part of virtuality, are always there for you. Not necessarily every single day, but they're a reliable presence. Sadly, more reliable than your own flesh and blood, in our "look out for #1" climate.

    Not because your family lives nearby, and are spurning you, but because families are scattered -- by choice, though. They know that means nobody will ever visit anyone else while they're sick, and they just don't care about that, or the other weakened bonds that stem directly from not living near each other.

    But anyway, don't want to dwell too much on that for now. As my mind and body are close to being recovered now, I just wanted to let the streamers who sometimes lurk here that I'm still tuning in as usual, and will be back to reacting and writing songs to / about them soon enough. :)

  6. Fauna, if you're reading, my tiger-bear and I are saying prayers for you to recover swiftly and fully. Now I wish *I* were a streamer, so I could talk for hours and be a reliable presence for others who are now getting sick, when they helped me recover before. :)

    If you don't mind a little back-seating, I'd suggest taking a zinc supplement since it's early on, and that'll really help your immune system.

    And if you have those rehydration / multi-vitamin powder packets, that's a lot better to mix in to water, than just water alone. Vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes so your brain can talk to itself, and to your body.

    Sorry to hear that your voice is going -- some demon somewhere is just jealous that your Southern belle accent was growing too powerful. Hehe. You'll show him!

    It's so heartwarming to hear how well you and Gura get along with each other IRL. Who knew that cute anime girls are the least catty girls in the world? It's so rare to find girls who play well with other girls, in the entertainment industry. You all are really lucky, but you've probably already thought about that. :)

  7. Oh nyo, I got Fauna drunk off electrolyte drinks! I think that was just your brain connecting itself together, and sending nerve signals to the rest of your body, for the first time since you got sick / fatigued / dehydrated.

    It felt like a rush, but a necessary one -- you said you got the night sweats, and that takes a lot of electrolytes out of you. I got those, too.

    If you had Gatorade, maybe it was the sugar in it? Like a sugar rush? You can get the powder packets that don't have much sugar -- Emergen-C, or sometimes there's a store-brand from Kroger or wherever. That's got B-vitamins, C, minerals, etc., not only the electrolytes. And you can use the whole pack, or only part of it if you're not that dehydrated.

    Pedialyte doesn't have much sugar either, although it does have an artificial sweetener.

    For basic immune function, though, zinc is most important. Especially if you're vegan, you would benefit from a daily supplement -- or at least keep a bottle of them handy for when you feel the onset of an illness. Taking them early will help speed up the course. The 50 mg kind are perfect, and available everywhere.

    In any case, we're so glad to see you're off of the bottom!

    Just think about that when the recovery feels like a slog -- there are so many people out there who care about you, who are there for you, and who won't leave your side, in spirit.

    Listening to familiar things is easier on the brain, isn't it? Whether 10 year-old Minecraft series, songs, or whatever. You don't have to actively process the input -- it's just activating old memories you already have, so no headache or mental fog. And the feeling of support from familiar voices. :)

  8. "Pokemon GO-ing to PlayCon" -- and people *still* think Gura is not based? Who else is savaging Crooked Hillary Clinton's offensively cringe propaganda? A few people in the chat picked up on the reference, too!

    (From her Youtubers Life 2 stream)

    And really, she's not so much attacking Hillary herself, who doesn't know what Pokemon or video games or anime is, but the cringetard Millennials who produced her campaign's youth-oriented propaganda.

    "Um, hello? I was, like, BORN online -- so I think I know a *little bit more* about social media than your old geezer generation. I'm basically a ninja at twitter -- trust me, all the kids these days are posting about Pokemon Go, it writes itself!"

    I will never stop loving Zoomers for roasting Millennials, especially their insanely over-inflated view of themselves as ninjas at the computer / online / social media. Just because their Boomer parents needed their help to open a PDF, they think they've got a magic wand.

    But really, it's only another symptom of the grade-inflation disease that has corrupted the Millennial mind since they were children.

    Gen X has tried to beat this message into them, but they wrote it off as old people jealous of young people.

    Yeah, well who's old now, bitch? Please, Zoomers, do not ever let up on reminding Millennials that they're old, out of touch, and only "good at online" compared to the bar of their literal Boomer parents.

    Wow, so sick! So epic! LOL.

  9. Kronii-o and Mumei-et also chiming in with a reminder to the Millennials in their chat that they're old and might as well be pre-modern.

    During their "reading your fanfic" stream, the topic of Romeo and Juliet came up, and then the "modern" movie version of the story, from 1996 -- before the Zoomers were born.

    Mumei immediately says the '90s are not modern, without elaborating. xD

    Later, after butthurt complaints from Millennials in chat, she explains that she read the Shakespeare play for school more recently than the '96 movie was released. Reminding the Millennials that their '90s culture is not contemporary anymore, unless it's part of the deliberate '90s revival, which I don't think R&J is.

    Anyway, anyone from any generation should watch the Zeffirelli version from 1968, if they're going to watch a movie of it.

  10. Anna Khachiyan's sister sounds like her clone! The intonation, rhythm, slight lisp, everything, other than Anna's voice being lower-pitched.

    I seriously thought it was just Anna raising her voice a bit to stand in for her sister.

    It's not only sharing a regional dialect or whatever, they sound exactly the same except for pitch. I've never heard two siblings sound so alike, not even identical twins.

    So wholesome and yet so uncanny at the same time!

  11. Re: Dasha's race science posting, epicanthic folds are the baseline for homo sapiens all over the world. And the far north of Europe has the highest signal of old-school hunter-gatherer genes on the continent.

    Look at Bjork, Carly Rae Jepsen, the lead singer from Aha, or all sorts of other Scandis and Nords. They have "Asian" eyes, i.e. the baseline of the species. So it's not an influx of Asian genes, these genes were already there from way back when.

    It's only in pastoralist groups like the Indo-Europeans and Saharo-Arabians that the pronounced eyelids evolved. Probably for no reason unto themselves, but as a "pleiotropic" effect -- meaning the gene involved influences many traits, one of which was important to evolution, and others which are not important but piggy-backed on selection for the first trait.

    It's likely a behavioral trait that adapts pastoralists to their way of life, and the gene for this behavior also happens to influence eyelid shape.

    These are also the groups that have pronounced noses, so I'd guess the behavioral trait is similar for both -- the "don't fuck with me" disposition.

    Maybe the hawk-like nose helps to frighten them off, and the lack of epicanthic folds makes their glaring eyes more intimidating, IDK.

    Remember the story Anna told where someone tried to grope or mug her, and she reflexively gave him a roundhouse kick to the gut? Haha. Don't fuck with a girl who has a nose that can take a punch, and maximum-glare eyelids.

    Another reason not to get nosejobs for those women! Your shepherd ancestors evolved that nose over millennia, for your own protection, and you can't just throw it away their efforts.

  12. Bjork has a low nasal bridge, as well as epicanthic folds, so she *really* looks like an old-school hunter-gatherer from the far north of Europe.

    She does have light eyes and skin, although dark hair. The oldest ones had dark / tan skin and eyes, like everyone else. So she doesn't look primeval European, but about as old as you can get before the Indo-European pastoralists and Anatolian farmers totally took over the continent.

    If you want to know what European H-G's looked like a few thousand years ago, it's Bjork. None of that was introduced by Asian invasions or whatever, it's what homo sapiens all used to look like, before the evolution of the pronounced nasal bridge and exposed upper eyelids in some pastoralist populations.

  13. Aimee Terese is another textbook case of a fighter-woman with a striking nose and eyelids that can flash a maximum glare when necessary. But from the Saharo-Arabian side, to Anna's Indo-Euro side.

    Pokimane is an interesting case, since she has epicanthic folds on her eyes, like the human default, but has a pastoralist nose like other people of the Mediterranean. Fascinating combination!

    Thinking of the other Moroccan / Maghreb people I've known, I think they tend to have more epicanthic fold kind of eyes, but pronounced noses, part African and part Mediterranean.

    Without having seen her face doxx, I know Leila Mechoui has a don't-fuck-with-me nose, but I don't know about the eyes. Probably more epicanthic fold-y than in the Eastern Med, at any rate.

    The reason why the Maghreb has more residual hunter-gather / baseline homo sapiens traits, like the eyes, is they're farther from the Fertile Crescent, and have not be subject to the selection pressures of agriculture and pastoralism for as long as the Egyptians, Levantines, Mesopotamians, etc. have been.

    They're also more likely to have wavy / curly / kinky hair, for the same reason. Civilization tends to straighten out the hair follicles, again probably as a secondary side-effect of selection targeting a behavioral gene that also influences hair texture.

    Moroccans are the most hippie-like of the Saharo-Arabians, similar to far north Euros being the most hippie-like of the Indo-Europeans. Farthest from their continent's origin of sedentary agriculture, and all the corrupting diseases of civilization -- biological as well as cultural -- that come with it.

    Only major difference is Moroccans once had a native empire (under the Almoravids and Almohads), whereas the Scandis never did. But that was way back in the early 2nd millennium, and I think they've gotten through their imperial collapse hangover period by now.

    They never got absorbed into someone else's empire either -- the only North African territory to resist the Ottomans. So they didn't get second-hand effects of imperial collapse when the Ottomans, or the Spanish, or other nearby empires collapsed in the modern era.


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