August 2012

Twin Peaks/Fire Walk With Me

The 90s giveth and the 90s taketh away.

The 90s giveth, and the 90s taketh away. Twin Peaks ushered in the 90s, premiering in April of 1990. I won't pretend to be a hipster who was on to the show from the beginning: by the time I heard about it, enough episodes had passed that I was completely lost when I tried to watch it. It wasn't until the episodes came out on VHS in the mid 90s that I was finally able to sit down and watch them all.

Twin Peaks set the stage for so many shows and movies to follow. I doubt there would have been an X-Files without a Twin Peaks. When The X-Files debuted, it was pretty clear (to me at least) that Mulder was a direct descendent of Agent Cooper. The short dark hair; the interest in the occult.  
I also doubt there would have been a Lost without a fan base of people who cut their teeth on Twin Peaks, and who yearned for that long form storytelling of a very strange story. Twin Peaks certainly was that. The show was so ground-breaking, so mind-meltingly strange, that its effects are still felt now, more than 20 years later. You can still make a "backwards-talking dwarf" reference, and people will laugh.

Friends: Champion of the '90s

Even beyond "The Rachael," this show ruled the '90s.

Of all the cultural touchstones of the '90s, surely few loom as large as the NBC juggernaut that was the sitcom Friends. It's hard to believe that Friends didn't debut until the fall season of 1994; the show is so inextricably entwined with my memories of the '90s that it seems like it must have been there all along.

It's fashionable to hate on Friends, and certainly understandable. Familiarity breeds contempt, after all, and the show has been in constant re-runs ever since it was canceled in 2004. On my current cable line-up, I have at least three opportunities to watch Friends every day, on three different channels.
But as easy as it is to mock Friends, to dismiss it as mass-market crap, I'm telling you: it's a pretty good show. I have yet to watch an episode that didn't make me laugh at least once. Which is more than I can say for most sitcoms, either then or now.

Grunge fonts

Dirty typewriter fonts said "real writing" the way that Verdana simply could not.

This great article at The Awl tracks "The Rise and Fall of Grunge Typography," bringing with it a sweet hit of nostalgia for the 1990s. In the 90s, grunge fonts reigned supreme. It was the same factor that drove grunge music: that sense that the uglier and dirtier something was, the more authentic it was. Sort of a garage band, "power to the people" kind of movement. 

Grunge fonts were everywhere in the 90s, and I think there is another factor that drove this trend: people were getting increasingly uncomfortable with the transition to digital. I know that I, along with a lot of other people, specifically chose a dirty typewriter font because I felt like it hearkened back to the roots of real writing. 
Something about the rise of the internet made me, in some way, yearn for the experience of reading letters that had been literally struck upon paper with an inky bit of metal shaped like a letter. By this logic, dirty typewriter fonts said "real writing" the way that Verdana simply could not. 
It helped that The X-Files used a dirty typewriter font for its logo, thus adding the imprimatur  of cool pop culture.

90s Nostalgia: The word "baud"

The 28.8k baud modem was released in 1994, and it cost a small fortune.

This morning I was perusing the annual Mindset List, published by Beloit College every year about their incoming freshman class. I got tripped up by number 6: "Their lives have been measured in the fundamental particles of life: bits, bytes, and bauds."

The list is constructed to make people feel old. It is about life from the perspective of an 18 year old, who (for this list) would have been born in 1994. So I can already tell you, some old person wrote this list, because what 18 year old has even a passing familiarity with bits, bytes, OR bauds? But of the three, "baud" is surely the most unfamiliar to this year's college freshmen.
Now it is true that the word "baud" got thrown around a lot in the mid 90s. But unless this year's college freshmen were connecting to AOL when they were toddlers, they would never have noticed. "Baud" was the measure of the day, in a way that really has no direct contemporary counterpart. The closest comparison I can think of is iPad and iPhone generations.