1994: The Most Important Year of the Nineties

Pop Culture Affidavit, Episode 37: I’m Not Even Supposed to Be Here Today!

Episode 37 Cover-2With episode 37, I return to 1994: The Most Important Year of the Nineties with the only thing that I could possibly cover for episode 37: CLERKS! And to join me for this discussion of Kevin Smith’s classic debut is Trentus Magnus, the award-winning host of Trentus Magnus Punches Reality. We guarantee that it is so awesome, it will break you.

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Ponies and Journeys: When What Was in the Driveway Became Important Again

The Ford Explorer after its update for the 1995 model year.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Ford Explorer after its update for the 1995 model year. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

I will fully admit that I’m not a car guy. I know very little aboutt the interior workins of an automobile, and don’t really care about what I am driving as long as it has four wheels and runs properly. In fact, I didn’t even get my license until after I graduated high school, and even then it was because I wanted to get my road test out of the way before heading to college. Still, like any of the guys I know who are into cars, I can appreciate a well-designed vehicle and did notice through the mid- to late-1990s how the automobiles I was seeing on the road were starting to change. By the time we hit the turn of the century, the SUV came to dominate, something os noticable that even The Washington Post Magazine was doing its cover story on how people in compact cars were afraid for their lives on the Beltway due to the high volume of Ford Expeditions (and how many of those Expeditions were being driven by the incompetent and the aggressive).

But the Expedition wasn’t king of the road yet in 1994, as most of the suburbanite families I knew were hauling kids around and running errands either in a minivan or in a Ford Taurus wagon, which was the last great station wagon. It was the best-selling car in the country at the time and held that status until 1997 when it was replaced by the Toyota Camry. I’m sure that there were many reasons for this, but a significant factor had to be Ford’s lackluster redesign of the Taurus in 1996, which effectively killed the sedan. That didn’t mean, however, that Ford didn’t make its mark in the mid-1990s because it did so with an SUV and a car: the Explorer and the Mustang.

Both of these cars already existed prior to 1994, obviously, but it’s important to note that this year saw important changes for both. The Explorer was a relative newcomer to suburban driveways, hvaving been introduced in 1990. SUVs weren’t as ubiquitous then as they are now–some people had Jeep Grand Cherokees, some had GMC Suburbans (which was more like a truck), and there was this infamous Ford Bronco that made its way down a Los Angeles freeway that June–so to own an Explorer back in its first few years meant that you had enough money to not need a Taurus and were a bit more sophisiticated than the average minivan owner. And if you had the Eddie Bauer edition Explorer? Well.

The 1994 Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer edition.  Image from Motortopia.

The 1994 Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer edition. Image from Motortopia.

Really, very few things int he early 1990s say “Family plucked from the pages of a catalogue” than the Eddie Bauer edition of the Ford Explorer. Usuall hunter green, the SUV had an all-leather interior with the Eddie Bauer goose logo stitched into the seat backs and tan pinstriping with “Eddie Bauer” stenciled on side. There was one owned by a family a few blocks over from me, a car appropriate for its street–Handsome Avenue, which was a wide street lined with trees whose leaves cascaded beautifully to the ground each fall. I pictured that family wearing matching barn jackets while driving their Eddie Bauer edition Ford Explorer to some cabin on a lake where they would then spend their evenings drinking cocoa while sitting by a fire in their coordinating sweaters. Ford probably saw this and saw potential in it too, because even though the Eddie Bauer edition was out in 1993 or so, they redesigned the Explorer for the 1995 model year to be less boxy and more in line with the curvature of then-modern cars. Unlike the Taurus, this was a win and by the end of the decade, the Explorer, Expedition, and Excursion were just about everywhere.

Another win was the redesign of the Mustang, a car that helped define “muscle” during its heyday. but like quite a number of cars in the 1980s and early 1990s, it had fallen upon hard times aesthetically and was a shadow of its former shefl. The 1994 Mustang was Ford’s shot at changing that, a redesign that was going to return its famous sports car to its former glory, as evidence by this ad campaign:

The redesigned 1994 Ford Mustang.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The redesigned 1994 Ford Mustang. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The redesign worked and the new Mustang definitely made enough of a splash to get it noticed by even non-car guys like me. But honestly, if it went from 0-60 in 5.3 seconds, it went from 0-guido in 2.5. I don’t know if it was Ford’s intention, but whenever I think of this car, I picture it being colored bright teal, reeking of Parliaments and blasting Gina G. with the driver spackling on another layer of base while driving 75 in a 35 on the way to a club whose name includes the word “Dublin” to meet a Mustang-driving boyfriend who infused the once-great car with all of the tricked out features, gold chains, tank tops, backwards Yankees caps, and Drakkar Noir they could get their hands on.

And I know I spent my time here focusing on Ford when there are scores of other cars out there, but these two cars are two that would help define the suburban landscape for the latter part of the decade. Furthermore, they would help re-create the sense of the cars you own as a middle class status symbol, an affordable luxury that was beyond the utilitarian K-cars of the prior decade and showed how well you were at keeping up with everyone else.

Pop Culture Affidavit, Episode 34 — We Had a Time!

Episode 34 CoverMy MSCL two-parter concludes with an extra-sized celebration through conversations with longtime fans of the show.  Join me, Sarah Bunting (of TWoP and Previously.tv fame), Cory, Mark, Andrea, and chelle as we talk about MSCL, its impact on our lives, our history as fans, and the show’s legacy twenty years later.

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iTunes:  Pop Culture Affidavit

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Pop Culture Affidavit, Episode 33 — There Was This TV Show …

Episode 33 CoverTwenty years ago, a television show premiered that, while it lasted only one season, had a clear impact on its devoted fans.  The show was My So-Called Life.  In honor of its twentieth anniversary and its place in 1994: The Most Important Year of the Nineties, here’s the first of two episodes.  In this one, I give my so-called origin story and take a look at each episode.

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Boldy Went

Star_Trek_GenerationsEarlier this year, I sat down with Michael Bailey and talked about the comic books of 1994.  He talked about how this was a landmark year for him as a comic collector because it was the year that the greater DC Universe opened up to him.  I actually remember it as being a bit of the opposite.  I didn’t stop collecting comics or anything, but I did find myself becoming more discerning as a comic book reader and collector.  As I’ve thought about 1994 and its importance in the decade, I’ve come to realize that this also applies to Star Trek.

I was a pretty big Star Trek fan from the time I was about nine years old and saw Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home for the first time in the movie theater and through most of junior high and the first year or two of high school.  Being a fan of Trek wasn’t exactly popular at the time and I definitely took a fair amount of shit, but I seemed to take a fair amount of shit for simply breathing when I was in the eighth grade, so whatever.

Anyway, 1994 is a landmark year in Trek because it marked the end of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the show that really cemented the concept of Star Trek as a show with a legacy beyond a 1960s television show and a series of popular movies starring the same group of people.  I had been kind of cold to the show when it premiered in 1987 because I was huge fan of original series reruns and original series movies, but it grew on me.  I never found myself watching it on a regular basis, but I do remember streaks of several weeks in a row because one episode hooked me in (my all-time favorite is the two-part cliffhanger “The Best of Both Worlds”).

“All Good Things,” which was the final episode of ST:TNG, aired on May 23, 1994 and being in the New York area, that was on WPIX at either 7:00 or 8:00 on a Saturday night.  I missed the original airing because I had to go to some family party, so I programmed the ancient top-loading Panasonic VCR in our basement to tape it when I got home.  For whatever reason–probably user error–it didn’t tape.  I was bummed but apparently not bummed enough to try and find a rerun because I didn’t actually see “All Good Things” until about 2009 or 2010 when I found it randomly on cable one night.

But the Trek faithful didn’t have too much to be upset about that year when it came to losing their favorite show.  Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was still on the air (although I admittedly didn’t watch it) and that November, Star Trek: Generations hit theaters.  This was a movie that was set up to be a pretty big deal–Kirk and Picard were going to be on screen together.  There was time travel involved, of course, but it was going to be huge.

I missed this in the theater and when I eventually saw it on video, I was kind of glad I did.  Star Trek: Generations is not that great of a movie.  It’s not Star Trek V horrible by any means, but it definitely follows the pattern of odd-numbered Trek movies being “meh.”  Granted, I haven’t watched it in two decades so I may be wrong, and that’s why I’m not going in-depth with a review of it or offering up a podcast episode.

What strikes me, though, when thinking about this, was how it was one of the first times where I hit a point that I definitely could say that I was at the end of my fandom of something.  It’s not that I stopped liking Star Trek by any means–in fact, I went and saw First Contact in the theater (and thought it was pretty good)–it’s that I was no longer so attached to it.  And really, I wasn’t used to that.  Since then, it’s happened with several things from bands like Metallica to comics like Batman, but Trek was the first “living” thing that I could turn to and feel a specific nostalgia for (as opposed to long-dead cartoons like Voltron, for instance), as if it reminded me of a place, time, and attitude that was no longer there.

Oh, and I still think Kirk’s death was cheap.

Pop Culture Affidavit, Episode 32 — Royale With Cheese

Episode 32 CoverSit back, relax, drink some of Jimmy’s coffee, give your girl a foot massage and make sure the gimp has a $5 milkshake, it’s time to take a look at the movie of 1994: Pulp Fiction.  I take a look at each section of the movie, talk a little bit about the film’s soundtrack and discuss its lasting influence as well as why it should have been Best Picture.

You can listen here:

iTunes:  Pop Culture Affidavit

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5 Things to Love and 5 Things to Hate About Forrest Gump

Forrest Gump PosterI could not spend a whole year talking about 1994 and calling it “the most important year of the Nineties” if I didn’t take the time to talk about the film from 1994 that would go on to win best picture: Forrest Gump.  Directed by Robert Zemeckis, it is the story of a simple-minded man (the un-PC term would be “mentally retarded”) who winds up living an extraordinary life.  Told through mostly flashbacks, the story concerns Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks), who is sitting on a bus stop bench in 1982 on his way to see Jenny, who as we learn over the course of the movie, is the love of his life.  He tells his life story to anyone who happens to be sitting next to him (as well as the audience):  born in Alabama, Forrest has a low I.Q. and had to wear braces on his legs as a kid until one day he learned how to run.  This served him well more than once, as he played for the University of Alabama football team, served in Vietnam, played diplomatic ping pong, opened a shrimping company, and started a running craze.  Along the way, we also see the life of his girl, Jenny (Robin Wright), who had a life that directly contrasts Hanks’s characcter: she was abused as a child, became a hippie, and spent much of her formative years in a drug- and alcohol-induced haze until finally coming home to Alabama and living with Forrest before leaving (which prompts Forrest to start running and the creation of his running craze).  When Forrest and Jenny meet up after he’s done telling his story, she tells him that she is dying and that she has a son named Forrest, who is the result of the one night that the two of them slept together.  By the end of the film Jenny has passed away and Forrest is now raising his son in his childhood home in Alabama.

That’s a gross simplification of the movie’s plot (after all, I didn’t mention Bubba or Lt. Dan), but most of the people reading this post are probably at least familiar enough with the film to follow along (and if you’re not, the film is available for streaming via Netflix).    Or you can check out the trailer:

So, with the plot out of the way, I thought I’d get to what I wanted to say about this movie, which has not been one of my favorites; in fact, I’ve long contended that with both The Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction nominated for best picture that year, I can’t understand how this won best picture.  Okay, I can see why it was a popular choice for best picture, what with its sentimentality and emotional impact; I can’t understand how the Academy thought that this was more worthy of that particular honor than those two films, the latter of which had a major influence on filmmaking for at least the better part of the rest of the decade (and possibly beyond).

You know, never mind that I saw this three times in the theater, bought the soundtrack, and own a copy on VHS (although for the life of me I have no idea where that copy is).  In fact, I liked the movie when it came out.  It was beautifully shot, was pretty funny, and the music was great.  But it did not age well, especially after I saw Pulp Fiction and read Winston Groom’s novel upon which the film is based.  The novel turned me against the film in a big way, as Groom’s Forrest is a lot less likable than the buffoon with a heart of gold that Hanks plays on screen (and for which he won Best Actor).  Prior to writing this post, I hadn’t watched the film since 1996 and decided to give it a fair shake.  I didn’t hate it as much as I thought I would, although I still think it wasn’t worth the Best Picture honor (and I still maintain that it’s right up there with the oft-derided Ordinary People’s victory as Oscar larceny).  So what I did was do what any lazy good blogger does, and that’s made a list.  So here are the top five things I liked and the top five things I hated about Forrest Gump. (more…)