The further we march into this new year, the more I desire to recede into the past—to leave our intolerably tolerant modern world and reflect back to a time when people’s feelings didn’t infect every goddamn crevice of our ultimately pointless lives.
The Western-approved model of nostalgia dictates that all trends, no matter how cringe-worthy, must make their way back into the minds of consumers every 20 years or so. It makes me wonder if we’ve exhausted every possible “thing” and are just doomed to repeat the same shit for eternity. (Y’all ready for the “1950s nostalgia in the 1980s” revival?) Soon we’ll be bathing in the glow of several seconds ago, and Allston hipsters will be throwing “Last Week” parties. Soon after, we’ll be swallowed by the cultural black hole that Father Warhol warned us all about. But until that hipocalypse turns us all into a totally lame singularity, it’s my turn to revel in my own whimsical “back in the day” horsehit.
Since I’m still under 30, this may open me to up to possible eye rolls and condemnations from my older, not so gentler, peers; perhaps something about how I’m too young to be reminiscing, or not knowing “what it’s like,” as if they ‘ve never participated in the same endless conflict with their elders. But considering how much the culture, and the exponentially rapid consumption of it, has changed in the last 20 years, and especially given the digital dark ages before widespread Internet availability, along with the insane notion that we can stay perpetually young and this exhaustive sentence, I figure I don’t give a darn anyway.
It was the golden age of receiving participation trophies, even though I participated in universally awful teams with losing records. This perplexing and hollow experience was a Trojan horse for much more sinister, anti-male, anti-competition poison that we witness today. But at least then we were still permitted to be boys; hurl insults at each other, pass around dirty/violent comic books in class, get into fights that ended in stronger friendships, and torturing the queers who held hands at recess–OK, so maybe all of our activities weren’t exactly noble, but they were a part of growing up nonetheless.
Our small Catholic school was like an embassy for the scared white parents in town to send their kids (along with a handful of some lucky minorities). Our schoolyard was literally a parking lot in the middle of the Lawrence, Mass ghetto. The only thing separating us from Dominican gang bangers was a poorly maintained metal fence. Our playground was a tree and the teachers’ cars. It didn’t matter, though. We filled our time with hyperbolic declarations of our father’s strength, vicious insults, even more vicious punches, and tales of forbidden titty sightings. I was the horror fanatic of the group (being Catholic gave me a strange fascination and fear of Satan) and would often transcribe my demonic fantasies into short stories and drawings that I was all too happy to pass around class. They were usually grotesque and one story in particular was a murder mystery involving everyone in my class; including teachers and priests that were horrifically murdered one by one.
This was still pre-Columbine, so instead of being arrested and force-fed pharmaceuticals, I received warm praise from my classmates and teachers alike for my creativity. To be fair, one instructor in particular found it disturbing and called a conference with my mother. I was lucky that she was supportive and dismissive of the tight-assed Catholics. She was a constant target of their witch hunting most of her own life. I was being creative, and in turn, had that creativity nurtured. Today, this behavior would be snuffed out by the Intolerant Zero-Tolerance Mind-Crime Stoppers.
A 90s revival also gives me the chance to be a wicked douchebag hipster. I will wield the “I was into them before you were born” flag with zeal and scoff at your false pop-cultural idols. But manufacturers are doing their best to capture this current crop of crass with endless piles of T-shirts and other novelties depicting Saturday morning cartoons of the time. Now everywhere I look, I see some stoned slob schlepping about in a Rocko’s Modern Life shirt, begging women to ignore them and forever ruining things I once held dear. I tried taking part in this wistfulness myself by watching some old X-Men and Spider-Man cartoons when I saw them pop up on Netflix. Warm childhood memories quickly oxidized into rust. Marijuana didn’t help either. It only accentuated the weirdness of it all. It was like walking in on my 13 year-old self jerking off. You can’t recapture the magic, proto-grownups. Don’t even try.
There are folks who are not so fond of the 90’s. Some of our perpetually oppressed culture-gnashers insist the 90s were basically the 50s—not because of the parallels in relative global and economic stability, but because of the rampant patriarchal comedy of this oppressive era. Perhaps it’s because my shame UVs are on, but the only kind of comedy I remember from the time period are of the warped and neon variety. I also recall SNL having their funniest females ever (that did it without constantly calling attention to their opposite genitalia). But my inability to see this insidious injustice just all the more proves that it is there. Much like God, the absence of proof is all the more proof for these righteous rebels.
Porn had very different meaning in the pre-Internet era as well, and my generation will be the last to remember a distinct time before and after. It was at the end of a treasure hunt in the woods for, I kid you not, buried porno mags. XXX marks the spot! This was pre-Internet and thus far more rewarding. Whenever my buddy and I embarked on this pleasure quest, I took spoils home with me in the form of a ripped-out picture. I’m pretty sure I masturbated to just one of these pictures more times than I said my rosaries. A breast, even a partially covered one, was early teen currency.
Renting movies was no picnic either. Blood was spilled for our pleasures. I would ride to one of my friends’ houses from Flicks Video on my shitty bike with plastic bags overfilled with VHS nasties ripping through the sides. (We never wore helmets. Anyone that did would surely be subjected to psychological and physical warfare, and for good reason; helmets are for fags.) There was a decent chance I would either fly over the handlebars or nosedive into oncoming traffic with these giant, clumsy weights on either side of my handlebars. Now you just press a fucking button—not even a button, but magic glass–and more movies than you could watch in several lifetimes are there. All of this reward with no effort is bad for the soul. As a busy adult, I love it, but it’s poison for present and future generations who don’t understand the joy of the hunt. It undoubtedly instills a poor work ethic. Hell, I see my fellow cubicle workers sneaking in parts of episodes of Breaking Bad in between spurts of work. Putting aside the absolute desolation this must do to one’s attention to detail, an absolute must in our industry, how the fuck is this even enjoyable?
My heart yearns for this simpler time. No memes. No trolls. No texts. No cyber stalking. Secrets still existed. Stories still to be told. Mysteries still needed unearthing–just a boy and his imagination.
Christ, it may as well have been the 50s.