Five Ways the ’90s Made Us Strong

The Gentleman Bastard by Brendan McGinley

How about a little Cracked with your prose wednesday? My new column started last week, and gets its first front-page feature today. This one was written before the bin Laden piece, though, so it’s got more claim to being first. Either way, happy to be here.

Five Ways the '90s Made Us Stronger

I fear for the newest generation. Their only problems are rampant unemployment, a violent authoritarian movement, and the 2018 Ebola Plague. They were never forged in the fires of the 1990s, forced to survive in the wild with a beeper and a mere three choices of hamburger chain.
Fact is, if you endured the ’90s, you can make it through anything. To go outside in that decade was to step into a dreary world of flannel and coffee. The only thing not trying to kill you was Rage Against the Machine, but their idea of music was to saw through baling wire with a nail clipper. But not even bleeding ears could distract you from some even worse problems.
What was scary about it
Back in the day, the nuclear powerhouses were in constant struggle over how to destroy the middle class. Nobody wanted war, but if millions didn’t die, how would we prove who was right? Kids today only fear nuclear apocalypse for fun, but in the early ’90s, these were the ways we imagined ourselves dying:
• (falling bomb whistle) BOOM!
• Torn apart by mutants, yeaaaahhhh
• Radiation poisoning, now in strawberry flavor
• Truck overturned while raiding survivalist colony, crawled into wasteland to die, but I did not die! I became…something MORE!
• Gladiatorial combat for the entertainment of a ruling elite
• Killed by Mel Gibson
We were so scared of nuclear war we gave superheroes radioactive origins, just so we could pretend toxic immersion would be okay.
Actual sewer-dwelling reptiles love children for a very different reason
Making things worse
Superpowers were a priority for kids in the ’80s, because our Russian foes were strong like bear. The only Soviet super-athletes not killing our movie champions in unsportsmanlike conduct were defecting here to steal huge scholarships from underprivileged chess-playing computers. It wasn’t till 1989 that we realized they were but pawns of the Soviet state, thanks to the attitude-changing documentary Gym-Kata 2: Ring Around the Russkie.
It turned out okay, though
Communism was an empty threat by the mid-’90s, but the psychological damage was done. To this day, Americans fear sharing with the poor. That means more money to fill the emptiness in our lives with mercantile goods! Wooooo! I’ma buy me a jetski! I thank my God I’m a ’Merican!
What was scary about it
Did you have sex after 1989? Holy condoms, Batman, you have A.I.D.S.! When you got done watching TV in the ’90s, you knew two things: all clothes must be denim, and two virgins having premarital sex causes A.I.D.S..
HIV is not just a mere thing like a deadly pandemic. That bastard hates everything fun in life, like sex, heroin, and taking other people’s blood. It also hates good music. It took Freddie Mercury but left hair bands to screech their way into their own VH1 shows.
A.I.D.S. had to take a number behind all the other STDs
Once musicians realized the disease was gunning for the best part of rock stardom, they fought back with the fury of a Tea Partier reading a history book. Madonna selflessly sacrificed her body on countless penises to show how risky that kind of behavior would be without her alien physiology. Non-stop campaigns educated the public about Bono’s lab findings, including:
• Buying U2’s albums prevents A.I.D.S.
• A.I.D.S. is responsible for more cases of Very Special Episode than racism and bullying combined.
• You can contract HIV just by looking if you lean so close to the virus your eye touches it.
• HIV doesn’t spread by hugging, unless the person is inside-out.
• They say you can’t get HIV by kissing, but we’re going to prove them wrong.
• We all die alone.
Eventually rock surrendered and became grunge, a music completely devoid of sex unless it was between two depressed flies on a rotting nectarine. That’s why most alternative music videos look like rain spoiled your church’s Salvador Dali-themed orgy.
There, I made art. What do you think?
The only human beings who had sex that decade were Eazy-E and Sharon Stone. Eazy died a week after finding out his sore throat was actually—woah, A.I.D.S.! The only thing Ms. Stone got was an Oscar. You know what that means? HIV decided Sharon Stone was a little too intense for it to commit to.
Making things worse
This makes me think of dying
Trying to remain celibate, our country crossed its legs and endured maximum Cindy Crawford. If you turned on MTV in 1992 and didn’t gaze directly upon her glory, you got Denis Leary trying to rant his way into her (denim) underwear with comedy. Which never works, am I right, TV’s Gillian Jacobs?
Your silence only proves my point.
Women can’t resist your consideration when you mention them in an essay about A.I.D.S.
Every day of the ‘90s was a high-stakes tease by The Most Beautiful Woman in The World, bait-and-switched for a lingering, burning death. My entire pubescence was spent running from Pepsi ads with condoms stuffed in my ears.
It turned out okay, though
Some calculate the judicious use of sex-parts to carry an infection risk of 1 in 50,000,000 [link]. With a little caution and not living in Botswana, you literally have a better chance of becoming an astronaut. And when you get to space, there’s no HIV there, so enjoy that zero-gravity sex. Be sure to film it. I need something new in my porn.
Conspiracy theories
What was scary about it
We’d tried paranoia in the ’70s, pitting men with terrible haircuts against corrupt factions within government. By the ’90s evil overlords were the entire government, or at least our TV government, about which the average American is more informed. X-Files explained that we were to trust no one except Gillian Anderson.
I don’t want to live in a world where you can’t trust that
I extend that rule to also trust Gillian Jacobs, who is laughing as she reads this and wondering if it’s okay for her to ask me out on a date. Guess what? It is, thanks to shifting gender politics in the ‘90s! I’m going to turn her down, though, because all these conspiracies have made me paranoid.
Making things worse
By the time the X-Files got terrible, people were reading conspiracies in between the lines of their Alpha-Bits — or they would have if they weren’t confident that pouring milk full of bovine growth hormone into their bowl wasn’t exactly what the New World Order wanted. It got so you couldn’t distinguish covered-up fact from gnostic fiction. When everything’s a threat, you have no way of filtering out the crap, and you start doubting the news you actually need. In fact, you can blame everything else on this list on Zeta Reticuleans funneling technology to the CIA/NSA composite Project Aquarian. That’s why today we go beyond conspiracy theories that lay bare a chilling truth we want to deny, and declare with even less basis that Obama is taking away our guns. Now for the twist ending: What if he does, but the upshot is he replaces them with cake?
The downshot is it’s not very good cake.
It turned out okay, though
When the government decided to bypass the Constitution, they didn’t even half try to hide it, and unless you were a terrorist, or had the same name as a terrorist, or came from the same region as a terrorist, your life went on the same, but secretly recorded without a warrant. Basically, they were doing your Facebooking for you.
The internet
What was scary about it
I don’t want to spoil your notions of technological superiority, but in the time it takes you to read this sentence, the 1993 internet could upload your entire brain into a castle made of green grids using a 2400 baud modem. We capitalized it as Internet, and offered burnt sacrifices, for it was our God. You could hack a computer through the electrical outlet, and the smartest computers (2 gigs memory, 512mb RAM, and a pickle on the side because those are delicious) learned to control electrical appliances that had no circuitry at all, as seen in every movie about hackers except Hackers, which may have included that plot point, but absolutely no one saw.
Making things worse
“The ‘net” as it was called by “cybersurfers” on the “world wide web “ was a “dangerous” “place.” Every week we had to fight off a Skynet or a Lawnmower Man with virtual reality gyroscopes, and you never knew when you’d be plagued by horrifying visions of dancing babies that weren’t quite human. It was awesome, until Furries found others like themselves.
I don’t know an acceptable way of suggesting a baby be struck dead
It turned out okay, though
Then, in 1995, something amazing was discovered! Science proved the existence of a woman on the internet! Her name was Cindy Margolis, and her clothes were off. The series of tubes known as the interweb shifted its focus to sex. Ever since, kids no longer scavenge porno from dad’s closet, or in my case, hobo campgrounds.
The environment
What was scary about it
We were told that if we didn’t recycle, every day of our lives would be like the movie 2012: expensive, overwrought, and deadly boring. There would be nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide – I’m still talking about 2012. They promoted that film so hard you’d think it had taken their daughters hostage.
As a child I actually saw a public service ad set in the future, in which Niagara Falls ran dry because people wouldn’t stop using water. An entire team wrote, filmed, edited and broadcast an ad that didn’t understand how rain works, or assumed future societies would trough up in Canada.
Making things worse
Not shitting in your nest should be apolitical. Unfortunately, hippies can overshadow any good cause with their unbearable stink of idiocy (as well as their more literal stink). If a hippie had prosecuted the Nuremberg Trials, everyone would find themselves thinking to their momentary horror how sharp the Nazis’ haircuts looked. There, I just pulled off a reverse-Godwin [link] for irrefutable victory.
Suddenly, the term “tree-hugger” got thrown at any one who suggested keeping the stuff we like around. Then the Religious Right’s mineral holdings [link] decided God had commanded Earth to accept our total authority as His agents, which is a little like taking over as man of the house when dad goes out to cigarettes by sucker-punching your mom and stealing her jewelry. It was cool, they assured their followers; Jesus was coming back in our lifetime.
Not his, though
It turned out okay, though
The threat is over now that we have cheap, renewable energy sources, like…like…
Oh shit