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back to the future
why, and when, we lived this year already
by jael mchenry (@JaelMcHenry)
pop culture

You thought we were living in 2008, didn’t you? You thought we were moving forward in time, breaking new ground, experiencing economic forces and events and happenings that had never happened before?

Not so.

When is it, or should I say, when are we? Well, we’re somewhere between 1989 and 1996.

Because, y’know, “American Gladiators” is on.

That’s the thing. We cry out because of the writers’ strike, and lament that it’s forced all this fashionably unscripted dross up on our screens, and say I can’t believe people watch this stuff, and yet… we watched this stuff before. We watched it a lot. We watched it all -- the scripted-sounding patter and the Joust and the Eliminator and the spandex -- from 1989 to 1996.

(And it’s barely any different now, seriously. Ordinary Americans with easily-summarized emotionally-moving backstories, and overgrown muscleheads wielding even more overgrown Q-tips, and if Hulk Hogan isn’t exactly this generation’s Larry Csonka, there are still more similarities than differences, show-wise.)

Something new under the sun? Of course not! Originality is a late-game construct in entertainment, anyway. So we are in the late eighties, early nineties, somewhere in there.

Where, exactly?

Well, we’ve got a Bush in the White House, so that puts us between 1989 and 1993.

There are questions about whether U.S. troops should have gone into Iraq and whether we accomplished our goals while there, so that puts us in the 1991 to 1993 range.

War is eternal, of course. It’s been going on forever and unfortunately I doubt we’ll ever manage to stop having it, and a war doesn’t define a time period. But this war. In this place. We’re there again.


And of course, there’s a little more bad news: bit of a recession going on. Lest you think it’s just the US that’s screwed up, on the other side of the world, a prominent onetime Prime Minister from a multigenerational political family in Southeastern Asia was assassinated not too long ago.

Man, this is a tough year, isn’t it?

But never fear. We have plenty to distract us.

Actresses and their significant others expanding their already-sizable, partially-internationally-adopted broods.

Giants in the Super Bowl. Ghosts at the movies. Christina Applegate in primetime.

The New Kids on the Block.

Some things go away and come back again. Also, there's Erica Kane.

Last year’s bizarre and hastily-canceled singing-television experiment.

So should we be sad? Should we feel mired in history, crushed by our inability to break free of repeating the same-old same-old?

Of course not: Last time we lived through 1991, Jamie Lynn Spears was the baby.


Jael is tired of being stereotyped as just another novelist/poet/former English teacher/tour guide/"Jeopardy!" semifinalist/bellydancing editor-in-chief with an MFA who was once an overachieving oboe-playing alto newspaper editor valedictorian from Iowa. She was also captain of the football cheerleading squad. Follow me on Twitter: @jaelmchenry

more about jael mchenry


new year's revolution
suggestions for pop culture improvement in 2010
by jael mchenry
topic: pop culture
published: 1.4.10

that's (not just) entertainment
the times they are a-bein' digitally re-edited
by jael mchenry
topic: pop culture
published: 10.3.01


tracey kelley
2.4.08 @ 7:46a

Heh. I never really thought about this before, but, yeah. Spot on.

russ carr
2.4.08 @ 8:51a

All of this has happened before. All of this will happen again.

mike julianelle
2.4.08 @ 11:55a

Batman and Indiana Jones hitting the theaters as well this summer. 1989.

sandra thompson
2.4.08 @ 9:56p

I watched about ten minutes of the first, maybe the second, American Gladiators, and I'd had enough of that. I remember being home sick in bed from work once in the late seventies and actually watching an entire hour of some soap opera because by the end of the first five minutes of it I was fascinated by how many irrational statrements there were in it. I tried to write them all down but had to give up and just make hash marks on my legal pad. It turned out that EVERY statement was irrational. Who'd a thunk? This is probably as pathetic as anything else, but I'm having a lot of fun watching all the Jane Austen stuff on PBS. That's really going back a ways.

jael mchenry
2.5.08 @ 4:54p

I actually really enjoy both versions of American Gladiators -- the original is running on ESPN Classic -- but it's definitely the cheap kind of that-guy-just-fell-hard entertainment.

Just confirmed (I'm not so good with the sports history, but Wikipedia is) that 1991 was the last time the Giants won the Super Bowl. So, more fuel for the fire.

Julesy, I thought about making a case for 1989 also, but that year was more defined by the fall of the USSR, and I couldn't make the story stick. Though now that I look at the year's highlights, 1989 was when voters elected the nation's first black governor and the first black mayor of New York City, so maybe we'll see a parallel of sorts there...?

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