REVIEW Sara Putman, Bookish, Fort Smith
by Chuck Klosterman
If you are a history lover, Klosterman’s newest soiree into the decade that positioned itself between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Twin Towers will scratch that contemporary history itch. This deep dive into pop culture will do more than simply regurgitate facts, it will send you on a Google spiral for days. Klosterman’s analysis is a splash of Clearly Canadian for your nostalgic heart, and for the first time for a huge swath of our population, readers will get a thoughtful and reflective analysis of lived-in history. Klosterman’s The Nineties will uncover exactly why we loved what we loved and how it got us where we are today.
Klosterman argues that there were wholesale shifts in how society was perceived then versus now. Think about it, in 1995, if you were expecting a phone call, you had to sit at home and wait for the landline to ring. Just five years later, Nokia launched a portable phone and eleven million people owned one. Today, it seems unheard of that the postal service and landline telephones were enough to perpetuate society.
And then there was the Internet which spent most of the decade preparing us for its coming. Who can remember the day the Internet arrived at your house? Was it a huge ordeal with fanfare and celebration? Not for me. It just…appeared. These gradual, yet sudden changes proved to be more dramatic than most Gen Xers might admit, and these changes and cultural shifts are exactly what Klosterman unpacks throughout. These shifts upended not only in the way we schedule our time, but in how we understand one another, “In the pre-Google world, the internet changed the way we thought about computers and communication. In the post-Google world, the internet changed the way people thought about life.”
The 90’s brought about a revolution in the human condition we’re still grappeling to understand. He reminds us how “pop culture accelerated without the aid of a machine that remembered everything.” There was an odd comfort in never being certain about anything or about discussing Seinfeld or Friends around the water cooler every Friday morning. On a 90’s Thursday night, more people watched any random episode of Seinfeld than the finale of Game of Thrones. But nobody thought that was important; if you missed it, you simply missed it. It was the last era that held to the idea of a true, hegemonic mainstream before it all began to fracture, whether you found a home in it or defined yourself against it – hence the rise of grunge, the fear of selling out, and Independent Party political candidates.
Klosterman takes us on a time warp through all of it: the film, the music, the sports, the TV, the politics, the changes regarding race, class, and sexuality. Only in a Klosterman book would you see a sentence like, “The video for ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was more consequential than the reunification of Germany,” and it makes complete sense. This multi-dimensional work is wicked smart and completely delightful.