The lesson and the lede is that there's no quicker way to felch the sentiment and nostalgia out of something than to sit and watch six people at a table intellectualize the bone marrow out of it. The panel's lineup was kind of like The Real World as cast by a Kicking and Screaming-era Noah Baumbach: former Gawker blogger Emily Gould, Nirvana scholar and Come As You Are author Michael Azerrad, n+1 film critic A. S. Hamrah, Sassy magazine scholar and the table's riotgrrl expert, Marisa Meltzer, and moderator Mark Grief, an n+1 co-editor and literary shaman. Oh! I'm forgetting someone. From the press release: "Aaron Lake Smith makes a series of fanzines called Big Hands that have been described as "an ongoing treatise on disappointment."" Aaron, 25, was dressed in a red flannel shirt. He was not being ironic, and it actually appeared to be a nice shirt, though he probably hates it.
The room was fairly packed, and they got going at about 7:10 p.m. I'd brought a bottle of Diet Coke and Rum to mix in my seat, but this proved to be relatively difficult, as most of the people around us were actually listening pretty intently on what the panel had to say. I put down the sauce and picked up some old bills and started to write on them. I took the following notes:
Azerrad's opening shot is something about Nirvana. Him and (Aaron Rose Smith) talked about 9/11 as the end of the 90s. The 90s ended a year after the 90s ended? Gould is quiet. Smith said parties were better in the 90s, but he was 15! Huffing glue is no longer socially acceptable, that's why. Term "cultural touchstones" has now been used seven times. Hamrah comes in with Anita Hill! Hamrah also noted that Winona Ryder shoplifting was the end of the 90s, nobody can tell if he's joking even after he says he's joking. 90s of light, 90s of darkness? Glee vs. Malaise? Heard these terms seven more times. Meltzer: Riot grrl, Riot grrl, Riot grrl, Riot grrl, something about Sassy. Makes a salient point that it was cooler to be a lesbian in the 90s. Emily looks bored. Azerrad is still talking about Nirvana. Sleepy. No phone service; intentional? Are they blocking me? This is My Dinner With Andre meets I Love The 90's. Except they're now talking about I Love The 90s, and the difference they fail to point out is that VH1 actually tries. Meta. Pop culture intellectualizing as sedative, falling asleep. Emily talking about Drudge breaking Lewinsky "stained dress" thing and I wake up. Hipster says 90s discussions were more interesting and I'm starting to believe him. Collectively, they're not so bad, taken apart, I feel like they're lobotomizing me. Mark Grief predictably tells everyone how wrong they are.
I stopped taking notes sometime around when they were discussing the "imminent failure of rap rock as evidenced by the Judgment Night soundtrack," because that about encapsulates the entire thing. But two more decent things happened.
1. Emily Gould was asked something by a girl in the second row what it's like to journal and chronicle one's life on the internet, and she somehow tied it back into the 90s. Not so interesting was the line of inquiry or the answer Gould gave so much as the confusing, ridiculous way she tried to make it relevant to the topic. Gould looked at her with a mixture of curiosity and sheer confusion, and I'm pretty sure Azerrad answered for her with something about Nirvana.
2. Marisa Meltzer and A.S. Hamrah, who was the panel's oldest and crankiest (thus: funniest) member got into it over Meltzer's reason for existence, Sassy magazine. I have no idea how they got there, but Hamrah basically called it a sham, noting that it was a magazine written by 24 year-olds, for 24 year-olds. Meltzer looked like she was about to punch Hamrah in the face, and noted that no, it was written for 16 year-olds. Like her. Hamrah then argued that, if that was the case, it was written by a bunch of 24 year-olds who thought they knew what 16 year-olds would be into, which was ostensibly the directive of all teen magazines, but really, just 24 year-olds impressing their own tastes, beliefs, and style onto impressionable 16 year-olds. Like Meltzer. He kept laying into her: "You want to know what 16 year-olds enjoy? Use a focus group." The kid in the flannel shirt then noted that he's lied several times during focus groups.
Sure, there was other stuff - my highlight was Smith talking about how he's roamed from globalization protest to globalization protest, even though nobody else thought that was funny - but you get the idea: intelligent people asserting their intelligence in a dumb game of one-upsmanship is no smarter nor enlightening than an episode of Best Week Ever, and I'd take the Best Week Ever over this any day.
The person I brought with me - who, incidentally, wouldn't let me leave early - noted that they were too busy indulging in their own nonsense (the independent, the "cool," the "cultural touchstones" nobody actually gave a shit about) to not miss a bunch of things that would've helped make the night interesting. Among them: "Rollerblading, Dave Matthews Band, Beavis and Butthead, Carl Lewis, The Rachel hairstyle, The Hale-Bopp comet, HIV/AIDS." Might I add to that list: Counting Crows, the advent of TR:L, Gin Blossoms, Can't Hardly Wait (Aaron Smith, I'm looking at you), Michael Jordan, John Grisham. Another attendee thought Emily was pretty funny, and so did I. She looked relatively incredulous at even being there. Understandably.
We filed out, and I didn't have any higher a score at Flight Control than when we walked in, sadly. At a bar afterwards, someone noted that having a panel discussion was almost, in it of itself, a very 90s thing to do. And after I was politely asked to leave said bar for mixing my own drink (the aforementioned previous failure of a mixology experiment), the same person noted how 90s that was. He was right: the psudeo-coffee-shop intellectualizing of something that could probably make for an entertaining conversation is as outdated as it is disenchanting and utterly annoying. And I was so, so relieved that we live when we do.