Limitations And Nostalgia – A Ramble

Although this is a rambling article about nostalgia in general, I’m going to have to start by talking about musical nostalgia for a couple of paragraphs. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

A while before I wrote this article, I was going through a bit of a musical nostalgia phase and, whilst listening to the first track of Sum 41’s “Half Hour Of Power” album, I suddenly remembered that they were one of the few punk bands that I knew about when I was a teenager. And how they seemed even cooler as a result of this.

A while earlier, I had also found myself listening to “Virus” by Iron Maiden. This is a bonus track that was included on one of the first Iron Maiden albums I ever bought (the “Best Of The Beast” compilation) and it reminded me of when I first discovered the band and how I knew relatively little about them at the time, but was eager to learn.

So, what was the point of this brief trip down memory lane? Well, it’s all to do with how limitations can affect and provoke nostalgia.

One of the interesting things about growing up at a time when the internet was a little bit less common is that information was harder to find. These days, if I see or listen to something interesting, then it’s a simple matter of searching for more info about it online. Likewise, finding information about other things that are like it isn’t too difficult either. Yes, this is really cool – but it means that anything you find probably won’t provoke quite the same type of nostalgia when you remember it in the future.

If you found something really cool 15-20 years ago, then it was a much more significant event. Chances are, you probably even have some kind of convoluted story about how you first found it.

For example, I discovered Iron Maiden (in about 2000/2001) by accident because they were on the soundtrack to “Carmageddon II” – which was a game I only got by accident because it happened to be included in a multipack with the PC port of “Resident Evil 2”.

Finding something cool 15-20 years ago was also a much more significant event for the simple reason that it was a bit more difficult to tell whether there were other things like it out there. As such, finding something really brilliant was like finding a rare treasure. Instead of eagerly researching it on the internet, you tended to savour it whilst also hoping that you might possibly chance upon something similar in the future.

Finding something cool 15-20 years ago also relied on chance, luck and serendipity a lot more than it does now. It involved noticing things in magazines, hearing recommendations from people, happening to watch things on TV, happening to hear something good on the radio or finding random things in shops. As such, discovering cool things tended to feel like more of a matter of luck or fate than it does now.

Then, of course, there’s all of the nostalgia that you didn’t actively seek out. In the days before the internet was truly mainstream, mass culture used to be much more prominent. I mean, if you asked me to name ten songs by current pop bands, I’d probably look at you like you’d asked me to translate this article into hieroglyphics.

But, during my childhood in the mid-late 1990s, I could probably reel off twenty song names without even thinking about it. Why? Because it was the main type of music (aside from the occasional pop-punk or rap song) that I was exposed to back then. The only real variation was the fact that the local radio station I listened to regularly at the time also used to play 1980s pop music too. So, a lot of my musical nostalgia is from genres that I don’t really listen to much these days.

Of course, limitations also provoke nostalgia in other ways too. Whether it is the graphics in older computer/video games (that force the player to use their imagination more and which place more emphasis on the actual gameplay, story etc..) or the fact that special effects in movies looked cooler in the past because there was no modern photo-realistic CGI to compare them to, the limitations involved in creating things in the past often tends to evoke a lot of nostalgia.

So, yes, a lot of what makes nostalgia “special” can often be due to the limitations of the past.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Three Reasons Why Things In The Horror Genre Can Be Scarier Than You Remember

Shortly before I originally wrote this article, I had a rather surprising experience. My second-hand copy of the PC port of “Silent Hill 3” had finally arrived in the post and I was eager to re-live some nostalgic memories of playing the game on my old (and sadly no longer functional) Playstation 2 when I was a teenager.

Plus, when I found and played a demo of the PC version of “Silent Hill 3” a couple of years ago, I’d felt nothing but wonderful nostalgia. So, I was expecting a lot more of this from the full version of the game. But, after I’d finished the introductory segment from the demo…

…The game was about ten times scarier than I remembered! I’d always thought of “Silent Hill 3” as the least scariest of the classic “Silent Hill” games, yet I could feel adrenaline coursing through my veins and an icy shard of fear in my chest. Nervously, I found myself torn between the urge to explore more of the game’s nightmarish world and the urge to just find a monster-free area and hide there because I did not expect to feel actual fear whilst playing “Silent Hill 3”.

This is a screenshot from “Silent Hill 3” (2003). A game that is scarier than you might remember it being!

This naturally made me wonder about time, nostalgia, memory and the horror genre – since this experience just didn’t make any logical sense. I’d played the whole game before when I was younger. Surely, if I was going to be scared by it, it would have happened back then. Yet, my only memories of the game were nostalgic ones of how cool I thought it was and how it was associated with rose-tinted memories of my youth.

1) Perspective and maturity: One reason things in the horror genre can be scarier when you revisit them at an older age for the simple reason that you’re more likely to actually think about them deeply. You’ll have had more life experience and be at least marginally more mature, and this will influence how you think about horror games, movies, novels etc..

I mean, when I played “Silent Hill 3” at about the age of sixteen, I probably just thought “Cool! It’s a gruesome horror game with monsters. AND it isn’t as utterly terrifying as ‘Silent Hill 2’ 🙂 “.

But, when playing the shopping centre-based parts of the game a while before writing this article, I actually found myself thinking more deeply about the events of the game and wondering what actually being in a situation like that would be like. I started thinking about it less like a “game” and more like a story.

Likewise, I also started to wonder about the parts of the game’s nightmarish “world” that aren’t shown to the player. What lurked behind the myriad locked doors that are everywhere? How did that mysterious bloodstain end up in this room I’m hiding in? Why are there monsters lurking in the shopping centre, and how creepy would it be to go shopping and suddenly find that the shopping centre was abandoned?

So, gaining the capacity to think about things more deeply can be one reason why things in the horror genre can be scarier than you remember.

2) Practice: Another reason why things in the horror genre can be scarier when you are older is because your tastes tend to widen with age. I mean, when I was a teenager, I was absolutely fascinated by the horror genre. I used to love reading splatterpunk novels, watching late night horror movies etc…. It was a genre that was rebellious, emotionally cathartic and considerably more “cool” than anything else.

But, as time has gone on, I’ve found other genres that interest me. And, as a result, I’ve got somewhat “out of practice” with the horror genre.

So, a relative lack of exposure to “serious” things in the horror genre over the past few years can also explain why things in the horror genre can be scarier than you remember.

3) Fan culture: If you haven’t directly experienced a particular work in the horror genre for a long time, then you can sometimes end up remembering the affectionate fan culture that surrounds it than the actual film/game/story etc… itself.

It’s easy to get dazzled by nostalgic references on the internet and adoring odes to games/films/novels etc.. from fans on the internet.

Because fan culture often tends to include a lot of humour and a lot of focus on the more stylised elements of something (eg: Freddy Krueger’s glove, the crackly voice from the “Saw” films, the mask from the “Scream” films etc..) , then it can be easy to mistake this for the actual work in question. Since fan culture exists to celebrate things, then it is going to focus on instantly-recognisable things that provoke feelings of warm affection.

So, fan culture isn’t going to reflect that moment in a horror game when you’re walking down another gloomy corridor and can hear something lurking nearby. Fan culture isn’t going to focus on that really bleak moment in a horror movie when a character realises that all hope is lost etc….

So, yes, confusing fan culture with the actual work in question can be another reason why something in the horror genre might be a lot scarier than you remember.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Four Tips For Adding Some 1990s-Style Silliness To Your Story Or Comic

One of the endearingly nostalgic things about the media during the 1990s (TV shows and computer games especially) is that it wasn’t afraid to be completely and utterly silly at times.

This is one of the distinctive qualities of media from the decade and it was probably caused by a number of factors, such as the fact that the 1990s fell between the end of the Cold War and our current post-9/11 world, so the general mood was a bit more optimistic.

But, regardless of what caused it, media from the 1990s often has a certain joyous silliness to it that modern media often lacks. So, I thought that I’d offer a few tips about how to add some 90s-style silliness to your prose fiction and/or comic projects.

1) Focus on some other element and work backwards: Technical limitations aside, one of the reasons why computer games from the early-mid 1990s were often so gleefully nonsensical was because the story was often something of an afterthought.

Usually, the designers would focus on coming up with a fun game and then add the story at a later point. This, of course, led to some hilariously random – but extremely fun – games.

This is a screenshot of a 2D platform game from 1993 called “Bio Menace”. This scene involves climbing a giant tree and fighting slime monsters, sentient balls of fur etc…. Yes, games were a bit more random in the 90s, since fun gameplay took priority over storytelling.

Even more “serious” games from the time, like “Doom II” (1994) [pictured], would often be considered somewhat “random” or “silly” by today’s standards. Again, this is because the designers primarily focused on fun gameplay, rather than storytelling.

So, one way to replicate this silly randomness in your story or comic is to come up with an interesting idea, find a totally random subject and/or come up with a silly gimmick. Then, once you’ve done this, try to see if you can work backwards and add a story to it. The main thing here is not to come up with the story idea first, but to find some other thing and then try to shoehorn a story into it.

2) Take a concept to the max: One trend that lent the 1990s some of it’s distinctive silliness was the fact that there were relatively fewer “serious” issues in the news. As such, if someone wanted to create a thrilling, scary and/or dramatic story, then what they would sometimes do would be to take some idea or concept (the more random and/or “ordinary”, the better) and then just take it to a ludicrous extreme in order to extract some melodrama from it.

A good example of this can be seen in a gloriously cheesy mid-late 1990s TV show called “Sliders“. This is a sci-fi show which revolves around the characters visiting a different parallel universe every episode. Often, these universes would be based on some idea or another being taken to a hilariously silly extreme.

For example, in this episode from season 1 of “Sliders” (1995), the main characters end up in a timeline where the American Revolution never happened. Even though it’s the mid-1990s (when the Spice Girls etc.. were popular in Britain) – everyone dresses like they’re from the 1950s, speaks in received pronunciation and drives old cars. There’s also a hilariously silly band of rebels and a few references to “Robin Hood” too.

So, one way to add some 90s-style silliness to your story or comic is just to find an ordinary idea (eg: try looking for some slightly “silly” stories in the newspaper. Yes, in an actual newspaper) and then just take it to some kind of silly extreme.

3) Assume your audience know less: Although people were no more or less intelligent during the 1990s than they are now, there was one crucial difference. The internet was a lot slower, a lot more expensive and a lot less widely-used than it is now. As such, the writers of mainstream things like TV shows couldn’t just assume that their audiences had instant access to all of humanity’s knowledge.

As such, things from the 1990s often tended to rely on much more “timeless” commonly-known references and source material. Likewise, sometimes, TV shows would occasionally spell things out to the audience that modern shows rightly assume that contemporary audiences already understand. This slightly patronising “stating the obvious” element often drains all seriousness from what the show is trying to say and turns it into unintentionally hilarious melodrama.

As great as “Star Trek: The Next Generation” is, this screenshot from the season 7 episode “Masks” (1994) provides an example of what I’m talking about. The characters state the obvious sometimes and the episode uses a lot of fairly generic Aztec-style settings.

So, one way to add some 90s-style silliness to your story or comic is simply to state the obvious a few times and to rely more on “timeless” cultural references – however hilariously incongruous they might be with something made in the present day.

4) Chaos and anarchy: One of the easiest ways to add some 1990s-style silliness to your story or comic is just to contrast some “ordinary” characters with some silly and/or chaotic characters.

There are at least two hilariously silly movies from the first two years of the 1990s that do precisely this. So, this type of comedy was obviously a bit of a trend back in the day.

This is a screenshot from “Gremlins 2: The New Batch” (1990). In this film, a state-of-the-art office block is taken over by anarchic, hedonistic Gremlin creatures, after the main characters’ pet creature Gizmo is accidentally fed after midnight. Hilarity ensues.

This is a screenshot from “Drop Dead Fred” (1991), a film where the main character’s childhood imaginary friend (Played by Rik Mayall) suddenly appears in her life again and causes all sorts of hilarious chaos.

This is something that isn’t really seen as often in the modern comedy genre, and it is kind of a follow-on from the comedy horror traditions of the 1980s (eg: movies like “Beetlejuice”, the original “Gremlins” and “Elvira: Mistress Of The Dark” also include elements of this). So, adding some anarchic slapstick humour (involving slightly weird characters) can be a good way to inject some 1990s-style silliness to your story or comic.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Short Story: “Demo” By C. A. Brown

Note: This story is a stand-alone companion piece to this story.

If there was one thing that Kirsty missed, it was demo discs. Back in the day, videogame magazines used to come with discs filled with the first levels of seven or eight different games. Sure, it was meant as a promotional thing. But, she thought, there was something democratic about it. It was like catching an episode of a drama on TV, rather than only being able to see it in an online boxset. It was democratic.

She was about to mention this to James, but he just sat back on the sofa and pulled out his phone. He tapped it a couple of times and stared at the tiny screen, absorbed in something. Probably some trendy article about “de-cluttering” or whatever.

So, she read a book. It was an old paperback horror novel from the ’80s that she’d picked up in a charity shop for 50p. The cover read “SCYTHE MANIAC!” in dripping red letters and showed some dude with glowing red eyes standing in front of a midnight sky and swinging a scythe at the reader. Within a few seconds, she’d lost herself in the story….

Above the roar of the combine harvester, Farmer Green focused his attention on the spinning blades in front of the windscreeen. Rage roiled inside him. The sheer cheek of that supercilious little man from DEFRA insisting that.. he… went on a safety course! He’d been working the harvester since he was a lad and had not suffered so much as a scratch from the efficient, slicing blades.

Grumbling to himself, Farmer Green heaved the steering wheel. His gnarled fingers nearly slipped on the hasty gaffer tape repair to one segment of it. No doubt that the silly bureaucrat would probably moan about that too. But, the trendy people at the harvester company had stopped making spares. Even though, he thought, this venerable old machine would probably outlive any of the fancy bleeping gadgets that those slick salesmen kept pushing on poor farmers like him.

And then Farmer Green saw it. Behind the yellow haze of chaff, the shadow of a man stood in the field. The farmer’s face went beetroot red and he stamped on the brake as hard as his old legs would allow. If it was that stupid lad from Wilson’s farm again, then there would be harsh words spoken. Balling his fists, he waited for the harvester to judder to a halt. But, when the clouds of chaff fell to the ground – there was no-one there.

He rubbed his sweaty brow and blinked twice. Maybe it was all just a trick of the eye? Maybe he was imagining things in his old age? Letting out a sigh, he started the engine again. But, before he could even put foot to pedal, the window beside him exploded in a shearing shower of sharp shards. The tip of a scythe shot through the hole like the beak of a hawk swooping in for the kill. The razor point slashed…

Kirsty was interrupted mid-sentence by James shouting ‘Alita! Is the internet down? Alita! Dammit!

The silent smart speaker sat on the table next to the TV. A green light stared back at him. He tapped his phone frantically. He walked over to the router and poked it a few times.

Finally, he turned to Kirsty and let out an exasperated sigh: ‘Typical. We get one bloody peaceful afternoon and they decide to repair the internet or whatever. What the hell are we going to watch, read or play?

Nostalgia Is A Different Source Of Artistic Inspiration For Everyone – A Ramble

A while before writing this article, I found that I was going through more of a nostalgic phase than usual. However, rather than looking for “new” things from the 1990s and early-mid 2000s that I’d never seen before in order to learn more about these familiar, but still tantalisingly mysterious, parts of history – I found that I was much more interested in revisiting “old” things and old memories.

Whether it was old things like Ocean FM, late night channel 4 broadcasts, “South Park”, various audio cassettes, certain old computer games, Youtube videos of the Windows 98 “Maze” screensaver, shouty early-mid 2000s metal songs etc… these were all things that I’d experienced before in some way or another. They were a mildly more “personal” type of nostalgia.

To use a slightly more vague example, when I went out to water a plant in the early evening before preparing this article, the air had a cool yet warm crispness to it and a slight floral/dried grass smell which suddenly made me think of random things from my childhood. It made me think of old kitchens, metal tins, green shoeboxes, a vaguely American-style church in Havant that I saw during the late 1990s, a pair of hideous old curtains, the very first time I ever tried to pull an all-nighter and a whole bunch of things that are personally nostalgic, but not “nostalgia”.

And this made me think about nostalgia and artistic inspiration. Because, most of the time when I try to make “nostalgic” art, it is often based on a highly stylised (and Americanised) version of the time periods that I’m trying to evoke. It’s often more based on the internet pop culture “version” of the decades in question than my actual memories of 1990s and early-mid 2000s Britain – like this:

“From The 1990s” By C. A. Brown

“Future 2004” By C. A. Brown

Of course, this is an easier way to make “nostalgic” stuff for the simple reason that the research material is more easily available. Likewise, it often relies on a commonly-known set of visual symbols (eg: for the 1990s, this would include things like floral prints, floppy disks, sweatshirts worn like belts, backwards baseball caps, audio cassettes, POGs, Tamagotchis, game cartridges, VHS tapes etc..). But, the downside to doing this is that these types of nostalgic art can lack individuality and personality.

Yes, the exact mixture of “nostalgic” pop culture and technology that is alluded to in this type of nostalgic art will vary heavily from person to person. And, to a large extent, this can be a good way of adding some individuality to your nostalgic art. After all, the really cool stuff that instantly makes you think of the 1990s or the early-mid 2000s will be at least slightly different to the things that evoke the same feeling in other people.

But, making art based on actual memories and/or feelings of nostalgia is significantly more difficult. This is mostly because memories can fade or blur over time, which means that trying to make “accurate” art based on them can be next to impossible. Yes, you can make art that sort of vaguely looks a little bit like them, but the exact details will probably be wrong. Like this:

This is based on my vague memories of ferry journeys during the mid-1990s and of how modern and “cool” the duty free shops looked back then. Again, it looks nothing like what actual duty free shops at the time probably looked like.
(“Duty Free 1996” By C. A. Brown)

The exact feeling of nostalgia is also one of those things that is near-impossible to put into words, let alone into pictures. It’s one of those highly complex emotions which can simultaneously exist in several versions and which also varies from person to person too. It is something that cannot be described or depicted fully and will always get “lost in translation” whenever this is attempted.

For example, one of my “nostalgic” moods is heavily based on the mood that childhood memories of visiting my cousins, listening to novelty “South Park” songs and/or looking at Windows 3.1 evokes in me. It’s a wonderfully warm, cosy and reassuring, but understated, mood. It is also a strangely “American” mood (even though I’ve never been to America). It’s a mood that I also experienced slightly when I played this set of modern “Doom II” levels. But, no doubt, this entire paragraph probably won’t tell you a thing about what this mood actually feels like.

So, yes, the less specific and personal nostalgia happens to be, the easier it is to use for artistic inspiration. But, even so, your own version of “pop culture” nostalgia will still be somewhat unique for the simple reason that the exact mixture of commonly-known inspirations you use will probably be slightly different to everyone else’s.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Short Story: “Temple” By C. A. Brown

For the first time in her life, Debs thought that she was in America. The strangest thing of all was that it felt so ordinary. She’d always imagined that it would be like some magical moment, some beautiful culmination of nearly three decades spent watching shiny Hollywood films, enthusiastic Youtube videos and immaculate TV shows. But, like something from the middle of a dream, it felt oddly mundane.

A few minutes earlier, Jake had quietly raised his phone and pointed it at a scuffed marble urn. The tendrils of a withered plant reached out of it like a zombie’s hand. He whispered: ‘Stay out of shot. I’ve got to get the angle right, if our reflections are seen in any surface…

Debs rolled her eyes: ‘I know. I know. But, honestly, I don’t think that anyone’s going to be too bothered about a few people sneaking in here. It’s hardly the crime of the century.

Jake sighed: ‘If this goes viral, someone’s probably going to notice. I mean….

Debs let out a quiet chuckle: ‘If I remember rightly, trespassing is a civil offence. This place is abandoned, who’s going to sue? Anyway we’re historians, not thieves.

With a hint of a grin, Jake hummed the Indiana Jones music. A second later, the phone clicked. The noise echoed through the cavernous hall. It bounced off of metal shutters and grimy tiles. On a faded poster, a man with a perfect smile almost looked surprised. A few seconds later, the noise was followed by the quiet pattering of rain. A minute later, the first water droplet splashed onto the tiles below. It was, Debs thought, the closest thing to a wash this place had probably had in weeks.

Jake walked over to what was once a MVC video shop. Standing back from the large wall of steel shutters, he angled his phone towards the sky blue hoarding and centred the screen on the navy blue losenge logo.

With a hint of a sigh, he said: ‘I got my first horror movie from here. Zombie Flesh Eaters. I’d seen it advertised in a game mag. A proper full-page spread about how it had been banned in the ’80s. How I convinced the guy behind the counter that I was over eighteen…

Oh my god, the nostalgia!‘ Debs laughed ‘I think I’ve probably still got that magazine somewhere. But, I always remember getting video tapes from that place. It was back when everyone was going over to DVD. For a while, you could get things on both. And then the videos were moved to a separate shelf.

Which kept getting smaller and smaller.‘ Jake laughed. His phone clicked again. ‘By the end, the videos were so covered with special offer stickers that you couldn’t even see the titles.

I heard that, if you went there one day, they actually paid you to take them away. Of course, it was a school day. These things always happened on school days. And it was usually someone’s cousin or older brother who supposedly went there.‘ Debs grinned.

Folklore.‘ Jake laughed. ‘These days, it’d be pics or GTFO. I miss folklore.

Oooh, we should get some footage. Like in those dead mall videos from America.’ Debs fumbled for her phone.

I told you. What about the reflections? If we’re seen…‘ Jake started.

An impish smile crossed Debs’ face ‘If you’re worried, we could try talking with an American accent during the video to throw everyone off. Let the cops in Texas or wherever worry about them gosh darn kids sneakin’ into the mall.

Jake stared at her blankly for a second before creasing over with laugher. As he caught his breath, his voice became a disjointed hybrid of southern accents from Britain and America : ‘Genius! I love it!

For a while, they walked the halls with phones held aloft, their accents shifting from Californian to Hawaiian to New York to Georgian every few seconds. When the low battery symbol flashed on Jake’s phone, they reviewed the footage. Jake raised his eyebrows: ‘It’s convincing! I don’t believe it, it’s actually convincing.

Too convincing.‘ Debs muttered. A puzzled look crossed her face. Like a picture of an old church, the place on the screen could have come from literally anywhere. It would have seen the same rituals, the same nameless crowds and the same hallowed songs. She could have been in Seattle, Paris, Tokyo or Moscow and the footage would be the same. Yet, she thought, it didn’t feel strange. Like something from the middle of a dream, it just felt boringly ordinary.

Three Random Tips For Creating Things Set In (mid-late) 1990s Britain

As a follow-on from my article about why it’s so hard to create things that look like they were made in the past, I thought that I’d give you a few tips about how to create things (art, comics, writing etc..) that are set in 1990s Britain. This is mostly because a lot of the most easily-available online research material, pop culture nostalgia etc… about the 1990s tends to come from America.

Of course, although there were probably some similarities, 1990s Britain was a very different place in terms of culture, attitude etc.. to 1990s America. Although I remember 1990s Britain, I was fairly young at the time (so, my memories are a little vague and I can remember the mid-late 1990s far better than the early 1990s). Still, I’ve probably seen more things from and about 1990s Britain than I probably think I have.

So, for the benefit of my international readers, I thought that I’d give a few pointers about creating things set in 1990s Britain.

1) The attitude: If there’s one thing that sets 1990s Britain (especially mid-late 1990s Britain) apart from 1990s America – it is the attitude. Generally speaking, 1990s Britain tended to be a bit more cynical, a bit more rebellious and a bit more hedonistic than 1990s America.

This attitude is surprisingly difficult to describe, but it is one of the things that makes 1990s Britain so cool (in comparison to miserable modern Britain). The best way I can think to sum it up is that it was a decade where even a manufactured pop band like the Spice Girls still had a slightly “punk” attitude. It was a decade where British game developers created controversial game franchises like “Grand Theft Auto” and “Carmageddon“. It was also a decade where slightly less controversial games like “Tomb Raider” were being made too.

It was a decade where a TV show like “Bits” could be made. This was a wonderfully sarcastic and surprisingly “punk” TV show about computer and video games that was mostly presented by Emily Booth, Aleks Krotoski and Emily Newton Dunn. It was eccentric, random, hilarious, low-budget and cynical… and a perfect distillation of everything cool about late 1990s/early 2000s Britain.

Although this show is impossible to find on DVD or video, there are thankfully still some clips of it on Youtube and an in-depth, if somewhat cynical, documentary video about it too [slightly NSFW].

It was also a decade where artists could actually be rockstars! I mean, whatever you think about the quality or sophistication of Tracey Emin‘s art, there’s no denying that she is one of the coolest art-related celebrities in British history. During the 90s, she was controversial, outspoken, hedonistic etc…. and just generally cool. By comparison, the most “rockstar”-like artist in present-day Britain is probably Banksy. A mysterious anonymous graffiti artist who paints political cartoons on buildings.

It was a decade where comedy on the TV tended to be a lot funnier, quirkier and more cynical than many of the more “mainstream” comedy offerings from across the pond (except the animated ones like “The Simpsons” and “South Park”).

This was the heyday of shows like “Harry Enfield & Chums“, “Goodness Gracious Me!“, “Spaced“, “Absolutely Fabulous“, “The Thin Blue Line“, “Red Dwarf“, “Brass Eye“, “Men Behaving Badly“, “Bottom” etc… These were cynical, slightly rebellious comedy shows that tried to make a point – now, compare them to something like “Friends“….

Even nerd culture in 1990s Britain seems to be different from it’s American equivalent. For starters, it didn’t really seem to be a mythologised “culture” in the way that traditional American “nerd culture” seems to be presented these days. Yes, there were probably some things in common, but there also seem to have been quite a few differences – for example, in southern England in the 1990s, someone who was into tabletop games was probably more likely to play “Warhammer 40K” than “Dungeons & Dragons”.

2) The crappiness: If there’s one thing to be said for 1990s Britain, it’s that it was possibly the last decade where Britain was still “crap” in a more traditional way. This is not to say that modern Britain isn’t crap, but the crappiness of 1990 Britain was a different kind of crappiness to the crappiness of present day Britain (or even the crappiness of Tony Blair’s mid-late years in office), and it’s kind of difficult to describe concisely.

This cynical attitude about Britain has been a part of British culture for at least a few decades and, surprisingly, it’s actually a good thing. Not only is it a source of everyday humour, but it also serves as something of a bulwark against aggressive nationalism too (or it used to before all of this Brexit stuff, anyway). Likewise, going back to the 1990s, it also meant that a lot of really cool stuff (food, films, music etc..) from abroad started to become a lot more popular during the 90s because it was, well, better.

Even so, 90s Britian was slightly more limited in some ways. For example, unless you were rich enough to afford satellite TV or lucky enough to live somewhere where Channel 5 was a terrestrial channel, you literally only had four TV channels available to you (BBC 1 &2, ITV and Channel 4). The pubs still all closed at 11pm sharp. The trains were being privatised, but still maintained their reputation for lateness and general crappiness. Some discriminatory laws about LGBT people were still on the statute books. We got films and games later than people in the states did. The film censors tended to be a lot stricter about action movies and horror movies etc…

That stuff aside, being slightly “backwards” when compared to America also had it’s advantages. For example, I was shocked to read that CD singles weren’t really a thing in the US during the late 90s, whereas they were a key part of my childhood musical memories of late 1990s/early 2000s Britain.

But, whilst a lot of popular media from 1990s America often seems really optimistic, trendy and futuristic, this is a million miles away from 1990s Britain. This is a really difficult quality to describe, but it’s a far cry from the more stylish “aren’t we awesome!” portrayal of America in culture from the period. Many creative works made here during the 1990s knew that Britain was crap and derived affectionate humour and/or gritty drama from it.

The best TV show for research into this is probably the earlier series of “Jonathan Creek“. Likewise, even a “super-cool gadget filled spy show” from the time, called “Bugs“, contains some of it in terms of the humour and the nature of the storylines. But, of course, classic BBC sitcoms from the 1990s are the best place to see examples of the “crappiness” of 1990s Britain pointed out to you. Plus, if you’re into computer games, try to track down an old game by Gremlin Interactive called “Normality” for a slightly stylised example of this. Or, if you have less time and/or money, check out a freeware game called “Beneath A Steel Sky“.

3) The fashions: For the most part, fashions in 1990s Britain were fairly dull and understated. Whether it was ordinary businesswear or jeans and a T-shirt, 90s fashion in Britain was mostly fairly “ordinary”. Yet, when it wasn’t, it is at least mildly different from 90s fashion in America.

The most famous example of 1990s British fashion has to be Geri Halliwell’s Union Jack dress. But, unlike America where things like grunge fashion were more popular in the 1990s, the slightly more “distinctive” parts of British 1990s fashion tended to include things like sportswear, wrapping a jumper around your waist like a belt, formal floral dresses, crop tops, cargo clothing etc…

It isn’t really as distinctive or eccentric as American fashion during the 90s was, but this kind of fits into the “crappiness” thing that I mentioned in the second segment of this article.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂