Memories of Funkotron

Of the last few crops of Youth it’s been lamented their plundering of the increasingly immediate past for inspiration paints a grim future where we simply run out of ideas. The 80s took from the 50s. The 90s looked to the 70s. The 00s referenced the 80s. And now in the Teens, kids born after 9/11 wear Nevermind shirts and ‘The Mind’s Eye’ is cutting edge design. Remember ‘The Mind’s Eye’? You might have seen it playing behind Rihanna’s SNL performance recently:


(kidding, but man, this and MYST – is your bran reeling with dissonance remembering this as ULTRA CUTTING EDGE! and seeing it now? If so, congratulations- you’re over 30.)

There is a corresponding positive view that once the snake finally eats itself into nothingness, once we completely mine our immediate past, we’ll be left with nothing but the present and from there, off to a bright and shiny future. Well, perhaps not so bright and shiny; if Disney’s current ‘House of Tomorrow’ teaches anything, it’s that past optimism about the amazing potential of the future has been replaced by a desperate vision of ‘the present plus unasked-for electronics’. From plastic houses on Mars to talking picture frames and presetting music to blast on whenever you enter a room.

The current crop seems to take only optimism from the early 90s, which seems strange only in hindsight. Grunge may have just hit the public consciousness, but the music was the product of late 80s job stagnation and political frustration brewing in a scene for years, then finally breaking through. Bright colors, goofiness, naïvete – the early 90s saw the beginning of the dotcom boom and innovation in every artistic field, especially television and music. What better icon to epitomize the era than Bart Simpson,a mix of irreverence, bravado and hidden insecurity?

Current young designers like ALL Knitwear and Dusen Dusen fully embrace this eye-bright style- late 80s garish excessiveness transmuted by genuine energy and talent into something at once more playful and subversive. Think ‘Pee-Wee’s Playhouse’, ‘The Simpsons’, ‘Sam and Max’, and ‘ToeJam & Earl’.

I’ve written about ‘Toejam & Earl’ before, and realize it’s a bit out of its league in terms of changing the visual landscape for future generations like the other examples, but still- here is a game with little violence, lots of goofiness, and very low stakes. Perhaps a generation’s desire to return to the false idyll of childhood, where stakes felt lower, motivates the current interest in these visuals.

And so, once again taking the extremely scenic route, here sampled are some of those bright and happy images calling up the hopeful future the original generation is currently living (in all its mixed results), and the younger generation still reaching for.

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