Zach Beauvais

empty bench

How long ago were the ’90s?

Written by Zach Beauvais

Nov 4, 2009

I’m sat downstairs in my house in Shropshire, sipping Rioja and listening to Green Day and trying to imagine music which more resonates with the decade in which we of Orwell’s blight came of age. This is the last year of the ’90s being only last decade. Everyone born in the ’70s will soon be at least 30, and everyone in the 80’s will be in their 20’s; and a generation of kids is already asking: “Pearl Jam?” Another turning point, another fork stuck in the road…

So, was the decade before last good riddance? Was it worth all the while? I need to change the song, hang on…

I did most of my conscious growing up in the decade between shoulder-pads and Thundercats and the WWW. But has much changed? Am I too young to be talking nostalgically about 1990, or are you (if you thought that) getting older than you’d care to admit?

It may be lazy thinking, but I seem to picture the 1990’s as a decade of lasts. It was the last decade in which one could smoke in restaurants, and I am of the last generation which will remember hazy rooms filled with acrid plumes. I’ve lived my whole life thinking of the 1960’s as being the last decade of innocence—as the countless documentaries have explored—but I’m not convinced. Partly, I suppose, because everyone who can remember anything of significance from that period is middle-aged, and it’s difficult to imagine anyone over 45 being all that innocent. But I think something has changed since the 90’s. The ever-shrinking world of the 20th century seems to have expanded once again. Surely, the fallen towers in New York have become a gateway to a time before the Patriot Act and general fear and doubt; but I feel I’ve watched the country of my birth becoming less and less sure of itself and more terrified and confused since the end of the 90’s. Ah, maybe that’s it?

I left only a year after Y2K and the Millennium Bug ruined civilisation, and have been observing the US with the eyes of the 1990’s. My world has been getting bigger, and possibly less scary in comparison. The more people I meet and the more I hear their stories, the more I feel the world isn’t as scary nor as closed-off. Different has become less frightening to me.

What has this got to do with the 1990’s? I’m not sure, really. It was the last decade in which I called myself an American without having to think twice. It was the decade before I started to watch the US turn in on itself from outside its—increasingly armed—borders.

I wonder whether out parents would think of the 90’s as a decade of lasts? Would it be a decade of middles?

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