March 1999
s m u g
by Joe Procopio


Happy is the new black. I can't pinpoint exactly when this was agreed to. For that matter, I'm not even sure I was consulted. I'm still digging through my e-mail after a failed three-week thesis involving the opacity of liquor and its corresponding effects on... something or other. I do remember an RFP being delivered to my door, one that outlined the need and specifications for a brand-spanking-new Pop-Culture trend. I also found something that I threw together for a bid, but in hindsight it was really just an executive overview. Well, to be specific, it was a cocktail napkin with the words "More funky shoes!" scrawled across it, accompanied by a few pages torn out of the 1994 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

Much to my chagrin, I've been informed that the project went to a firm led by a former sports anchor from Austin, and their solution was fiendishly clever. The gist of their proposal was that we all smile a little bit more when we get our fifteen minutes. If you're hip, you should be happy. Just like that.

The populi major hasn't experienced an old-fashioned, universal, monolithic, revenue generating, capital "T" Trend since Kurt, Kris, and Dave dropped the courageous but ultimately awful In Utero. It wasn't long before flannel returned to its primary function, explicitly, warmth when its cold, and all the bands either went away or released their own 2 Legit 2 Quit.

However, while disco tripped into punk and punk blended into new wave/hip-hop and so on, grunge, on the other hand, sort of imploded into, well, nothing.

Perhaps this was because grunge devolved into such a sham that we still find ourselves at a point where nobody feels like picking up the pieces. That's my theory anyway, that the more all-encompassing a Trend, the uglier the outcome when it is invariably twisted and whored into a quick buck for the suits. Bush? Way fakey. Thus, today, every single time I type the word "grunge," I find it to be a conscious editorial decision. Same with "grrl."

In the meantime, as is par when confronting a gap in hipster street, we went a little revival-crazy. The seventies still rears its fashionably ugly head while VH1, the progenitors of most decade-mania, is simply mad about the where-are-they-now crowd from the eighties. But in the eighties we had the Police and now we have Sting. What's that all about?

By the way, if we re-do the sixties again, I quit.

Another phenomenon popping up lately has been an amalgam of mini-trends, carried out ambitiously by an acute but fiendishly loyal cadre. I've always been extremely leery of this kind of faction spawning semi-movement, as it seems less like an exertion of attitude and more like a cry for help. Case in point? Vamp/Goth, which grew out of British gloom-rock and eventually cartooned itself into Marilyn Manson. I mean, I'm six kinds of in, baby. But I'm not wearing makeup.

Aside: Swing was finally murdered on January 31st, 1999, when it was introduced to the innermost circle of Middle America during the halftime show at the Superbowl. Good riddance, as far as I'm concerned. Most people thought swing originated from a GAP commercial anyway, which is an auspicious start for any fad vying to become a Trend. We all saw that coming, right?

When you melt it all down, the loopy left side of the Trend equation sums the distilled common elements from all the fragments floating around over the last five years. Take the big yellow smiley face from the seventies and the wall-fall-down optimism of the eighties, add liberally the horn sections from all those swing and ska bands, and stir in the sense of blind community from the mini-trends. Finally, revisit the ironic "Isn't Life Grand" theme from grunge except remove the cynicism. Know what you're left with?

Isn't Life Grand?

Welcome to happyland. The new Trend. I'm OK and you're even better. We're all hip to be tragically square. Time to kick the booze, smack, tobacco, and burritos and renew your gym membership. Watch for the new brat pack, like Brady kids with PDAs. Animation is way up, brooding is way down, and Douglas Coupland has gone into hiding. It's a world where cars make our lives better, the stock market can't find a ceiling, Microsoft will take us exactly where we want to go, and records, television, and movies really aren't that bad. Life has a brand new beat and you can dance to it.

And the colors are oh so bright.

By the way. Tae-Bo? Come on.

Look. I'm not against this. Color me a transparent cynic, but I'm no Negative Nancy. Nothing gets my blood boiling quicker than Courtney Love whining/bragging that "there's only us left now" over an uber-produced Kinks track. If the decision comes down to realism v. idealism, line me up with Lennon. It's just that there's an undercurrent that I find hard to ignore. Imagine the Prozac nation under prescription so long that the Prozac becomes embedded in our cumulative personality. And I know that I'm grunging here, but I lived the glad-sappy part of the eighties, and I also remember it was just a diversion from the threat of imminent nuclear destruction.

So what's prompting this love-in?

It's a sneaky suspicion and a loaded question. And I'll be the first to admit that I can't find the answer. So sure, what if we all quit our bitching and brought home a puppy? What if we started singing about love renewed instead of love lost? What if we decided it was okay to feel like we must see Must See TV?

What does it hurt?



in the junk drawer:

and such
and such

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