In 1995 Kevin Smith released a movie in theaters called Mallrats. The movie celebrated the 90’s consumer youth culture by spending the majority of the film following two homebodies just wander around their local mall looking for things to do in an attempt to forget about their lady troubles.
When I was a teenager we spent most of our free time shopping at the mall. Between visiting the record store (Sam Goody), to checking out the local hip-hop shop where we picked up our B-Boy gear, underground break dancing videos as well as those mix tapes that every b-boy had to jam to. There were two places I made it a point to visit no matter what each trip I made to the mall. The first, obviously, was the video arcade. If I had quarters to burn they were going into whichever flashing quarter munching hit of the day was. My second stop was the world-famous food court. You had to fuel up with some chili cheese fries and a big gulp of sugar-filled sludge before you could head out on your shopping spree.
One of my favorite moments in the film was when the two were arguing over what constitutes being a part of the food court. Fortunately, the experience of sitting in a dark lit video arcade munching those chili covered french fries dripping with melted cheese was not just a staple of the massive mall shopping. We also had a local video arcade that also did us the favor of clogging our youth arteries with greasy carbohydrate over load while preparing us for our later in life diabetes as we chugged all those overly sweetened carbonated beverages they sold. Some of my favorite memories were setting my chili fries on the side of a Mortal Kombat cabinet while I dumped quarter after quarter into that machine that stole all of my allowance for many years.
Going beyond the food court at the mall and the video arcade, I also discovered how my friends and I enjoyed tremendously hanging out at snack bars, the bowling alley, or even the skating rink, always immediately going straight to the guy selling the french fries covered in Obamacare bait. Good times. As I look back I wonder though, why were the teenagers of the 90’s drawn to dark, noisy places that served the sloppiest of foods. Sure you could get more than just fries, you could often get deep fried onion rings, giant sized soft pretzels, a plate of nacho chips covered in cheese and jalapenos and black olives, or if you were lazy and in a hurry just grab a ready made slice of pepperoni pizza. The food was always junk, the games were always the same games we had at home on our Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis game consoles, and the music was the same playlist from every MTV Party To Go cd your older sibling gave you as a hand me down when they moved on to the grunge rock of the era.
One of the things that I reminisce fondly was sitting at a table with a few friends just chatting about the coolest new music video we watched, asking if they caught the latest Snick skit on All That or Kennan and Kel, or hell there were days when our entire conversation was just repeating our favorite Boy Meets World quotes to 2Pac beats.
When I try to brag about how great the 80’s were followed by how dull the 90’s became I often forget that despite the flat “who cares” attitude coming from the crybaby rock, or the lazy, no effort talent-less hacks sitting on a couch arguing over who banged who on MTV’s The Real World, I often forget it was the decade of my coming of age. The 90’s had some great entertainment, if you were over the age of 25 and had already gone off to college, started your career and were gearing up to get your family off the ground. But if you were a teenager, pre-teen or somewhere in-between, chances are your best, fondest memories of the era were the junk food you and your friends scarfed down as you desperately sought anything that was either creative, original, or more entertaining than 2 poorly animated social delinquents sitting on a couch riffing on bad hair metal music videos. I don’t look back on the decade with rose tinted glasses, I admittedly recognize the moments that I hold dear because I was a teenager or the friends I was with making those memories, yet I think when your fondest memories are the toxic waste we shoveled into our mouths just to have some sense of joy when the entire youth culture market was telling us how much life sucked and we just needed to deal with it.
That’s why I say, next time your in the mood to revisit the 90’s do it right. Pop open a bottle of ice cold Mountain Dew, rip open a bag of Doritos, pour some melted nacho cheese over the top, pop in the Mallrats DVD and let Jay and Silent Bob remind you what the decade really was, not the idealized fantasy we often pretend it was.