A version of this article was previously published on Kate Ferguson’s blog
There are some distinct moments in pop-culture and entertainment that impacted my life. I can’t say how small or large the effects these moments really had on me, but I still think about them, so that seems important enough to be borderline life-changing.
Here are some of those 1990’s pop-culture moments, in no particular order.
SALT-N-PEPA’S ‘VERY NECESSARY’
The 1993 Salt-N-Pepa album ‘Very Necessary‘ was the first cassette tape I ever owned, which in and of itself was a monumental moment.
However, the nature of that tape was unlike anything I’d ever heard in my eight years of life. The sexual references ran rampant and I was both shocked and thrilled to discover that I knew what all the innuendos meant.
I felt let in on something. Connected to an outside world where women were allowed to say what they felt like saying and then on top of that – were celebrated for it.
‘THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS’
Michael Mann’s 1992 film ‘The Last of the Mohicans’ sparked my first existential crisis. Prepare for a spoiler alert in case you still have the film on your queue. There is a scene in the film where a young woman chooses to jump off a cliff to end her life rather than stay with a dude who might kill her anyway. It’s a little more complex than that, but the point is that she defiantly steps off the cliff as a way to stay in control of her life – and death. OMG. My eight-year-old brain about near exploded.
I had probably not given much thought to the concept of suicide up until that point in life (let’s hope), but I could not stop thinking about that scene. I still think about it, but for a period of time, it totally consumed me. I’d sit in the bathtub and consider this whole situation. She was young. She was over. People had choices. Women could defy men in dangerous ways. It was all very alarming, powerful, and moving.
It’s also a beautifully shot scene, which in retrospect, is probably where at least a bit of my interest came from. I did grow up with a desire to be a filmmaker, after all. But a chunk of my interest was definitely because I’d never seen a girl jump off a f-ing cliff before. Thanks Mann.
WARNING. This is the scene:
ACE OF BASE “THE SIGN”
The first time I heard Ace of Base was on a field trip van, sometime around 1993. We were driving from Piedmont to San Francisco to go to the Sanrio store, where my under ten-year-old self bought a Keroppi phone book. One of the (probably teenaged) adults on staff said something to me like “I bet you’re so popular you’ll fill that whole thing up with phone numbers.” Huh, I thought. Why?
But the more monumental occurrence was discovering Ace of Base, and most specifically the song “All That She Wants.” It took every ounce of my shy being to call out across the van and ask what tape was being played. Once I did, I wrote down the answer in my brand new Keroppi address book…except I heard it the band name as “Ism base,” so when my dad later took me to some record stores in search of my dream album it took a minute for anyone to figure out what I was looking for.
Looking back this sounds adorable. I was very short at the time and tiny children with passion are adorable. But this was so serious and it felt so out of my comfort zone to need something so much that I had to ask for help getting it.
Eventually, we found Ace of Base, and over time I owned multiple cassettes and CDs of the same album. (Shoutout to whoever figured that out for me.)
Now, the tape album cover had two of the four band members on the front and two on the back, which meant I had no idea who the lead singer was. I actually thought it was a guy for a long time despite the fact that the girls are on the front of the tape. I don’t think that’s an important part of the story per se, just saying.
BRITNEY SPEARS’ BOD
I know that this reference is a bit odd because it’s still not very inclusive of most body types, but that just goes to show you how far we’ve come in body positivity since I was a kid.
Back in 1999 we were just transitioning out of the heroin chic obsession. This new pop star named Britney Spears arrived on the scene and to me, she had one of the more normal, relatable body shapes I’d ever seen on a magazine cover of a girl around my age. She was more like a normal cute girl than the supermodels of that era. More like me!
I recall exclaiming this discovery at a grocery store and being hushed about it because it was still shameful to discuss our bodies and how we felt about bodies, particularly sexualized bodies, even though all we did was focus on bodies? I don’t know. I didn’t make the rules, I just lived through them.
KURT COBAIN’S PASSING
It wasn’t so much that I was a huge Nirvana fan when I was nine, but the timing of Kurt Cobain’s death that really made an impact on me. It happened right when I arrived in Los Angeles, after having traveled alone to visit my big brother Sacha. Sacha, who was 19 or 20 at the time, was a Nirvana fan and I saw how experiential this was for him.
We sat vigil and watched MTV while eating sour straws out of a bucket from Costco. Maybe Sacha even took out his guitar and strummed some tunes. (In my mind the guitar strumming happened but I was nine and memories are unreliable so I’ll confirm with him before saying for sure.)
I had already known at this point that I wanted to move to L.A. when I grew up, but this trip really solidified it for me. And yes that Kurt was in Seattle but it was the entertainment industry connection and being around people that really cared about music that affected me.
I felt things that had nothing to do with me. There were things to observe. Art to be made. A reason to care about stuff. I felt connected. Sacha lived not far from where I live now, 26 years later.
BILLY RAY CYRUS “ACHY BREAKY HEART”
Why yes, I was living in a country town the first time I first heard Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart.” A friend and I were probably eight or so, sitting in the car while her mom ran in to do an errand of some sort, somewhere. She left us the keys and the radio playing, as one does. (Did? Do people still leave their kids in cars?)
Anyway, that jam was one of the catchier things I’d ever heard and politely asked if we might listen to it again. But the answer was no, because it was the radio. You had to be patient with the radio.
‘ADVENTURES OF THE WILDERNESS FAMILY’
‘Adventures of the Wilderness Family’ was first released in 1975, and it’s one of the first movies I remember watching when I came around in the ’80s. What’s particularly notable about this…is that it’s the movie that first made me want to make movies. That’s right. My first filmmaking inspiration.
The movie is about a family that leaves L.A. to live in the wilderness, and at the beginning of the film, there’s a scene where they drive out of the city on their way to adventure. (And to trouble, not to spoil anything.)
What struck me about that scene was the music playing as their car drove away. I jumped up, paused the VCR, and started running around like a baby chicken trying to find someone who could answer my burning question…do those people that are in the movie, hear that music that is playing? I’m sure I did an awful job of articulating it at the time, but I really wanted to know if the music was added in post or if the actors could hear it.
All it once it hit me that there were people somewhere making these movies that I was enjoying somewhere else. I wanted to go to wherever they were making the movies, immediately. Except I was like three years old so I had to wait. Ugh. The patience.
Great movie, BTW.
I could, and probably will dedicate an entire other blog post to the internet. That’s one massive category within pop-culture.
The first aspect of the internet that really caught my attention was the inclusion of URL’s on advertisements in let’s say, 1996? I’m the type of person who reads every single word on every cereal box, shampoo bottle, and magazine page over and over and over again until someone throws it away. I’ve been studying words and why they’re used in every format for as long as I can remember. So naturally, I noticed when there was something new being added to magazine ads. A mysterious “www” with a string of text was suddenly popping up with some regularity. I took note of this pattern change. And by taking note, I literally mean, I took notes. I started writing all of them down.
I waved this list around and tried to convince everyone that something important was happening – perhaps we might figure out what it is and get involved. It would be two more years before we had a computer at home, and maybe eight years before I used a computer for anything besides doing research and downloading music. If you would have told me then that I would someday have URL’s of my own where I’d be free to discuss such things, I would have said…great, let’s get on with it. I’m ready.