A look back at most of my articles for Pop Geeks, as well as my previous writing base of RetroJunk, will show you that I’m not really a 90s fan. I’ve often discussed all the pain and turmoil that I went through in the 90s, everything from my dad’s death in 1995 to extensive school bullying to time spent in a mental hospital to the diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome to multiple school transfers, and how I retreated into the pop culture of the 80s as both a form of escape and a coping mechanism for my troubles back then. There was some 90s pop culture that I liked, though, and so I wanted to do something a little different with my newest editorial.
I want to look back on 15 things from the 90s I can honestly say that I liked. While my greatest pop cultural love will always be the 80s, I won’t cringe or recoil in pain when I come across these entertainments in the modern day. It’s a mixture of movies, TV shows and music, all of which I can say I gladly enjoy. Think of it as a list of my most favorite entertainments from my least favorite decade.
In alphabetical order, we begin with Disney’s Beauty And The Beast.
I first saw this movie with my dad and brother in 1991, but I wouldn’t come to appreciate it until the 00s, when I purchased the Platinum Edition DVD of the movie. Viewing the movie through adult eyes, I saw much of myself in Belle (voiced by Paige O’Hara). Like her, I was always reading and seeking something better than what I was dealing with at the time.
From the 00s to the early 10s, I would come to be both Belle and The Beast in one person. Belle was my kind and compassionate side while The Beast was my volatile and bitter side. The therapist I started seeing in 2011 became the equivalent of the servants who were turned into enchanted objects, helping to clear the way for The Beast to become a kinder, friendlier person. By learning to love myself, I came to a happy ending. That’s what I got from Beauty And The Beast, and that’s why I’ll gladly watch the movie to this day.
Moving along alphabetically, we come to the late 90s MTV series Daria.
The number of non-music programs I liked that have aired on MTV (the former Music Television) is very slim, and Daria would have to be number one. As someone who was also dealing with a very painful high school experience and an equally painful home life, I found myself relating to Daria’s (voiced by Tracy Grandstaff) snark about life at both Lawndale High and in her home. I will admit that I didn’t like how later seasons of the show made Daria more humanized, but that’s because her humanization allowed her life to get better while my own humanizing experiences drove me into some very bad places mentally in the late 90s and early 00s.
Despite this, though, I still wish I could watch the series. I know I technically can as the show has been released on DVD, but practically all of the licensed music is gone and replaced with generic music. I may not have had the best relationship with 90s music, but I still feel that music can enhance a scene, and music definitely enhanced Daria. I can’t even find the original episodes on fan-to-fan DVD websites. It’s disappointing, to be sure, but I’ll always have fond memories of Daria, one of only two non-music programs from MTV that I can honestly say that I liked. The other is Jackass, but that would be better served by an article about 00s pop culture.
Next on the list is 1990’s Dick Tracy, starring Warren Beatty as the title character.
When I saw this movie, I saw a great sense of adventure and sophistication. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, as I was only seven years old when the movie came out, but it created a yearning in me for adulthood, for maturity, for something grown-up. I thought Dick Tracy was an incredibly cool character. He had women wanting him and men wanting to be him. He had a tremendous sense of right and wrong and a very courageous spirit. These were all things I sought for myself, but wouldn’t get until the New 10s.
To give you an idea of how much I loved the character of Dick Tracy, I didn’t want to be called by my birth name after seeing the movie. I wanted to be called Dick Tracy instead, and for the first half of my second grade year, which occurred the Autumn after the movie came out, I signed all my papers at school as Dick Tracy and would ask to be called Dick by my teachers instead of Johnny. After I fell ill during the holiday season of 1990, I left the Dick Tracy name behind, but I still wished I could’ve been as cool as he was and had the cool that he did. I wouldn’t achieve that in the 90s or 00s, but I definitely got to it in the New 10s.
Next on the list is the album Hooray For Boobies by The Bloodhound Gang.
I know that the album was released in 2000 in the United States, and indeed, I purchased it at a music store at Orlando International Airport on the way home from a Walt Disney World trip. It was intended to be released in 1999, though, and did see its’ first release that year in Europe.
I really came to enjoy the album. Songs ranging from “The Bad Touch”, which I thought in my earlier 80s fandom could’ve been a lost Human League track, to “Mope”, a delightfully vulgar word salad, made me laugh. It’s strange, though. In the late 90s, my 80s fandom was growing exponentially, and I expressed displeasure with Sean Combs and the artists of Bad Boy Entertainment sampling 80s songs without paying attention to whether the lyrics were appropriate for sampling, yet “Mope” sampled, among other tracks, Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus”, Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Relax” and Metallica’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls”, and I thought it was great fun.
I think the difference for me was that The Bloodhound Gang didn’t take their music seriously while Sean Combs and the artists of Bad Boy Entertainment did. When you don’t take things seriously, it’s easier to have fun with what you’re doing. When you’re serious about what you’re doing, you sap the fun out of things. Fun is one of the things I’ve always sought in the pop culture I enjoy, especially as the 90s and 00s were not fun times for me.
Next comes the 1991 action movie The Last Boy Scout.
This is another 1991 film I didn’t really pay attention to until the early 00s. I read about it in several books on action movies, and I thought the movie was a great example of R-rated action comedy. Rife with profanities and violence, it had some very memorable scenes, most notably the start and end scenes at football games. I may not be much of a sports person, but football and action movies are a perfect match.
As I mentioned in an earlier Pop Geeks article. I would come to be online friends with the late Taylor Negron, who played the villainous henchman Milo in this movie. He had some great stories to share from this movie when I interviewed him for RetroJunk in 2010. That would probably have to be the biggest reason why I love watching The Last Boy Scout. It makes me reflect on how lucky I was to know Taylor Negron. Taylor played a great villain in The Last Boy Scout, but in real life, the man was a kind and compassionate class act.
Moving along alphabetically, I now come to the album Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed, Too by New Radicals.
I found myself really relating to this album. It dealt with serious matters, but in a more hopeful way than much of what was popular in the 90s. One of the reasons I could never get into grunge music was because of how depressing and bleak the lyrics were. Although major names in the genre like Kurt Cobain and Chris Cornell were very honorable people working for positive things in real life, their lyrics were too dark, and as the 90s was a very dark time for me, I couldn’t relate to that.
When I first heard New Radicals’ “You Get What You Give”, it felt like a revelation. Lyrics like, “Don’t let go, you’ve got the music in you/One dance left, this world is gonna pull through/Don’t give up, you’ve got a reason to live/Can’t forget we only get what we give” were like an oasis in the midst of a sea of dark lyrics. I was dealing with depression in the 90s in addition to my diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, and I was always looking for something to inspire me to a better day. Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois’ lyrics did precisely that with New Radicals. It’s a shame there was only one album under that name, but I’m glad they continue to collaborate.
Next on the list is a compilation CD that came out in the mid-90s called Only Dance: 1980-1984.
Alright, you got me. I knew I couldn’t write an article about 90s pop culture without mentioning something 80s-related, although you probably guessed that from looking at this piece’s hashtags on Twitter. The only thing 90s about this compilation is that it came out in the 90s, but it did play an essential part in my pop cultural history. I first came across this album at a now-defunct entertainment store chain called Media Play. In the late 90s, I would ask for gift certificates there for Christmas and birthdays, plus I would occasionally visit there with money made from doing chores. If I didn’t have a gift certificate or enough money, my mom would cover the purchase for me.
I can’t recall if I purchased Only Dance: 1980-1984 or if my mom did in 1998, but the CD served as an escape for me. In 1998, I was in the second half of my 9th grade year at a special education school called Clearview. The school was for students with challenges more severe than Asperger’s Syndrome, so I was often arguing with the teachers about how they treated me and how they didn’t understand me or Asperger’s Syndrome. That 1997-1998 school year was so bad that we started looking for new schools in December of 1997.
What does all that have to do with this Only Dance compilation? I had a CD player that I would listen to on my rides to and from school. I was a commuter for my high school years, being taken in cars to the various schools I attended from 1997-2001, and as with any commuter, I needed entertainment to pass the time. I listened to Only Dance: 1980-1984 and escaped into a world of fantasy and maturity, a maturity I wouldn’t reach until I turned 30. Listening to songs like Rick James’ “Super Freak” and Laura Branigan’s “Self Control”, both present on the CD, promised something better, something more mysterious and wonderful ahead. It took another 14 or so years to get there, but it was worth it.
Moving along to a project that was definitely 90s, I would have to go with the Disney cartoon Pepper Ann.
This is another project I didn’t really connect with until the 00s, which was when Toon Disney was a channel that aired all sorts of older Disney programs. Watching Pepper Ann, I saw something of myself in the title character, who was voiced by Kathleen Wilhoite. Pepper Ann had an unusual home life and an active fantasy life with a lot of talking to herself that allowed her a unique outlook on the world.
I definitely had an unusual home life as well, albeit one far more dysfunctional than Pepper Ann’s, and I, too, sought out refuge in fantasy and talking things out with myself. Pepper Ann’s struggles were less severe than mine, and it was easier for her to deal with her issues than it was for me for a long time, but I still saw something of myself in the character. I’m now lucky enough to count Kathleen Wilhoite and Kimmy Robertson, who voiced another character on the show, Gwen Mezzrow, as not only previous interview subjects, but also, and more importantly, dear friends. Knowing the both of them is easily the best part of the show for me now.
Jumping back to the beginning of the decade, we come to the second Joel Silver-produced film on my list of 90s things I like. That would be Predator 2.
In something of a rare case, I saw Predator 2 before I saw the first Predator from 1987. As such, although I had read about the original movie and knew its’ plot, this was my first exposure to the character, and I came to prefer it the original. That’s something of a rare sentence from me to prefer a 90s movie to an 80s movie, but it’s not that I don’t like the original Predator. I just found something about Predator 2 more appealing.
One of the biggest somethings would have to be the setting. Although I’ve never traveled to California, I’m a sucker for any entertainment from any decade that is set in the state. California just strikes me as a very unique place, where you can be skiing in the morning and surfing in the afternoon before a night of club-hopping. Predator 2 utilizes California, more specifically Los Angeles, to its’ advantage. Seeing Mike Harrigan (Danny Glover) tangling with the Predator up and down the buildings of Los Angeles was, to me, a bigger thrill than seeing Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) battling the Predator in the jungle. You expect natural chaos to happen in a setting like the jungle. You don’t necessarily expect it in a city like Los Angeles, and that’s what made it more fun for me.
Staying in California in 1990, we now come to the Pretty Woman soundtrack.
I heard the soundtrack to Pretty Woman before I saw the movie, but I loved what I heard. I purchased the CD from Media Play shortly before I started my 11th grade year in 1999, and as with Only Dance: 1980-1984, this CD saw a lot of play for me during my commutes to and from school. It’s a sterling collection of some of the best pop music 1990 had to offer.
The song that stuck with me the most was Go West’s “King Of Wishful Thinking”, which is all about a man who denies that he’s unhappy about a relationship breaking up. I came to love that song, mainly because I was sort of in denial about how my life was at the time. In other words, I was a King Of Wishful Thinking as well.
I was thinking that my experiences in 11th grade were better than they really were as I wasn’t in Clearview anymore. That wasn’t true at all. I still had to deal with callous bullies and teachers who didn’t understand me. Outside of school, the only positive development was getting my first paying job at the local library in the second half (January to June 2000) of my 11th grade year. At home, I had to deal with the fact that my mom, although she continued loving me as a son, was really starting to dislike me as a person, as evidenced by her reacting to my anger at a bad day at school one time by pounding on my head with her fists over and over until I was crying and begging for her to stop, an omen of what I would have to deal with in the 00s, the last full decade of her life.
My mom and I didn’t have the best relationship after my dad died, but she did occasionally treat me to things from Amazon, which only sold books in the late 1990s. One of those books was the next item on my alphabetical list of 90s things I liked. That would be the book Totally Awesome 80s by Matthew Rettenmund.
I was eagerly seeking out all the material I could about the 80s throughout the last few years of the 90s, and Matthew’s book crossed my path in 1998, if I recall correctly. My mom purchased the book for me, and I loved reading it. The book was a tremendous influence on my 80s fandom. I became familiar with a lot of movies, music and personalities through Totally Awesome 80s that would come to help me through the hard times of the 00s and New 10s.
I actually saw Matthew Rettenmund, who had become a Facebook friend of mine in the middle of the New 10s, at Chiller Theatre in April of 2019. Both of us were attendees, and I had the chance to thank him for writing the book. I told him that I found his book to be a fairer look at 80s nostalgia than a lot of what would come over the next two decades. Of course, Matthew is a fantastic writer all around, so check out his work if you haven’t had a chance to yet.
Continuing along alphabetically, I now come to my favorite Pixar movie of the 90s, Toy Story 2.
I came to prefer Toy Story 2 to the first Toy Story because Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) was more of a nice guy than he was in the original. I found it difficult to sympathize with Woody in the original as his jealousy and immaturity were very prominent in that movie, and the misunderstandings those emotions caused impacted him tremendously. I think the reason why I was turned off by Woody’s characterization in the original was because I saw something of myself in how he was acting, and I was ashamed of how I was in the 90s, even though I couldn’t properly articulate it beyond frequently saying “I hate myself” in various ways.
By contrast, Toy Story 2 showed more facets to Woody. He was kinder and more peaceful, but when in possession of the evil toy seller Al (voiced by Wayne Knight), he discovered more about his past and temporarily gained a big ego before Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen) reminded him of his real purpose. I went through a phase of having a big ego as well, part and parcel of my immaturity in the 90s and 00s, the latter decade of which was when I first saw Toy Story 2. It took the support of people outside of my family, friend I made online and at work, to remind me of what it would truly take to make it in the world, and I’m glad I got that, even though the lessons wouldn’t be fully absorbed until I turned 30.
Continuing alphabetically, this next 90s item I liked is a network, and that would be VH1 in the 90s.
My mom was unusual. On the one hand, she was okay with me renting movies like Caddyshack and The Blues Brothers in my single digits. On the other hand, she objected to MTV’s content and we weren’t allowed to watch it at our house until 1997, when the network had truly decayed. Maybe it was because she objected to the programming content, or maybe she thought it might have been a bad influence on me and my brother, but it took a long time for her to let us watch it at our house.
She never had an issue with VH1, though, and so I was allowed to watch that from the first time we got it. The network abandoned its’ music television mission earlier than MTV did, having done so gradually, but the programming they did air fascinated me. They aired a lot of older music videos, as well as documentaries like Behind The Music and trivia programs like Pop-Up Video. All of the older entertainment-related programming would become a big influence on my pop culture tastes.
That also went for The Rock N’ Roll Picture Show, VH1’s movie block, which introduced me to quite a few 80s movies I would come to love. Breakin’, for example, first came into my field of vision in 1998 on the Rock N’ Roll Picture Show. I recorded it, and I loved watching it. It just had a very inspiring, hopeful attitude to it. Hearing Ollie and Jerry’s theme song “Breakin’ (There’s No Stopping Us)” was exactly the balm that my ears needed after rough school days and once-a-week evenings spent at Boy Scout meetings, meetings I lost interest in after my dad, a scoutmaster, died in 1995, but was forced to attend until 1999. When I would watch The Rock N’ Roll Picture Show, or anything on VH1 in the 90s, for that matter, I was able to experience something special and personal, something I would only be able to share with others when I started writing for RetroJunk.
This next item alphabetically is an era of programming that stretched from 1990 to 1999, almost the entire length of the decade. That would be Warner Brothers’ Silver Age.
From Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs to the animated versions of Batman and Superman, the 90s was an amazing time for Warner Brothers animation. Warner Brothers’ Silver Age would be a very big influence on my future creative output. Shows like Animaniacs and Tiny Toon Adventures, especially, would influence my writing with their mixture of pop-culture references and getting crap past the radar.
How big of an influence on me were the works of writers like Tom Ruegger and Sherri Stoner, both of whom are now friends and previous interview subjects of mine? Some of my earliest online writing was fan-fiction, written with others, centered primarily around the cartoons that were produced by Steven Spielberg. We wrote new adventures for characters like Yakko, Wakko and Dot after Animaniacs was treated as an afterthought due to the rise of Pokemon in the late 90s.
Unfortunately, speaking for myself, the problems of Asperger’s Syndrome impacted my writing. Looking back on my fan-fiction of the late 90s and early-to-mid-00s, I came to realize that I had no understanding of what made shows like Animaniacs and Tiny Toon Adventures the classics they were. Oftentimes, the things I wrote the characters as doing, very out-of-character things, were me working through my own issues.
For example, I wrote The Brain giving up his dreams of world domination in one story. I wrote that after I had dropped out of college after a month-and-a-half in 2001 and didn’t see a bright future for myself. Other writers on that story had Brain being challenged back into attempting to take over the world, thus restoring the status quo, but the 90s and 00s certainly saw the status quo constantly changing negatively for me.
I eventually came to realize that my gifts as a writer lay in the world of non-fiction. I’m best at writing about reality, whether it’s through autobiographical articles or interviews, and I have Warner Brothers’ Silver Age to thank for that. By writing fan-fiction about those cartoons, I came to see where my strengths and weaknesses were as a writer, and I was able to utilize my strengths to my advantage when I made the jump to RetroJunk in 2006.
Jumping back to the 90s, though, I now come to my final item alphabetically on this list. Actually, it’s two items, to be specific, and those are the Wayne’s World movies.
These movies were also a big influence on me as a child. I had no idea what half the references and jokes were about, and the other half my mom felt I was too young to be using, but Wayne (Mike Myers) and Garth (Dana Carvey) just said them with such confidence that I latched onto them as examples of confidence and cool. Because I latched onto those examples, I saw Wayne’s World and Wayne’s World 2 as taking place in a world I wanted to visit.
Aurora, Illinois was a medium-sized town in the Wayne’s World movies, but Wayne and Garth always managed to find big adventures and big fun. That’s what I sought for myself, but as the problems of Asperger’s Syndrome impacted my life, it was difficult to find the adventure and fun in the 90s, and that goes for the 00s as well. There were times in the movies where Wayne acted like a jerk and alienated his friends, and I, too, had those moments as well in the 90s and 00s. I wouldn’t achieve coolness until I turned 30, but the Wayne’s World movies taught me that if you make an effort to improve things, then life can truly be excellent.
This article took a bit of effort to write. I’ve never really devoted an article about positivity to 90s pop culture before. In many ways, I’m still working my way through how the 90s traumatized me. Losing both my dad and my mind within a year-and-a-half of each other has made it hard for me to look back on the 90s with fondness. Compound that with extensive school bullying, the diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, and said diagnosis impacting my life in negative ways before I figured out how to utilize the diagnosis to help instead of hinder myself, and it’s hard for me to have the nostalgia for the 90s that so many people around my age do.
This article served as a bit of therapy for me, and I thank you for walking with me down 90s Memory Lane, a lane that’s pothole-ridden and still needs the DPW to help repair it.
Coming soon, I’ll be returning to my bread-and-butter of retro interviews when I talk to the versatile and beautiful Deborah Dutch. Keep your eyes peeled for that interview, and thank you as always for your time and support.