Klosterman’s musings on the 1990s sure to, like, incite debate



Chuck Klosterman is quick to acknowledge his biases. On page 8 of The Ninetieshis new non-fiction take, the American author and pop-culture critic dedicates a lengthy, amusing footnote to his “service as a demographic cliché”: Born in North Dakota in 1972, he is a white heterosexual cis male “whose experience across the ’90s was comically in line with the media caricature of generation X…” backwards baseball caps, cardigans and all.

If you’re a reader whose experiences also slot you into that demo, The Nineties will make you feel seen in a way that is uncommon for those in the overlooked cohort of people born between 1965 and 1980: this is your book.




<p>The Nineties</p>
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<p>The Nineties</p>
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<p>That’s not to say Klosterman’s freewheeling journey through the last decade to have a monolithic mainstream culture (before the internet splintered it irrevocably) can’t be enjoyed by anyone.  It’s erudite and funny and pulls together theories using a dazzling array of cultural references, but it will certainly be appreciated best by those who were in their 20s when Nirvana’s <em>Smells Like Teen Spirit</em> came along, readers who twig that there’s a chapter named for a Ben Folds song.			</p>
<p>It is impossible to encompass all the ways, both meaningful and trite, our world changed between 1990 and 2000 (or thereabouts — Klosterman has his theories about the bookends), but the<em> Fargo Rock City</em> author sure gives it the old college try, and it’s largely a delight to parse his arguments.			</p>
<p>Particularly pungent are his explorations of the alleged characteristics of generation X, as illustrated by the film <em>Reality Bites</em> (“The concept of ‘selling out’ — and the degree to which that notion altered the meaning and perception of almost everything — is the single most ’90s aspect of the ’90s,” he writes) and a chapter that uses <em>TheMatrix,</em> Timothy McVeigh, OJ Simpson, the Clarence Thomas trial, Fox News and Columbine to talk about television’s effect on our construction of reality.			</p>
<p>Of course there are pitfalls in attempting to sum up the zeitgeist of an entire decade, and Klosterman falls into several of them.			</p>
<p><em>The Nineties</em> is overwhelmingly American in focus;  though Canadians are obviously inundated with US news and politics, the chapters on presidential elections and baseball may fall short of feeling universally applicable.			</p>
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<p>Jason Booher photo</p>
<p>Author Chuck Klosterman</p>
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<p>Jason Booher photo</p>
<p>Author ChuckKlosterman</p>
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<p>There are also blind spots where Klosterman perhaps ascribes more impact to an event than might be widely felt.  For instance, an anecdote about basketball great Michael Jordan’s season with the Birmingham Barons AA baseball team feels freighted with an awful lot of relevance to a sports-agnostic reader (such as this one) who barely remembers it even happening.			</p>
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Klosterman also makes sweeping generalizations that initially seem true but that don’t bear up under scrutiny. In his intro of him, in trying to pinpoint the way the era differed from what came before or after, he mentions that if you missed an episode of Seinfeld, you just missed it, unless you caught it in reruns, adding “but of course this limitation was not something people worried about, because caring that much about any TV show was not a normal thing to do. And even if you did, you would pretend you did not, because this was the ’90s.”

Feigned apathy was certainly a thing, but even the most too-cool-for-school gen-Xer was deeply invested in television; we would no more have missed an episode of Twin Peaks than we would have given up our Doc Martens.

Some of the examples he uses to prove his point are easy and don’t hold up: Crash Test Dummies’ mmm mmm mmm mmm does not fit into the category of “songs where “the lead singer did not sing or rap but instead monotonously and nonsensically talked over atmospheric background music”; it could be strenuously argued that the Flaming Lips’ She Don’t Use Jelly is not a “novelty song.”

But that’s kind of the joy of books like this — they inspire vehement disagreement and passionate defenses in equal measure. No one who writes the sentence “So much time and effort had been invested in the starwars obsession that the film was mentally reimagined as something it never was: a movie about human emotion, made for adult humans” isn’t spoiling for a fight.

Of course, the stereotypical gen-X reader might just shrug it off and say, “Well, whatever, never mind.”

Jill Wilson is a Free Press copy editor born in 1971 whose picture appeared on the front of this newspaper’s arts section in 1994 in an article about the then-new generation known as X.

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Jill Wilson

Jill Wilson
senior copy editor

Jill Wilson writes about culture and the culinary arts for the Arts & Life section.

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