Focus: The decade that wasn't

We've had the Seventies revival, and we've had the Eighties revival. But what will be revived when it's the turn of the Nineties?
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Indy Lifestyle Online
The bowel movements of popular culture are hard to anticipate. Who could have predicted the triumphant regurgitation of blue eye shadow and the platform shoe? The latter has been so popular that even its association with Gary Glitter has not discouraged thousands of teenage girls from letting their arches fall in style. Who could have guessed that Fred Dinage of How! fame would get his own BBC1 lunchtime quiz show, or that ropey Seventies comic Mike Reid would land a part on EastEnders and reinvent himself as the the Pringle-sweatered bergeezer of the popular imagination?

We've had the Seventies revival (big collars, nylon shirts, Boogie Nights, Soho boho chic), and we're currently having a half-hearted attempt at an Eighties revival (Culture Club, Duran Duran, Julie Burchill, Farah pants). So it stands to reason that some of the contemporary cultural stuff that surrounds us will eventually be repackaged for consumption by a 21st-century public. But with the Glitter, Dinage and Reid examples in mind, it's difficult to predict confidently which bits of Nineties pop culture will eventually be recycled, and which will plop into the scrag bucket of history - where they'll join best-forgotten Eighties phenomena like Kajagoogoo, Deeley Boppers, ra-ra skirts, Paul Squires and Dollar.

But as we enter the last year of the Nineties, a few obvious contenders for oblivion present themselves. Some have been chucked out already, some are on the turn, others are so unpalatable that you know they can't last. So farewell, then, the Andre Agassi-style Do-Rag, that bandana-type thing modelled on the headgear of the LA Bloods. RIP the Dolce & Gabbana satin choker, beloved of all Stringfellows girls circa 1993. Arrivederci Aqua, snowboarding, Carol Smillie and Robson Green. Ditto Johnny Vaughan - and anyone with a Ben Sherman checked shirt and a put-on Cockney accent. Bye- bye breast implants. So long, Luke Perry sideburns, Nick Hornby novels, Macaulay Culkin and Riverdance.

WHAT else can be ruled out of the comeback stakes? Needless to say, anything that's been given the Cool Britannia kite-mark, or been picked to go in the Millennium Dome will never be seen again after the year 2000. You can wave goodbye to gun-toting archaeologist Lara Croft, and those translucent citrus-coloured Terence Conran salad bowls. No one will want to touch them after a celebrity endorsement from Peter Mandelson. And just like Mr Mandelson himself, everything that now seems glamorously New Labour will be chucked out with the old century. Don't expect anyone to be interested in what Ruth Rogers can do with Swiss chard beyond next 1 January. River Cafe cuisine will seem as grimly passe as Mary Berry's Victoria sponge cake.

It's harder, however, to be quite so brutal about some of those contemporary objects, events and people which are more obviously attractive, but still have the slightly mournful air of ephemerality about them. Sushi on a conveyor belt, for instance. It would be nice to think that those hypnotic train-sets of tuna nigiri weren't going to be packed away forever. Or those impossibly chunky yellow G-Shock watches (only slight less enormous than a Blake's Seven teleportation bracelet). And what about those kids' Nike trainers with kinetically-powered lights in the heels? They'll definitely go out of fashion, and they may be too much of their times to be considered good candidates for reassessment next century.

Similarly, how does one tell whether comedy acts such as Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer or Harry Hill will ever be rediscovered by future generations. You can keep your fingers crossed that their cheerful surrealism might give them the staying power of The Goon Show or Monty Python, but I suspect that their over-reliance on jokes about minor celebrities will soon make their material seem as thin and incomprehensible as - for instance - jokes from It's That Man Again seem today. It really doesn't seem very amusing at all now, but the catchphrase "Can I do you now, Sir?" once made the entire nation weep with laughter (but then there was a war on, I suppose). Will Harry Hill's popcorn effigy of Rory McGrath make people titter in 2005? A better bet would be the Teletubbies, who will surely enjoy the patronage of a new generation of children: their hypnotic repetitions, slow pace and lack of topical reference will enable them to age more gracefully than other, more frenetically contemporary children's programmes.

Over the past few weeks, Duran Duran and Culture Club - the subject of a hundred Look-In and Smash Hits covers in the early Eighties - have made a respectable return to public attention. But many of today's bands are too focused on flashy dance routines to make a middle-aged comeback possible. Duran Duran were wise to concentrate on producing images of themselves staring moodily into the middle distance - on yachts, on beaches, in the cobbled squares of Revolutionary France. Labouring under the influence of the Gary Numan window-dummy style of pop posturing, their videos left sudden movements to female mud-wrestlers, men dressed in feathery lizard costumes, and ladies named Rio dancing in the sand. When Nineties boy bands hit their forties, they'll be too fat and creaky to attempt any formation breakdancing. Many of today's film stars are in the same sort of trouble. In 20 years' time, Leonardo DiCaprio will still be as tiny as he is today. Only he'll be fortysomething, and suitable solely for those parts that these days go to Mickey Rooney.

The older and more static Nineties stars are now, the more chance they stand of successfully reviving their careers in a decade or so. Robbie Williams has cut the back-flips from his act, and the smart decision to give the title "Millennium" to one of his recent hits has ensured that he'll get airplay in the first few months of 2000. Once he hits the andropause, he even stands a chance of reinventing himself as a Tony Bennett-type crooner. The Spice Girls are likely to survive to some degree precisely because they weren't teenagers at the height of their fame in 1997. They also had the good fortune to produce a piece of work that may well emerge as one of the quintessential documents of Nineties popular culture.

MUCH of what you need to know about our decade is there somewhere in Spice World the Movie. It's derivative, it's corny, it's a bit cheap-looking, but as a Po-Mo experience, it's hard to beat for sly wit and dizzying self-referentiality. It offers an acute analysis of manufactured pop, the nature of celebrity, press intrusiveness and the fickleness of public taste. And, in its own Day-glo way, its film-within-a-film-within-a-film structure is as multilayered and complex as Fellini's 81/2.

However, the Nineties will be a more difficult decade to revive because the idea of revival itself has become ironic. People wear those Jarvis Cocker plastic specs because their fashionableness is based on a gag about their nerdy associations. Will this joke be funny twice? It's difficult to distinguish between the trends that are genuinely of our own time, and those that have simply re-emerged from the post-modern mulch.

The other Saturday I turned on the TV and discovered Dale Winton sharing his show with Noddy Holder, Anthea Redfern and the Human League. And are jelly shoes, for instance, bona fide Nineties fashion accessories or retro rehashes of something else? Jean Baudrillard famously suggested that the Gulf War did not take place, except as a media event. This might also be a useful way of looking at the identity-crisis of the current decade. While the Fifties were rocking, the Sixties were swinging, the Seventies were the decade of the "Me" generation and the Eighties were a decade of greed and conspicuous consumption, the Nineties are struggling to come up with a characteristic tag.

Earlier this year, Associated Press canvassed a high-profile focus group on this issue. Ed Koch, Mayor of New York came up with "The Computer Decade". An eminent university professor suggested "The 15 Minutes of Fame Decade". Neither will ever catch on. And if we don't know what the Nineties stand for, how will we know if they ever come back?

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