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Time Travel to The Nineties

Dicaprio & Winslet, Titanic.

A culture obsessive longs for a simpler time upon reading Chuck Klosterman's latest book.

The trust you had to put in people to go where they said they were going to go when they said they were going to go there...

If I’m being honest, I probably started to get nostalgic for the ‘90s not too long after they ended. The decade held within it some of my most formative moments: four years of high school, another four of college, and my first two years as a “grownup” in New York City. You know, best of times, worst of times, all the kinds of times really — tinged with energy, exuberance, uncertainty, and a heaping dose of youthful bravado that can never quite be recaptured. But there was also that young person’s specific brand of naïveté, which makes going back in time and re-examining cultural events, both large and small, so fascinating to me.

Enter Chuck Klosterman’s latest book, The Nineties.

Klosterman is one of Gen X's most prolific cultural critics. He is one of us and understands in a broad sense what the overarching experience of the time was for many. Also, he likes us. (So do I. Very much.)

While Klosterman notes that Gen X is “by almost any barometer, the least significant of the canononical demographics,” it is also “the least annoying” albeit mostly due to size. As he writes, “Xers complained less pedantically than the demographic they followed, and less vehemently than the demographic that came next.” Preach.

Chuck Klosterman, The Nineties Book Cover

That sets the stage for chapters full of cultural analysis to follow — and, boy, was most of it an insightful trip down memory lane. The book is filled with many things you remember distinctly, and some that you can’t believe you almost forgot the importance of, which is also a conceit of the book. The way we remember things will always evolve with time, but the memory of the ‘90s, in particular, has been skewed by the technology that came after it and has come to define us all, for better or worse.

But taking a mildly academic lens to topics that feel ingrained into our collective souls is pretty darn fun. Nirvana. Fugazi. The concept of selling out. Tupac. Studs (Honestly, I could talk about this show’s weird significance for another whole decade.) Alanis. Liz Phair. Reservoir Dogs. Natural Born Killers. Land lines and our very different, if no less important, relationship to the phone. The trust you had to put in people to go where they said they were going to go when they said they were going to go there. The unholy triumvirate of Zima, Crystal Pepsi, and Tab Clear. Titanic. Meet Joe Black. Columbine. O.J. Tyson/Holyfield. The 2000 election. Apathy. The idea that success necessitated skepticism. *69. The list goes on, and I relished reliving it all.

While certainly Klosterman’s white (and straight) masculinity informs what and how he covers his topics of choice, it’s not overpowering. Though I did find myself wondering how different a female Gen Xer's perspective would have been. Or a queer person’s. Or a person of color. Or any combination of those and more. But the book does offer you the ability to layer in your own point-of-view on the events as you read, which was certainly fun for me as a culture obsessive who would love to go back to a time that feels simpler, if also rife with its own problems. (And, yes, I recognize and accept that I am now a person old enough to long for a simpler time — even though my screen time alert every Sunday would indicate otherwise.)

The ‘90s have been back in fashion for a minute now, and I'm not mad about it. But the kids will never truly understand what it was like to actually be there — even if they read about it, which I hope they will. And all their many TikToks (which I love!) will never be able to take that — or the fact that we’re not terrified to make a phone call — away from us.

Abby Gardner
Abby Gardner is a freelance writer, editor, and host with a long career in women’s magazines and digital editorial—including Jane, Allure, YM, Marie Claire, Glamour, and Cosmopolitan. You can find her musing on all things pop culture, sports, royals, fashion, and beauty on Twitter, Instagram, and in her weekly newsletter, We Have Notes and its spinoff podcast—recently named one of Vogue’s best podcasts of 2021.

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