Is the Internet Ruining the ’90s?

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Let me state upfront that I don’t have a problem with the running man challenge. I have a problem with the fact that it’s called the running man challenge. This is because I know what the running man looks like, and the little shuffle that people are doing with their feet to Ghost Town DJ’s “My Boo” is not it. Growing up in the ’90s — as opposed to being born in the ’90s (or ’00s) — you know that the running man actually requires endurance. You have to pump your arms and lift your feet off of the damn floor! I never thought I’d hear myself say this but… back in my day, the running man was a challenge in its own right that required the stamina of a professional athlete to keep it going for an entire song. This is the running man I know and love.

The ’90s are clearly a thing now. The entire stock at Forever 21 is a testament to this. Platform soled shoes (which were actually reborn in the ’90s from the ’70s), mom jeans coupled with crop tops, and chokers: they’re all back with a vengeance. Since TeenNick revived our beloved ’90s cartoons on The Splat (formerly known as The ’90s Are All That), everyone is suddenly a Hey Arnold! fan. And while hip hop has always been known for sampling older tracks, some of the best recent bangers — including Ciara’s “Body Party,” which also rips off “My Boo,” and most recently Bryson Tiller’s “Exchange,” which alters vocals from “Shawty Swing My Way” — have sprinkled the magic of the ’90s onto their singles.

There is certainly something magical about ’90s nostalgia. It was certainly a golden era for hip-hop, R&B, and pop. The decade was the last one that wasn’t dominated by social media. We watched music videos and picked up new dances — but we studied and perfected them by watching each other, not YouTube. For some of us the internet was a rare treat that we could only access in school and at the library, at least until one of those coveted AOL discs arrived in the mail, offering a few hours of chat room bliss. The ’90s were the last frontier for perfectly premeditated IRL engagements. While I am certainly in no position, nor do I have a desire, to thumb my nose at mobile accessibility and connectivity, I am very grateful that I grew up in a time where my friends and I had to call each other on landlines before school in order to coordinate our outfits or to agree to all wear bangs on Tuesday. And without the real time updates readily available now via texting, I actually had to be on time if I wanted to carpool to a party with friends. Despite the convenience of the internet, for some reason life seemed easier back then.

Today we live under the constant pressure of internet trends. Those of us just old enough to remember “the way things were” are constantly conflicted. On the one hand we adore the limitless opportunities, information, and self-affirming bullshit available to us online. And on the other hand we think we’re somehow better than that very apparatus. We try to hold onto our old selves while embracing a culture that requires self-deprecation. We knew how ridiculous planking was before it even started. We preemptively knew that we would never shout “You don’t know nothin ‘bout that youngster!” to our children should “Crank that Soulja Boy” play at a family barbecue, no matter how many times we’ve been recorded doing it. And at least a few of us have considered the inanity of grown ups’ infatuation with a filter that layers puppy features onto their one’s face. For us, the internet is foreign and frightening, but majestic all the while.

Ironically, it has also become the place where we relive our ’90s glory days. We use social media to identify and separate authentic blasts from the pasts from out version of cultural appropriation. When the Harlem Shake challenge became a thing in 2013, many of us recalled teenagers in baggy white tees shimmying their shoulders to the point of dislocation — not groups of people getting weird with props to EDM. We aired our confusion on social media. We recall our childhood experiences with memes and gifs on a daily basis. All of this begs the question: how “real” is our own nostalgia? Do we honestly crave and remember the 90s as a cultural tour de force or is it simply another internet mindfuck — to be drawn to digital images and sounds that make us remember what it was like back then? If the only thing we know to do with an old elementary school picture of ourselves is to post it on Instagram and Facebook with a #tbt tag, or turn them into a meme, how much weight do our youth-directed side-eye hold? Is the internet ruining the ’90s, or keeping it alive?

These are the kinds of questions that make me feel old. I have to earnestly consider whether maybe I’m just out of touch. [It only gets worse from here — Born in the ’70s Ed.] Perhaps age has made me prone to wagging my finger and silently shaming those born in 21st century for their choice of a good time. Either way, I’m glad that I’ll never forget that wonderful time when all I had to worry about was which Spice Girl I was going to embody in my convenient group of five friends.