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If you watched TV recently, you might be wondering what decade it is


American entertainment culture is often built on nostalgia. Keeping true to form, the 2020s are looking a lot like the 1990s. The '90s have hit the runways, the music scene and television, including a Hulu show airing its grand finale this week, "Pam & Tommy" - as in Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Please, welcome Pamela Anderson.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Did you know anything at all about Mr. Lee before you met him?

LILY JAMES: (As Pamela) I knew he was the drummer for Motley Crue.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Did you find him attractive?

JAMES: (As Pamela) I liked his smile.

MARTIN: There's also "American Crime Story," about Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp.


SARAH PAULSON: (As Linda) There's a woman I'm very close to in the midst of an affair with the president of the United States.

MARTIN: Those are just a few of the many shows and movies that focus on major figures of the past and scandals of the decade. To talk about why, Aisha Harris of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour had a conversation with our co-host, Leila Fadel.


So I'm biased. I love the '90s, grew up in the '90s, rocked the side ponytail, wore the big scrunchie.


FADEL: Yeah.

HARRIS: (Laughter).

FADEL: But now it feels like there's this obsession by everybody with the decade, a flood of movies, documentaries rehashing some of the biggest cultural events of that decade. What kicked this all off?

HARRIS: Well, I think part of it is just there is a natural desire, after a certain period of time, to go back and reflect on things. So obviously, in the '70s, we had shows like "Happy Days" looking back at the '50s. And in the '90s, we were looking back at the '70s and '80s. So this is natural. But I also think there are a couple of different touchpoints from the past few years that can be seen as sort of helping to kick this off in a way. The first, I think, would be the O.J. Simpson projects. There was "The People V. O.J. Simpson," which was "American Crime Story," Ryan Murphy's series...

FADEL: Yeah.

HARRIS: ...On FX And then there was also the "O.J.: Made In America" documentary by Ezra Edelman. Those came out in the same year. They both, like, were taking this moment in time that a lot of people remember and some people weren't old enough to remember. And they had a few things. They had celebrity. They had scandal that was sort of distorted by the passage of time. And then you had enough time and enough space now to reassess sort of what media and society got wrong through our present-day eyes and attitudes. And I think there's also - you're seeing this in the podcast realm as well. So the podcast "Slow Burn" has...

FADEL: Right.

HARRIS: ...Sort of made its bread and butter off of '90s scandals, whether it was the Lewinsky-Clinton scandal - more recently, the LA riots. So this is all kind of a natural progression, I think.

FADEL: Yeah. I binged both those O.J. series and the "Slow Burn" Lewinsky one as well. So since then, we've seen an "American Crime Story" called "Impeachment" about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, renewed interest - really, obsession - with Princess Diana, including an Oscar-nominated movie from last year, and multiple documentaries about Britney Spears, whose career took off late in the '90s. And like you said, they put these stories in completely different context than when we were growing up. Let's talk about what links these together.

HARRIS: Well, I think it would be remiss not to mention #MeToo...

FADEL: Right.

HARRIS: ...Because I think the #MeToo movement sort of casts this moment where we were all kind of looking back at the way women have been treated in Hollywood and in the music industry. And I think that's really important to look at. But I also think, like, the '90s itself - we're talking about all of these women who peaked in the '90s or were - that was where they started to become famous, in the 90's, in the case of Britney Spears.

FADEL: Right.

HARRIS: And it sits at a very interesting moment where you have this explosion of tabloids, an explosion of the internet, the rise of paparazzi, live TV. And I think all of those are playing a really important part in the way that we view those things because - I don't know. The '90s, I lived through it. I was a kid. But, like, it was kind of trashy.

FADEL: Yeah.

HARRIS: And so I think, like, that naturally makes - it makes for an interesting way to look back and think about, OK, this is what we got wrong. And how can we sort of reassess and try not to get it wrong in the present day? And so I think that's what's kind of happening here.

FADEL: That's NPR's Aisha Harris. Thank you so much.

HARRIS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Aisha Harris
Aisha Harris is a host of Pop Culture Happy Hour.