Opinion: There’s no cool like 1990s cool

Photograph from Getty

1990s cool is knowing all the dance moves to MC Hammer’s “2 Legit 2 Quit.” It’s throwing the peace sign when Hammer says “two” but also improvising your own rad moves, like a tight spin during “hey hey,” or waving your arms like a dope octopus.

1990s cool is carefree. It’s easy-breezy. It’s super chill and totally awesome. Because, in the 1990s, the dress code is hella casual, the economy is off the chain, and your life philosophy is best described by the “No Fear” T-shirt in your bedroom closet.

1990s cool is wearing JNCO jeans with pant legs the size of oil barrels. And nothing is more 1990s cool than protecting the environment from oil spills by slapping a Greenpeace sticker on your mom’s Jeep Grand Cherokee before driving to the mall to buy more JNCOs.

1990s cool is a pair of Rollerblades and the mystery of the open road. Or maybe it’s a BMX bike, no helmet, and your parents’ low-deductible health insurance that covers all your concussions. It’s honestly both, because 1990s cool is, like, whatever, man.

1990s cool is bringing your new buddy Dimitri from the former Soviet Union to a huge grocery store. It’s when he starts crying at all the shelves of bread and candy, and you guys five-finger-discount some Hubba Bubba Bubble Tape and sneak into the new Steven Seagal movie. Then Dimitri tells you he’s kind of, like, gay, and you think that’s fine but best to keep it on the D.L. because parents just don’t understand.

1990s cool is being the third person in your peer group to wear flannel shirts and listen to Soundgarden and then calling the fourth person who does these things “a total poser.” Being a poser: not 1990s cool.

1990s cool is playing by the rules . . . not! It’s being a misfit and a slacker and a stoner and a slam poet and the lead trombonist for an indie-ska band called Stick It to the Man for Now but Ultimately Start a Family and Get a Great Job at a Health-Care Corporation. They’re kind of underground. You’ve probably never heard them.

1990s cool is believing that technology will save us. Haven’t you heard? There’s this new thing called the Internet that liberates everyone, shits money, and has absolutely no downside whatsoever.

1990s cool isn’t something tangible. It’s a state of mind. A way to keep it real. A feeling that makes you go, “Pizza time, bro. Cowabunga, dude!” Psych. If you actually believed any of that, then talk to the hand. Because 1990s cool is physical, homeslice. It’s a Sublime T-shirt, and a “420” on your pager, and a pair of cargo pants with hella pockets. It’s a zebra-print slap bracelet on your wrist, and a Discman with Snoop Dogg in your backpack, and a grin that says, “Yo, let’s go to my place and play Goldeneye on my N64. I have a nineteen-inch TV in my room—yeah, in my freakin’ room.”

1990s cool is prosperity. It’s an I.P.O. that never ends. It’s the bomb dot com. It’s a chocolate fountain, and a lazy river, and a 7-Eleven Big Gulp that gives you a sugar high with no crash. It’s all that and a bag of chips. 1990s cool is shouting, “I’m a computer whiz, baby,” and then building a GeoCities fan site for the Domino’s Noid and, suddenly, you area computer whiz.

1990s cool is watching MTV religiously and growing up and getting wise and not noticing time fly while you complain to an empty AOL chat room that nobody plays rock music anymore.

1990s cool isn’t some pipe dream. It’s real, and it’s radical, and it will last forever. And if it doesn’t feel that way to you then damn, skippy, take a chill pill and quit being such a scrub. We’re not talking about the free-love sixties or the Cold War eighties or the funky, weird seventies here. As if! When you’re 1990s cool, you hear about this wacky Y2K computer bug that might destroy the world, and you remain, as ever, chillaxed to the max. It’s all good. Peace out.

Article by Alex Baia

This artcle was first published in The New Yorker.

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