The ‘90s are back.
Step inside any public high school with a lax dress code, stroll stoned through the grounds of any music festival, and you’re supposed to see the future. (The children are our future, after all).
But, instead, it’s a time warp.
Like The Ghost of Christmas Past, sporting flannel and a dark lip, the 1990s have come back to show us what we’re missing and where we went wrong.
Crop tops paired with high-waisted shorts (just a couple years ago, we were calling these Mom Jeans); plaid shirts tied around waists (when fanny packs haven’t set up shop); Converse and Doc Martens and bucket hats. Bucket hats! Whoever thought we would see that (though practical-for-180-degree-sun-protection) hideous trend again?
Once upon a time, the ‘90s were a decade we left with relief. Passing through the fiery fear of Y2K into a new century, we bid good riddance to a decade that seemed trivial, full of bad music and sex scandals and celebrity trials.
Why would we want to go back/throwback now?
Theory #1: Revenge of the Nerds
From one angle, we’ve been prepping for this ‘90s fashion-gasm for a few years. With the rise of Hipsterism, a sort of Revenge of The Nerds trend began. Many things that were once traditionally considered uncool became cool.
It was hip to be square.
Comic book and video game connoisseurs began to shape trending entertainment. Cat obsessions and gigantic reading glasses were not just for old spinsters anymore. Big bow ties and even bigger mustaches began to crop up everywhere.
The more you looked like a librarian or a pedophile, the cooler you were. (Because everyone knows to be cool, you have to put a lot of effort into looking like you don’t give a fuck.)
So it seems the ‘90s were the next inevitable step in this process of de-cooling ourselves. That bubble-gum pop decade of primary plaids and neon florals was, perhaps, the epitome of an uncool decade.
But, as with all trends, it’s hard to pinpoint a single source. And we can’t blame everyone’s favorite scapegoats, “the hipsters” for everything.
Let’s continue to psychoanalyze a whole quadrant of the population in one big Freudian-fuck-fest.
Theory #2: The Nostalgia Factor
For the younger set, the ‘90s is a “retro” look, just like when we adapted the ‘70s’ “bell bottoms” into the ‘00s’ “flare jeans.”
But for those of us who grew up in the ‘90s, that decade’s (un)fashionable return may have come about for a larger reason than a desire for tacky day throwback threads.
The ‘90s was our youth.
Now that we are adults, facing adult difficulties, it’s natural for us to covet the past.
The ‘90s, when we look back, shines brightly as a decade of great technological progress and economic affluence. (“It’s The Economy, Stupid!”)
The future seemed rife with possibilities.
And before you go saying that the ‘90s was actually just another terrible decade, full of as much drama and trauma as the present-time, we can’t dispute you.
We were not, then, fully cognitive human beings, but only ignorant youths, blinking out at the kaleidoscopic lights of a brave new world, wrapped in the comfort of security blankets (and they were big, warm security blankets).
All we really know now are our memories and our nostalgia.
Nostalgia makes everything into a picture-postcard flip-book of happiness — like an envy-inducing Facebook page that morphs the hum-drum life of a friend into one big carnival ride of hot beach vacation selfies and smug career promotion statutes, never displaying what his or her life really is — what our lives all really are — the daily grind with little bursting pockets of relief.
In nostalgia, as in Facebook, those bursting pockets of relief get a lot more play than the rest.
And capitalism banks hard on our ‘90s nostalgia these days. Though we can never go back, we can place our falsified feelings into physical objects — slap bracelets, cassette tapes, 16-bit video games — and can lose hours of our present-tense rewatching old irreverent, irrelevant television shows.
When our lives get tough, as our age range creeps into the late 20s/early 30s and still we struggle to find affordable housing and a job that pays the bills, and still we struggle to find the right path toward that (apparently non-existent) dream job that we pasted with confidence on the bulletin board in elementary school, the ‘90s call us back with a warm and distant glow.
Why did we leave them behind so callously?
So easy, so tie-dyed and shallow was the decade as we experienced it, that we sped from it, believing we were ready for adulthood, thinking that so much promise lay ahead of us, like 49ers heading for the gold rush. (But spoiler alert: there was no gold.)
The ‘90s was our youth and, in youth, the possibilities seemed limitless.
In fact, we were told repeatedly that they were limitless.
And therein lies the problem.
Theory #3: Child Psychology
In the ‘90s, the prevailing child-rearing technique emphasized the unique traits and exquisite talents of every child.
We were told, repeatedly, by parents, by teachers, by Mr. Rogers, that we were each individually special and destined for greatness.
Let me pull out that well-worn prime example: Every child got a trophy.
No matter their skill level or work ethic, if a kid occasionally came to practice for basketball or gymnastics, he or she got a gleaming golden trophy of a reward at the end of the season.
(This was not the case when our parents were children. Only the MVP got a medal. Or the winning team.)
No wonder people call our generation whiny and spoiled now. We were used to being handed trophies, not for hard work, but for simply showing up.
We began to expect so much from life: praise, recognition, a good job at least.
We were told that when we grew up, we could be whatever we wanted to be.
What a nice message.
Now, it may sound like I am complaining about the fact that I was loved and encouraged. And that would be very silly.
But I’d like to look at the lasting effects of such a message.
What happens to us — those egocentric children basking in the radiance of our own brilliance — when 2001 hits and the lights go out? The wars begin to rage, the economy melts down, and everything we were told to believe in loses its value.
It’s hard enough to grow up and realize the world is never “fair and balanced,” but, to compound our bewilderment, the world as we knew it basically disintegrated.
We were in for a rude and trophy-less awakening.
We stood for awhile in the freeze of the early century, hoping our helicopter parents would come airlift us out. The rungs of the ladders we were supposed to climb so easily were broken. We fruitlessly swung our “valuable” college degrees around like Half-Life crowbars on a touchpad mouse against an army of unpredictable assailants. But nothing happened.
…Until we realized a new truth, we ignorant adults blinking out into the darkness of a strange new world:
“We” are just one of thousands applying for the same measly, entry-level assistant job where we will be treated like yesterday’s Chinese takeout or a camel-toe in Lululemon yoga pants — to be picked at and done away with.
We, apparently, are not that special after all.
This may still sound quite self-pitying, but all we ask now is a bit of patience in consideration of how we were raised and praised in the good ol’ ‘90s.
In the movies, it always takes our heroes awhile to break out of their Matrix-placenta and re-orient themselves into the stark reality of their lives.
So give us a moment to take a deep incense-filled breath and pull ourselves up by our Doc Marten bootstraps.
Now, or soon — clad in the comforting sheep’s wool of our childhood — we will make amends with the present-time, these 20-teens, and be able to spring upon our future with the bloody, built-up fury of injustice (“But it’s not fair! I want a trophy too!” may be our rallying cry.).
Perhaps one day down the line, we will be able to set aside our ingrained desires for individual recognition (which we try to obtain with Youtube sketches and American Idol auditions), begin to dress the same (!), and become what everyone in America fears: Socialists.
Tired of the rich-man monetary game of politics, we will crowdfund a Big Lebowski Dude-like figure into the presidency and see what happens next.
Theory #4: The Future
What does all this mean for those children twenty years from now who will be running around in ‘90s attire too? (These things go in cycles.)
My prediction is we won’t raise our children the same way. We will revert back to techniques more similar to the era in which our grandparents (products, like us, of depression and war) raised our parents.
We won’t hover and overly praise. We’ll let them play and work out their troubles, Lord of the Flies style. Or stick them in front of an iPad screen and forget about them.
Either way, they’ll learn an important lesson.
i.e. “Despite the fact that we, Elliot, and Skylar, think that you, Jasper, and Willow are special, not everyone else in the outside world will think so.
The outside world is one big honey badger — it just doesn’t give a fuck.”
We had to learn that the hard way.
We will teach our children to carve out their own path in life, not to put faith in formulas or in the future.
Even if they have natural talent, we will tell them they must work for years without praise or recognition. They will have to sacrifice and compromise.
In the end, they must try to make themselves happy, even if they will never be able to attain that ultimate goal that they sketched out with construction paper and glue stick and safety scissors and displayed with gumption on the bulletin board of their elementary school classroom:
“When I Grow Up, I Want To Be:…An Astronaut…An Actor…The President.”
We will teach our children that not everyone gets a high-waisted, flannel-wrapped, backwards-baseball-hat-and-big boot-wearing trophy.
That was all in the past. That was the ‘90s, and we need to let it go.