As we age, we tend to look back on earlier decades’ culture with smug superiority.
Can you believe people listened to disco? Who thought acid-washed jeans were a good idea? What’s with the big hair, was it all full of secrets?
Except there’s one problem with that: Unless you’re Gen Z (younger than a millennial), you’re basically making fun of your own poor life choices. (Just wait Generation Z.)
Here are just nine examples:
You had to dial up the Internet – and it took forever
Back in the day when you wanted to “surf the Information Superhighway” – er, go online – you had to attach your desktop computer to a modem that would establish a balky Internet connection over the telephone.
That’s right – you couldn’t talk on the phone and search the Internet at the same time. The struggle was real.
The process made a screechy, crackling noise that sounded like R2-D2 if you put him in a bag and threw him in the river. And it sometimes took several minutes.
“Wake up! You’ve finally got mail!”
To today’s iPhone-toting teens, it must seem like something from “The Flintstones.”
Even the most nostalgic ’90s kids among us don’t miss dial-up. (But that Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan movie was sort of cute.)
Rock stars looked like mopey lumberjacks
Blame Nirvana. By the early ’90s, rock bands in Seattle were walking around sipping coffee in baggy flannel shirts because wearing clothes that fit and were weather-appropriate would be “trying” – and everyone knew trying wasn’t cool.
Then, the grunge-rock scene went mainstream, and suddenly everyone from Claire Danes to your nephew was wearing them.
It sort of made sense if you were, say, a longshoreman in Vancouver. It was a little silly if you were a teenage TV star.
Thankfully, the flannel trend was pretty much over by the late ’90s.
A woman cut off her husband’s penis and threw it out a car window
No, really. This isn’t a clickbait headline - it’s an actual historical fact from 1993.
In June of that year, a Virginia woman named Lorena Bobbitt, fed up with her reportedly abusive husband, cut off his penis with a kitchen knife while he was sleeping. She then got into her car with the severed appendage, drove away and tossed it into a field.
Surgeons reattached it to her husband, John Wayne Bobbitt, during an operation that took more than nine hours.
He later starred in porn movies – because this wasn’t weird enough already.
The episode shocked the world, kept comedians in punchlines for months and inspired a new verb, “Bobbitted.” (Shiver.)
We liked cheesy music
OK, there was plenty of good music in the ’90s. But it was also the decade that gave us some pretty cheesy hit songs like “Achy Breaky Heart,” “Livin’ La Vida Loca,” “Who Let the Dogs Out” and “Mambo No. 5.”
Yes, the “A little bit of Monica in my life …” song. It’s running through your head right now, isn’t it? Sorry.
And we haven’t even mentioned Vanilla Ice.
Men grew soul patches
Over the centuries, dudes have experimented with every possible permutation of facial hair. Let’s be honest: By the time you are rocking a neck beard, there’s pretty much nowhere left to go.
But the ’90s were a special time. For some reason, guys started growing little patches of hair under their bottom lip. Howie Mandel wore one. So did Chris Gaines, Garth Brooks’ rocker alter ego (yes, we’d forgotten about him, too). Kevin Costner still has one.
The “soul patch” trend actually began among jazz musicians in the 1950s – you know, back when it was actually cool – before being revived.
We carried pagers
Get this: Before cellphones, some people carried pagers – also known as “beepers” – little electronic gizmos that beeped when someone was trying to reach you. If you were paged, you would ACT LIKE YOU WERE VERY IMPORTANT and rush to the nearest payphone to call the person back.
Doctors wore them. So did drug dealers.
So, apparently, did people arranging booty calls, according to A Tribe Called Quest’s song “Skypager”:
The ‘S’ in skypage really stands for sex
Beeper’s going off like Don Trump gets checks
Keep my bases loaded like the New York Mets
Ridiculously oversized jeans
Yes, JNCO jeans were briefly a thing.
These denim atrocities made bell bottoms look like skinny jeans and were the perfect wardrobe if you wanted to, say, smuggle a small family inside your clothes.
JNCO stood for “Judge None Choose One,” but fashion cops did plenty of judging. Sales of the much-mocked jeans peaked in 1998 before fading. (Although GQ says they’re making a comeback this year. Yeah.)
Pauly Shore was a movie star
Someday future historians will open a time capsule buried in 1996, watch “Bio-Dome” and shudder in horror while wondering how American society did not implode.
The mostly unfunny Pauly Shore somehow parlayed his Kenny G hair and his surfer-speak schtik into a brief film career – “Encino Man,” “Son in Law” – that fizzled when each of his movies earned less money than the last.
By 2003, he was spoofing his fading celebrity in a mockumentary, “Pauly Shore is Dead.” It grossed $11,000. Ouch.
We all worried for nothing about Y2K
Remember in the late ’90s when we were warned a calendar programming glitch might crash the World Wide Web on January 1, 2000, hurtling the planet into chaos?
Clocks would roll back, banks would lose people’s money, the electric grid would fail and planes would drop out of the sky.
Then 2000 dawned, and … almost nothing happened.
Some people woke up on January 1 and seemed almost disappointed that everything was pretty much the same.
But hey, at least the ’90s were over.
Catch up on “The Nineties” Sunday nights at 9 ET/PT only on CNN.