Forensic Geekery

2003 room post cultural ground zero

Spend enough time on this blog, and you'll soon discover that contextualizing the generations, especially in regard to pop culture, gets a lot of page space. The memory-holing of Generation Y that came down from Madison Avenue at the turn of the millennium and only recently fell out of fashion comes up a lot because it's an easily proven example of media gaslighting. 

Marketing in a youth-obsessed culture is necessarily youth-oriented. The Gen Y category fell out of use when Ys entered their 20s and the ad agencies lost interest in them. Millennials held corporate marketeers' attention longer due to their extended adolescence, but even that coddled cohort is falling out of vogue now that Millennials are turning 30.

This article, wherein a Gen X Pop Cultist surveys the Low 90s moonscape and tries to make sense of the ensuing and ongoing stagnation, is a promising sign that normies are starting to notice Cultural Ground Zero.

Is it odd to anyone else that stuff from the year 1999 gets mixed in pop culture from the 1990s? I am familiar with the Gregorian calendar like everyone else, but culturally, 1999 did not feel like a 90s year. The clothes, toys, movies, books, and tv shows of 1999 were all too modern to have appeared in the 80s or very early 90s.

What our Xer's forensic geekery is fumbling to grasp is the end of the IP explosion phase that rocked all media in the 80s and whose aftershocks lasted into the mid-90s. All major entertainment brands have been stuck in a Milking --> Hibernation --> Reboot --> Milking cycle ever since.

Playing a Nintendo Entertainment System would bore the 2000s teen and the 2000s teen would not have any idea what a CD long-box is. I bet Will Smith in 1990 would faint after hearing that a SONY PlayStation would be launched in 5 more years. The 2000s teen in that photo was an XYer and Will Smith is a member of Generation X. In 1999, I was into the same pop culture icons that that 2000s teen liked. The Bride of Chucky, H20 (the Halloween movie), The WB, early South Park, the New York Yankees, Kid Rock, Eminem, N'SYNC, Britney Spears, and Austin Powers were all on my radar. For that reason alone, I could never call 1999 a year of the 90s (I was old enough to tell the difference).

Besides some general incoherence, what's interesting here is that the author gets the generation breakdowns right. Will Smith is indeed a member of Generation X. The clunky term "XYer" clearly refers to Generation Y, most of whom would have been teenagers in 1999.

1999 Gen Y Teen
The photo to which the OP is referring depicts a teenage boy chilling in his room sometime in 1999. Note that he is neither listening to grunge nor glued to a cell phone. He is instead playing a PS1 on a CRT TV. This is Generation Y. Note that this photo could easily be an alternate angle shot of the 2003 teen's bedroom in this post's header image.
The very early 2000s (1999-2001) were the most definitive part of the 2000s and it was the last time the world was anxious to turn on the radio or MTV before rushing out to buy the whole album from their favorite artists. There was some great music in the 2002 to 2004 era, also, but the songs released from 1999 to 2001 were so futuristic sounding that they are in a class of their own. There was a lot going on in the world in 1999. Gen Zers were beginning to watch TV, Late Millennials were starting elementary school, Core Millennials were on their way to middle school, Late XYers were teens, Early XYers were college students, and Late Gen Xers were producers for the first time.
Again, his terminology is a little unwieldy, but the categories the terms represent are largely accurate. The only outright error is that the first Zoomers were only just being born in 2001. Otherwise, the earliest Millennials were indeed in grade school, Ys were in high school and college, and Xers were advancing into those positions of middling authority which Boomers would allow.

The stark reality which the Retro Junk author comes close to grasping, only to shrink back from, is the dearth of anything new breaking into the mainstream since the High 90s. What started out as major studios, labels, and publishers playing it safe has now curdled into an all-out assault on audiences.

Look off the well-worn mainstream path, though, and you'll find myriad thriving indie scenes where creators are working hard to break new ground and please audiences. If you're in the market for a spacefaring adventure that blazes fresh trails with beloved tropes, check out my new mecha thriller Combat Frame XSeed: S!

Combat Frame XSeed: S - Brian Niemeier


  1. Oddly enough, I stumbled upon that article by pure chance when looking up a obscure anime. Retrojunk is one of the premiere pop cult sites, starting in the mid '00s when nostalgia really blew up as an identity. But every now and then they hit on something.

    I've also been looking over a lot of the cultural change that occurred in the late '90s. There is a lot, and none of it is that obvious. Most things fractured and cracked in 1996, full-on collapsed in 1997, and was swept away and salted over by 1998. The writer is correct, 1999 as a year represents the corporate-influenced gloss-obsessed personality that has defined pop cultists since.

    Which is also why there has never been a successful nostalgic movement that includes it. 1999 is just one year among the blur that is post-culture.

    There's never going to be a 2000s nostalgic movement. To have nostalgia, there must be something to be nostalgic for. But we're still living in it. You can't be nostalgic for something that has never gone away.

    1. "Which is also why there has never been a successful nostalgic movement that includes it. 1999 is just one year among the blur that is post-culture."

      This is a smoking gun, because if 1999 had been in continuity with 80s and 90s culture, we'd fully expect to see it included in the nostalgia craze. The Phantom Menace debuted that year, as did Futurama. 1999's non-canonical status in the Pop Cult shows that a rupture with the past took place that year.

    2. "I've also been looking over a lot of the cultural change that occurred in the late '90s. There is a lot, and none of it is that obvious."

      We'd love to hear some examples.

    3. I wouldn't even know where to start, which is why I'm compiling it into a blogpost.

      But here's a few:

      Facebook, Netflix, and Craigslist, all came online in 1997. Google.com also became a registered domain name. The infamous Ellen episode aired. Clear Channel acquired the bulk of its properties thanks to the Telecommunications act of 1996 (another year worth talking about) lifting restriction on national ownership. Microsoft bailed out Apple with $150 million investment.

      That's a small sample.

    4. Correct me if I'm wrong, but that's the law Section 230 is a part of, isn't it?

      I avoid crying conspiracy if there's a simpler explanation, but in this case, orchestration looks like the simplest answer.

    5. It was.

      They really went all out in the 1996-1998 time frame, and it will require a lot of tearing down before any forward momentum can be regained.

    6. TCA also sparked the merger madness that turned 50 media companies into 3.

    7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    8. Scratch that, misread the statement.

      Bureaucracy is a big factor in what demolished art ad culture from the west.

    9. Some other data points:

      - Diamond Comics Distributors sealed their monopoly in 1997.

      - Gladstone Comics (publishers of Duck comics) collapses in 1998 (I haven't yet figured out why, but I would guess it's related to Diamond)

      - The Disney Afternoon after-school lineup ends around '97 or '98.

      - Saturday morning cartoons ended in the mid-90s, most especially after *1997* due to the Children's Television Act requiring more educational content from broadcast TV.

    10. Irony is Boomers who let TV raise their kids mandating TV kids will only watch because it's all that way.

    11. Those are some compelling data points, folks.

      It's almost like 1997 was the temporal target coordinate for some kind of invasion.

    12. This comment has been removed by the author.

    13. I will say that your assessment of 1997-99 as the "Low '90s" is most certainly accurate. The troubles were definitely creeping in during '96, but there is no salvaging what was to come.

      As for "invasions" . . . That's a complicated matter.

      Might have something to do, as the link says, with how over 100 churches were burned in Mississippi over a 18 month period starting in December of 1995.

      They tried to spin it as a race thing, but when that petered out due to reality, so too did the media's attention. Sort of like when that white atheist shot up the black Christians not too long ago. That story sure went away fast when they learned the motive.

      You better start praying, folks.

    14. @Brian and JD
      Now y'all have got me pondering geopolitics in the same time frame. As a sample, Slick Willy started his second term, Ireland "legalized" divorce, and the UK surrendered Hong Kong to the Chicomms.

  2. Read Don't Give Money to People Who Hate You when it came out. Read it again a few days ago and Hoowee! I've been doing some Pop Cult backsliding. There ought to be a Pop Cultaholics Anonymous.

    Some good points however is I'm not buying a PS5 and cancelled my PS+ subscription. I watched Song of the South on archive.org while we still can. And of course am about five chapters into the new X-seed.

    1. Well done. There will be setbacks. Dust yourself off, and get back on the wagon.
      Thanks for reading!

  3. 1999 just so happens to be the year I could no longer stand listening to the radio. It's also the year I stopped watching TV, dropped my landline, and switched to being an internet-only household.

    Incidentally, 1999 was the "Year of Lavos" in Chrono Trigger. Maybe Squaresoft was trying to warn us of its own impending future, or perhaps of the bleakness of the coming low 90s.

    1. mfw 1999 was the end of the world after all

    2. 'It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.'
      The liberal democracy brought about the 'end of history' after all, and no one noticed because we were to busy with bread and circuses.

    3. 1999 is where I always assumed the rise of Giygas would come in Eagleland, even if in Earthbound it was just listed as 19XX. I did remember the Year of Lavos though. Of note, it took awhile for the dystopia to really take hold, despite a literal alien invader defiling the landscape.