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MSNBC: Mark Ames and Yasha Levine
Broke the Koch Brothers' Takeover of America
eXile Classic / October 14, 2009
By Mark Ames and Jake Rudnitsky


This article was first published in The eXile on December 2, 2005.

Everything about Russia in the 90s was cool. We mean everything.

America in the 90s, on the other hand, offers plenty to hate to the spleen-endowed eXhole. Problem is, you’re probably one of the reasons why the 90s were so bad.

Why look back now? We live in very slow times. It took the West all of 15 years – including the entire 90s decade – to get over its 70s-Retro fetish, and now, you’ll never guess what the culture’s Next Big Thing is. Okay, you, in the back there with that Peaches mullet…you want to hazard a guess? “80’s Retro,” you say? Ding-ding-ding! Vanna, we have a winner!

Indeed it’s that E-Z to figure out. 80s-Retro’s been going on for at least 7-8 years, is only hitting big around now, and will probably last another 10-15 years, if the 70s-Retro fad is any indication.

This glacier-like move to 80s Retro got us thinking. Since we’re such a cutting-edge magazine, it’s our duty to be at the next trend before you get there. And that’s why we’ve done this 90s-Retro issue. Because we got a hunch that sometime in the next twenty years, 90s Retro is gonna be Big, baby.

What is the 90s? What does it represent? What was its zeitgeist? This is the tricky part. See, hipsters in the 90s thought that they’d figured out a way to position themselves as the first generation ever which wouldn’t, in retrospect, look as ridiculous as previous generations. They thought they’d secure their place by ironically fixating on 70s retro (thus sparing themselves from having to create too much of their own destined-to-be-dated material) as well as adapting the language of a hyper-conscious, self-aware man-outside-of-his-time, narrated as glibly as possible, as a way of ironically distancing themselves from their own stances.

Another thing we noticed is that nearly every single 90s trend started in the 80s. And nearly all the hateful trends listed here are still going on today, halfway through the 2000s.

The 90s generation did everything they could to make sure they didn’t look like idiots later on. But we’ve got some bad news for them: They failed. They already look like incredibly embarrassing fools, not to mention devious cowards, and we’ve got 90 reasons to prove our point.

This 90s-Retro issue ain’t gonna be fun, like those stupid obscure-70s-pop-references games you 90s dorks adore. No, this is a little different. To quote Bernie Birnbaum, it’s gonna be a “painful memory.” And we’re gonna make sure that the memory stays fresh, raw, and bleedling.

1. Authenticity

Vollman’s saggy man-boobs: Authenticity has never been so authentic

The Sham: In an era when anything potentially interesting or dangerous got reified and castrated several times over, nothing was more important for this nefarious decade than to exalt and at the same time commoditize Authenticity, the kind of Authenticity that supposedly hadn’t yet been discovered, ruined, varnished or commoditized. The first requirement for being Authentic is that you had to be at least somewhat unattractive- which is why there was always work for Steve Buscemi and his pre-fluoride smile. Even though Buscemi is way more theater-art-fag-Manhattan than, say, someone as recognizably unauthentic as Ethan Hawke, he looks like what cool people imagine authentic people should look like, and so therefore, in the 90s, he was Authentic. Thanks to Buscemi, we now have another authentic star, Paul Giamatti, whose baldness-and-belly were his two greatest assets, lending him major Authenticity creds despite the fact that his father was once the Major League Baseball commissioner. You see how E-Z it is to be Authentic? The obsession with Authenticity led the cutting-edge bourgeoisie to seek out “really-really underground clubs” whose authenticity was measured in planned filth, planned ripped walls, and by the low numbers of other authenticity-seekers who found it; to seek increasingly obscure ethnic literature and art so long as it confirmed the dominant political/aesthetic prejudices in the Home Country; to give major Authenticity props to author William T. Vollmann (pictured above) in part because he was short, somewhat homely, and gave legedary Authentically-edgy interviews to journalists while holed up in seedy San Francisco hotels, shooting heroin with a prostitute by his side (yes, even something as hokey and old-fashioned-beatnik as that was considered “Authentic” in the 90s! Vollmann shrewdly rolled out the entire Authentic-4-U Kit, sparing no cliche on this one!); to overrate Wesley Willis just because he was authentically schizophrenic, rather than fake-schizophrenic like all the David Byrnes we’d grown used to; and even to make billionaire Dave Thomas of Wendy’s a kind of “authentic American” star. It was all a symptom of an age that knew it was oppressively unimaginative, was bored of itself, and was looking for its inverse to upend that boredom and frustration – but in reality, didn’t want to find its inverse, so it settled for what it always settled for: a sly, cleverly-concealed commoditized version of the very authenticity it claimed to seek.

2. 70s Retro

The Sham: If the 90s will be remembered for one Big Trend, it will be Retro, especially 70s-Retro – which is eye-ron-ik because modern Retro started in the mid-70s, when American Graffiti andHappy Days became two of the biggest hits of all time. But unlike in the real, horrible 70s – when 50s retro was a tragic, pathetic cry for help to escape the wretched bummer of the 70s – the 70s-Retro fad in the 1990s was cute, kitsch and merely a way for mainstream-hipsters to drop quasi-obscure pop culture references. In fact, 70s-Retro isn’t even a 90s thing – it got its start in urban clubs around 1987, and wouldncha know it, 70s-Retro is still big today!

3. Belief that Using Netscape is Sticking it to The Man

The Sham: In the past, when serfs wanted to rebel against their masters, they stuck the local aristocrats’ heads on pikes and paraded them around the town square. But the 90s pioneered a better way to get even: supporting multibillion dollar corporate “underdogs.” Clever marketing and easily seduced journos convinced the world that buying a Mac was an act of resistance. Wired subscribers who weren’t nerdy enough to handle open-source programming learned that the best way to hit Bill Gates where it hurt was downloading a free version of Netscape. See, ‘cuz even though Netscape sold out to the world’s biggest media company, AOL-Time Warner, it wasn’t Microsoft. Way to go for the jugular, boys!

4. Martinis

The Sham: What do you call it when cutting-edge, clever, “indy” kids adopt the same tame, hokey tastes as their parents? If you’re a 90s hipster from coastal America, when the cool kids imitated Dean Martin, drank martinis, danced to shitty 40s music, used expressions like “Daddy-O” and played golf, why, you call it Hella-Rebella-ion! All of you Gen-X weasels who Rat Packed your way through the mid-90s rationalized it as “rebellion against rebellion,” but the sad truth is that YOU DIDN’T WANT TO REBEL, and the Rat Pack trend gave you the perfect cover to be the approval-seeking lickspittle you always wanted to be.

5. People who say they never go to Starbuck’s

The Sham: The idea that your priciples and moral righteousness could be defined by your loudly-announced, selective boycott of a chain like Starbuck’s was pure 90s, as if it was somehow worse than any other chain, as if it was really a moral principal and not old-fashioned snobbism. Most didn’t avoid ‘bucks because it did something wrong, like abuse its workers, make shitty coffee or buy beans from Guatemalan uber-plantations, but only because it was on every street corner in NY and in every food court in Denver. These poor disaffected-yet-well-off Starbuck’s-boycotters were furious that the rabble now had access to the things that used to be hard to access, like gourmet coffee. When they bitched about the homogenization of the American city, what they really were whining about was too little feis kontrol.

6. Golf

The Sham: Golf isn’t a sport. It’s work. It’s a day at the office. Slow. Boring. Annoying as hell. Takes forever. Expensive. Full of scowling gray-haired people who cheat and scream, and frat boys who like dressing up in silly outfits. What fun. Now not only does every Gen-Xer, Gen-Yer, and Gen-We-Lost-Iraqer play golf, but they’re making all of us watch it by loading everything from TV time to airport store space with golf, golf, golf. A wretched fake-sport for a wretched fake-decade.

7. People Who Taped Friends Episodes

The Sham: Before there was eBay, before there was TiVo, there were people in the 90s who willingly, consciously recorded episodes of Friends on their VCRs, and played them back on weekend nights with their boyfriends/girlfriends/partners/roommates/gay-neighbors while wearing sweats with university emblems. They’d say, “Oh, I love this part!” and “Wait-wait, watch this!” And they’d probably share a big bowl of low-fat snacks with a bottle of Zin. If Al Qaeda hates America because we are free, then we hate America because we are Friends.

8. People Who Faked Liking Twin Peaks

The Sham: Every aspiring yuppie and Middle American for some reason felt compelled to pretend to enjoy, watch and memorize every episode of Twin Peaks in 1990-91. Everyone quoted the few necessary lines about cherry pie and coffee, Diane, and pretended to like the strange weirdness hidden beneath the cheesy surface of Middle America. But if everyone liked it, how come the show died a hard ratings-deprived death after just one and a half seasons?! As always, the answer is: you people lied. Just to sound cool. Then flipped the channel to The Wonder Years when no one was looking…The flip-side to this sham were People Who Acquired Avant-Creds By Accusing David Lynch of Being Uncool in 1991 just becauseTwin Peaks was supposedly popular with yuppies.

9. Grrls

The Sham: What to do if you’re an American chick who wants to flirt with the cool college rock crowd, and you’re not comfortable adopting the intentionally asexual angry-dyke-elastic-waistband-whine and bleeding-heart ideology of your PC sisters? Why, you simply rip off the unwashed grunge fashion of the boys who you’re trying to get to notice you, adopting their greasy-hair-in-the-face, their four-chord-Stooges aesthetic, their ratty scream and “body art,” and refurbish the hippie-dyke ideology about empowerment and reclaiming your body in angry “whatever, man” poetics, and voila! You’re a grrl! As they said in the 90s, “You go, grrl! Really, we mean go, as in you go and wash your hair and put on something nice. Seriously, just go. You’re embarrassing yourself. ”

10. Zapatistas

The Sham: Zapatistas? Try “Fagatistas.” Remember in the early 90s when Communism died and all those fools in higher academia were left holding their gender-neutral-genitalia? Then came 1994, the Chiapas uprising and the rise of the Zapatistas. They seemed so cool, a safe mixture of people-of-color rebels against the whiter, richer Mexico-City elite; killer black rebel bandanas over the face; an updated leftie ideology transformed into anti-free-trade, and all seemingly contrived by enlightened POCs using language recognizable to the Left-academia; and best of all, they hardly killed anyone, and they were very serious about trying to keep the bloodshed to an absolute minimum. As in, stubbed toes, scratches, stuff like that. The thing that made squeamish Western leftists so uncomfortable with most leftie-guerrillas from the 60s and 70s was that whole massacre part of the deal you got with Shining Path, Khmer Rouge, FARC, FMLN and so on. Yet in the end, the Zapatistas’ very fagatista attitude towards bloodshed was their undoing. They were a little too authentic – as in, authentically aimed at becoming long-term celebrities in the nice, civil world of Western Leftist academia. Now that Commandante Marcos did the KISS thing and pulled the guerrilla scarf off of his face, revealing a harmless, middle-class, self-deprecating Uncle Marcos, everyone is a bit embarrassed about ever having bought into the whole Fagatista thing. Our mission: to remind you that you were once excited about them.

11. Fetish Clubs

The Sham: Sometime in the 1990s indulging in an evening or three of S&M and BDSM became a requirement for even the tamest middle-aged bourgeois. Dr. Dolan recalls overhearing an academic he knew at Berkeley bragging that she had enrolled in an “S&M Safety Course” before heading out to the shoe-licking/dog-leash love-in. Every alt-paper in America had its obligatory bi-annual review of fetish clubs and fetishists, as well as an obligatory fetishist columnist, usually grrl. The 90s: the biggest erection killer decade in mankind’s history.

12. eAnything

The Sham: Remember when all it took was calling a company e-something-or-other to guarantee millions in funds from venture capital firms, an oversubscribed IPO and fawning coverage in Fortunemagazine? Our own personal favorite eFlop was eToys which, in spite of its “TRUSTe-certified” privacy statement, tried to ward off bankruptcy by pawning its customer data list. The trend wasn’t confined to companies, either: eVangelists predicted the demise of publishing with the advent of eBooks, eCommerce would put malls out of business, eLearning would do away with the need for physical universities, and eBrokers would manage the eAssets of eCollar workers. There were even eCommerce Czars to oversee the transformation of “old economy” companies into viable enterprises. It wasn’t all grav-e, though, as obsolete eWaste piled up as technology continued its relentless march forward. Ai-e!

13. Prozac Nation

The Sham: If you were depressed in the 90s, you were interesting. So interesting that you could get a book deal or a record deal, especially if you were rich and depressed. At the very least, you could hold a long interesting conversation comparing notes with other depressed middle-class/upper-middle-class university graduates. Jeez, families were just so whack in the 90s, weren’t they?! The really good thing is that if you weren’t genuinely depressed, paranoid, terrified, or panicking in the 90s, no big deal. All you had to do was fake it. Wasn’t that hard, actually. Everyone did it. If they wanted to be interesting, that is.

14. Generation X

The Sham: The name of the book and the generation, Generation X, was appropriated from Billy Idol’s 70s band, which was itself a sham bubble-gum punk band whose name was considered so hokey even by his contemporaries that he dumped them; the regurgitated notion of yet another “lost generation,” so lost that they don’t even have a name, those poor bastards!; their chronicler, a turtleneck-sweater-clad Canuck whose idea of insight was to think up other clever neologisms like “McJobs” when whining about how overeducated college grads worked at shitty jobs. Has any generation ever suffered from having to work a shitty job out of college? Oh, and can’t seem to grow up. Or to commit. An entire generation bought into this bad parody of a soccer mom’s inner thoughts and accepted it as a generation-defining moment. As if the Generation X’s very blandness was its strongest selling point.

15. The Greatest Generation

The Sham: The baby boomers felt shitty about themselves for throwing a decade long hissy-fit at their parents in the 60s, and for bringing on America’s first loss ever in a war. So they did what all idiots do: in the 90s, just before their parents died, they flip-flopped their original idiocy by naming their hokey, bigoted, stingy, boring parents the “Greatest Generation,” allegedly for all the quiet sacrifice in WW2. Sacrifice? Right. They sacrificed 20 million Russians against the Nazis before invading a resort beach, then they wine-tasted their way to Potsdam while the Russians literally redefined the German gene pool. Oh, and the Greatest Generation sacrificed a few thumb-calluses when they firebombed and nuked every single German and Jap city once their air forces were wiped out. They had a hokey sense of humor, no taste in books, in movies, in drugs, in hairdos, in every single thing imaginable. And the only reason they’re around to tell the tale is because of Russia’s sacrifice. The Greatest Shameration.

16. Guys wearing ski caps in warm weather

The Sham: In one of the most counter-intuitive and least comfortable fashions since men wore iron corsets in Tudor England, knit ski-caps were all the rage in the 90s. Not during cold snaps, mind you, but even in Los Angeles. In the heat. Kids coast to coast representing every subculture from raver to grunge to Phish-head to hip-hop trapped their head-heat all summer long to prove their youth-ness. That’s called suffering for your art. Does this mean period pieces about the 90s a few years from now, starring Glenn Close and John Malkovich in a ski cap?

17. Upper-Middle-Class Strippers

The Sham: Post-feminist bourgeois grrls who wanted to achieve a slightly higher level of authenticity-kewl than their merely body-art-grrl counterparts clocked in a compulsory three months at an urban strip club. Then told everyone about it. And we mean everyone. Probably the biggest reason why American strippers are the worst chubby-killers known to mankind is this whole I’m-not-really-desperate vibe you get from them. Oops, wait, they’re not called strippers, they’re called “sex industry workers.” Yup, and our flaccid units would have to agree that it’s a more appropriate description, especially the “industry” part.

18. Self-Referential Chic

The Sham: By appropriating the language of a hyper-conscious, self-aware mind-at-work (including using parenthesis in prose, referring to the fact that you’re using parenthesis, and then joking about how you’re going off on a tangent [just like we did here]) middlebrows managed to appear fresh, groundbreaking and deep in a sincere yet glib sort of way. Oh, and obsess over obscure factoids which are supposedly funny because they’re so obscure. Yes, it’s been done before and it’s been done incredibly well, from Dostoevsky to Flann O’Brien to Nabokov and zillions of others, and it’s even been done badly already by such psychedelic-Beigeists as Pynchon, Barth, Gass, and a whole generation of those 60s meta-fiction meta-fools… But in the 90s the difference was that self-referential writers were young. That’s right: young. And since they were young, and since they often wore T-shirts in their promo photos or had zany 90s hairdos or goatees, it was really fresh (in both the wigger and pre-wigger sense of “fresh” [hey, we just made another self-conscious aside! Kewl!]). Quality was not an issue -David Foster Wallace, McSweeney’s and Dave Eggers showed that all you had to do was appropriate the rhetoric of hyper-conscious and hyper-aware poetics, dumb it down with modern pop references and slang, and you were, well, bad. Very bad. As in bad-bad, not the 90s good-bad.

19. Personal Ads

The Sham: When personal ads that once upon a time seemed risque in the Voice began appearing in Podunk’s alt-weekly and the list of abbreviations required a half-page key to decode, you knew you were in the 90s. This was part of the new sexual revolution in which every self-respecting more-or-less HWP WLT (height-weight proportional white long-term) 20-something couple felt obligated to try swinging and brag at cocktail parties that they were non-monogamous. Every self-respecting sensitive New Age guy was supposed to have a story about the conflicting emotions he felt while watching his lumpy girlfriend get it from behind by a hairy stranger.

20. White Males As Victims

The Sham: Clinton’s 1992 victory was a gold rush for Victims of all sorts. Not just the breeding-challenged or the pigmentally-endowed victims, but oddly enough, it turned out that White Males, by the end of the 90s, were the Biggest Victims in the whole competition. That’s right, the rise of the Aggrieved White Male was the last, and the biggest sham of the Victim-Bull-Market of the 1990s. It was a time when overweight, overstressed white office males joined hands with their aggrieved white brothers from the post-punk avant-underground, found common ground, and kept hate alive. A really stupid, embarrassing hate, that is. Just read Jim Goad’s Redneck Manifesto, a high-pitched whine from the depths of the white male grievance-glands, and you’ll squirt more than a few for those poor under-appreciated White Male Victims, but you’ll squirt with your ski cap on. In the summer, even.

21. Getting Angry Over Waco/Ruby Ridge

The Sham: Waco had a compound full of armed cultist morons who believed that David Koresh, a failed Sting-a-be rock star, was the Savior. Ruby Ridge was the site of some armed white racist pig and his shit-for-brains wife and kids. Can anyone give us one reason why they shouldn’t have been shot, gassed and burned with white phosphorus? Millions, literally millions of up-in-arms Middle Americans saw Janet Reno’s mercy killing of these rabid apes as a form of totalitarianism. Folks, it’s time to come clean here: Janet Reno should have killed many, many thousands more of them. As it was, we appreciate the gene-pool cleansing, even if it was just a gesture. Which brings us to another sham…

22. White Militias

The Sham: Heading up the “where are they now?” file are 90s White Militia Groups, the Spinal Tap of the Next Big Threat World. Despite all the alarmist-TV reports featuring sca-a-ry armed white militia parades blustering about their anti-government fight, in reality these bearded pussies with their trucker hats and TV dinner guts were little more than grown-up versions of middle school karate geeks – the ones who always got the shit kicked out of them no matter what color belt they reached. In the White Militias’ case, after all the smack they talked up about armed rebellion, smack spoken in that rural Middle American twang that isn’t Southern but sounds Southern and therefore has always annoyed the shit out of us, all it took was one bespectacled Washington spinster to flex a bit of her flabby little Justice Department muscle, and that was it. White Militiamen transformed instantly into Snagglepus: Exit, stage left, even. They buried the camouflage outfits and melted into the law-abiding trailer-park demographic faster than you can say “COPS.” So where are they now? Probably serving customers at a Kalamazoo U-Haul, filling out endless paperwork over the din of right-wing talk radio. Hopefully in a poorly-outfitted National Guard humvee in Ramadi. The only notable exception is Timothy McVeigh, an oddly interesting and extraordinarily gullible twerp who actually believed the bullshit and launched his attack on the Oklahoma Federal Building, on the mistaken assumption that he’d trigger the big anti-government uprising they all promised to launch. Poor sucker.

23. Language Wars

The Sham: The fight for equality and victims’ rights went from the bad streets and burning liquor stores to the Miss Manners columns. Chinaman was no longer the preferred nomenclature. Asian-American, please. Yup, that’s what fighting for equality has come to. Woids.

24. Madonna-ology

The Sham: Academics, desperately trying to be relevant during a time when they also had to parrot grotesquely obscure yet hallowed Critical Theory rhetoric in order to get tenure, found that by dropping words like “Madonna” or “Madonna” or even “Madonna” into their papers about “Irigaray and the (sub)version of The Other in Madonna’s Blonde Ambition Tour,” they might get read by at least three or four more people, one of whom might even be a non-academic. As in, mom. Not to be outdone were the even more disgraceful anti-Theory academic populists of the 90s embodied in the withered macaque-mouthed figure of Camille Paglia, who became a maverick by, you guessed it, name-dropping Madonna at every conference she could sign up for, eliciting gasps of oohs and ahs by labeling that vapid little ambition pump “feminism’s future.” It’s, you know, the 90s version of declaring, “God is dead.”

25. The Cult of Noam Chomsky

The Sham: Sure, Chomsky is the kind of guy you want on your team, the perfect leftie fullback whose books on politics, media and language move the chains, yet are perfectly devoid of surprise. You want to criticize the mainstream media’s silence on US imperialism in Latin America on a third and short yardage situation? Chomsky will get you your two yards of criticism and a cloud of dirt. But you can’t build a franchise around him. Which is exactly what the Left has done. The way Chomsky’s become the Al-Sistani of the Secular Left – whatever he frowns upon, his wispy-bearded minions denounce, and whatever books he blurbs, his minions memorize – is not so much shameful as depressing. The best thing about Chomsky is that he raises the blood pressure anti-Lefties far more than he deserves. Still, Chomsky’s about as challenging as Mr. Rogers. “Hi kids, won’t you be my Culturally Sensitive Leftie Neighbor? Good, today kids, we’re gonna talk about the evil things America has done in Nicaragua. Can you say Nee-karrrrooah-ooah?” In a word, Chomsky is why the Left stumbled through the 90s righteously gumming its enemies rather than raptor-gutting them.

26. Blacks who said OJ was “guilty”

The Sham: We gots a name for these fellas: Uncle Toms! It’s not even so much the blacks who thought he was guilty (‘cuz really, everyone did) as the blacks who thought his acquittal was a disgrace, like Bill Cosby and Oprah. Thankfully, most African-Americans were just pleased to see OJ and Cochran pull off a great hustle.

27. Country Muzak

The Sham: Nothing captures the fakeness of the 90s obsession with authenticity quite as much as the country music explosion. On the one hand, country became overproduced patriotic pop/rock dressed in cowboy boots and sung with a southern twang, and Garth Brooks, with his cheesy ballads and dramatic lighting, was the biggest selling musician of the decade. Meanwhile, rockabilly embraced Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline while other scenesters had battle stories of going all the way to Queens to score a stash of old Hank Williams records. Why’s that? Because real, unpretentious people listen to country. Those guys are just regular folks without all our Big City hang-ups. Yesirree.

28. “Mainstream Alternative”

The Sham: If you don’t know what is wrong with “Mainstream Alternative,” then fella… um, then fella…we…fella… Hell, the truth is, you’re lucky, in an ignorance-is-bliss way. Which is to say, you are to be despised for everything else you probably stand for and believe in, but envied for not experiencing the pain “Mainstream Alternative” inflicts on right-thinking citizens like ourselves. Yes, we’d like to see you catch some kind of rare bone disease that causes you years of agony, but not because of this.

29. Pie Throwing as Wacky Situationist Act-cum-Serious Political Statement

The Sham: Some zany Belgian pervert spearheaded the harmlessification of assassinations by hiring good-humored West European anarchists to throw cream pies into the faces of Major Western Villains like Bill Gates and Bernard Kouchner. This is sort of the Zapatista of the assassin world: all marketing/statement and no blood. It pretends to take down its target but in fact accomplishes nothing at all except to remind everyone how in the end not all that much is at stake. Worse, cream-pieing offers the more sophisticated target a classic 90s way out, if he can show that he can laugh at himself. Which many targets slyly do. After the pie-ing the Belgian, Noel Godin, his trusty anarchist elves and the victim often will even make a joke about it, while highlighting the “message beneath.” The eXile, on the other hand, did not offer New York Times hack Michael Wines a way out when we nailed him with a horse sperm pie a few years ago, and then sent him a thermos with the leftover horse sperm just so that he could be sure what went into his eyes, nose and mouth. Within months, Wines fled Russia for good.

30. Papier-Mache Puppets of Globalization Villains

The Sham: Nothing was more depressing than going to an anti-globalization march expecting to see some broken glass and broken heads…and instead getting bumped around by Phish hippies propping up poor papier-mache likenesses of the chiefs of the IMF and World Bank. You start asking yourself, “Do people here actually get inspired by those puppets? Do they think they’re sticking it to the Man?” Then you realize that you’d really, really like to see one of those APC-mounted water cannons go to work on the papier-machet puppet, and you start plotting how to make it happen. For example, by hiding behind one and lobbing a beer bottle at the line of cops flanking the march route. Not that we ever did that, but we will say this: highly pressurized streams of water beat papier-machet puppets every time.

31. Goatees

The Sham: First of all, you wore won. Sometime during the 90s, you had a goatee, and you’re going to have to find every negative or Polaroid around and destroy them because in a few years, that goatee photo is going to be the death of your cool creds. The 70s had the mustache, a trend so embarrassing that even the 70s-Retro-iest 90s hipster wouldn’t dare grow one out. Likewise, the 90s has the goatee. Originally it was a dissident facial hair statement, from Bolsheviks to Beatniks to Malcolm X. In the 90s, it represented dissidence of a different kind: the guy who said “no” to the Old Economy. Which is to say, it was the facial hair of choice for every overworked wage slave schmuck. It also became particularly popular, even vital, to the rising demographic of short, fat 20-30-something white guys whose goatees went well with their baggy long shorts and baggy shirts; on them, goatees made their squattiness seem like part of a statement.

32. Ben Stiller

The Shame: Perhaps the worst thing about Ben Stiller is what’s so awful about the 90s: a few things he did were really good. We’re thinking of Zero Effect and…wait, that’s it. Phew, don’t like it when assholes muddy up our hate-rays by doing something good. Besides, that’s like saying Saddam should be pardoned because he once helped an old Kurdish lady cross the street. Fact is, Ben Stiller is responsible for the genocidal Gen-X hit Reality Bites, the vastly un-funny Ben Stiller Show, and all those horrible movies where he and Owen are just out there having a good time, not taking themselves seriously. He also killed off the wonderful Heroin Chic fad with his Mainstream Alternative flick Permanent Midnight. Bastard.


33. The End of Heroin Chic

The Shame: One of the few genuinely intelligent, smart trends in the mid-90s was the belated recognition that heroin is a good drug, overturning decades of hippie oppression and prejudice. We have Kurt Cobain and Trainspotting, a movie whose mediocrity is less important than the positive message it sent, to thank for that. Sadly, some people – we won’t mention any RIVER PHOENIX names here, but a few LAYNE STANLEY guys couldn’t handle CHRIS FARLEY their shit, making it tough for the rest of us, while other KATE MOSS people, again names THE EXILE we won’t mention, functioned RUSH LIMBAUGH just fine while floating on the great poppy. Sadly, a combination of weak-willed celebrities, Ben Stiller’s Permanent Midnight and 9/11 ended this brief dawn of reason. Now we are back in the Dark Ages of cocaine chic. Frankly, we’d rather drink beer than do coke.

34. Saturn cars

The Sham: Ah, remember when the country was panicking that the Japanese were about to take over the country and privatize Central Park? Right then, at the beginning of the 90s, just before Japan’s bubble burst, GM launched a new car brand based on a Japanese production model and couched in patriotic ads where happy workers could pull a chain to stop the entire production line whenever they saw a problem. Well, not that many folks had their chains pulled after all, and the Saturn was an unmitigated disaster. The happy workers were even forced to swallow a weeks-long assembly line shut-down due to overproduction. The idea that one factory would produce the line of cars from start to finish also flopped, and they now are even using Honda engines in new Saturn models. How all-American is that? Sounds more like a Chevy Niva JV to us.

35. Hating the Clintons/Hating the UN

The Sham: What do you do if you live in a period of the greatest prosperity and geopolitical power that your country – and indeed just about any country in history – ever experienced? If you’re 150 million of America’s 300 million citizens, you hate the President who oversaw this Golden Age. And you hate his wife too. And for good measure, you also hate the UN, precisely because America finally found a way to completely co-opt it by making it believe it was becoming more powerful and multilateral, when in fact it served America’s imperial ambitions like no organization on earth. So naturally, this same 150 million-strong demographic hated the UN too, on the Waco-chic theory that the UN was preparing to occupy and control America. The hate was and still is pure undistilled venom, mean in that special Made In America way. There’s no point trying come up with a clever, insightful explanation for this hatred. It’s just stupidity expressed emotionally. Ten, twenty years from now, when America becomes the England of the 21st Century, people will look back at the 90s and…no wait, they won’t. They’ll be Americans. And they’ll probably still hate the Clintons and the UN. Because that’s what mean, petty morons do.

36. Reality Bites

The Shame: Someone we were friends with in the mid-90s told us, “You should really watch Reality Bites. You – seriously, you will really like this movie.” We saw the first 15 minutes. And never talked to that person again.

37. lower case spelling

The Sham: When the internet bubbled up, e.e. cummings made a comeback with a lower-case “c.” While he’d been stuck in a rut for decades as a poetry idol for teens experimenting with free verse, suddenly writing without caps became all the rage, appearing to be as “spontaneous” as ever. Everyone from new economy companies trying to prove that they were completely different than old economy companies to stodgy intellectuals who wanted to prove a point about the casual, breathless nature of email correspondence agreed that there was no room for Capitalization in the 90s.

38. Austin Powers References

The Sham: We will let the evidence speak for itself. Just say these phrases out loud: “Yeah, baby!” “Shall we shag now, or shall we shag later?” “Shagadelic baby, yeah!” You give? You sure? Cuz we could cite a few more. Remember, you used them. A lot. And all your friends laughed and added in their favorite lines too. Ah…memories.

39. Thomas Friedman

The Sham: Reasonably smart people from good universities – we’re talking about the kinds of people who regularly shopped at J. Crew and had good careers going in everything from journalism to banking – agreed with everything Thomas Friedman wrote, and even admired the way he was able to put it all in a language that regular folks could understand. Just to joggle your memory, here’s the kind of stuff Friedman said in his bestseller, The Lexus and the Olive Tree: “The Golden Straitjacket is the defining garment of this globalization era. The Cold War had the Mao suit, the Nehru jacket, the Russian fur [sic]. Globalization has only the Golden Straitjacket. If your country has not been fitted for one, it will be soon… Unfortunately, the Golden Straitjacket is pretty much ‘one size fits all.’ So it pinches certain groups, squeezes others….It is not always pretty or gentle or comfortable. But it’s here and it’s the only model on the rack this historical season.”

40. Appropriation of Hip Slang in Corporate Culture

The Sham: You used the expression “this sucks” in your office. And your co-worker said, “Yeah, this product is ass.” And you all laughed. And then your boss sent you a memo telling you that you weren’t working hard enough, that you need to work 14 hour days and he’s going to downsize and downwage you now, and he complains about having to tell you all this in a memo by writing, “This parental action SUCKS” with cap letters. This memo actually exists. Just look up the Cerner memo from CEO Neal Patterson. Read it…and you’ll agree that Neal is one of the guys.

41. Humanitarian Wars/Lying Refugees

The Sham: You were morally outraged about the Bosnian War in a very Orwell-affected way. After all, you studied his outrage in college – wouldn’t you want someone to study your outrage one day?. And then in 1999, you were proud that America bombed the Serbs over Kosovo, because you believed – you WANTED to believe – that they were committing a Holocaust there, murdering hundreds of thousands and raping the rest. You didn’t want to believe that your government lied to you about it THIS TIME – they couldn’t lie, cuz after all, there are too many checks and balances. Besides, admit it, you actually felt good when your country’s bombs killed Serbs. You were part of an historical, moral mission. And when it turned out there wasn’t Holocaust and you were wrong, you just moved on to the next righteous cause. Or not: you’d already got a job and you didn’t really have time anymore.

42. Lonely Planet Trekkers Who Boast About Going To Places That Other Trekkers Haven’t Discovered Yet

The Shame: You and every other Teva-wearing, Jansport-dragging, sensitive-to-the-local-culture-righteous trekker obsessed over just one thing in your 6-month trek through the Third World: going to places that will make you sound cool and convince people back home that you’ve been transformed in ways that they could never possibly understand. A subset of the desperate-to-be-authentic trend, except that this one was parroted by literally tens of millions of spoiled First World kids. The math never quite worked out – how could tens of millions of nattily-dressed white kids all find places that the other tens of millions hadn’t discovered? But then again, the algebra of exclusivity never squares with the reality of its accessibility.

43. Assholes Who Vigilantly Police Indie Kultur Borders Looking For “Sellouts”

The Shame: Gilman Street Project was so fuckin on-the-edge until Green Day sold out. Then Green Day wasn’t ever allowed to play Gilman Street again. Man, is Gilman Street keeping it real and fighting the Man or what?! How pissed off were you when Sonic Youth put out Goo, or the Butthole Surfers did “Pepper”?! Man, what sellouts! And you were right there to call it too. You kept it real, dude, all the way. (Which brings us to the 90s version of this very 80s game: while in the 80s hipsters furiously competed to call when REM or Husker Du sold out, in the 90s, it was quietly understood that the whole anti-corporate game was a fake, and therefore the moral indignation was also faked. See under: Cosely, Gerard; Albini, Steve.)

44. Idiots Who Boast “I’m neither right nor left”

The Sham: In an era when putting yourself on the line by siding with a large group of people on anything from art to politics inevitably opened you up to possibly looking like a fool someday, or at least unoriginal, it became very maverick to criticize both the right and the left, and to let everyone know it while you were doing it, just in case they didn’t see how truly independent-minded you really were. This stance is the white alt-male equivalent of “don’t objectify me.”

45. The End of History

The Sham: Just when intellectuals were finally coming to terms with the utter idiocy of Marx’s Communist Worker’s Paradise fairytale, along came Francis Fukayama to peddle another, even more idiotic fantasy: mankind had finally reached the end of ideological struggles, that liberalism had won according to the inevitable historical dialectic, and now, wars would become obsolete, to be replaced by economic competition. All the anti-Communist liberal academics from Harvard on down bought this line in the 90s. Today, thank god, they’ve all been tonsured and forced to repent on live television, had their tenures stripped and shipped out to asphalt-laying duty. That’s a fairytale we’d like to believe, anyway.

46. Clash of Civilizations

The Sham: The competing “theory” to Fukayama’s among ambitious male American East Coast academics was this showstopper: that we have reached a point where the Judeo-Christian civilization is in inevitable conflict with the other civilizations like Islam, etc. It was just a cheap way of making the same old wars and rivalries seem grander than they really were. Any war – even the War of 1812 or the American Civil War – could be considered a Clash of Civilizations. But people thought Samuel Huntington was really onto something with this – and his stock rose when 9/11 hit. And it really was a shocker – Huntington’s facile, obvious theory only shocked all the millions of American intellectuals who really believed that everyone in the world loved America and wanted to become American. So they looked for the next-stupidest theory to ground them when the first stupid theory failed. Ugh.

47. Fucking Up the System By Working Within It

The Sham: Edgy ex-indy rock/Steve Albini types who need to come up with a rationalization for going corporate can’t admit their real motivation: they want to be rich and own lots of cool shit that will make other people envy them. But they can’t say that. So what they say is, “I’m going to business school/law school/ad agency because the best way to fuck up the system is to work within it.” One area where fringy crackers could really use some hip-hop seminar training (ie: at least they boast that they want to get rich any way they can because being poor is Hell) on how not to sound like a transparent moron.

48. Wiggers

The Sham: In an era when irony was (can we say “king”?), in the 90s Wiggers were the glorious exception that proved the rule. White boyz with their ball caps – tags still on, rim flat – flipped sideways and pant crotches down to their ankles swarmed malls and Taco Bell parking lots, smoking dutches and calling each other dawg, safe within their crime-free subdivided paradise. These b-boys were so fly, phat and fresh that they didn’t need to check out the ‘hood. Besides, they had their token black homey who was bussed in from the ghetto to tell them all about it. It didn’t even matter that their homeboy actually lived with his god-fearing grandmother who sat him on a bus every morning at 5 am so that he got a good education; that nigga had street credz in the ‘burbs! What up, G! Holla at your boy!

49. Misogyny Chic

The Sham: As the PC thing spun out of control and young American males’ voices pitched higher and higher, one of the kewl backlashes against it was sounding and acting as close to an authentic misogynist as possible, but always leaving some tiny little way out to let all the grrls and all the progressives know that you’re only a misogynist because you’re an indy maverick, not because you genuinely hate womyn. It got so that even Will Oldham was hailed as a misogynist, though his misogyny was acceptable because his crowd was so goddamn progressive. Oddly enough, part of the eXile’s initial popularity in the late 90s came from accidentally getting swept up along this trend. Grrls in particular seemed attracted to it, but always at some point they’d ask us, “Do you really mean it though?”

50. Smog

The Sham: Lo-Fi was a good idea in the hands of the right people. Like in the hands of Guided By Voices. But Smog and Cat Power…try listenin’ to them now. It doesn’t sound authentic. You listen to it and think, “Did people really not get what a sham this guy is? Oo, he’s playing into a bad four-track. Oo, did you hear the tape record button click?! It’s so unvarnished! Oo, I think I’m gonna get myself an LP player to hear the cracks and pops! It’s so authentic that way!”

51: Nerd Chic

The Sham: For decades, nerds paid dearly for being nerds. And then one day, in the 1990s, nerds became cool. Not real nerds, of course – they’re always fucked. But the most cutting-edge, advanced, socially-successful, guaranteed-to-succeed, trendsetting-without-effort types made a point to develop a nerdish or loser narrative about themselves, since being cool was no longer cool. Even successful jocks and writers we know faked that they were losers – in order to become more successful. And it worked. Our only question: why didn’t the real nerds just kill the fuckers.

52. Energy drinks

The Sham: Another aspect of 90s culture we owe to ecstasy-fueled rave culture is the conviction that rolling and alcohol don’t mix. Club culture latched on to Red Bull and pretended that energy drinks rather than the drugs kept them going all night. It didn’t take long for the big-boys in the soft drink world to take note, and pretty soon they all had their own sugar and caffeine cocktail, named things like Monster and Fuel Cell. Sometimes they even added guarana for that illicit feel! Even Mountain Dew witnessed a renaissance. Kids, can’t you tell the difference between a bad little caffeine buzz and a spinal-twisting MDMA rush? You can’t be that fucking stupid.

53. Lollapalooza

The Sham: In a typically 90s twist of fate, what started as a one-time farewell tour/anti-Corporate Rock Festival for Jane’s Addiction became a monstrous corporate concert that was a must-see for frat boys looking to crowd surf. The reasons quoted for its demise are often the disintegration of the sense of community of the early years and that people started getting too drunk and unwieldy in the mosh pits. That’s right – the mosh pits were too unwieldy, folks!

54. Rave Culture as Avant-Garde

The Sham: Rave was the perfect 90s trend. It appropriated everything shallow about the hippies – all the talk of love, community, dropping out of mainstream society and living in warehouse districts, taking love drugs, promoting shitty positive-minded music, fetishizing childishness, dancing like drunken Koreans – and they dispensed with the only interesting, dangerous things about the hippies, such as fighting cops and scaring The Normals. That way, when they were done with their Raver Phase, they could still get into law school without a blemish on their record.

55. CEOs as Rock Stars

The Sham: Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric, fired 120,000 people in his tenure, bragged about “squeezing unlimited juice” from his workers, earned himself about a billion bucks, and for all that…he was worshipped by millions of admiring Americans, who called themselves “Welch Heads.” What they admired most was his “tough love” or “realistic” approach – a nice way of saying transferring money from hundreds of thousands of households into his own. All the dot-com shysters who commuted between South of Market and Sand Hill Road in their maverick jeans were treated like the second coming of Peter Frampton. And in the end, all they did was swindle their employees and the small-time investors caught up in the ponzi scheme. In the 90s, you didn’t fight plutocrats who hogged the wealth – you worshipped them, because they were better than us.

56. Liberals Who Voted For Nader Because “There’s No Difference Between Bush and Gore”

The Sham: Admit it: you fucked up. Big time. There was a huge difference between Bush and Gore. Voting for Nader was a vote for Bush. You just didn’t have the courage to accept the ugly reality of politics in 2000 because as an over-read liberal, you wanted your candidate and your party to be more authentic than the plastic show that made you gag. You were too fucking pampered and vain to lower yourself to vote for Gore, and you’re the reason why America is in the shit-hole it’s in today.

57. Facile Controversial Government-Funded Art

The Sham: America is such a crude place intellectually that you can take money from the taxpayers to produce an art work as lazy as dropping a cross into urine, and act all morally outraged when the ignorant taxpayers don’t want to give you their money anymore. They called this a culture war thing. Yeah.

58. Budget Deficits

The Sham: Middle America was nearly in revolt in the early 90s because they believed that budget deficits were about to implode the nation. It was just about the only issue in a generation to mobilize Middle America – predominately Independents and Republicans at heart – into civic activism and outrage on a mass revolt scale. We want to repeat: Budget Deficits. That’s what got them outraged. Budget deficits – hoo, scary stuff, kids! Hoo…real scary.

59. Goys quoting Seinfeld

The Sham: New Yorkers loved Seinfeld because they liked to think it was about themselves. But what was Middle America’s excuse? The 90s had the entire country spouting “Yadda-yadda-yadda” and other Jewisms that Jews didn’t even really use. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

60. Media Critics

The Sham: One offshoot of the rise of the fake maverick, the “neither left nor right” 90s guy, and the striving for authenticity was the rise of the Media Critic. They really saw through the bullshit of the mainstream media, which either suffered from a liberal bias, a corporate bias, a propaganda virus, or just the fact that said Media Critic hadn’t yet been hired by a high-paying mainstream media outlet. By the end of the 90s, if you REALLY wanted to know what was going on, you didn’t read the New York Times or the Washington Post. You read some media critic who hadn’t been completely discovered yet’s take on the NYT and WP. They’re the only ones that really “get it.” And by reading them, you “get it” too.

61. Goth

The Sham: In the ultra-segmented scene of the 90s, being fat, ugly and socially retarded wasn’t an impediment to being hip. You just had to wear lots of layers of black gauze to hide the blubber, get some prominent piercings and paint spider webs on your eyelids and, voila! You were a scary, alienated Goth! A whole bevy of bands competed for your attention, including Pretty Hate Machine, NIN, and Marilyn Manson, and the evening news might even do a segment featuring people who look just like you and the decline of American values or the dangers of Columbine – even though Klebold and Harris hated Goths.

62. Failed suicide attempts

The Sham: In the 90s, no hip college friendship was complete without comparing scars from an early-teen suicide attempt to prove your hard-knocks background. Like many of these reasons, this one had its roots in the 80s or, more specifically, in suicide attempts that dated back to the 80s. But it took the 90s to turn these painful private moments into a convertible social currency. Woe to those poor 13-year-olds who tried to do themselves in with mommy’s medicine cabinet, because in the world of scar swapping, you gotta have something to show.

63. Being Gay

The Sham: In college, most American girls of the 90’s went through their obligatory BUG (bisexual until graduation) phase, which segued for more daring ones into their stripper phase. Gays became so big that even one of the Friends’ star’s mother had a lesbo tryst, and everyone had to have a gay neighbor to spice up their lives. Clinton made promoting gays in the military his first priority – and his liberal agenda was essentially destroyed by that. No matter, gays went bourgeois anyway, they didn’t really need most of the liberal stuff anymore, not the help-the-poor/minorities crap anyway. Then 9/11 happened. A source who lives in Noe Valley told the eXile that within a year of 9/11, Noe Valley was transformed from the Dyke Quarter of San Francisco to the Baby Stroller Capital. Who’d-a-thunk.

64. Maverick/anti-establishment elite billionaires

The Sham: Donald Trump’s easily the most hateful of this number, posing as a maverick real estate investor who takes big risks and gets big rewards, and who fielded himself as a Reform Party candidate when, in fact, the only thing that saved him from debtors’ prison was his multibillionaire father’s backing and timely, profitable death. Flat-tax proponent Steve Forbes is another maverick with a self-made inheritance. Compared to them, outsider politicians Ross Perot and Mike Bloomberg seem genuinely outsider, having at least made their own money before buying their way into politics as outsider-mavericks.

65. Prague

The Sham: Somehow it was decided that Prague was to the 90s what Paris was to the 20s. Why we don’t know – Paris of the 20s was only that in retrospect, no one knew it would be an era in-advance, but somehow Prague was already that before the first black-turtleneck-totin’ free-versers Delta Airlined it into town. Prague was crammed to the gills with so many alienated American bohemians per square meter that it looked like a spawning ground for the eccentric-in-training set, yet it didn’t produce a single memorable book, poem, song, artwork, film, even joke or quip or statement on our condition, all that in an entire decade of trying. Which is a mighty achievement in the annals of mediocrity, and the one mitigating factor (imagine if a great book really did come out of Prague – that would really sting).

66. Washed-Up-Actors-Making-A-Comeback-As-Edgy/Daring-In-An-Ironic-Way

The Sham: Was casting John Travolta in Pulp Fiction really worth Michael? Was casting Harvey Keitel in River Dogs worth Bad Lieutenant? This is what happens when a genuinely brilliant mind like David Lynch’s – who started the trend by casting Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet – is poached by a lesser mind like Tarrantino’s. Lynch showed his eye for this again in 1997 by casting wife-killer Barretta as a wife-murdering demon in Lost Highway. Leave it to the professionals, please.

67. Contract with America

The Sham: Like just about everything in the 90s, the contract was actually a brainchild of the 80s taken mainstream. Over half of Newt Gingrich’s baby was taken verbatim from Reagan’s ’85 State of the Union speech! What had been the dated senile ramblings of an old man became the revolutionary platform with which the Republicans seized control of the House in the 90s, and really made Middle Americans feel like they were transforming the world. Meanwhile, Newt, for all his ties to the Christian Right, got nailed in ’99 for having carried on a 6-year affair with young House clerk. Then, rather than play the penitent sinner, he retired from elected politics and dumped his wife just as she was diagnosed with MS. Yup, and they say that the Republicans are “more in tune with Middle America.” Great people they must be.

68. Wobbly Camera As Authentic/Gritty Device

The Sham: In an era that demands authenticity and doesn’t want to identify itself with the varnished truth, all you had to do was order your cinematographer to take the camera off the stand and wobble it around…and voila! You had an authentic TV show/movie/Toyota ad! NYPD Blue peddled the tired old plotline about gritty urban cops who can be as tough as the street, but in the end are decent, incorruptible and their hearts are in the right places. To double the authenticity factor, they hired a bald, fat guy who wore frumpy clothes to be the star. If you want real authenticity, try watchingDorozhny Patrul. No heroes. Lots of corpses sprawled out in shitty apartments. They show it three times a day in Russia, including during dinner time. Problem is, they don’t use an intentionally-wobbly camera, so it may strike American viewers as difficult to believe. And when they show headless rape victims lying in a railway track while you’re trying to eat your golubtsy, it may strike you as, well, not so much “authentic” as “sick.” And you don’t want sick when you watch a gritty cop show, do you? No, you want the unvarnished truth.

69. Middle-class Suburban College Students Who Tell Harrowing Childhood Stories At Parties

The Sham:If you come from the suburbs and spent most of your time watching TV, elbowing your way around the social ladder, and getting into aggravated petty fights with your parents or siblings, then you better not tell anyone else in your college. Even though their childhoods were spent doing exactly the same thing. Nope. You better come up with a good story of abuse, danger, violence, mental illness, the time you ran away and lived on the streets, drug problems…or else you’ll never get invited back to another dorm party again.

70. TV Shows that Depicted Office Life As Fun/Exciting

The Sham: Wildly popular shows like LA Law and Ally McBeale convinced millions of suckers that life in a law office would be a nonstop rush of edge-of-your-seat drama, high stakes negotiations, fascinating cases, as well as funny co-workers, romantic intrigues, and an enthusiastic live studio audience. In reality, life for an associate is a hellishly dull stress pit where you sit in a windowless corner for 14 hours a day going through contracts and documents like an accountant through numbers, terrified of fucking up even one single word or your career and your investment into law school is blown forever. Maybe if they just put a wobbly camera into your law office cubicle…

71. Self-conscious/referential Horror Movies

The Sham: These masturbatory children of the 90s not only encouraged that favorite pastime of the 90s – appearing fresh and cool by making references that only people in the know (a much larger number than one would think) will get – but also brought the jaded, ironic Gen-X voice to new heights. Scream was the mother of these movies, using a film-theory-derived character who self-consciously explains the “rules” of horror movies, thus breaking boundaries and at the same time making it seem more plausible. And whattaya know, the movie goes on to break some (but not all!) of those horror movie rules. It’s so… post modern! Of course, cool viewers were supposed to pretend that they already knew the rules anyway and were more interested in deconstructing why some rules were adhered to and others not. Scary Movie then took it to a whole new level, with the aren’t-we-ironic tagline, “No Mercy. No Shame. No Sequel.,” when a sequel was all but ensured before the first ticket was ripped.

72. Chicks Who Take Self-Defense Courses

The Sham: Everyone from progressives to grrls to yuppies and Middle American corporate wives jumped aboard the Women’s Self Defense Training bandwagon, prepared to rip out the eyes or balls of any rapist who dared get near them. But we’ve got some truly scary news for you: NO ONE WANTS TO RAPE YOU.

73. Missing Children

The Sham: According to the National Center for Exploited and Missing Children, guess how many are “long-term” kidnapped by strangers every year? 20,000? 10,000? It’s gotta be a lot, considering all the alarmist attention it gets. Welp, we got news for you: only 115 children are kidnapped in America each year, out of a population of 300,000,000. And about 100 children are kidnapped and murdered each year. In other words, NO ONE WANTS TO SOCKET-FUCK YOUR HAIRLESS CHILD’S STRANGLED CORPSE. Does that disappoint you? Statistically, your child has an infinitely higher chance of growing up to be a convicted sex offender than he does of getting kidnapped and killed by one. But you don’t want to believe that your child, or you, are doomed to a life of never being stalked. So instead you’ll pamper and protect your child and instill him with so many worries and complexes that when he grows up, he’ll have this weird, tingly feeling every time he sees a vulnerable, hairless child left alone beside a car wash…

74. Reclaiming Our Bodies/Empowerment

The Sham: You’re in a top university. You’re socially successful and able to navigate all the little political nuances while keeping your options open. You know all the cool bands and go to all the cool indy movies. But you need to keep pace in the brutal Victim Competition.

75. Employees Who Took Stock Options In Lieu Of Cash

The Sham: In Russia in the 1990s, Russians had their crown jewel companies stolen from the taxpayers in a scheme that relied on selling the population on the idea that they’d be given vouchers – essentially stock options – and become millionaires, earning much more in the short and long term than what they’d earn in state subsidy benefits by keeping the companies in state hands. Well, they got bamboozled. They lost their benefits as revenues dried up after the privatizations, the vouchers were worthless, and a half a dozen guys became billionaires. Poor Russians were just too unsophisticated to get it. Then a few years later, in the US, increasing numbers of companies, particularly the dot-commers, convinced their employees that they’d make more in the short/long-run by taking lower wages and benefits and working longer hours in return for stock options, which also made them “associates” rather than employees, and therefore obviated the idea of unions. Nearly all wound up merely getting bad pay and worthless stock options and no union benefits. How do you say “sucker” in Russian?.

76. Skate Punks In Pricy Outfits

The Sham: Do we even need to bother to explain this one? We wouldn’t have put it in but for the fact that it’s EVERYWHERE.

77. Ex-Lefties Who Became Right-Wing Attack Dogs

The Sham: Give Eldridge Cleaver his due: he packed up for Cuba, grew bored of the local pussy, wanted to live in the creature comforts of Northern California again, so he turned Republican and flew home. What’s David Horowitz’s excuse? Naturally, he had to have some kind of profound, Biblical-like transformation of character of the “I was blind and now I see” sort. In reality, Horowitz and his ilk were merely sleazy little crowd-followers, shouting with the hippies while it was socially profitable, and shouting back at the few remaining harmless hippies long after most of his generation had already defected. And for that they consider him to be a maverick who really knows what he’s talking about.

78. Academic hip hop

The Sham: In the 90s, Cornell West hustled his way to the pinnacle of academic success at Harvard, gaining literally the most prestigious professor gig in the world despite having only published a single “important” book. But that wasn’t good enough for him. He had to go out and produce a worthless hip-hop album that’s lacking a single rhyme and which his own website compares to breakfast cereal (“it feels so good, you hardly notice it’s good for you”). Then, when Harvard prez Larry Summers told him to get back to work, he went all Rodney King and accused Summers of racism. He’s since left Harvard for Princeton, where he’s still livin’ the Storytelling dream and has proven he never forgot hip-hop’s primary mantra: get paid. As an aside, serious academic discussion of hip-hop as rebellion by guys like Robin D.G. Kelly (again the middle name!) earns this an extra _ Flockhart.

79. Fake caring about sex trafficking

The Sham: After the fall of Communism, when the West no longer had the dissidents to bleat over, they desperately sought a new victim. Ideally Straight White Female. Luckily, by the mid-late-90s, the NATO troops and UN workers banging ex-USSR whores in Bosnia gave human rights groups a new victim to rescue. But it’s not like anyone really cared about the whores – unlike dissidents, rescued whores were simply shipped back to their wretched, dead-end villages that they escaped from. Because post-Soviet poverty is not recognized as a tragedy.

80. Tagging

The Sham: Somewhere at the beginning of the 90s, after Basquiat had already been discovered by Warhol, lived it up and died a heroic death on smack, white art students picked up where black ghetto kids left off. They preferred pot to smack, practiced in the safety of abandoned suburban train tracks and then graduated to scrawling their tags with a Sharpie on late-night subway rides. Eventually they’d work up the confidence to hit the streets with spray paint and, within a month, they’d be in front of a juvenile judge who’d fine their parents a few hundred for property damage and slap ’em with probation and a promise of jail time if it happened again. Their tagging career ended there but, by acquiring a story to tell, it would guarantee at least 5 alt-chick one-night-stands in their lifetime.

81. Straight-edge

The Sham: Like many 90s fads, straight edge started in the violent margins of the early 80s punk scene, particularly Minor Threat, but it was only in the 90s that every suburbanite high schooler got turned on by it (via post-Minor-Threat more popular incarnation, Fugazi), and saw it as one of their branding choices. It turns out straight edge got its defining “X” logo in the early 80s from the Xs bars would put on under-aged kids’ hands so they could get into the concerts. So, this anarchy-inspired movement was based on… obeying the law! By the 90s, whole colonies of skate rats ran around with various-colored shoelaces on their combat boots that would define what degree of straight edge they were. Like the pre-revolutionary Russian commies, it was a movement rife with divisions: vegan or just vegetarian, no caffeine or just no drugs, Ian MacKaye peaked with Minor Threat or Fugazi. And every division led to violent spats between the adherents. Of course, by the time they became legal, they usually abandoned the no-drinking creed, and were left with a bunch of silly tattoos, including the obligatory sXe.

82. Zines

The Sham: Back before Live Journal gave every bored office worker in America a soap box, zines were the only outlet for folks who wanted to write something that nobody but friends would ever read. Made by Kinko workers working the graveyard shift and distributed to the local revolutionary bookshop, they were hailed as authenticsamizdat. Except that there was a market for samizdat, and risk involved. Zines were just another way to convince grrls that you were authentic, so you could bang ’em.

83. Referring to your tats and piercings as “body art”

The Sham: Vast swaths of the under-30 crowd were able to increase their worth in the 90s with a strategic piercing or, if they were feeling really edgy, a misdrawn Chinese character on a body part that could be easily concealed by a business suit later in life. Middle-class girls were particularly fond of the tongue stud, which let boyfriends lie that it made head better. Wasn’t the point of that Rosanne Arquette scene in Pulp Fiction to shame all these body art braggarts?

84. Chicks who shave their heads

The Sham: In the 90s, hordes of first-year liberal arts chicks shaved their heads yet grew out their armpit hair. Still wanna know why we moved to Russia? Then, because they were too embarrassed to admit that they looked terrible, and because admitting as much would be bowing to the patriarchy’s oppressive notions of beauty, they kept ’em shaved. Now, ask yourself: when you were a student, were you one of those guys with a pointy beard who’d tell them they were sexy while stroking their prickly heads? If so, bury your shaggy head now.

85. People who bragged about knowing people who live in squats

The Sham: Every punk worth his leather coat had a good friend living in a squat in some industrial part of town. He’d bring grrls out there to check out a place “you have to know someone at because they were afraid of getting busted by the cops,” where they’d see live gigs in a basement lined with mattresses for sound-proofing. It was totally punk and fucked the system up by living for free in an unheated space powered by car batteries. There was no doubt when listening to shitty hardcore down there that the system was about to crumble.

86. Day traders

The Sham: Back at the height of the bubble, right around when “Dow 36,000” came out, talk of “paradigm shifts” was all the rage, and that WorldCom ad with a guy video-conferencing in a tie and pajama-bottoms clocked in endless airtime, thousands of middle managers quit their jobs and sacrificed their pensions to day trade. It was guaranteed. We lived in a New Economy where the individual was Empowered. The mitigating factor to this entry is that these poor fools are now living in their parents’ basement, or going door to door for Amway. Somehow, that cheers us up.

87. Phish Heads

The Sham: They dressed like Deadheads, they sold ‘shrooms like Deadheads, they smelled like Deadheads, and they planned to follow Phish from the 90s until Trey died. Then Phish broke up. Oh, and Jerry’s still dead. Na-na-na-na-naaa-na!

88. Take back the night rallies at all-girls schools

The Sham: The girls at Bryn Mawr and other suburban Seven Sisters campuses would mobilize half the students for a Take Back the Night rally every time a townie whistled a catcall when a girl was

89. Blue collar chic

The Sham: Middle class guys picking up garage mechanic uniforms with cursive names sewn into the breast pocket at the local thrift store and slumming it. Then, while downing cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon for a buck a pop at the local hipster dive, peopled with other indy hipsters wearing Confederate hats or T-shirts and scraggly beards, they’d talk about this art instillation they’ve got planned for their studio in Williamsburg.

90. Bare Midriffs

The Sham: Will someone please tell American girls to cover their lower hips? In the last 10 years, girls’ hips have grown wider and wider, expanding like in some bad 80s horror film…and yet, for some reason they have no shame in showing these wide loads to the whole fucking world. All we can assume is that no one has the courage to tell them how bad they look. We’re the types who, if we had a booger hanging out of our nose while talking to you, we’d want you to tell us. So we’re doing the right thing and telling you: hide your hips, and while you’re at it, tie a sweater around your ass. [Note: This does not apply to Russian girls AT ALL.]

This article was first published in The eXile on December 2, 2005.

Mark Ames is the author of Going Postal, and the co-author of The eXile: Sex, Drugs and Libel in the New Russia (Grove).


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Add your own

  • 1. Rob  |  October 14th, 2009 at 11:03 am

    No words can describe the overwhelming feeling of shame this post has caused me.

  • 2. Judas Chongo  |  October 14th, 2009 at 11:26 am

    Steve Albini owns

  • 3. buzz  |  October 14th, 2009 at 11:28 am

    borish article… almost captures how boring and stupid the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s were on paper….and amerika is still flippin’ boring…

  • 4. Nestor  |  October 14th, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    Gosh that just kept going and going

  • 5. Roquentin  |  October 14th, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    I may as well admit it. This article is the reason I started reading the eXile.

  • 6. Flatulissimo  |  October 14th, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    It’s nearly 2010. Where is your summary of how bad the aughts sucked?

    That should make the 90’s look like some lost golden age.

  • 7. ...  |  October 14th, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    i don’t know.

    to me this all seems nonsense.

  • 8. Jojojo  |  October 14th, 2009 at 9:01 pm

    Some are good some are kinda meh but you can’t get gold out of all them especially since as the article said the 90’s were kinda of a murky shit era. I had to roll my eyes at 23 a bit. The reason why “Asian American” became a term of importance was because in the 80’s guys like Vincent Chin despite being a “Chinaman” was accused of being a “Jap” by butthurt crackerfags and got his head bashed in. Thus it became more important to stress being “American.” Yes I know when those nasty old coloreds make you say those extra syllables causing you to expend those precious calories you whites are always storing up for the winter you get annoyed. But it’s not about annoying you (even though it is pretty funny) but it’s about taking an extra precaution to avoid getting stabbed in the face. Yes it’s a silly word game and there’s room for real activism but it’s not different from Ames calling fascism “corporate communism” to prevent people from setting his hairy ass on fire from the get go and subtly exploit the ridiculous commie fears from the average slob. You got to work all the levels.

  • 9. Expat in BY  |  October 14th, 2009 at 9:13 pm

    Despite all this, life then was so much better than now. I agree with Flatulissimo, you all should do something on why the aughts suck – you could probably find 2000 of these passages for today, I’m sure.

  • 10. S.  |  October 14th, 2009 at 9:33 pm

    “Where is your summary of how bad the aughts sucked?”

    The thing is we all already know how bad the aughts were while we were living through them, so what would be the point of writing an article?

  • 11. Tony  |  October 14th, 2009 at 11:28 pm

    Oof. I had to take several breaks while reading this. Fucking douche chills.

  • 12. A-Lex  |  October 15th, 2009 at 12:42 am

    Out here in Russia, the 90s were a crazy and cruel time: masses of people becoming paupers overnight, early businessmen getting wacked on a daily basis, a fucking war erupting in OUR OWN territory. But, at the same time, it was a time of opportunity, and definitely a time of freedom. People went enterprising. The media was so bold, much more outspoken than the Western mainstream, especially in terms of voicing unpopular opinions.

    And now, when I look at the restored Sovok of modern-day Russia (only with no social security), at the boundless reign of the bureaucracy, at the general impoverishment of 80% Russians (with all the babble about ‘stability’ and ‘prosperity’ in the meantime) — the 90s DO look like a Golden Age to me.

    Funny how Putin and Bush Jr. both came to power through mysterious and unprecedented ‘terrorist attacks’ that were never promptly investigated, and the subsequent great-power hysteria.
    Makes you believe in a stupid global conspiracy indeed.

    And by the way, our young but vigorous capitalist class has been waging (and winning) a no-mercy war on the rest of the population, just like Ames describes it with regard to America.
    Maybe we should revive the Socialist International idea after all.

  • 13. BD  |  October 15th, 2009 at 2:08 am

    It was good until #21. Then I stopped and found something more interesting to read. I see your white-hatred was still blatant even back then.

  • 14. bic  |  October 15th, 2009 at 8:37 am

    At least the music was good. For a while.

  • 15. Pirate Prentice  |  October 15th, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    Noam Chomsky deservers to be taken off this listen if only for one reason; the complete, comprehensive and definitive intellectual destruction of Richard Perle during a debate with him.

    Establishment figures rarely debate Chomsky and you’ll see why if you ever hear the exchange (available on youtube), Richard Perle is forced into weakly trying to challenge the abundant documentary record and all of his justifications vis-a-vis Nicaragua are pre-emptively exposed as lies in extreme detail and length before he even utters them to derisive laughter from the audience.

    There’s almost no comparable example I can remember of a figure of such “prestige” and power being so thoroughly and definitively held to account in a public forum. Amy Goodman managing to challenge Bill Clinton on the murderous Iraqi sanctions, the death penalty and other issues for 30 minutes in what was supposed to be a five-minute election day appeal for votes, is the only thing that comes close.

  • 16. Pavel  |  October 15th, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    Haha, this is great! Although it is raising a point: if the nineteens were so bad, our times must be even worse 🙁

    right,Im off to see some shaved, fat american Grrls…I love generalization

  • 17. lkdlk  |  October 15th, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    The Sham: Heading up the “where are they now?” file are 90s White Militia Groups,

    The anti-immigrant groups and the Teabaggers are full of ex white militia members.

  • 18. John  |  October 15th, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    Great article, I appreciate it. Good waste of time–I’m being paid for reading this shit

  • 19. Flatulissimo  |  October 15th, 2009 at 6:08 pm

    Come to think of it, Ames bagging on Chomsky reminds me quite a bit of the liberals that he calls out for bagging on Michael Moore in that other recent article here. What’s the problem, exactly? He’s right, but not in quite the right way?

    “The thing is we all already know how bad the aughts were while we were living through them, so what would be the point of writing an article?”

    Yeah, well, I lived through the 90’s too, and was also aware of how badly THEY sucked at the time, and yet this article still exists.

  • 20. dogbane  |  October 16th, 2009 at 7:24 am

    Glaring omissions:
    -Wannabe Indians
    -Kevin Costner

  • 21. George McAllister  |  October 16th, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    You forgot one: “Snark” The Sham: Apparently there’s no better way to establish your intellectual and moral superiority than by spraying semi-humorous condecension in every direction, the victims’ culpability be damned. Be it a minor pop culture phenomenon or a serious academic attempting to present evidence of what they perceive as a world-historical paradigm shift, only one response is necessary to rationalize one’s opinion: “LOL, douchebag!”

  • 22. WE  |  October 16th, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    When someone does the aughts they can mention how VH1 must die for resuscitating the careers of countless douchebags like Bret Michaels and allowing douchebags in their death throes to remain in the spotlight by reminiscing about how great the 80s and 90s were. The aughts are the greatest cultural wasteland in the history of humanity. Long past are the days of having anything authentic left to ape. Now consumer cultural merely self-cannibalizes and regurgitates it’s own turgid bile back onto us. Generation Aught is like is like the snarling, self-obsessed id of the baby boomers without the broken moral compass or deep-seated guilt that comes with believing in something. They are merely a soulless blob of consumption, just like the new generation in Russia, obsessed with mobile phones and appearances but caring about little else. We have reached the end of history, one big absurdist nothing. Welcome to the void.

  • 23. Joe Chip  |  October 17th, 2009 at 3:05 am

    Mark Ames and The Exiled is who I turn to for the Truth! It’s only you guys and Mad Magazine I ever read.

  • 24. lkdlk  |  October 17th, 2009 at 6:04 am

    38. Austin Powers References

    Austin Powers = The Borat of the 90s

  • 25. lkdlk  |  October 17th, 2009 at 6:11 am

    But Smog and Cat Power…try listenin’ to them now.

    I still get wood over the Cat Power of the “Cross Bones Style” video and that was one of the worst videos ever made.

    So there.

  • 26. Yours Truly  |  October 17th, 2009 at 9:12 am

    F*** the 90s! What a monumentally STUPID period. So much bull in 10 god**** years.

  • 27. Anonymous  |  October 17th, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    #88 is incomplete. Just trails off in the middle of a sentence. How did the other 26 commenters not seem to notice this?

  • 28. Dink  |  October 18th, 2009 at 3:19 am

    Vollman is such a turd.

  • 29. tim  |  October 18th, 2009 at 6:46 am

    palpable shame at a few points. hadvto read faster.
    sometimes i feel more informed after reading the exile. usually though i just feel cheapened, amused, and that i have become a worse person.
    this article belongs in that second category.

  • 30. w  |  October 18th, 2009 at 11:08 am

    this article is beigist

  • 31. brint  |  October 20th, 2009 at 6:59 pm


  • 32. Green  |  October 21st, 2009 at 9:08 pm

    Initially, being genuinely interested in intellectual pursuits, being a nerd, meant that you worked a crappy job and spent all of your free time reading, coding, etc.

    Today you get a six figure income and everything you read is turned into films with huge budgets.

    Can true nerds be blamed?

  • 33. Frank McG  |  November 1st, 2009 at 10:44 pm

    I would have put up with all of this if it meant I could have graduated college in the 90s job market =(

  • 34. Bernard  |  November 13th, 2009 at 7:24 am

    “57. Facile Controversial Government-Funded Art

    The Sham: America is such a crude place intellectually that you can take money from the taxpayers to produce an art work as lazy as dropping a cross into urine”

    This one I’d disagree with for a different reason. The guy who produced it was a devout Catholic and the idea was “Jesus went through all the same shit and piss we do as humans.” See Andrew Hudgins poem “Piss Christ.” The government funding is upsetting because it was an actual religious statement which shouldn’t be given government funds, particularly since it cost nothing to produce. The rest are spot on.

  • 35. Turnpike  |  February 13th, 2010 at 7:44 am

    Most of the list can be claimed about modern times, ya know 10 years later. I agree that the stuff listed is most definitely hate worthy, but it is not exclusive to the 1990s.

  • 36. Loogie  |  March 1st, 2010 at 8:31 pm

    Good article. The 1990s sucks balls.

  • 37. Zach  |  May 18th, 2010 at 10:53 am

    Are you for real?,lucy

  • 38. vortexgods  |  November 4th, 2010 at 5:28 pm

    I’m not ever going to hate the 90’s though.

    I had lots of money and started getting laid regularly. And there were video games. Now I’m older, poorer, and I’m down to once a month.

    Sorry, the 90’s ruled. ( That 70’s Show was painful, but you really shouldn’t watch most sitcoms anyway. It wasn’t any worse then Mork and Mindy, or Laverne and Shirley or…)

  • 39. john  |  January 8th, 2013 at 8:03 am

    fuck urself u gay fuckin authors u dont know shit about golf…none f that even made sense cool guy…..learn about something before you hate on it. dont hate on golf fag boy just because u suck at it…like writing as well..haaahaaa fucking retarded people!

  • 40. Cheryl Long  |  October 12th, 2013 at 2:12 pm

    When I’m looking for the latest country music, I always end up in one spot – 103.1 WIRK. I was even lucky enough to catch up with Keith Van Allen in the streets and got free ‘Rib Round Up’ tickets. Just one of the many events that keep me tuned into

  • 41. Johnny Rocket  |  October 19th, 2013 at 9:28 am

    I love this article we went from happy music in the 70 and eighties to my life sucks and i want to kill my self music in the 90s I like the lets party get lots of sex and drink a lot that works and make lots of money. Not oh my good the sky is falling and zombies are taking over the world screw that give me the eighties any day it was a new frontier

    1 800 rock on

  • 42. Zane  |  March 2nd, 2015 at 6:37 pm

    Making a comment in 2015, last one was from 2013, hello from the future!

  • 43. Álvaro  |  July 31st, 2016 at 9:26 am

    This article is brilliant!

  • 44. anon391  |  March 8th, 2017 at 8:52 am

    you can tell when a hipster of any era orders a martini — if they order it with vodka at all, and especially if they ask for it shaken.

    Any true aficionado or culture freak, poor or rich, knows that for one, a ‘vodka martini’ popularized by the obvious 007 james bond films/books, is actually a drink originally known as the kangaroo.

    also, with gin there is actually a difference whether it is shaken or stirred. when violently shaken, gin actually ‘bruises’ and becomes cloudy and the taste changes because of the juniper berries.

    there is no such physical chemical change occurring with vodka. the only reason a person does this is because of the movies and ignorance.

    it is the mark of the hipster. someone who values appearance of culture over substance of culture.

    it is the ‘fake authentic’ nature that defines these attitudes of the super rich bourgeoisie in their attempts to market to and enjoy/justify some underground culture at the same time.

    all the idiots who never ask the deep questions of ‘why?’ and ‘what’s different?’
    will just follow the trends to look/feel cool and important.

    Marketers know this, and take advantage of it. the people who run the educational systems know this and are funded by the same sources of wealth, feed this system and encourage it — selecting for obedient servants who can follow many orders efficiently, but not who truly understand or question them.

    the whole system is designed from the top down in order to limit the amount of competitors and wealth controllers in the system.

    it exists solely to offer protection to the super rich against losing their money to others and forcing the economy to be a more diversified place like it once was.

    the only way forward with the corporate goal of growth is inevitably slavery and world domination. At a certain point, growth is no longer feasible by any means other than tricking the public into slavery, buying out all the competition (or at least the means of production) after running large scale distribution networks, and/or controlling government and media in order to ensure smooth economic sailing.

    the only stability for the individual comes with severe global social/economic instability.

    Instability not only for the means of the trend-setters and economic powerhouses that cripples them and forces penny-buyouts of trillions worth of land and IP rights

    but also of culture — an instability where people no longer give a flying f*** what their neighbors think; where keeping up with the joneses isn’t the #1 priority

    and most of all, where finally, people can accept everyones culture sucks and cool does not exist.

    then we can make decisions based off logic rather then trends.

    then we can actually take back the future

  • 45. 2000s_2010s  |  December 16th, 2017 at 5:23 pm

    the 2000s are long over and we’re almost at the end of the 2010s too. one thing that maybe did change since the 90s is that things are getting so seriously bad and scary that the list above sounds less and less humiliating or even comprehensible what’s the issue here. now we’re worried abt rent money

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