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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

entry arrow6:16 PM | There is a Conspiracy to Bring Back the 1990s…

… And I don’t mind. That decade was awesome.

Except for the mommy pants,” Zaki quickly reminded me in Facebook.

She had a point there—those silhouette-less testaments in denim to 1990s throwaway leisure wear were ugly as the face of hell, but then again every single decade’s fashion sense is an all-too-easy target for ridicule, with the present occurring as a tenuous benchmark for comparisons in taste. In 1992, for example, I was a junior high school student dressed up in GQ nines, thinking that all the girls in my prom, who were dressed to the hilt according to the fashion of the times, were the absolute embodiment of the tasteful and the divine. We took pictures, of course, to ensure our looks would become lasting memory: we have seen those pictures lately—the bouffant hair recollecting the last excesses of the 1980s, the pastel froufrou dresses, the gangsta suits—and we have appropriately recoiled.

But even then, the 1990s were awesome. Lately, I’ve been having some kind of well-curated nostalgia trip through the pop culture of a decade that had shaped my contemporaries’ younger years—that exquisite, romantic time when we were between sixteen and twenty-one—and I’ve felt some undefined pangs of longing and regret that may in fact be underlined by the idea that in a year or two, those of us who grew up in the 1990s would be turning 40.

(Let this be a pause for us to draw in those bated breaths.)

Lately, I have been revisiting the popular culture that have shaped my young adulthood in the 1990s: Cameron Crowe’s Singles and Ben Stiller’s Reality Bites and Amy Heckerling’s Clueless, or Pearl Jam and Nirvana and Eraserheads, Michael Crichton and Joe Klein and Robert James Waller and John Grisham, or Friends and Dawson’s Creek and My So-Called Life and T.G.I.S. I’ve meant this tour through the landmarks of my youth to be recollection of the headiness of life in the fast edges of being young. What I am finding out is that, these things beheld now, have become a slow-moving acknowledgment that all of that had gone by too fast. Much too fast.

And yet the bigger popular culture that surrounds us now cannot help in doing a project of recollection. Buzzfeed and other online linkbaits have been keen lately about doing listicles that excavate the various artifacts of growing up 90s—that dial-up connection noise, beanie babies, tamagochis, Luke Perry, furbies, Netscape Navigator, Space Jam. I must not be the only one who followed Hannah Horvath in HBO’s Girls to a club rave—memories of Doug Liman’s Go!—and shrieked as she did with Icona Pop’s “I Love It” remix, with its glorious whiplash line, “But I’m a 90s bitch!” The Vulture blog—a relentlessly comprehensive and addictive compendium of everything current in popular culture—has also been relentless in its 90s nostalgia, doing thoroughly absorbing oral histories of Party of Five and My So-Called Life, and correctly pronounced that the 1994-1995 season, which saw the premiere of Friends, was the last best season of American network television history, before it got eaten up by cable and online livestreaming. Meanwhile, in the Philippines, Cartoon Network premiered in 1995 in the ascendant cable industry. The animated madness of that channel, reinforced with Nickolodeon’s Hey, Arnold! and Rugrats, as well as the quirky denizens of MTV’s Liquid Television, changed the way we looked at cartoons forever. It wouldn’t always be Disney—and then Disney itself went on and reinvented animation with Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast, after its success with The Little Mermaid in 1989.

Where did things go?

Where are we going now?

Today, we long for that old headiness in our culture. A few weeks ago, even New York Times lamented: “Are you one of the people mourning the loss of the old-fashioned (as in 1990s) rom-com? Do you feel that romantic comedies haven’t been the same—or haven’t even existed—since the last time Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks made a movie together?”

Now, it would seem, we are in the project of bringing many of the things that remind us of how young we were once. MTV, for example, which in my youth meant real “music television” plus a sprinkling of original programming—Daria, Beavis and Butthead, Æon Flux, The Real World—that aimed so hard to define the zeitgeist, has just announced that it is releasing to the masses the insanity that was Liquid Television. Imagine that.

The cast of Penelope Spheeris’ Little Rascals (1994), too, has decided to do a quirky 20th anniversary reunion by coming together for a photo shoot and recreating the movie poster and many of the scenes that have made the film an unlikely icon for nostalgia. You see the before and after quickly doing the viral rounds in social media, and all it has become is a blurry acquiescence to the truth that time is the master of us all.

And now, courtesy of Esquire Philippines, the band that defined the Filipino youth’s groping for meaning in the 1990s—the Eraserheads—have just released two new songs, “Sabado” and “1995,” bundled in a CD together with the magazine’s September 2014 issue. Which, for me, begged the ultimate question of remembrance: Nasaan ka nung 1995?

I shall try to remember: Ako, isang sophomore sa kolehiyo in 1995—and slowly realizing this: “What the eff am I doing in Physical Therapy?” Pero yun, super-study pa rin, memorizing muscles and nerves (and insertions and origins) for Gross Anatomy and pretending to understand Kinesiology. Minsan iiyak din once I’d hear that terrible midnight station ID na parang organ music of DYEM-FM here in Dumaguete, kasi hating-gabi na pero may limang chapters pang dapat basahin para sa exam sa kinabukasan. Like, ano ba? I just wanted to go to sleep! And I began thinking: gusto ko bang mag-work sa isang ospital forever? Hindi naman siguro, was my answer. So, yun, iyak lang nang iyak. Pero kahit papano, go pa rin ang film education ko, kung may oras. I had just discovered Spanking the Monkey from this videoshop named Good Luck Store na malapit sa palengke. Also Larry Clark’s Kids at Ang Lee’s Eat Drink Man Woman. Also discovered Woody Allen. The radio kept playing Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” and Shaggy’s “Bombastic,” pero alam ko na mas gusto ko ang “Back for Good” ng Take That, dahil alam mo na. In 1995, di pa rin ako marunong mag-party, at napaka-payat ko pa. Super-payat that I decided I needed to bulk up by eating five cheese de sals bawat araw, every 4 PM, after my last class. At lumabas din yung Pare Ko ni Jose Javier Reyes from Star Cinema, and I fell in love with it. The soundtrack was fantastic, too. At yun, dun ako natotong humanga sa Eraserheads.

That was my 1995.

So what gives with all these nostalgia? There is a scene in Stephen Daldry’s The Hours (2002) between Meryl Streep’s Clarissa and Claire Danes’ Julia Vaughan that underscores for me something that I have been trying to understand and come to terms with recently—like a belated answer or explanation to some of the things I have been asking about time and youth. In this scene, Clarissa is preparing for a dinner party for a great poet friend, and her encounter with him early in the day has left her devastated—but also thoughtful. She has been crying since then, and then her daughter Julia enters, and asks her if she is all right. They retire to the bedroom and then they start to talk...

“... If you say to me, ‘When were you happy...?’” Clarissa asks her.

“Mom...,” Julia intones.

“... Tell me the moment you were happiest...”

“I know ... I know, it was years ago,” Julia says.

“Yeah,” Clarissa says.

“All you’re saying is, you were once young,” Julia finally tells her mother.

And Clarissa Vaughan smiles and laughs. “I remember one morning,” she says, “getting up at dawn, there was such a sense of possibility. You know, that feeling? And I remember thinking to myself, so this is the beginning of happiness. This is where it starts. And of course there will always be more.” Both of them laugh. “Never occurred to me it wasn’t the beginning, it was happiness. It was The Moment. Right then.”

And perhaps this is how I will try to understand nostalgia. Sometimes I wish that when I was much younger someone had taken me by the shoulders, shook me, and told me: “Live every bit of these moments. You are young. When you’re older, these things will define every bit of what you will remember to be happy.”

Then again, when we were younger, did we ever listen? Alas, no. Youth is too preoccupied with what it thinks is the singularity of its angst. “You don’t understand,” we all say. But of course we soon understand that they understood. Because we’ve all been there.

In the meantime, to come to terms we have done or did not do in our beloved youth, we embrace the parade of things coming back from the past, not to haunt us, but to remind us we were happy once. We were young once.

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