x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Emirati in New York: The dumb, delightful Nineties

Fatima al Shamsi reminisces about her childhood during the 1990s, when video games were just games and gangsta rap scared the authorities.

Matt Carr
Matt Carr

"Biba's back in town!" I screamed around the apartment. One of my best friends from school was visiting her family from Vancouver. Among all the things about seeing an old friend that I love, falling back into the routine is my favourite. Even though we've seen each other only in small doses since graduating, when we reunite we always tend to revert to the age of 16 despite now being in our early twenties.

So we immediately fell into our usual routine - sipping tea and watching The Cosby Show and The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air reruns.

I grew up in Paris during the early Nineties when Fresh Prince was a big hit, and I spent most of my time watching that show along with dubbed-into-French Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z cartoons. Growing up in Dakar, my friend grew up watching Fresh Prince as well. So while we indulged this past week in three-hour marathons of shows made almost two decades ago, I daydreamed about floating back to the Nineties.

My friend and I didn't grow up together, but thanks to globalisation we can both reminisce about gangsta rap; boy bands; 16-year-old blonde, hip-shaking pop starlets; and the highlights of rhythm and blues. While fashion - whether in music or clothing - is cyclical, with trends going back and forth, the Nineties always seemed like a period people would rather forget. Jeans had the most unflattering cuts, midriff-bearing tops were "in" even for those with "muffin tops", scrunchies were universally accepted and parachute pants that could clothe a family of five were ubiquitous.

While we've already had plenty of resurgences of Eighties boldness, Sixties mod and all the glamour and elegance of the Fifties, no one wants to go back to overalls and chain wallets. Why not? I ask myself. We can make the Nineties cool again.

Although the Nineties are seen as a failure compared to all other decades, I spent my childhood then, and I hold the time dear to my soul compared to the pretentious, rehashed past we seem to be living in now.

I'd like to see the "Girrrl Power" movement revived, I want gangsta rap to scare the authorities again, and I want cartridge-based video games in my sitting room. While I think Rock Band is the best invention since green-tea ice cream, there is nothing like the experience of blowing into your game cartridge and console to make them work again. As video games become more complex as well as more realistic, I long for Duck Hunt and Mario Kart 64, for a time when games were just games. I'd happily throw away my iPhone so that no one would expect me to be available 24/7.

While I appreciate and take advantage of modern technological advances, time actually spent together as opposed to communicating through devices is close to non-existent these days.

While the shops are already moving on to the next trend (hello, Seventies hippies), what I like about NYC is that no matter what, you can still find what you're looking for. Daily, while walking from one neighbourhood to another, it's not hard to spot hipsters, punks, metalheads and preppy kids. The lines are much more blurred nowadays, but if you're looking for something you'll probably find it.

Maybe it's just a part of getting older, or perhaps today's pop culture doesn't appeal to me, but I'm glad I have a friend to join me in reminiscing on the not so distant past when music was so bad it was good, and wholesome television shows were not a rarity.