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The Nineties: A Book – Chuck Klosterman

by Venky

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Renowned culture critic and acclaimed music journalist, Chuck Klosterman attempts an acerbic encapsulation of the sign of times that was the Nineties. Pyrrhic obsessions and petulant trends are recollected in a biting style of writing that pulls no punches. The Nineties represented a decade where thousands of movie goers flocked to the theatres at the screening of the now forgotten Brad Pitt movie, Meet Joe Black, only because the theatres were airing the trailer of another upcoming Star Wars movie, The Phantom Menace. Imaging paying a full priced ticket, only to walk out of the theatre the moment a trailer of an upcoming production, ended! The nineties as Klosterman writes, was a paradoxical cluster of ten years. Obstinately riding on the coat tails of the Eighties, this was also a decade that stridently strove to divest itself of previous mores and birth new legacies of its own. “Every new generation tends to be intrigued by whatever generation existed 20 years earlier,” asserts Klosterman.

The sheer breadth of eclectic topics covered by Klosterman is mildly putting it, eye popping! The extensive bricolage includes the pervasive rise of the VHF phenomenon, the embrace of musical albums such as Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind‘ ; novels such as Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, the fledgling rise of modem based internet and the emergence of television as a force to reckon with, with sit coms such as Seinfeld; and Friends. All these trends not just spawned a subculture of their own but inevitably (although inadvertently) set off an entire industry of copycats that played out competing versions ad nauseam. In fact according to Klosterman, ‘Nevermind’, denoted ‘the inflection point where one style of Western culture ends and another begins’.

The VHF cult in fact ought to take the credit for the rise of nonconformist film directors such as Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino. The duo cocked a thumb at prevailing film making mores and instituted a hitherto unimagined and oeuvre of film making.

Klosterman argues that TV was smack in the middle of events defining the nineties. The key seminal public discourses were predisposed by live TV performances, like the infamous O.J. Simpson trial (not to mention the chase sequence involving Simpson, a coterie of cops and thousands of cheering onlookers, an event that was telecast live on television for 45 minutes thereby interrupting a key sporting event taking place simultaneously), or Clarence Thomas’s visceral and clinical outrage that trumped Anita Hill’s more subdued testimony. The latter case, in 1991, assumed especial significance since the threats of sexual harassment cast an ominous shadow over the confirmation of Justice Thomas as associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Thomas was nominated by President George H. W. Bush to succeed Thurgood Marshall. Thomas ultimately prevailed. These broadcasts, in the words of Klosterman represented, “real-time televised constructions, confidently broadcast with almost no understanding of what was actually happening or what was being seen.”

Vitriolic wit and mordant humour, two infallible trademarks of the Klosterman School of Writing find liberal expression in the book. The passages were Klosterman alludes to the dangerous practice of “Oprahfication” of things where criticisms and adumbrations are appropriated taking recourse to a devious slant are in one part humorous and in two other parts, introspective.

“The Nineties” is a spectacular Hodge podge of entertainment and emotions. Just like the nineties. Tupak Shakur, Eminem, Leonardo Di Caprio, Bill Clinton, Ralph Nader, Kevin Spacey, Alanis Morrissette and scores of others waft in and out of this incredible book at the speed of light.  

The discombobulated nineties, according to Klosterman, is best epitomised by a profound and metaphysical conversation adorning the sci-fi flick Matrix produced by the Wachowski Brothers. (The Wachowski brothers, incidentally, are now the Wachowski Sisters. Larry and Andy Wachowski, after successful undergoing gender altering surgeries are now Lana and Lilly Wachowski respectively.

The protagonist in the movie, (played by Keanu Reeves), Neo, upon learning that the world is nothing, but a make believe convoluted and complex computer simulation, asks: “This isn’t real?” Morpheus (played by Lawrence Fishburne), the character who reveals the state of things and play to a befuddled Neo, laconically and sardonically responds, “What is real? How do you define real?”

(The Nineties: A Book by Chuck Klosterman is published by the Penguin Press and will be available for sale from the 8th of February 2022 onwards)

Thank You Net Galley for the Advance Reviewer Copy!

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