26 May 2022

The Nineties by Chuck Klosterman

I sort of know I should be embarrassed to still love Chuck Klosterman in my 30s, but I cannot and will not stop. Klosterman's non-fiction book on the 1990s was one of my most anticipated releases of early 2022. We have to have something to look forward to in this godforsaken world! 

I listened to a few interviews Klosterman did promoting this book and he mentioned how he wanted it to be clear that the book was about the 90s generally, not about his experience living in the 90s. As much as I would have loved to read the latter experience, I really enjoyed the more objective look at the decade. 

He starts the book by trying to define Generation X and how Canadian author Douglas Coupland coined the term in 1991 with the release of his fiction book Generation X: Tales From an Accelerated Culture. I remember reading this book in my early university years and loved its mood. Klosterman talks about how Coupland demonstrates the general apathy that characterizes Gen Xers in the book: 

I began to wonder if sex was really just an excuse to look deeply into another human being's eyes." 

Klosterman also talks about how we define when the 90s start and end, and how it is never straightforward:

The fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the Twin Towers. There are supposed to be the bookends for when the nineties (really) started and when the nineties (really) stopped. It's symmetrical and it feels intuitively correct, and the fact that both events mattered globally gives the assertion weight. It's the simple, rationale description. But there's a problem with this simplicity. The problem is that the Berlin Wall fell in the autumn of '89, and the following eighteen American months remained interlocked with the previous decade. Things changed, but not really." 

The Nineties is structured like most of Klosterman's non-fiction in a series of essays. I usually review his books by covering my favourite essays, and I'll do that again here. 

There were essays I enjoyed like the rise of Nirvana and the baseball strike.

The attraction to sports is so individual, and multifaceted that trying to explain why the attraction exists is like trying to explain why people enjoy falling in love." 

I found myself listening to a lot of music whenever I picked up his book - specifically either Nirvana unplugged or Radiohead. But my two favourite topics he covers is the death of the video store and the rise of the internet.

One of my favourite parts of Klosterman's newest book is all the references to movies like The Matrix, Reality Bites, Pulp Fiction, etc. Reality Bites is one of my favourites and I loved hearing his perspective on how people perceived the representation of Gen X. The video store essay is directly linked to Quentin Tarantino and his filmography and obsessive love for movies. How so many of the auteurs that made it big in the 90s relied on video stores for their film education. 

Tarantino, once lionized for his uncompromising singularity, would be regularly attacked for using racially abhorrent language and prioritizing his own internal fantasies above the external message his work seemed to project. The possibility of a movie being only about itself was out of business, along with all the video stores."

It's hard not to feel a bit of nostalgia while reading this essay - even though Klosterman makes it very clear in the book (and through interviews) that he didn't want the book to read as a nostalgia piece. All of my friends are an age where we still remember going to Blockbuster and picking out a rental. Stefan actually used to work there! I am addicted to paying for streaming services and there are few I don't shell out for - still I understand the fun of physically browsing. I used to spend hours in Target or Bull Moose picking up DVDs. 

My other favourite essay is about the rise of the internet. Even before starting the book I knew this would be an unavoidable topic. I usually hate listening to people go on about the internet and whether or not it has destroyed our lives/brains. I knew Klosterman would avoid this approach/argument and the essay didn't disappoint:

In The Sun Also Rises, a character is asked how he went bankrupt. 'Two ways,' the man replies. 'Gradually, then suddenly.' For almost a century, this insight has been referenced so often that it has become its own kind of cliché, in part because it applies to almost everything. Ernest Hemingway's description of change is the way most things change. It is, however, an especially apt encapsulation of how the internet became the inescapable whirlpool of cultural life."  

If you are a Chuck Klosterman fan like myself, you have probably already picked up this book. But even if you are just in your late 20s or early 30s I think it is well worth the read because we are on the periphery of that decade. 

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