IMAGINE. This year’s crop of college entrants were born in the late 90s — making them younger (approximately) than your first mobile phone, the earliest Harry Potter novel and Oasis’ (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?
More disturbing yet, they have grown up thinking of grunge as something from the pre-history of popular culture and will struggle to conceive of a time when Tom Cruise and Alec Baldwin were considered credible heartthrobs. For those hurtling towards their dotage, it is a reminder our own youth is departed, never to return.
As the class of 2014 prepares to enter third level, here then, is a glimpse of long lost world — a strange, forbidding time when people bought music in ‘record stores’ and instant messaging meant banging on the toilet door to tell your flatmate to get a move on because you needed the shower.
In this age of leaked celebrity nudie pics, it feels surreal to recall an age when famous people would, on purpose and with full knowledge of the consequences, take their clothes off for the camera.
But as recently as 18 years ago, it was considered a badge of pride for celebs (almost exclusively women, granted), to strip for publications such as Playboy.
In the age before Reddit threads and security breaches, Sharon Stone, Kathleen Turner, Drew Barrymore and Daryl Hannah all graced the magazine in steamy detail.
Released in October 1995, by early the following year Oasis (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? was shifting an estimated 200,000 units every week and would in the end achieve sales north of 22 million.
By contrast last year’s album from Liam Gallagher’s Beady Eye project just scraped past 65,000 in sales. Today’s freshers may also be surprised to discover than, in the mid 90s, bands such as Blur and Oasis were so popular they could wage feuds without the aid of Twitter, transfixing entire continents and featuring on the nine o’clock news.
Granted, by the mid 90s, Jacko’s hits had dried up somewhat. Nonetheless, he still had a claim on the title of world’s biggest pop star, filling Dublin’s RDS in July 1997 on his HIStory tour. That was before rumours about his personal life, the increasingly visible effects of plastic surgery and his tragic death. By the same token, Madonna was undergoing a sort of second coming with her Ray of Light LP. At the time, she was seen as pushing the envelope in terms of what ‘women of a certain’ age could achieve in music. She was a ‘haggard’ 39.
For those who grew up with George Lucas’ horrific ‘prequel’ movies (beginning with 1999’s The Phantom Menace), the universe of light sabres and Jedi Knights has always had a patina of naff. They are, of course, far, far too young to remember the excitement of the original trilogy, the shock that rippled among cinema goers when — spoiler alert — Darth Vader let slip the particulars of Luke Skywalker’s parentage.
For a fair chunk of 1998, the White House intern who’d conducted ‘inappropriate’ relations with the President of the United States, had a higher profile than any pop star or Hollywood icon. In an age before Twitter, it seemed her name was always in the headlines, forever cropping up in conversation.
Everyone had an opinion on her fling with Bill Clinton : what is said about politics, what it said about men, women and the modern world. Were the scandal to have unfolded today, the internet would probably explode.
There was a time boybands were happy to come across deeply foolish for our amusement.
Take That danced in leather waist-coats, Boyzone sang in white frocks surrounded by nightlights, Backstreet Boys pretended to fly around in badly animated spaceships while looking deathly serious.
It was so terribly far removed from the Cowell-approved slickness of One Direction and friends.
Admittedly, the age of reality TV had dawned in the mid ’90s, with MTV’s The Real World already an established phenomenon. However, X Factor was just a twinkle in Simon Cowell’s eye while the notion of imprisoning half a dozen people with behavioral disorders in a prefab for a fortnight — the eventual formula for Big Brother— would have seemed absurd. Back then, reality television meant a programme such as This Life, a ‘gritty’ UK drama about young London lawyers sleeping around and stealing one anothers’ yoghurts from the communal fridge.
With the IRA ceasefire ended by the 1996 Canary Wharf bombing, the Republican movement was held in widespread revulsion.
The prospect of Sinn Fein becoming one of the country’s largest political parties, with a realistic chance of eventually entering government, would have struck many as unpalatable fantasy.
Political violence remained a banal reality in the North, a forbidding place to which few ventured unless they really (really) had to.
Before iPhones, Xbox Ones and 1,000 apps in your back pocket, video games were played on enormous plastic consoles, which often grew so hot you could barbecue streaky bacon on the heat-sink at the back.
Convention-upending crime drama The Sopranos was still several years away.
There was no Game of Thrones (the first novel in the fantasy sequence had been published in 1996), no The Wire or Mad Men.
Instead, Friends was regarded as subversive comedy— there were jokes about sex!
Glenroe was a gritty snapshot of rural Ireland.
Meanwhile, Sex and the City, with its ‘frank’ discussion of matters bedroom-related, was deemed so risque there was an outside chance your TV might catch fire as you watched.