The 90′s WERE All That
It is not often that I stick my neck out in an attempt to praise the products that were shoved down my throat, especially the ones pushed during my years as a vulnerable childhood consumer. But, when I saw a co-worker’s article questioning the awesomeness of some of my favorite 90’s institutions, I simply had to. To be quite blunt, you oughta know that the 90’s ruled and I’m here to remind you why.
Of course, the decade produced some of the worst garbage that has ever infiltrated mainstream society (Operation Dumbo Drop…Eifel 65…… etc to infinity) However, there are some gems that when looking back, demand respect even today. I will always go to bat for some of my favorites against the ‘anti-nostalgia machine,’ starting first and foremost with Hey Arnold.
The show was so far ahead of its time that it is baffling. Not only was it visually beautiful but to my knowledge, it was the first cartoon that depicted the day to day lives of inner city children. They rode the public bus, they played stick ball in the street, they went to Ps. 118. The sights and sounds of the city were infused with a soundtrack of smooth jazz. Considering that the show targeted mostly young children, that is a pretty bad ass feat to pull off.
We met the local mail man, the ice cream man, the butcher, a Rabbi, and a public school teacher—just a few of the characters that seamlessly conveyed the ebb and flow of city life. Yet, mixed into this reality was the show’s astute comedic exaggeration. The 5th graders, just one year older, are massively huge and muscular. Helga, despite being 10, has the qualities of a 40 year old hopeless romantic. Cid, despite being a dunce, tells stories with pure eloquence. Mythic episodes like “the Stoop Kid” and the “You Keep the Money (says Oscar)” one still resonate in my mind as clearly as ever.
Many of the same things can be said about Doug. Doug was a real, raw character. Looking back, it seems he needed some Xanax or Paxil. There were episodes when he worried about his weight, his future, and the acne on his face. His constant longing for Patty Mayonnaise was such an accurate portrayal of hopeless pre-teen love that it strikes a chord just thinking about it. But again, mixed with this reality was great comedy. Characters were purple and green. Judy as the overly-dramatic art student was the bomb (in the lasagna.) Skeeter was out of his mind. The Beets and their absurd hit singles were too good and served as a smart, lighthearted parody of the Beatles.. For what it’s worth, I can only hope that Doug is drilling the hell out of Patty Mayonnaise somewhere right now.
There were other epic shows in the Nick lineup, like Guts, Pete and Pete and Legends of the Hidden Temple. I don’t even think that those need defending though. And I’m not even going to get started on how epic Power Rangers and Pokemon seemed to my elementary school brain…
Again, the 90’s produced some horrid kid movies. That doesn’t mean we should forget about the first two Home Alones, or the first two Mighty Ducks films either. I long to encounter the “wet bandits” on the street, and Charlie Conway can still be my captain any day.
Musically, my girl Alanis was doing her thing and other bands like Radiohead, Greenday, and Oasis were establishing themselves as legitimate talents that would last well into this decade. All the while, kids and stoners alike were snacking on Dunkaroos because they fucking rule. I want to eat strawberry frosted Poptarts right now because they fucking rule.
When looking back at the 90’s, one’s expectations have to be altered. No, Rugrats is not going to capture your imagination like it did when you were 7. No show or movie that you enjoyed back then will. However, that does not mean that the shows (and other forms of media) can be disregarded—for two main reasons.
One has been covered throughout this piece. Some of the 90’s products were undeniably innovative, unique, and real. Consequently, they must be respected as legitimate forms of art or at least as legitimate forms of entertainment. If they are irrelevant now, that does not take away the impact that they made back then.
The other is this. To deny Clarissa Explains it All or gushers fruit snacks is to deny where you came from. It is to bite the hand that feeds. Any kid exposed to mainstream media in the 90’s had their expectations on and understanding of life constructed through it. For better or for worse, these shows and movies helped shaped us. Denying their legitimacy is to deny the legitimacy of the wild and naive feelings that correspond with childhood.
Yes of course, some of what we saw, ate, watched, etc was spoon fed to us by major companies that could care less about quality. But cream rises to the top, and the shows that had true staying power (like a Hey Arnold or an All That) continued to exist because we kept coming back. They were excellent, and even as children we knew this.
photo courtesy of glittergoldandlace.tumblr.com
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