Thursday, June 30, 2022

The Warring Nineties

Find it Here!

What a mess the 20th century was. Defined by its eternal quest for progress through materialism and unfiltered government control, it took its time ricocheting between shinier lightbulbs and more powerful computers, and killing a hell of a lot of people. The Utopianists at the start of the century soon found themselves stained in a nihilism that wouldn't wash clean, even as they put on a smile and pretended tomorrow would be better as long as we don't talk about the horrible truth behind what is actually being done. It was a time that could only have happened when it did, and will never happen ever again.

At least it's over now.

However, by the end of the century, the children coming up out of this secular haze were more more or less thrown out into an unreality that no one quite understood, even as they insisted they did. There is much hatred aimed at the Baby Boomer generation for not preparing their children for the world, but the truth is that they weren't prepared for it either. There was a script moderns had been programmed with since the industrial revolution that as long as you played your part as a cog well enough that things would just Get Better. Utopia would come, as long as we worked for it. Just keep your head down and pull up those bootstraps. This is all it would take.

Eventually, however, it was learned that it was never going to happen. It was never going to happen because this mentality was the equivalent of building sandcastles by the water. Now that the tide has come in, the castle is gone, and it's not coming back.

The issue is that after the sexual revolution and the general misery of the 1960s, the generations coming up were raised in a patchwork of New Age quackery, unrelenting materialism, and a Utopian mindset that is a combination of both, with a dollop of skepticism because of their spiritually hollow parents not having much of anything in the way of spiritual formation or thought behind why they do or think the things they do. 

Why are we alive? 

What is the point?

Why are we here?

Why even try? 

What are we supposed to do, and what do we do it for? 

The modern script won't answer these questions, and by the time of 9/11 and the start of the 21st century, it had already shown itself as incomplete and incorrect. But without any tradition to look back on, how could you escape it? What other avenues even existed out of this existential nightmare? The rising suicide rates might give you a clue as to if they have figured it out yet.

To sum it all up, a broken framework that only half-worked finally stopped working and has left many without a clue of what to do about it.

This is the perfect recipe for a lost generation.

Cue Generation Y, the gaslit generation; the generation told that following a script would lead to happiness because the perfectly programmed adults had it all figured out. We know where this ended up, but that doesn't change the fact that it has left them, and future generations, without roadmap on where to go next.

But while you see plenty these days from people who hate the Baby Boomers, or have striven to fix their life from where it fell apart, or even those who gave up entirely, you hear little about what it was actually like at the time. What was it like coming of age in an era that was false and plastic while being gaslit into believing it was real?

What happens, then, when you find out it was all fake?

You won't find such a thing from Hollywood. Their attempts at detailing the 1990s involve revisionism or outright lying for propagandist reasons. The movie Camp Nowhere from 1994 is the closest you will ever see what it was like being a Gen Y kid, because it was made when Gen Y were kids, and before Cultural Ground Zero when everything became a formless, grey Mass Media Blob. No, you won't see any true portrayal of the time period because that would give the game away as to just how false it all was.

The only place you will see a proper, unbiased view of the time period is to read stories from members of Gen Y who will reminisce over their past. The older generations were still following the modernist utopian script at that point, and the rug rats were far too young. Only those in Gen Y can truly explain that odd period where everything seemed perfect, until one day it wasn't anymore. Only they can try to put their finger on the problems.

A good example of this lost mindset is in the book Eyes in the Walls by author and musician David V Stewart. This is a unique little book worth talking about, and I will do so here.

The Eyes in the Walls takes place in the 1990s and is about a boy named Billy. He has divorced parents and he also wants to fit in with the cool kids at school, which makes him fairly typical for a Gen Y kid. His mom works in a funeral home, where he likes to hang out after school, and that eventually gets him doing something dumb. He breaks into the funeral home at night with the cool kids and thinks he sees something off about it. This sends him on a crash course collision with the then-modern practices of doping up problem kids for everything, and the threat of death that seemingly hangs over his head. Is this all real, or is he really crazy? Whichever it is, how can he navigate a world that is destroying him inside and out?

The story itself is horror tale of a young teenager trying to both fit in at school and his dual home lives while also an otherworldly thing biting at the back of his thoughts. What the villain actually ends up being, and the nature of the world Billy lives in, both end up tying in together as a surprising sum up of the decade it takes place in.

Without going heavily into spoilers, Mr. Stewart manages to quite adeptly explain through action and character just what it was like back then. The well-meaning adults that felt surprisingly unprepared without answers to simple questions, the materialist attitude that always manages to come up short in the end, and the blind trust in keeping your head down and plowing forward that would surely solve all problems. It's all here, and it all makes for a compelling read.

Generation Y tends to look back on the 1990s with rose-colored glasses, and it isn't always for good or bad reasons. There was plenty to like: the music, the animation, the video games, and the relatively safe neighborhoods and communities. This is one of those times where I can say that how they were portrayed in TV series of the time isn't actually that inaccurate to what it was like. Even in The Eyes in the Walls, much is mentioned of the comfort Billy appreciates and indulges in during the few short moments he can escape his problems. These things were real.

What we don't tend to think of, and which Billy discovers in the story, is that there was not much there underneath the surface. The "systems" we trusted were not made so much to help, but to lazily and easily funnel the next generation into the positions their parents would eventually age out of. The Utopia treadmill didn't leave much time for self-reflection. 

Why? Why are we alive? What is the point? That was simply not something we asked much back then. In fact, it wasn't much different from now in that respect. Consume corporate product as it tells you all the stupid, empty, buzzwords you want to hear from them.

What is particularly interesting about the story is how much worse it would be were Billy going through it today. Once again, I do not wish to ruin the happenings of the story, but everything he went through would most certainly have worked twice as hard to crush him if it took place a quarter of a century later than it did. We have not improved much since then, in fact, things have gotten much worse.

The 1990s were not great, the jury is out on if they were any good at all, but in many ways it does represent the eye of a storm, the calm that comes in the middle of a Ragnarok that many of us were not even aware was happening. It is only when you can appreciate those quiet moments with those you love and when times are good that you understand what this is all for. Billy managed to figure it out, and perhaps we can as well.

It's never too late.

All in all, I highly recommend The Eyes in the Walls. It is a fantastic horror story and a time capsule all in one, and it is a quick read. Just like the best of the pulp stories, one can get in and out quick, and have a lot of fun along the way. Once again, you can find it here.

We don't have a lot of time on this planet. We waste a lot of it arguing, slacking off, going down the wrong road, antagonizing each other, and just generally making dumb decisions. It is a human thing, and it is expected.

But we can change. We can learn. We can become who we were always meant to be. It is never too late to turn it around, as long as we try.

At the end of the day, those warring years between boredom and the grind known as the 1990s are over. That might not always be considered a good thing, but it is a true thing. We are as far from those days as they were from Altamont. Whether we can improve on those days or not is really up to us, but the one thing we can't do is pretend we can still live like that. The 20th century suppositions about existence, the blind trust in material Utopia, and living while running through a script, none of that is doable anymore. That time is over.

Whatever comes next is up to us, but as long as we remember the past and grow from it, I think it'll work out just fine. After all, it's worked out for humanity so far. That has always been one of our strengths. No matter how many times we get beat up, we try again.

We'll get up again. We always do. Next time, we'll learn to avoid the haymaker before it knocks us out.


  1. For those who say nostalgia is harmless, look at the havoc that Cold War nostalgia is wreaking right now. You not only see it at the gas pump and on empty store shelves, thousands of people are dying for it.

    In the final analysis, the two supposed sides of the Cold War weren't all that different. Both assumed that materialistic means would lead to transcendent ends. They only differed in degree. Commies were sure that spilling enough blood would produce the New Soviet Man and usher in paradise. Here in the West, our elders swallowed the tamer, bootstrapped version our host described above.

    Younger folks wouldn't complain as much about the BoomerCons if they didn't still buy into it. They're sure that if they implement just the right corporate tax rate, Ronald Reagan will return in glory and maximize their 401(k) payouts.

    The Commie version was less cringe, tbh.

    1. This is one of the reasons I want to see more of these Gen Y stories being written. Every time I read one it gives surprising clarity and context to an era that was both better and worse than we remember, and not in the most obvious ways. Regardless, it is good that it is over and not coming back.

      Whatever comes next, however, could only happen because we lived through it.