A Mosquito, My Libido
I attended the n+1 panel discussion on the '90s on Friday. I had a question that I wanted to ask, but the q&a was dragging on, and raising my hand felt like a complicated extension of a prolonged My So-Called Life marathon (so good, yet who has the time?). Had I raised my hand, this is what I might have asked:
Nostalgia wasn't always like this, right?
History wasn't always this flat, and everything didn't always seem to happen at once. While we like to point at a decade where "accelerated culture" became normative, nothing actually sped up in the '90s. Everything just ground down to a black hole slacker halt. It was timeless, dude.
Sure, there was that whole internet thing, gnawing at time and space while scrapping our quaint notions of subculture and identity politics. But postmodernism was pimpin, and all of history was being prepped for the pillage. Beavis and Butthead, the Beastie Boys, Jeff Koons, Napster -- these were the princes of pastiche, gobbling up the table scraps the Boomers left behind.
Let me say it more clearly: the '90s invented nostalgia. Or at least nostalgia as we commonly now know it. There was always that anxiety of influence playing its fatherly games, but the '90s morphed anxious fear into an international pastime. The decade obsessed about historicizing itself precisely because history felt as flimsy as the Berlin Wall that had crashed into it. I Love The '70s could not have existed in the '80s, but I Love The '90s could only have existed, instantaneously, in 2000.
This way of thinking -- nostalgia for nostalgia -- now seems commonplace. But it didn't exist in the Reagan '80s or the Wategate '70s. Fukuyama was fugged up enough to see these signs and declare it the end of history (the '00s version of which is the world is flat). He saw the right symptoms, but came up with the wrong diagnosis.
Nostalgic for itself, the '90s were indeed a trap. But never mistake ambivalence for apathy. While the rock gods of yesteryear all perished in accidental pools of vomit, it took an act of will -- a shotgun blast to the head -- to break with the past. Or at least try. It was like that Dostoyevsky Wannabe character in Slacker who asks "Who's ever written a great work about the immense effort required in order not to create?"
And that's why this panel itself seemed yanked out of the past, like that Indiana Jones scene where they find the Ark of the Covenant in a warehouse. The format itself seems tied to the days when the culture wars still mattered and you couldn't Skype your way to Tokyo. I remember panel discussions about "the future" all the time on CNN circa 1995. Now they prop up two bozos to fight out the definition of torture. (Look! Nostalgia for nostalgia!)
Oh yeah, a question? Can we talk about Courtney Love please? Oh well, whatever, nevermind.
See also: Foster | Leon | Bakes.