Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

A Stupid Nostalgia Listicle (Or, You Won’t Believe these 15 Things From The Nineties That Will Help You Lose Weight That The IRS Doesn’t Want You To Find Out About!)

I have been binge-watching the show West Wing lately, because S has never seen it, and I watched a lot of the first few seasons until it got stupid, back when I was supposed to be writing the follow-up for Rumored to Exist, which never happened. So I remember bits and pieces of the show, and then hit a long patch when I was out of town in 2002 or whatever and didn’t see those episodes.

What’s odd is that the show doesn’t remind me of the early 00s when it aired, but instead gives me strange nostalgia for the mid/late 90s.  I guess it’s supposed to be an idealized version of the Clinton presidency, spun up with some of the torn-from-headlines scenarios taken out of the W years.  It hasn’t aged well, and it’s humorous to see someone whip out a giant cell phone you could beat someone to death with in less than three blows.  And Sorkin’s choir-preaching sermons get a little wooden at times.  But, it’s more entertaining than watching some limey chef scream at interns or a dozen sluts fighting over a dork with money, or whatever the hell else is on the tube these days.

(Side note: there’s this Slavoj Zizek theory I ran into the other night that might or might not encapsulate the zeitgeist of West Wing‘s popularity with the left in those Dubya years.  His essay Denial: the Liberal Utopia talks about the left’s need to look at or analyze only failed leftist regimes in order to dismiss those in progress, because you can fetishize the failed regime/government/plan/whatever as being utopian and perfect, if it had only worked.  (It’s possible I linked to the wrong essay here; I read this right before falling asleep, and the book’s upstairs and I’m too lazy to double-check it.)  Basically WW was popular because Al Gore lost and the Clinton era crashed to a halt and W fucked everything up and 9/11 happened and the left could wring their hands and reminisce about how if those chads hadn’t hung in Florida, the whole world would be a utopia and perfect.  That Michael Moore movie F911 even begins this way more or less.  I’m not making this point to defend W, because I think he was more than harmful; I’m just saying I don’t think Gore would have cured cancer and gave us jetpacks in his first 90 days, and I found the Zizek thing to be an odd coincidence for me.)

OK, so I was thinking about it, and here’s a partial list of a bunch of stupid nostalgia touchstones that keep coming up in my brain during k-hole falling:

  • Everyone’s forgotten those giant CRT monitors by companies like ViewSonic that were like three feet deep and could heat an entire office, and they did that degaussing wavy lines effect when you powered them on, and it took like three seconds for the screen to flicker on.
  • The Mac OS was horrible, and even though it was probably better than the clunkiness of Windows, it didn’t multitask well and always hung up when one program crapped out.  And the hardware was much worse, and you’d pay like $5000 for a decked-out Centris that had about as much RAM as a TV remote control has now, plus a hard drive that spun up and sounded like the turbocharger in a Japanese sports car.
  • (Aside: I was just googling to see how much a Mac IIfx cost, and found this weird story about someone who bought one from a scrapper on eBay, and it turned out to be Douglas Adams’ old machine.)
  • I used to read CNN.com constantly back in the late 90s, and I’m sure that now if you saw their 1998 site, it would look like a Commodore 64 game, but it was a clear portal to the world for me as I killed time in my office.
  • I didn’t use a phone book app or some cloud-based thing to sync my contacts, and this was before I got a Palm Pilot.  I’d keep a sheet of paper in my wallet and write down phone numbers on it.  I found one of these recently, almost torn apart at the creases.  What’s interesting is that few of the numbers had area codes, because I instantly knew that someone in Indiana was 219, 317, or 812 based on where they lived in the state.  And all of Washington, or at least the western part, was 206.
  • The Onion’s online edition only published like seven articles a week, and they were always on one day (Wednesday?) so you could stay up late the day before and keep reloading the page and you’d magically get the latest from them.  Now they publish about seven articles a second and I can’t follow it anymore.
  • I used to spend an incredible amount of time in a command line window, telnetted to a unix machine that held my mail and news.  For maybe ten years, I read my email in emacs in a central machine on a server, usually at speakeasy.org when they did that sort of thing.  This was when you used actual telnet, and not ssh, or at least I did.  It was one of the last throwbacks to my IU days, when I mostly did the same, back to Ultrix machines that held my unix mail.
  • I could tell what day of the week it was by what feature was on Suck.com, which I read religiously.
  • I actually used the CD player in the computer to play audio CDs.

I thought I had more of these but I don’t.  I’m almost done with WW too because it’s getting to the point where everyone quit over the salary dispute, so I will move on to another show.