Here's Why You're Really So Nostalgic About The '90s

by S. Atkinson
SpiceGirlsVEVO on YouTube

It’s easy to be resentful of someone’s nostalgia for the '90s, better known as the decade of tie-dye and tamagotchis. After all, aren't they just nostalgic because that time period is trendy right now? You'd think so, but no. There were genuinely times when the ‘90s were better than the present and to dismiss someone’s yearning for the decade as a trend is more than a little irritating. Of course, considering how 2017 has been for so many people, it's equally easy to say that it's not hard to find a time in recent history that wasn't better than this year — but we're talking strictly pop culturally.

When you think about it, the '90s was one of the most romantic and special periods ever. We were on the brink of innovation, with the internet making its way into the average home over the course of the decade — but we weren't yet chained to it. We had good TV, but we didn't have the budget to keep series running forever until audiences were completely sick of them. There was incredible music, but this was pre-Spotify, so you never got overwhelmed by your list of new things to listen to. And maybe that was the key. This was the decade where we had so much of what we had now, but without unlimited quantities.


Matthew Perry & Jennifer Aniston Showed The World How To Use Windows 95

Back in the '90s, a personal computer was often considered a luxury rather than a necessity. So Windows hired two of the biggest Friends stars to demystify the operating system to a whole generation. It's a seriously weird premise: the two actors rock up as themselves... to audition to appear on a Windows 95 guide. Thomas Pynchon, eat your heart out.


Larry David Institutes A "No Hugging, No Learning" Rule With 'Seinfeld'

David was one of the co-creators of one of the decade's most well-loved sitcoms, Seinfeld, and he coined the phrase above, which felt new and fresh in how the characters never got to learn anything from their experiences, but seemed to start each episode afresh. Despite being described as a "show about nothing," critics and audiences alike adored it, and it's hard to imagine anything as nihilistic as the sitcom classic onscreen nowadays. Somehow, with shows like Grace and Frankie or 13 Reasons Why, hugging and learning is very much in vogue again, while shows like Game of Thrones imply that plot is too vital to current audiences for a show about zilch to compel.


The Sheer Number Of Incredible One-Hit Wonders

From "What Is Love" by Haddaway to "There She Goes" by the La's to "Groove Is In The Heart" by Deee-Lite, this was the decade when it was okay to have a mixtape that was entirely made out of songs you loved, rather than bands you dug.


Riot Grrrl Demanded Respect For Female Musicians

An explosion of feminist ethics, DIY attitude, and punk influence brought the music scene what it needed: a feminist punk scene that originated in '90s Pacific Northwest. Obviously, we have a feminist music scene now — but it feels more common for our era to celebrate female solo artists rather than groups of women making music together.


Susan Faludi Wrote 'Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women'

While now we have Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead or, sigh, Ivanka Trump's Women Who Work, back in 1991, we got this breathtaking non-fiction work from Susan Faludi, arguing that the media was attempting to suppress the advances in the women's movement that had been made since the '70s by spreading negative stereotypes about working women. And this wasn't the only incredible feminist call-to-arms written around the same time; Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth came out in 1990, and Gloria Steinem's Revolution From Within: A Book Of Self-Esteem dropped in 1992, as did Marilyn French's The War Against Women. Despite its length and its complexity, Faludi's work became a bestseller overnight, putting feminism back into the headlines.


You Had An Internet Connection, But You Weren't An Addict

Remember your pre-smartphone brain? Psychology Today reported in 2014 that, "Young Americans today are experiencing levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and related conditions at rates higher than they were a generation ago." They speculate that one cause could be your smartphone, since it encourages you to compare yourself with other people, whether via social media or constant access to the news. Maybe you're nostalgic for the '90s because, if you grew up in that decade, your brain felt more relaxed then. You had all the advantages of the internet without having constant access to it.


You Were Still Waiting For More 'Harry Potter' Books To Be Released

Given that the first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, was released in 1997, you had all the joy of the franchise minus the hopelessness knowing it was all over. All those books and movies were ahead of you, plus witnessing the evolution of Daniel Radcliffe from adorkable child star to convincing actor.


The Rom-Coms Were EPIC

Clueless. While You Were Sleeping. Sleepless In Seattle. 10 Things I Hate About You. Notting Hill. Pretty Woman. I could go on and on and on. Nobody really knows why there are less and less rom-coms being made (though Vox has some theories, including the "collapse of the mid-budget movie"). But this is the world we live in and it's sad. If you liked your romance of the meet-cute variety, the '90s had you covered.


Sony Invented The Playstation

Sure, you can still use a Playstation. Nobody's stopping you. But now your game console has to compete with a million other technological distractions: that Spotify playlist that keeps being updated, your backlog of Tinder messages to respond to, that meditation app you should really be using. When the Playstation was released in 1994, it was a gamechanger (pun intended). In the words of Wired: "By making games for adults, PlayStation helped the game industry balloon even larger."


The Spice Girls Were Still Together

They've been accused of turning the term "girl-power" (taken from the riot grrrl movement) "into cheap consumerism." But, all the same, whether they were authentically feminist or not, they brought practical, hands-on aspects of empowerment into the mainstream (I mean, re-read the lyrics to "2 Become 1" — as Rookie writer Sady Doyle has already observed, it's at least partly about a woman refusing to sleep with someone unless they use a condom). At the end of the day, the Spice Girls were so much fun, and you don't get that many number one records unless you were releasing earworm after earworm.


We Got The First Reality TV Show, 'The Real World'

Since it was the first of its kind, it felt more ambitious in what it tried to achieve than what we'd currently associate with reality TV now. In Season 3's run in 1994, Pedro Zamora became one of the first openly gay people to divulge that he was HIV positive on television, something that was huge in terms of breaking down stigma associated with the disease. Similarly, when he and partner Sean Sasser exchanged vows during a commitment ceremony on the show, this was "the first ever broadcast on U.S. television [and]... a landmark moment in TV history."


The Slang

Language isn't a finite science, and it's hard to pin down what makes words like "dweeb" and "doofus" so much more enjoyable than current slang. Somehow you can't roll "fam" and "AF" round your mouth as much — and maybe that's because slang these days is far more influenced by how it comes across online than IRL.


Groundbreaking Shows Like 'My So-Called Life' And 'Twin Peaks' Didn't Last Forever

On the one hand, we live in the Golden Age of Television. On the other hand, it's no biggie for television shows to play out for several years at a time. And there's so much choice it becomes overwhelming. It's hard not to be nostalgic for a time when innovative, smart shows like My So-Called Life or Twin Peaks got cancelled after a season or two. You could watch and analyze the whole package without needing to spend several weeks re-watching to acquaint yourself with details (as we now have to do with shows like Pretty Little Liars and Game Of Thrones).

Face it, doofus. You're not nostalgic for the '90s because all that Urban Outfitters tie-dye is making you yearn for yesteryear. The hard truth is that you're missing the decade because, in so many ways, it was genuinely better than now.