From what I hear, 1990 was a hell of a year. NASA sent the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit, Nelson Mandela was released from prison—and, crucially, I was born unto this world. Twenty-five years later, as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival, a panel of six WBEZ radio personalities and six storytellers and poets will come together for a month-by-month review of 1990. Just because I lived through only half of ’90 doesn’t mean I can’t contribute to the conversation. As a primer to the CHF event, I revisited several of the year’s most notable cultural moments.
Twin Peaks: In 1990, agent Dale Cooper ate cherry pie and drank black coffee in the fictional small town of Twin Peaks. In 2016, agent Dale Cooper will eat cherry pie and drink black coffee in the fictional small town of Twin Peaks. Some things never change.
Milli Vanilli scandal: Girl, you know it’s true that Milli Vanilli’s audience turned against the pop group after the duo was exposed as lip-syncers. Twenty-five years later Lip Sync Battle on Spike is dedicated entirely to faking it.
Law & Order: My life pretty much revolves around Dick Wolf television franchises. When I discovered that L&O came out in 1990 it felt like I’ve just been fulfilling my birthright by spending hours on end with Jerry Orbach, Mariska Hargitay, and the gang. (Though I still have NO LOVE for Criminal Intent.)
Goodfellas: My father still can’t go anywhere without doing his best Joe Pesci: “I’m funny how, funny like a clown? I’m here to amuse you?” I now know how many expletives he left out for my benefit. At the time of its release, the film set an industry record for profanity, including some 300 uses of “fuck.”
“Thunderstruck”: The first time I heard the lead single from AC/DC’s The Razors Edge was at a college party, where I was also introduced to a drinking game related to the song. It goes like this: start chugging a beer when Brian Johnson says the word “thunder,” don’t stop until the following utterance of “thunder,” repeat.
Pretty Woman: My friend’s older sister had a Pretty Woman-themed birthday party when she was still in single digits. It seemed totally reasonable at the time, but in retrospect it’s appalling that this rom-com would give little girls hope that they too could become a prostitute relying on a rich man to give them a sense of self-worth.
“Hold On”: Thank god for Carnie, Wendy, and Chynna. Wilson Phillips’s megahit has gotten me through a lot of ups and downs—and it gave us all that rad scene at the end of Bridesmaids.
Creation of the Web browser: Without it this article wouldn’t exist.
Year in Review: 1990, Thu 11/5, 8-10 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage, chicagohumanities.org, $20.