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Going back for future - been there, done that, now let's move on; COLUMNIST.


AS soon as they resurrected TFI Friday for an hour and a half special it was clear - the '90s are back. They've only been away for 15 years but the cycles of popular culture always start turning when television producers get to a certain age and desperately start trying to relive their youth.

After all, when we were actually in the '90s, we spent a lot of time reviving the '70s.

I assumed it was just a slightly scaredy-cat reaction to the impending turn of the millennium. It was a fin de siecle thing.

History has shown that previous generations took nostalgic refuge in the past when the future was too close for comfort.

But once we'd arrived safely in the 21st century, it was time for the '80s to return. As the TV schedules of the late noughties demonstrated, we languished in the age of Kajagoogoo for quite a while.

There was a dramatised account of Boy George's early life, we heard the music of Heaven 17 picked apart like Mahler's Fifth while BBC4 screened an earnest analysis of the phenomenon that was Howard's Way.

The decade of day-glo, doubledenim and the demi-waved mullet was filleted for everything from Ashes to Ashes to Duran Duran (yes, they're still on tour). And now the decade before last is being regurgitated on all fronts.

Following in the wake of the TFI Friday re-boot, Channel 4 screened a documentary with the rather portentous title "The 90s: Ten Years That Changed the World". It charted what they described as "the 1990s revolution in British music, fashion, film, sport, art and media".

Rammed with references to Blur and Oasis, lad mags and artists who sold pickled sharks, it traced the "rise and fall of Cool Britannia in the last days before the internet swallowed the universe".

A younger friend of mine lapped it up. I'd done the same with all those '60s and '70s pop culture retrospectives. But then, I wasn't really around in the '60s - apart from seeing out the tail end of the decade in nappies. And I was a kid in the '70s. Those kind of nostalgia-fests work well when you were there but not suffi-ciently adult to remember how it really was for the vast majority.

If you were a grown-up, these reflections on recent history can sometimes only serve to make you feel as if you were totally outside the in-crowd. As my mother used to wryly remark every time a shot of Carnaby Street and grooving Bibaclad hipsters were used as a generic image of the Beatles Era: "The '60s didn't really swing in Llwynypia."

And the '90s didn't really ignite for me in Neath either, where I started the decade as a cub reporter on The Guardian... the Neath Guardian, that is.

The Manchester club scene that grew out of the Hacienda club may have sown the seeds of Britpop across the UK but in the Dark Arch in Neath we were still barely past Rick Astley at that time while Inspiral Carpets were what most people still had on their stairs.

Cool Cymru did eventually arrive, of course, but there was still quite a lot of Naff Taff in between.

Indeed, there is so much of '90s culture that is not really worth reflective scrutiny a mere decade and half later. The music is hailed as a defining symbol of British creativity at the close of the 20th century and, yes, there was some good indie stuff going on.

But to my ears, Oasis were nothing more than Happy Shopper Beatles... right down to Liam's Lennon specs. As for their spat with Blur - so heavily hyped it even made News at Ten - was there ever a more tiresome feud? The Battle of Britpop was as much a press creation as a bitter class war between Northern working class Oasis and Southern middle class Blur. It was also a PR dream for their record sales as their respective labels released their new singles on the same day.

Let's not forget the '90s was also the decade of the blandest ever boy bands, crooning cover versions of sickly ballads while wearing white suits in candlelit videos.

While fashion in the '70s and '80s was worth dragging out of the archive for comedic value alone, the '90s wardrobe is just too drab and dull to revive.

This was the age of grunge. The colour palette ranged from sludge to khaki. And as the decade, century and millennium drew to a close, the utilitarian vibe was everywhere as fashion got a bit sci-fi futuristic.

It produced spectacularly unflattering garments for both sexes. Girls wore cargo pants - which looked like a fisherman's gilet adapted for legs. Boys adopted prison chic - voluminous jeans at half-mast, which could reduce their stride pattern to a shuf-fling gait.

Both styles transformed underwear into outerwear, revealing whale tail G-strings and grubby pants much to the discomfort of those of us who knew where our waists were. On the subject of the latter, I remember sharing an office with twentysomething TV researchers in the late '90s whose bare stomachs were visible every day.

The midriff was the designated erogenous zone of the decade though quite why anyone thought exposing their belly button fluff in the office was erotic remains to be seen.

Pop culture historians rave about '90s cult television. But while my 18-year-old cat Scully is a ginger four-legged reminder of my X Files obsession, was Twin Peaks really so amazing? Wasn't it just Emperor's New Clothes clever? Granted it was vastly superior to the other American imports of that time - Baywatch and Beverly Hills 90210. Friends was OK - slick, feelgood and all those macchiatos paved the way for the Starbucks invasion.

But as for quintessential British television of the '90s, it was all so shouty.

Even Changing Rooms could jangle your nerves with a particularly excitable celebrity decorator and migraine-inducing makeover. TFI Friday was loud, brash and chaotic but at least it displayed some imaginative formats, not to mention the considerable small screen charisma of Chris Evans.

Yet The Word - fronted by Terry Christian and his droning adenoids - was execrable. (I never really got Vic & Bob either.) But perhaps the direst signifier of the decade was the lad and ladette phenomenon - embodied for males by Loaded magazine and for females by a misinterpretation of Girl Power. Loaded and it successors made pornographic raunch culture mainstream while young women appropriated raunch culture in the mistaken belief that being sexually objectified was somehow "empowering".

We don't need to think about reviving this because sadly you only have to consider the dubious career decisions of Miley Cyrus to know it's never really gone away.

As for resurrecting the rest of the '90s, can't we just look forward rather than back for once? After all, the only thing we'll learn from turning the clock back 15 years is nostalgia ain't what it used to be


All those macchiatos in Friends paved the way for the Starbucks invasion, <B says Carolyn Hitt PA Photo/Warner Brothers Home Entertainment

The 1997 Oasis calendar <B
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Aug 1, 2015
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