Although I like the '90s the least among decades I'm familiar with, they were still formative for me, and they're currently undergoing a revival (along with y2k), so I might as well chime in on some of the key features of that decade, and how they're different or similar to today's.
This recent reflection was sparked by Mumei singing "Basket Case" during her recent karaoke stream, instead of the 2000s emo era Green Day songs that are more popular nowadays. (Unless Zoomers get back into the '90s for real, and not just in clothing styles?)
Green Day has had one of the saddest trajectories of any musical group, regarding their role in the overall zeitgeist -- from purely (counter-)cultural actors back in the apathetic '90s, to the stirrings of the red state / blue state culture wars of the W. Bush 2000s, to full blown politicized witch-hunting of the woke 2010s and 2020.
Punk proved itself to be the most authoritarian-loving genre, with not only Green Day but the Offspring, the Dead Milkmen, Rage Against (now, For) the Machine, and worst of all the Dead Kennedys outright fangirling on Twitter with the CIA's anti-Trump electoral pointman McMullin. The common theme was that the half-or-more of the country that doesn't support your political program -- bailing out Wall Street, waging war against Cold War boogeymen, and mandating worthless vaccines for a bad flu -- are literal Nazis who must be concentration-camped in order to preserve freedom.
The only punk to pass this test with flying colors is Avril Lavigne, who never once posted anything political during the crucible of 2020 and after -- BLM, Antifa, boo Trump, vaccines, masks, etc. The princess of much-derided "mall punk" aced the test of anti-authoritarianism, while the critical darlings all failed pathetically. Score another W for all things mall-related.
As punk and "alt" culture in general became more authoritarian, its symbols went fully mainstream, to the point where you can walk into any drugstore and pick up hair dye in rainbow colors, Millennials are obligated to have tattoos, and marijuana is sold openly in every strip center around the country.
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But enough about the recent past, which is all still fairly fresh in everyone's minds. The point here is to contrast how different the non-polarized '90s were. Hardly anyone had weird hair colors, tattoos and piercings other than in the ears were hard to find, and there were "3 strikes and you're out" laws about drugs and related crimes.
Now, someone who wasn't there might think that the relative normie-ness of the '90s meant that the alt culture was ignored, shunned, or suppressed by the majority of young people. But in fact they were fully accepted, even elevated at times. Just because you were a preppie or jock didn't mean you didn't have alt friends, didn't listen to gangsta rap or grunge, and never smoked a joint. Youth culture had its diverse sub-cultures, but they were all aware of each other and more or less friendly toward each other -- in their common struggle against The Man, The Powers That Be, The System, etc.
And far from that anti-authority sentiment being a vague vibe, it was explicit. White suburban alterna kids used to openly shout, "What smells like bacon?!" when the police were nearby. Preps didn't want to get hassled by The Man for smoking pot, joyriding, or whatever other mischief they were getting into. And being anti-police goes back even further among African-Americans. All this came together in the scene from Airheads -- where a metal band hijacks a radio station in order to play their demo tape for exposure -- in which the metalheads begin chanting, ROD-NEY KING! ROD-NEY KING! in order to get the crowd to swarm the bumbling cops.
This anti-authority attitude was not limited to local police, while praising the feds as witch-hunters against political enemies, as has become the norm over the past 5 years. Black leaders openly began talking about the role of the FBI in the MLK assassination, and the CIA for introducing crack into the ghettos. It was also the heyday for what the Deep State would brand as "conspiracy theories" among white people, too -- blaming the CIA for the JFK assassination (famously in the blockbuster Oliver Stone movie), the X-Files, the origins of Alex Jones, and so on and so forth.
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To outwardly express these shared interests against authority, they adopted core elements of each other's aesthetics and style. Alterna kids flirted with dreadlocks (Linda Perry of 4 Non Blondes, Dexter Holland of the Offspring), wore baggy jeans (including from Afrocentric brands like Cross Colors), and even if they were anti-sports, still sought out Charlotte Hornets gear by Starter. The preppy girls wore Doc Martens shoes. All white people adopted some degree of black slang.
The gangsta rap kids had as many drawers of plaid flannel as the grunge kids, and were bigger consumers of Tommy Hilfiger and Polo than even the preps. The '90s were the heyday of both the wigger and the... bleppy? Blunge? They weren't "Oreos" -- those were black kids trying to act WASP-y and yuppie in general, not just adopt the plaid flannels or Polo logo shirts from white kids.
The two counter-cultural camps -- alternative and gansta rap -- shared the pot leaf as a symbol (on hats, shirts, scrawled onto their textbook covers, etc., even if they never smoked a joint in their lives). In fact, they bought their counter-cultural clothing from the same store in the mall -- Spencer's.
Although I've never done any drugs, that didn't stop me from buying and occasionally wearing a black hat with a white skull in front, which had a vivid green pot leaf on its forehead. You couldn't buy that stuff at Abercrombie, Marshall's, or Walmart -- you had to go to Spencer's. That was before white counter-culture split off from black counter-culture and re-camped in the Hot Topic store, during the 2000s.
But back in the '90s, multiculturalism was the rule -- not only across races, but within white sub-cultures, like alterna and preppy, or alterna and country. The lineup for Woodstock '99 was heavy on the alterna sub-cultures within whites, but it also had George Clinton & the P-Funk All-Stars, James Brown, DMX, and Ice Cube. Not to mention multiple bands in the popular black-white fusion genre of rap-metal. Along with Willie Nelson, Creed, Sheryl Crow, and the Dave Matthews Band for normie / conservative-coded white audiences.
The shared interests against authority, and their cultural expression, came together in the censorship of music -- mainly by putting the sales-killing "Parental Advisory" label on the album cover. That effort was spearheaded by the non-partisan PMRC (Parents Music Resource Center) back in the '80s, but continued into the '90s. And whereas the leader of the crusade, Democrat Tipper Gore, had earlier been the wife of a Senator, she was now the Second Lady.
There were also local measures across the nation to suppress counter-cultural symbols in public schools -- the pot leaf, the Charles Manson t-shirt popularized by Guns N' Roses frontman Axel Rose, piercings other than in the ear, and wild hair colors. But I'll cover those in a separate post, looking back on my own experience as a purple-haired 8th-grader in '95.
For now, suffice it to say that the role of those symbols was to unify the youth culture against the grown-up authorities. They were unifiers because they were already shared across a broad range of youth sub-cultures, and because the authorities were targeting their expression no matter who was displaying them. So it really was youth rebellion vs. power-tripping authorities.
This anti-censorship attitude meant to unify all of youth culture against the overbearing authorities, while still being non-partisan and indeed remarking on the political apathy of young people, was best expressed in the grunge anthem "Pretend We're Dead" by L7 from '92. (In the woke era, you'd have to add "all-female band", but that wasn't a rare thing before wokeness killed off the spirit of cooperation, including among women themselves.)
I didn't hear it at the time, but the jangly tambourine adds a nice Sixties counter-cultural touch, without being hamfisted or "boo Nixon" about it. Probably absorbed through the non-political Paisley Underground scene of the '80s, in their native SoCal area, which bore fuller fruit with fellow '90s icons Mazzy Star.
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After over 200 years of rising, our empire's social cohesion (asabiya) had already hit a state of plateau by the 1980s and '90s, although it had not yet started its shallow decline, as it did during the blue state / red state culture wars of the 2000s, let alone the complete and total meltdown by the woke nadir of 2014-'20.
In the cultural domain of society, this breakdown manifested in the creative crowd -- whether the actual creators, their funders, their distributors / platformers, or the diehard consumers, or the commentators -- severing bonds with everyone who was not 100% identical to themselves. Obviously that unglued the whites from all non-white groups, since the creative crowd is overwhelmingly white. But it's not a racial thing, and pointing to 2000s emo and Hot Topic as a "whites-only" space is retardedly missing the bigger picture -- the creative crowd was severing itself from all other white cultures, like the preppies and normies and country fans.
Indeed, this dissolving of social bonds is so intense that even the alternative sub-cultures keep fragmenting into smaller groups, even though 100% of them are on the Democrat / liberal side of the political divide. They can't help but corrode the cohesion that would otherwise hold them together into a semi-big tent.
And as the creative crowd have abandoned their fight against overbearing authority, and turned on their fellow citizens instead, the overt and Deep State at the highest levels have come out in favor of them, and they in favor of it. Neither the FBI nor the local school principal will suppress a woketard student from sporting green hair, a lip piercing, pot leaf on their hat, etc.
Both the woketards and the authorities have discovered a common interest -- suppressing the unruly rabble during a crisis of legitimacy for the central authorities and elites in general, especially after the 2008 depression from which we have never recovered. The woketards because they feel they're superior to normies, who must be humiliated for their heretical culture. And the Deep State as part of a divide-and-conquer strategy against a would-be organized populace.
The central theme of anarchy has been re-branded for this new alliance, exemplified by the Black Bloc of the early 2000s anti-globalization movement being re-worked into a woketard paramilitary of the Deep State, now branded as Antifa. Whereas before it meant anti-authoritarian, now it means dissolving all social-cultural bonds for the woketards (to purify the culture of heresy), and preventing higher-level organization among the rabble in the eyes of the central state's security apparatus. Chaos, confusion, every man for himself, pure and total social breakdown -- not the put-upon banding together against The Powers That Be. In the new configuration, organization and teamwork = fascism, hence if you're anti-fascist, you're committed to dissolving every social unit in society.
And yes, that includes their own political team's units -- not the bizarre notion from right-wingers that the Dems or libtards or the Deep State have a well-oiled machine dominating a fractured GOP / conservatard enemy. The Democrats could not even produce enough cohesion to nominate Biden and Harris legitimately in 2020 -- the party leaders shut down the primary when it was clear nobody wanted Biden and would stay mired in a Bernie vs. not-Bernie civil war through the convention, like their 2016 convention on steroids (when Bernie representatives were boo-ing their "fellow" Dems from the convention floor!).
Every institution in the American Empire is coming apart at the seams, even the libtard ones. Hollywood can't make new movies, TV series, or music anymore. The video game industry can't do anything more than what they did 10 years ago, as Minecraft and GTA V are the most popular "new" games. The premier streaming platform, Twitch, is currently melting down from within. The general public does not believe the media, nor "peer-reviewed research" from the universities. The finance sector is collapsing again, with double-digit inflation on top of the problems of 2008.
Sure, there's an oasis here or there in every institution, but the overall trend is one of anti-social greed rotting them out from the inside, until they ultimately collapse. This is the opposite world of the Mid-20th Century, when people trusted the news & "studies," when the military could still win a world war, the FBI could coup a sitting president from the shadows with no one the wiser, when cultural production was still flourishing, when our manufacturing was first in the world, and when we didn't have rolling finance collapses with double-digit inflation and 0% interest rates and infinite money-printing.
*That* was the world of well-oiled machines -- here and now, we are in unrestrained breakdown and chaos, on all sides at once.
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Contrary to clueless right-wingers who say that the creative crowd were always this bad, or always had this goal in mind, or are only now taking the mask off, this is in fact a 180-degree corruption of who they were in the '90s. And they themselves are openly embarrassed and ashamed of who they were back then, confessing their sins, promising to atone and "do better", and in all other ways disowning their previous selves. That's the opposite of celebrating their '90s selves as the tip of the spear, Trojan Horse, initial seed, Patient Zero, cuckoo's egg, long march through the institutions, or whatever other dum-dum metaphors the right-wing cultural commentators use to describe it.
Nor can we lazily say that they're the same as who they were back then because "the '90s led to the 2010s" -- sure, and so did the '50s, and the 1770s. We've gone through various phases of having little cohesion, rising, plateau-ing, then declining, yet to reach a new minimum. As far as cultural cohesion goes, the '90s were in a qualitatively different phase of this multi-century cycle. It was the multicultural consolidation of all our empire's earlier conquests, as well as unifying the sub-cultures within the imperial natives. The End of History -- no further left to go, unless history turns out to be non-linear...
Anyone likening the multicultural Nineties to the woke 2010s is from outer space -- they're totally out-of-touch with America, at least, and might as well be foreigners.
Next up: my 8th-grade battle for purple hair -- waged not against my normie peers (or even my parents), but against the literal authorities of the school. And other episodes involving my friends wearing the Charles Manson shirt, etc. I'll also elaborate on some other themes that I didn't get to chance to here, like individual vs. collective identity.
Millennials and Zoomers won't believe it, but that's because only Gen X and Boomers remember the reality of the '90s. Millennials and Zoomers retroactively insert way too much of the their own formative years in the 2000s and 2010s, back into the '90s or '80s, when it was not only absent, but often the polar opposite of the environment they imprinted on.