[Book Notes] The Nineties: A Book

By Chuck Klosterman
Read in 2022

Quick Thoughts

This was a fast read, and I enjoyed it, but I’m not sure it would be very interesting to anyone who didn’t live through the 90s.

It definitely made me think about how much has changed in such a seemingly short period. It also offered a healthy dose of nostalgia, which always feels bittersweet to me, like warm sadness.

It left me appreciated the pre-internet (especially pre social media) life. It’s cliche, but those really were simpler times, for better or worse. I’m glad to have been a kid during that time.

My Highlights

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Older generations despise new generations for multiple reasons, although most are assorted iterations of two: They perceive the updated versions of themselves as either softer or lazier (or both). These categorizations tend to be accurate. But that’s positive. That’s progress. If a society improves, the experience of growing up in that society should be less taxing and more comfortable; if technology advances and efficiency increases, emerging generations should rationally expect to work less. If new kids aren’t soft and lazy, something has gone wrong.

Location: 888
In 1987, the philosopher Allan Bloom published an unexpected bestseller titled The Closing of the American Mind, claiming that the modern university system had prioritized relativism over critical thinking, inadvertently leading to nihilism—but Bloom was attacked for being elitist, out of touch, clandestinely conservative,[*] and not really a philosopher.

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The adoption of queer by queers added still another layer to the tiramisu of heteronormative befuddlement.

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What seemed to happen was what so often happens with radical activism: Outrage from the periphery moved the needle beyond the comfort zone of Middle America, prompting pushback. But when the needle drifted back, its home position had shifted.

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What seemed enticing about the seventies was that life experiences were still unscripted, and that no one had figured out how to give the people what they wanted before the people even knew what that was.

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The litany of mechanical differences between daily life in 1993 and daily life in 1998 is mostly a list of minor advancements expediting activities that weren’t that difficult in the first place.

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If you needed to take an important call, you just had to sit in the living room and wait for it. There was no other option. If you didn’t know where someone was, you had to wait until that person wanted to be found. You had to trust people, and they had to trust you. If you made plans over the phone and left the house, those plans could not be changed—everyone had to be where they said they’d be, and everyone had to arrive when they said they’d arrive.

Location: 2,239
Over time,[*] the Google algorithm created something that had never previously existed: a consensus about the shared understanding of everything.

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was now possible to know a little bit about everything without remembering anything.

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The prospect of a terrible beverage created to kamikaze a moronic beverage is an apt metaphor for this entire period of marketing.

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But what the New Sincerity was, and what it always is, was anxiety over the comfort of emotional uninvestment, magnified by the luxury of introspection.

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Every time period that’s ever transpired has seemed unprecedented to the people who happened to live through it;

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The notion of intrinsic merit is superfluous, since the only quality capitalism values is the perpetuation of itself.

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You turned [TV] on and watched whatever it gave you. The level of exposure was very high and the expectations were very low. It was a source of entertainment when no better entertainment was available, which was most of the time.

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The compulsion to reconsider the past through the ideals and beliefs of the present is constant and overwhelming. It allows for a sense of moral clarity and feels more enlightened. But it’s actually just easier than trying to understand how things felt when they originally occurred.

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What Fox realized on election night in 2000 (when its ratings spiked upward) and what MSNBC came to accept a few years later was something increasingly visible throughout the nineties, but too journalistically depressing to openly embrace: People watch cable news as a form of entertainment, and they don’t want to learn anything that contradicts what they already believe. What they want is information that confirms their preexisting biases, falsely presented through the structure of traditional broadcasting.

Location: 3,965
Unless cataclysmic events are actively breaking, the purpose of cable news is emotional reassurance.

Location: 4,067
Two individuals with opposing viewpoints can seem almost identical if both have measured, understated personalities; two individuals in fundamental agreement become adversaries if the emotional intensity of their mind-sets doesn’t match up.

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Part of the complexity of living through history is the process of explaining things about the past that you never explained to yourself.

Location: 4,564
There was growing evidence that the trait drawing people to art was an artist’s ability to succeed without appearing professional or studied.

Location: 4,943
People inject their current worldviews into whatever they imagine to be the previous version of themselves.

Location: 5,013
No stories were viral. No celebrity was trending. The world was still big. The country was still vast. You could just be a little person, with your own little life and your own little thoughts. You didn’t have to have an opinion, and nobody cared if you did or did not. You could be alone on purpose, even in a crowd.