Cultural nostalgia recycles itself every two decades, so the conventional wisdom goes, and in February 2021, the influence of the early 2000s is everywhere: it’s present in the latest cut of jeans and the music of Lil Uzi Vert and perhaps in the relationship of Kourtney Kardashian and Travis Barker. But the hyperspeed of the social tech era has rendered this rigid cyclical concept of nostalgia moot; ostensibly everyone online is absorbing every bit of data all the time and, for some, the chaos and stasis of the pandemic has virtually collapsed the passage of time upon itself. Every era seems to blend together.
So, while the style, music, and television formats of the 1990s were theoretically more in fashion in the early 2010s, the decade’s roots in the present have never been sharper. Jezebel began talking seriously about the 1990s last year, after seeing the way some of its most toxic traits have returned nearly intact, as if preserved in amber. Originally, this was from a political standpoint that traced the violent and hateful rhetoric of the GOP back to the Tea Party’s roots in conservative ’90s Republicanism, and the white supremacist insurrection at the Capitol to the Oklahoma City bombing. We thought about the Clarence Thomas hearings, in which Anita Hill testified and during which now-President Biden didn’t do enough, and how now-dead Rush Limbaugh popularized a language of abject, loud, and self-righteous hate that currently defines mainstream Republicans. It became increasingly clear that so many of the problems of the current moment have their origins 30 years in the past, in ways that we’re only just beginning to untangle.
We wanted to look back at how crucially that era has affected our present, so for the next week or so, Jezebel will be exploring the ‘90s—looking at aspects of the decade that seem to be repeating and re-evaluating events in that era that have had lasting connotations. This includes the legacy of musical hits in platforms like TikTok, and the way memes were memes before they were memes. It includes third-wave feminism and ‘90s locker-room sexism and the way the latter has responded to social progress. We’re interrogating the ways that Girls Gone Wild precipitated both MeToo and OnlyFans, and the ways the “sex tape” could have been more inclusive and liberating rather than a tabloid spectacle. We’re looking at how ostensibly progressive men presented themselves then, and the way the decades have unraveled this facade. We’re also exploring the ways pundits who weaponize the term “woke” are just reinventing the weaponization of the term “politically correct”—which illustrates how absurd the last 30 or so years have been.
And so, welcome to Jezebel’s ’90s Week, a look back at an ostensibly weird and objectively terrible decade, in which we try to figure out where recent history went wrong—and right.