The Nineties

This was a decade of full-on metacognition, when people spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about why they were thinking whatever it was they were thinking.

This book was absolutely fantastic, I was riveted. The Nineties ran, for me, from age 11 to age 21. It’s kind of neat to have your life decades synced up to the actual decades, although as Klosterman describes in this book and related interviews, the Nineties might be the last time we think culturally in terms of decades: there’s no reason why we have to.

Chuck Klosterman is seven years older than me (if we believe Wikipedia). Some of his obsessions (Motley Crüe, Guns n Roses), even the idea of manically chasing to their endpoint the meaning of obsessions with a rock band, are just a click or two beyond of my own experience with pop culture, so some of his earlier books, although intriguing, I just never got the activation energy to read. Then I got this text from my buddy Sgro, who I met around 1993 or 94, with whom I spent many summers in the Nineties:

Flattery will get you everywhere bud. Here is Klosterman warming up to baseball in the 90s:

A football game in 1995 bore no resemblance to a football game from 1945. The greatest pro basketball player from the fifties, George Mikan, could not have made an NBA roster in the eighties. The physical and technical evolution of football and basketball had been so dramatic that the past wasn’t comparable with the present. That wasn’t true with baseball. Baseball had evolved less. The aesthetics and physiology were more similar than different, and it was not remotely unreasonable to suggest that the greatest player of all time was still an overweight alcoholic who’d retired in 1935. Part of what made baseball historically compelling was its ability to transcend time. The skills of hitting and pitching were static, frozen in amber. It was the rare game where statistics from the past were comparable with statistics from the present.

And then Brady Anderson hit 50 home runs on one season.

Klosterman points to a pivotal moment in Seinfeld. George, who’s been working with Jerry on a pilot for a show about nothing, is confronted by NBC executive Russell Dalrympe:

“Well, why am I watching it?” asks Dalrymple.

“Because it’s on TV,” replies George.

That was how it was then. You watched what was on TV. A related fact:

The Kirstie Alley vehicle Veronica’s Closet, when packaged in NBC’s Thursday night lineup, could sustain a weekly audience of 24 million viewers. When it was moved to Monday, its viewership dropped to 8 million.

(last week, by comparison, the most popular non-Olympics broadcast show, FBI, got seven and a half million viewers. I don’t think any comedy came close to even 5 million viewers).

On the OJ trial:

It is a hinge moment in U. S. media history, ostensibly for its effect on race and celebrity but mostly for the way it combined tragedy and stupidity on a scope and scale that would foretell America’s deterioration into a superpower that was also a failed state. It was a TV show that proved everything that had always been feared and suspected about the medium of TV.

Within a brilliant riff/exploration on Bill Clinton and the much-imitated (though only once actually said) “I feel your pain”:

Without even trying, [90s Americans] could dissect a broadcast like Clinton’s Oklahoma City address with the acuteness of self-taught media analysts. And within those conditions – within the context of grading a speech’s sincerity as much as feeling that sincerity – Clinton was unstoppable.

This is an error:


But, I forgive! I thought Klosterman’s analysis of Garth Brooks/Chris Gaines alone was worth the price of admission.

It’s interesting how we talk about a writer having a voice: Klosterman literally has a distinctive speaking voice (as do Sarah Vowell, David Sedaris, who else?)

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