No matter how we feel about 2020, it’s always nice to pause and reminisce about the past in order to excite our minds with nostalgia. Below are ten bits of “cool” from the glorious 1990s. Many of these entries conjure pure joy when thought of. This eclectic list includes some very fascinating backstories and curious histories for these pop culture gems. And at the end of the day, aren’t we ALL waiting for JNCOs to make a comeback?
10 Big Brother Magazine
The first issue was released in 1992 with a warning label and a cartoon picture of a teen pointing a revolver at his nose. The second issue was when Jackass creator Jeff Tremaine jumped on the insane Steve Rocco-led ride that would literally become a middle-finger to all of the corporate-run skater magazines out at the time (which were basically professionally shot shoe catalogues). It was crude, rude, in-your-face and disgusting. It was everything a 1990s skater kid wanted. From as young as eleven I loved Dave Carnie’s profanity-laced editorials.
Big Brother published literally ANYTHING. From articles on how to commit suicide, to how to use a straw to take coke, with a picture of a kid using one off a skateboard (it was pixie-stik dust IRL). The editorial team would also do bonkers stunts like package issues in cereal boxes and they were the first magazine to start attaching VHS cassettes and stickers. Big Brother was also the precursor to DIY media pre-internet, so it wasn’t just a bunch of pre-Jackass-fame idiots laughing at poop jokes.
POGs have a wild history that goes as far back as 400 years. The game has it’s roots in an Edo Period (1603-1868) game called Menko. Menko was originally played with circular paper pieces. The game travelled as such into Polynesia, but in Japan it evolved to use rectangular cards; which are largely believed to also be the forerunners to trading cards (fun fact: Nintendo started as a trading card company). Menko then became POGs when in 1991 a school counselor wanted the kids to play a non-violent game at recess, but instead of milk caps from the 1920s and 1930s, she used the caps from the fruit beverage company Passion Orange Guava.
This innocent act gave birth to what would become a worldwide craze. Soon the game had hopped the Pacific and caught the eye of a Southern Californian business man named Alan Ripinski who bought the rights to the lids and licensed out the idea to basically everyone and everything in the 1990s. You could find OJ Simpson mug-shot ones, every fast food and soda company had one, every hit movie coming to theaters got in on the game; 350 million were sold in 1994 alone. However, Ripinski would end up being a victim of his own success and by flooding the market, it also destroyed the game. By 1996 knock-offs were being made out of flashy plastic and 3D images, which just turned them into trinket collector items. The fad had come and gone in only a few years.
8 Goldeneye 64
This was the quintessential video game of the 1990s, period. Goldeneye 64 changed the way we gamed in first-person-shooters, as it buried Doom by breaking away from the fixed-rail format. Development began in 1995 and when the game was released on the Nintendo 64 system in August of 1997, no one expected it to be the success that it was. It was the first game to use all four controller plugs and is the godfather of multi-screen death matches (which was actually a last minute addition). The game is also argued to be the single most important first-person-shooter in gaming history, It is the third best-selling N64 game of all time, and has won a plethora of awards for its innovation. Many of us in a certain age-group have fond memories and I personally miss my GameShark loaded with all the cheat codes. Paintball mode with golden rocket launchers anyone?
Los Angeles-based JNCO (Judge None Choose One) was started by Moroccan-born and French raised brothers Haim Milo Revah and Jacques Yaakov in 1985. Using $200,000 of their life savings, the brothers wanted to shatter the norm when it came to denim and were heavily inspired by the baggy pants of urban Californian Latinos. Looking back it seems mad any of us wore these, but it all came down to an entire rebellious generation thinking that Levis, which were made popular by young boomers, were antiquated and uncool. The famous JNCO crown logo was designed by the very well respected L.A. street artist Joseph Montalvo, a.k.a. Nuke. Teens couldn’t get enough of the alien-like designs, colorful logo patches and eccentric colors.
The most popular leg width was the 23” design, but JNCO also made one that was 50” wide. The company started raking in the cash and by 1998 they made $186.9 million. The next year those sales slipped by half. By the 2000s the company crawled along with scattered sales from club kids and ravers. In 2018 the JNCO license was terminated, but then in 2019 they announced they were looking to make a comeback. Not sure if we need JNCOs in 2020, though.
6 Surge Soda
In the 1980s and 1990s Coca Cola and Pepsi were in an aggressive marketing war to become America’s absolute soda. These “Cola Wars” were merciless and produced some odd products while the two giants tried to one-up each other’s portfolios. Surge was introduced into the market in 1997 as a competitor to Pepsi’s Mountain Dew. Now Mountain Dew was technically created in 1940 with a revised formula in 1958 and the recipe was finally acquired by Pepsi Co. in 1964. Mountain dew had already been around for decades, so Coca Cola went all in. In an age of skater punks and MTV, Coke decided to create and market Surge as a “hardcore” cola. Coke scientists also decided to use maltodextrin, which is an enhanced energy-producing starch, instead of caffeine. Coke intended to launch Surge with a Super Bowl ad, but first they had to pay an undisclosed amount to a company that produced cow milking machines with the same “Surge” name. After only five years in 2003, Surge was discontinued with a few recent limited re-releases.
5 Sony Playstation 1
Released into the Japanese market in 1994 and then in the North American market in 1995, the Sony Playstation was actually supposed to be built in partnership with Nintendo. The split came around 1991 when Nintendo broke with Sony to work with Philips and it is rumored the similar grey and block-like design to the Super Nintendo system was done maliciously. The Playstation was also the first real gamble in 3D gaming and was considered a high risk venture. Interestingly, the black color of the disks was made for no reason other than to look cool. Crash Bandicoot was supposed to be a wombat originally. And the PS1 also had two failed mascots. The first was Polygon man who was a head made of shapes to show the contours of the 3D effects, and the second was an obscure white cat character named Toro which never made its way out of Japan.
4 McDonald’s Big N’ Tasty (or: The Failed War Against the Whopper)
Major corporations can be really nasty and overly competitive. Like Coke and Pepsi, McDonald’s and Burger King have always been bitter rivals despite having enough differences to technically be treated as separate entities with plenty of original and distinctive menu items to offer. That was not enough for McDonald’s, they needed to once and for all bury the Whopper and its fresh veggie toppings. First came the McDLT in 1984 offering fresh lettuce, tomato, pickles and onions in a ridiculously designed packaging (and hilarious ad wit future-Seinfeld’s “Jason Alexander” looking considerably more hirsute than today) which was a huge flop… then came the 1990s. In 1991 the McLean Deluxe came and went. Then the Arch Deluxe in 1996 which failed. Finally came the Big N’ Tasty which debuted in 1997. Eventually it was demoted to one of the original dollar menus. Finally replaced in 2003 for the double cheeseburger. It’s still occasionally referred to as the “Big N’ Nasty” as it is only available on some military bases and parts of the Middle East.
Pokemon, originally Pocket Monsters, was developed by Game Freak and Published by Nintendo in 1996. Game Freak was originally a mini-comic publication that interviewed local arcade owners for tips on beating certain games. Starting in a house, Game Freak now resides in an ambiguous carrot-shaped building in Setagaya, Tokyo. You won’t see an identifiable Pokemon sign or character anywhere until long after you pass through security. Game Freak started out very small and only won the trust of Nintendo in 1991 for developing a Yoshi puzzle game, then later on a Mario & Wario game that would never make it to North America. Originally, Pokemon was released as Green and Red versions, but it was redone for international release and changed to Red and Blue. Shockingly, Pokemon was actually supposed to end with the Gold and Silver versions. They should be thankful they didn’t as they would have foolishly missed out on billions… with a B.
At the time of its release in 1997, Titanic by James Cameron was the most expensive film ever made at $200 million. To date, it has grossed $2.195 billion only getting beat by Cameron’s other epic, Avatar. Titanic was a cultural phenomenon and it’s almost impossible to imagine anyone else in the roles of Rose and Jack, but things could have turned out much differently if Matthew McConaughey and Gwyneth Paltrow had been picked instead. They were first choice for the parts but a relatively unknown Kate Winslet sent Cameron a bouquet of roses apparently saying “Roses from your Rose” which got her the audition and the part. Leo was allegedly cranky on set and sick of Cameron’s giant set pieces and massive pool. Film is a hard business and the 14-hour days got to him on multiple occasions. Leo even asked Kathy Bates in-between takes which utensil he should lobotomize himself with (these days, thanks to his political outbursts, I’m sure many people would happily suggest something appropriate). Good things did happen on set for Baby Leo. When Winslet knew Leo would need to see her in the nude, she broke the ice and flashed him before they shot their scene. Enya was actually supposed to score the soundtrack, not Celine Dion. The cost of the movie was more expensive than the Titanic in real-life with inflation ($200 million > $150 million). And the strangest thing happened on the last night of shooting. On location in Nova Scotia, someone drugged the chowder being served to the cast and crew with PCP (angel dust). Some 80 people needed to be rushed to the hospital for hallucinations.
1 The O.J. Simpson Trial
The People of The State of California v. Orenthal James Simpson was THE court case of the 1990s and was the precursor to live true-crime events unfolding in spectacular media-frenzy fashion. Charged with the murder of his wife, Nicole Brown, O.J. got help before his arrest from Kim Kardashian’s father, Robert Kardashian (who was also on his defense team and a very close friend). O.J. literally almost shot himself in the head in Kim’s bedroom before Robert talked him out of it. Then came the famous car chase. The white Bronco used in the live-action extravaganza is now housed in a crime museum in Tennessee, and while the events were unfolding, the country came to complete halt. Domino’s pizza orders skyrocketed as people were glued to their televisions. The entire world could not look away. O.J. was famously acquitted and one of the prosecutors, Marcia Clark, even stated that the trial and verdict ruined her life despite hitting it big with a best-selling book about the events. The most bonkers fact of them all is that when O.J. was found not guilty, he threw a massive party he organized himself and it was so rowdy the police needed to shut it down. Strange decade . . . but who wouldn’t love to be back there . . . even if just for a day?