The 90’s in a snapshot -The 20 year anniversary of ‘Reality Bites’ – What I’m reading, watching and listening to…

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I was seventeen when Reality Bites was released.  I went to the cinema, with a group of friends to see it.  This year is the film’s twentieth anniversary and the movie stands up, still – after twenty years.

The film is a snapshot of Generation X and their attempts of a group of friends to make sense of their lives after graduating college. The movie follows the ups and  downs of four characters. Lelaina Pierce the valedictorian of her college and aspiring film-maker (Winona Ryder),   Troy Dyer (Ethan Hawke) who despite his high IQ can’t seem to find his place in the world as well as Vickie Miner played by the amazing (Janeane Garofolo) who as Vickie works at the Gap for minimum wage. In the film she is struggles with a promiscuous past in which she must confront whether or not she could has contracted HIV. Then there is  Sammy Gray (Steve Zahn) who is in the closet and wanting to come out to his family before he ‘does the big A’.

Directed by Ben Stiller who also plays  Micheal Grates and Winona’s would-be boyfriend in the film and written by Helen Childress the film pinpoints a moment in time and translates it successfully into film.

Who can forget the scene in the service station where Lelaina and Vickie dance to My Sharona. Or when Vickie discusses her fears about having an AIDS test worrying that everyone will come to her funeral in halter tops like in Melrose place? There are so many great moments in Reality Bites, the humour is cracking and has stood the test of time – the jokes are still funny and the serious moments still poignant.

For me watching “Reality Bites” again was a blast from the past and one that I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting again. Happy twentieth anniversary Reality Bites!

Generation X

Speaking of all things Generation X, Douglas Coupland’s book Generation X also follows a group friends who ares trying to distill meaning in their lives in a period (the late 90’s) when everything seems to be futile and meaningless. The Baby Boomer’s have left Generation X with environmental destruction, flimsy values and a sense of inertia. Telling stories to one another is the only way Dag, Claire and Andy can try and make any sense of their lives. They refuse to be a ‘target market’ working Mcjobs ( low pay, low prestige, low-dignity no future jobs), and ‘dropping out’ in order to live a life in which meaning is constructed through the small moments and storytelling. Andy, Claire and Dag’s stories form the backbone of the book. They are amusing, poignant and disturbing revealing the inner world of the characters.

‘Generation X – Tales for an accelerated culture’ spawned the term ‘Generation X’ which is now the infamous defining term for the generation born after the Baby Boomers. A good read and an interestingly set out book that includes definitions of all things Gen X.

Suzanne Vega 2

Suzanne Vega is famous for the 90’s hit Tom’s Diner but one of my favourite albums of all time is Vega’s 99.9 fahrenheit degrees. This album doesn’t include Tom’s Diner – every track on this album though is great. A real gem from the 90’s and definitely one to check out!

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Respect Yourself – the expression of sexuality in popular culture

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In the mid 1990’s when the grunge movement was in full flight a lot of girls (and boys) embraced their androgynous side wearing the requisite uniform of Doc Martens or converse as well as checkered shirts. Heroin chic, was also popular during this period. Waif-like models such as Kate Moss walked the fashion runways, Calvin Klein bought out CK One (a fragrance for both men and women). Marilyn Manson graced the cover of his band’s album Mechanical Animals with feminine features, his head on a decidedly androgynous body.

Madonna who was extremely influential throughout the 1990’s released the album Like a Prayer in 1989. The second single of this album was Express Yourself which urged women not to ‘accept second best’ and to not put material concerns ahead of ‘respecting yourself’. Madonna’s Jean Paul Gaultier suit, was considered gender-bending and the song was lauded for its Feminist themes and it’s sub-theme of gender equality.

In 1990 Madonna released Vogue from the I’m Breathless album. Channelling iconic old school movie stars in the this video her dancers male and female (and in some scenes Madonna) wore masculine suits. Madonna for every the queen of reinvention, also had the ability to start trends, introducing not only the previously underground dancing style of Voguing to the mainstream but also foreshadowing and defining the decades androgynous flavour by her styling choices.

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Fast forward to 2013. The grunge movement is now retro and Gen Y instead of Gen X are the new ‘youth’. Fashion styles may reference the Grunge movement in their collections, but the spirit of the decade, the slacker lifestyle has faded. The new icons of the now may play with androgyny i.e Lady Gaga but somehow it appears that to be truly groundbreaking means to be overtly sexual.

For example take Miley Cyrus at the recent MTV Video Music Awards where she performed with Robin Thicke. This performance was slammed by the media. Cyrus twerked, strutted on stage sticking out her tongue, touching herself in a skin coloured barely there outfit. This kind of overt use of sexuality is pronounced in the music videos of today. Thicke who has just recently had a hit with Blurred Lines used ‘model’ types in his video. Clad in white outfits and clear plastic they pose and writhe around Thicke like mechanised robots. Even Jessie J has cut her hair, going totally against image in her video Wild.

Mean Girls (2004), written by Tina Fey was based on the non-fiction book Queen Bees and Wannabes is a comedy which seeks to empower women by demonstrating that young women don’t have to be ‘mean’ to one another. The film starring Lindsay Lohan captured the affects of overtly sexual videos have on young children. Lohan (Cady) visits the home of Regina George (Rachel McAdams) head of the Plastics – a clique of girls who rule the school. Regina’s mother has just had her boobs done and as Cady enters the house Regina’s younger sister is dancing provocatively in front of the television to the Kelis hit Milkshake. This was a funny scene but also a telling one.

Listening to the radio today, I heard the lyrics to Dizzee Rascals’s new song from his album The Fifth, ‘I Don’t Need a Reason’.

All I do is flex
I don’t need a reason
All I want is sex
I don’t need a reason
Fly out on a jet
I don’t need a reason
Every day is a never ending Summer season
All eyes on me

Narcissistic? Completely.  Should artists have a responsibility to send positive  messages to their audiences? Taylor Swift embraces her femininity and is a role model to many young women. She is able to ‘express herself’ using her sexuality in a positive way managing to make millions in the process. Call me old fashioned but give me Taylor over Cyrus any day…and dare I say it bring back the 1990’s while you are at it!