One of the questions that circled after the election was what will fill the Tr*mp-shaped hole in the news? It was mostly lobbed at his antagonists, but if the last month is anything to go by, the challenge seemed to hit hardest for the guy’s most ardent fans, the Fox Newses of the world. We as a culture have finally run solidly into an answer: It’s the ’90s. The news of the ’90s will fill the void. So will the aughts and whatever we decided to call the last decade, and maybe a bit of the ’80s too. As long as we’ve already lived through it, it’s fair game.
They’ve taken up the mantle of moral panic, replacing “political correctness” with “cancel culture.” Recall the ’90s panic over intellectualism on college campuses or the evangelical Satanic panic of the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and today. Or more recently, Sean Hannity’s humdinger of an episode on Sesame Street’s liberal agenda in 2011, as my colleague Caleb Ecarma pointed out. This played then as it apparently does now.
The new version of the old culture war centers on classic toys and children’s programming and began in late February. First, the LEFT (Disney+) CANCELED (ran a content disclaimer at the beginning of certain episodes) The Muppet Show, which is streaming on the platform. And then the LEFT (Hasbro) CANCELED Mr. Potato Head (announced a name change to just “Potato Head” in order to expand the Potato Head universe in the future). Also the LEFT (Dr. Seuss Enterprises) CANCELED Dr. Seuss (took six titles—not the ones you know—out of print due to the racist stereotypes in them; Dr. Seuss books generally are still topping best-seller lists). And finally, the LEFT (Space Jam: A New Legacy artistes) CANCELED (redrew) a cartoon bunny’s boobs.
Yes, it seems like the talking heads are walking around in a world that looks a lot like that scene from Toy Story in Sid Phillips’s basement. The toys are out to get them, poor guys. The strangest thing, though, is that conservative media needing something to talk about instead of vaccines and stimulus bills and domestic terrorism has weirdly aligned with a different, separate version of a time warp: TikTok. There were a couple videos about how terrible Eminem’s lyrics are, which, yes, totally, they are and always have been. But the argument hasn’t changed so much since 1999. And then there was the big side-part and skinny jeans kerfuffle from last month that I simply can’t get into, but you can read all about it here and here!
I can’t even tell how popular the videos are on TikTok itself, but they have certainly struck a chord on other platforms where the millennial age group resides, like Twitter or New York magazine. Suddenly I’m thinking about—like, really thinking about—skinny jeans and side-parted hair and Eminem for the first time in 20 years, while the same big moon faces on the networks are fake panicking about the same old things.
Is this just a period of time that we have to get through? This strange moment in the fourth quarter of a pandemic while the big narcissistic chaos machine is laying low-ish in Florida finally. Or are we doomed to repeat history over and over again even if we not only study it, but have also already lived through it? Please fix this broken record.
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