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  • Riding the wave of 90's nostalgia

       September 25, 2010

    For years now, I've breathlessly anticipated 90's nostalgia. I've even kept some choice flannels and a pair of Dr. Martens in storage, just in case. If you've looked around any store this fall, you know that the 90's have arrived (again), right on schedule (I think it takes about 20 years for something to be cool again). Yesterday, I even saw a cut-off flannel vest. It was exactly like someone raided my college wardrobe and was trying to sell it back to me for three times the price.

    To celebrate, I watched Pearl Jam's epic performance of "Black" on MTV's unplugged. Oh Eddie Vedder, you still get me when you sing:

    I know someday you'll have a beautiful life
    I know you'll be a sun
    In somebody else's sky
    But why, why, WHY?????????? can't it be, can't it be mine?

    Of course, 90's nostalgia isn't just about culture. It's also a yearning for a simpler time. A time when people actually had jobs, terrorism was defeated in Ireland and intervention in Kosovo worked pretty quickly and with minimal loss of American blood. It was the best of times. It was the best of times.

    I watched the HBO movie "The Special Relationship" the other night. The film chronicles the relationship between Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. Michael Sheen reprises his role as Blair from "The Queen". Like in that film, Blair is portrayed as something of a wide-eyed, do-gooder and the focus turns to the more intriguing characters of Queen Elizabeth II and Bill Clinton respectively. (As an aside, I've always wanted to write about "The Queen" because it's the only time I've ever seen the themes of honor and duty applied to a woman. You can't watch the film and feel anything but a deep admiration for the Queen.) Dennis Quaid channels the spirit of the late, great Phil Hartman in his portrayal of Clinton. Clinton is basically a womanizing, fast food-eating rascal, but a good one.

    What's intriguing about the film is that it shows the 90's through a 2010 lens. So, when Clinton states that rhetoric works in an election, but once in office you actually have to do something, you can almost hear the ",Barack" at the end of the sentence. Likewise, Clinton's strategists tell Blair that, basically, you have to give the people what they want and that it's easier to modify what a political party stands for than change what people want. Isn't that a message that both the Republicans and the Democrats are painfully learning to heed today?

    Thinking about this 90's nostalgia and the popularity of Bill Clinton (seriously, would he win the biggest landslide in American history if he could run for President again in 2012?), I realized that Hillary Clinton's new hairdo actually is a big deal. She's growing her hair out to look more like the Hillary of the 90's. She must be planning on running against Obama in 2012 and smartly wants to evoke those good times when the Clintons were in charge.

    The Clintons aren't the only 90's throwbacks in today's political arena. If you think about, the Tea Party is about as 90's as you can get. Back then, the worst thing you could be was a corporate sellout. Minus the birthers and racists and Sarah Palin, isn't that exactly what's at the heart of the Tea Party movement? When the politicians on both sides of the aisle sold out to corporate interests in the form of bailouts, they became the political equivalent of the indie band who signed a big record company contract. They might have the office and the money, but they've lost their street cred.

    To bring it all back to music, it's really not that far off from the lyrics to Todd Snider's "Talkin' Seattle Grunge Rock Blues" about the band so alternative it refused to play:

    well they made us do a video but that wasn't tough
    'cuz we just filmed ourselves smashin' stuff
    it was kinda weird 'cuz there was no music
    but mtv said they'd love to use it

    the kids went wild, the kids went nuts
    rolling stone gave us a five-star review said we played with guts
    we're scorin' chicks, takin' drugs
    then we got asked to play mtv unplugged
    you should have seen it
    we went right out there and refused to do acoustical versions of the
    electrical songs we had refused to record in the first place
    then we smashed our shit

    well we blew 'em away at the grammy's show
    by refusing to play and refusing to go
    and then just when we thought fame would last forever
    along come this band that wasn't even together
    now that's alternative
    now that's alternative to alternative
    i feel stupid
    and contagious

    You're always going to be able to appeal to Gen X by invoking that magic word: "alternative". Clinton & Ross Perot both ran on that platform in 1992 and it shouldn't shock anyway that this wave of 90's nostalgia will probably sweep even more "alternative" candidates into office in 2010.

    Posted by kris at September 25, 2010 12:06 PM

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    #  September 25th, 2010 12:38 PM      kris
    I almost wrote that the "90's" as we remember them started in 1992 with Clinton's election, but that's actually so wrong. I think they either started in the fall of 1991 with the release of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" or with the release of Faith No More's "Epic" on January 30, 1990, which to my mind was the first alternative hit.

    I also love this note about the video for Smells Like Teen Spirit:

    The music video for "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was the first for director Samuel Bayer. Bayer believes he was hired because his test reel was so poor the band anticipated his production would be "punk" and "not corporate."

    Exactly. For a political perspective, I'd think smart candidates should remember that. These Weaver ads are a great example and obviously invoke Paul Wellstone's 1990 ad:

    #  September 25th, 2010 12:51 PM      kris
    Here are a couple more 90's-era political ads that certainly resonate today:

    #  September 25th, 2010 2:59 PM      BVBigBro
    I have to disagree with some of this. Generation X will long for the 90's, but this is no path for political success. Even if one could get elected by appealing to the past, no one can live or govern in the past.

    Generation X is the generation that goes from growing up in a world favoring style over substance to living in a world of substance that they have brought about. The way to appeal is with simple substance. Simplicity automatically brings back the past and substance mixes in the reality they know must be.  
    #  September 25th, 2010 5:27 PM      kris
    I think maybe Hillary could represent simple nostalgia, but the ideal of alternative certainly isn't just nostalgic and I think it's something deeply ingrained in Gen X and something that we will respond to on all levels.  
    #  September 27th, 2010 8:47 AM      kris
    Lady Gaga is even dressing as 90s-Hillary.

    I'm telling you, it's all happening.  



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