Monday, May 27, 2013

The '90s: A Look Back

1989, first edition, from Avon
Edited by Tony Hendra & Peter Elbling
(with many contributors, including George Carlin, Bill Murray, Penn & Teller, Bob Saget, and Mike Wallace)
The '90s: A Look Back
Bought newish for $12.95
Worn paperback

While I used to enjoy the '80s "look back" more than I now do, I'd always seen this as a lesser follow-up, so I was curious to see if it'd improved over time, or at least not declined as much as its predecessor.  Well, I gave a C+ to the first book.  Not only doesn't this have the thorough approach of the '80s book, but there are times when it's not merely unfunny but actually nonfunny or even anti-funny, as if deliberately not amusing the reader.  At other times, the writers seem to think that merely referring to something will be an automatic laugh.  For instance, while it's untrue that jokes about bestiality are never funny, it's also untrue that they're always funny.  The section on sex with small mammals could've worked (in a sick way) if the contributor were wittier.  On the other hand, even in my early 20s I was baffled by why the book closes out with a totally gratuitous insult to "women's writing," one that probably would amuse only the most rabid misogynist and seems to only serve the purpose of insulting half the readers.

That said, I thought Bob Saget's essay as a stay-at-home father/grandfather, nursing his 10-year-old daughter's baby, was kind of funny.  (Particularly when you remember that he'd just started an eight-year run on Full House.)  Jokes can be both fine and politically incorrect if they're well (or at least competently) done.  When I see a photoshopped (or '80s equivalent) nude Marilyn Quayle, I'm not sure how to take it, especially as it's part of their Dragon Lady view of 1990s world leaders.  It definitely doesn't work to have jokes about both the homeless (including the Reagans) and the second-homeless, because it gives an inconsistent view of the American economy in this fictitious decade.  The '80s book gave more of a sense of continuity.

As for how this stacks up to the "real" 1990s (and let's face it, they did feel a bit surreal), the parts on China and Russia (Raisa's coup aside) were closest to reality, as those countries ceased to be Communist.  On the other hand, King Chuck the Equal didn't exactly become ruler after Thatcher beheaded Elizabeth II.

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