Christy Wampole’s interesting article about ironic hipsterdom in the New York Times includes this paragraph, suggesting that in the last decade of the 20th century, sincerity ruled:
Born in 1977, at the tail end of Generation X, I came of age in the 1990s, a decade that, bracketed neatly by two architectural crumblings — of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the Twin Towers in 2001 — now seems relatively irony-free. The grunge movement was serious in its aesthetics and its attitude, with a combative stance against authority, which the punk movement had also embraced. In my perhaps over-nostalgic memory, feminism reached an unprecedented peak, environmentalist concerns gained widespread attention, questions of race were more openly addressed: all of these stirrings contained within them the same electricity and euphoria touching generations that witness a centennial or millennial changeover.
Now, I’m a little older than Ms Wampole, but I’m not yet quite so senile that I’ve forgotten that decade completely. And my 1990s may have included a bit of grunge earnestness at the beginning (incidentally, Wampole seems to have overlooked Cobain’s wit, and that of the smarter punks), but it was also about the pop postmodernism of The Modern Review and the raised-eyebrow laddishness of Loaded (before it became just another vehicle for tits), the louche poses of loungecore, Jarvis Cocker vs Michael Jackson, Madonna when she was still funny, the Young British Artists ditto, Tarantino in his trash-referential pomp, Trainspotting, the hilarious implosion of John Major’s government, Monica Lewinsky, Lorena Bobbitt. Irony wasn’t just a desperate pose to fend off the reality of economic and environmental omnishambles by growing a moustache. It was just how it was. With great big air quotes around it.
So is this divergence between Wampole’s memories and mine a matter of age or gender or nationality? Or was everybody’s decade just entirely different? In my book about the Noughties, I suggested that it’s very difficult to find a generic image that sums up the 1990s, which distinguishes it from the preceding decades (mini-skirts and flowers; flared trousers and picket lines; power suits and Filofaxes). I even posited the idea that the decade never happened at all, existing merely as “a history-free buffer zone between the ideological polarities of the 1980s and the socio-religious anxieties of the Noughties.” So there. And lest I be accused of even more egregious touting of my wares than is normally the case, I’ll balance it by recommending John Robb’s excellent tome about the 90s, aptly subtitled What The F**k Was All That About?
But anyway; how was it for you?