Review: The 90s: A Book

Today, “if you ask a semi-educated young person to identify the root cause of most of America’s problems, chances are he will say ‘Capitalism'”. In the 90s, the most likely answer “would have been commercialism.” Thus observes the high-profile cultural critic Chuck Klosterman in The 90s: a book.

Without passing judgment on the change, the book riffs on it for a few pages before turning into an analysis of the song “Achy Breaky Heart”, then Garth Brooks, Seinfeld, and Titanic.

It’s the overall reading experience The nineties– a collection of light-hearted, dryly humorous dispatches from our current moment on iconic events, artifacts, postures and controversies from three decades ago. There is Nirvana and the first war in Iraq; Google and Steroids in Baseball; american beauty, Ebonics and Waco; VCRs, Crystal Pepsi and Ross Perot.

There is no general theme, and perhaps there could not be. Anyone who imposes a clear message on 10 years of disparate events and trends is probably trying too hard to sell you something.

But there are concerns, like how some of today’s obsessions – politics, personal branding – were less important (“political engagement was always seen as optional”) or even the anathema (people in the 90s had “an adversarial relationship with the impropriety of trying too hard”).

Klosterman frequently compares the way things were seen in the 90s with the way they are or would be seen now. But it doesn’t address modern readers by insisting that today’s ratings are superior.

Much of what Klosterman writes seems obvious once he’s written it, but in a way you couldn’t have articulated beforehand. Far from a stuffy cultural analysis, it feels like reminiscing about a witty, nerdy, and insightful friend.

Angela C. Hale