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In Preparation for 'High School Reunion': A Look Back at 1992by Brian James -- 01/04/2003
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I'm excited to be covering the new show, High School Reunion, for a lot of reasons!
The show, which airs on WB Sunday nights at 9/8 Central beginning January 5, will be reuniting seventeen students (none of whom know which other classmates will be attending) from the Class of 1992 of Oak Park River Forest High School in suburban Chicago. I grew up in Downers Grove, about twenty miles southwest of Oak Park and River Forest, and while I would have been in Downers Grove South High's Class of 1990 had I graduated (the whole story of my high school experience is covered in detail in my Reality High Test Results column on Shii Ann's boot), 1992 was probably the most pivotal year of my life. So not only did I already feel a strong connection on those levels, but then it turns out my best friend of twelve years not only graduated from Oak Park River Forest in 1990 and knew some of these people firsthand, but worked on the production of the show itself in L.A.! Needless to say, I have a whole Six Degrees of Separation vibe about this show before it even starts!
But before we get into the show itself in a separate article, grab your flannel and Doc Martens, throw on Nirvana's Nevermind, and join me on a fond look back at 1992!
One of the most significant things I learned in my History of the 1960s class in college is that culturally, decades don't begin and end neatly with years ending in "0" and "9"; rather, they're shaped by defining events. Thus, to fully understand the sixties, we studied 1946-1974, from the beginning of the postwar baby boom through Watergate. While there certainly had been some significant events earlier in the nineties - the Gulf War in early 1991 being the most obvious - culturally, we were kind of adrift and looking for a new focus and identity until November 1991. The one-two-three punch of the explosion of Nirvana's Nevermind, Pearl Jam's Ten, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Blood Sugar Sex Magik (as well as to some extent U2's Achtung Baby) onto the charts and into the public consciousness heralded the rise of grunge and alternative music, providing a welcome and much-needed antidote to the bland likes of Paula Abdul, Wilson Phillips, Amy Grant, and New Kids on the Block that had a stranglehold on the charts for the past three years. It was my generation's equivalent of the Beatles appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show and marked the true beginning of the '90s, making 1992 the first full year of the new decade.
In March, at the age of 19, I moved out on my own for the first time into a small studio apartment near Belmont and Broadway in the heart of the Lakeview area of Chicago. It was an extremely diverse neighborhood that encompassed the main gay strip of Halsted Street, a punk scene centering around the intersection of Belmont and Clark, and the legendary home of the Cubs, Wrigley Field. (Punks, gays, and sports fanatics all within a few blocks of each other and all peacefully coexisting for the most part - really, could you ask for anything more?) It's a lot more yuppified and overpriced now, and even then the cutting edge torch was in the process of passing to Wicker Park, but in 1992 it was still the center of a lot that was happening in the city. It breaks my heart to think that places like the Avalon, Cafe Voltaire, Vortex, and the original homes of Medusa's and the Annoyance Theatre are now lofts, tanning salons, and clothing boutiques, but in 1992 they were still alive and thriving. The Annoyance in particular, home of The Real Live Brady Bunch and such edgy latenight fare as Co-Ed Prison Sluts and Tippi, Portrait of a Virgin: An Afterschool Special Gone Bad, became my new home away from home as it was just across the alley; I went to virtually every performance and took all their levels of improv classes. It was one of many things that had a profound influence on me and my sensibilities that year.
Shortly after I moved, the Rodney King-related race riots broke out in L.A. I watched them on TV, quite saddened in that earnest "can't we all just get along?" way unique to naive 19-year-old liberal college students.
Meanwhile, I anxiously awaited each issue of Entertainment Weekly and Details, feeling they were "my" magazines. One of the most influential books that year was Douglas Coupland's Generation X, whose title got hijacked by the media as a label for my generation. (It's telling that even though I remember reading and enjoying it, ten years later I only have a vague memory of what the book itself was about - I only remember there were pseudo-glossary terms on the side of the pages.) Suddenly there were a whole spate of articles on who "we" were, what "we" thought, what "our" tastes were, and how advertisers were trying to reach out to us with a series of ill-fated ads. What they failed to take into account was that we were savvy enough to sense blatant media manipulation and stayed away in droves - in fact, most Gen-Xers loathed being called "Gen-Xers." But for better or for worse, "Generation X" and "slacker" soon followed "grunge" and "alternative" into the public lexicon.1 2 3 4 Next-->
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