19 Things That Perfectly Sum Up The ’90s

'90s in a nutshell.

Noah Henryby Noah Henry

When you think of the ’90s, you probably think about Nirvana, Nintendo and “Good Burger.” But there are hundreds of fads, knickknacks and doodads that represent that colorful era. These are the ones that stand out the most.

19 Things That Perfectly Sum Up The ’90s

1. The Oregon Trail

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We got our thrills hunting bison, killing rabbits and tending to our oxen. It was a blast until you succumbed to dysentery. By then, it was game over. “The Oregon Trail” has been around since 1974 in various incarnations. The creators of the game hit the big time when Macintosh brought us the Classic Edition in 1990. Much like the Twitter-obsessed tech monkeys we’ve become today, young millennials and Generation Xers stayed glued to that epic 19th century experience for countless hours.

2. AIM

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The only people who still use AIM are employees who shoot the shit with each other while pretending to work. Everyone else is a Perverted Justice decoy or victim of Chris Hanson. AOL Instant Messenger was the first social media. You weren’t cool unless you had it. So everyone had it. It was, hands down, the best way to pick up chicks in middle school. Although the sound of a dial-up connection still haunts people who remember it, that momentary displeasure went away right as you were typing “ASL?”

3. Teen idols pretending to be bad boys when they’re not really

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NSYNC. 98 Degrees. Backstreet Boys. Every album cover featured a set of manicured dudes with hair quaffed, broodingly glancing your way. In retrospect they were about as manly as Justin Bieber riding a pink unicorn into a rainbow, but it’s the effort that counts.

4. Shock jocks

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After Howard Stern came into prominence during the ’80s, a wave of shock jockery hit the air. Even terrestrial radio got edgy. Yes, once upon a time your local station had girls doing weird things with ping pong balls. With the ’90s came Opie & Anthony, Ron & Fez, and other acts aimed at capturing a piece of that male demographic. But it wouldn’t last. As the FCC ramped up its efforts to silence anything remotely crude, coupled with crackdowns by executives worried about advertising revenue, the era of the shock jock faded. A mass exodus to Sirius XM and Web podcasts was the result.

5. Investing in silliness such as Beanie Babies, Pogs and other GOTTA-HAVE-EM-ALLS

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‘Twas a trend that rocked suburbia for a number of years, only to turn into collector’s items once the Internet killed playtime. Whoever had the most Pogs, Pokemon cards or Beanie Babies was the coolest kid on the block.

6. Single-star comedy movies

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After Chris Farley died, comedy flicks morphed into something else entirely. We used to go to the movies to see Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler and Eddie Murphy light up the silver screen as centerpieces. Now, we can expect an array of ensemble players spouting off seemingly improvised dialogue. And that’s fine. But, boy, do I miss Steve Martin, Bill Murray, John Candy and yes, even David Spade.

7. The friendship of SmarterChild

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He would listen, write back and always be up for a bit of gentle ribbing.

Also: 15 ’90s Television Characters And How Old They’d Be Right Now

8. JOLT Cola

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JOLT was the 5-hour ENERGY of the ’90s. It turned kids into crack-addled midgets running around and mothers into nervous wrecks. In 2009, the company that came out with JOLT — Wet Planet Beverages — filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

9. Video stores

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Mark my words — one day you’ll be telling your grandson, “You know, when I was a kid, we used to have to drive FIVE MILES to rent a movie.”

10. Mel Gibson, “Sexiest Man Alive”

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Mel Gibson was literally “What Women Want.” And then, a few years later, he was blacklisted by Hollywood for getting all Hitlery. But during this glorious decade, he was the toast of audiences everywhere for his classic brand of garish manliness. It’s too bad he said that thing about that cop’s nose and screamed at his Russian wife via answering machine, because Braveheart and Lethal Weapon showed kids of the ’90s how to be men.

11. Alternative rock

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The day Nirvana came out with “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” a wave of four-chord dreamers thought, “Hey, it really is possible.” The result: Third Eye Blind, No Doubt, Blink 182, Sublime, Everclear, Marcy Playground, Weezer, The Smashing Pumpkins, Green Day, Counting Crows, Garbage, Rage Against the Machine, Fastball, Smash Mouth, The Goo Goo Dolls. Then Napster happened. As Eric Victorino of The Limousines puts it, “Internet killed the video star.” Alternative rock went the way of hair bands and now we’re stuck with Azalea Banks.

12. Horror flicks with the cast looking super startled on the cover

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Whenever a movie starred five people with a serial killer on the loose, odds are the movie poster featured each of them in black looking scared. I don’t know why; that’s just the way it was.

13. R.L. Stine

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I will always remember my palms sweating while reading about Slappy the living dummy. Much like Pogs and Pokemon, everyone collected Goosebumps. It was the Harry Potter series of the previous decade.

Also: 9 Of The Hardest Partying ’90s Athletes

14. Jazz cups

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Why the hell was this design so famous?

15. Celebrity Deathmatch

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Celebrity Deathmatch marked the end of an era for MTV. Running from 1998 to 2002, it featured celebrities beating the shit out of each other in claymation. Here’s Michael Jackson vs. Madonna if you need a refresher course. MTV2 recently announced there would be a revival — “reimagined for a world of social media and hourly Twitter wars,” of course.

16. Chicks wearing scrunchies and chokers; dudes wearing flannel and baggy jeans

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Let me rattle off a few more: One-strap overalls, skate tees, bleached hair, wallet chains, Skechers, Airwalks, pagers, flat tops, Umbro, sweaters tied around the waist, crimped hair, No Fear, mood rings, fanny packs, bowl cuts and slap bracelets. Basically anything that the Fresh Prince or Cher Horowitz wore.

17. Dunkaroos

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Remember this sugary goodness in your mouth?

18. The Macarena

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It recently came to light that “Macarena” was really about a girl who cheats with two dudes on her soldier boyfriend while he’s away. But that didn’t stop it from becoming an international hit in 1994. It spent 14 weeks on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 at No. 1, and everyone in the nation from churchgoers to party animals gyrated their hips in unity.

19. Bill Clinton

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A question for the readers: Would he have had the same presidency if the Internet were around to keep him in check?

Also: How To Be A Bully In Every ’90s Movie Ever Made