Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? Email us at email@example.com.
Our second question this week comes from VP Of Development Kyle Ryan:
What pop culture from 1995 would you prevent if you could go back in time?
Although they wouldn’t release an album for another four years, in 1995 a few dudes in the Los Angeles area coalesced around their love of tattoos, cock rock, and sweet poontang under the name Sparrow. The world would come to know them as Buckcherry, and really, did the world need to know them? Was their eventual hit “Crazy Bitch” necessary to our understanding of bitches who are all, like, crazy, but tolerable because they fuck so good? As a punk rocker, I shouldn’t cast any stones when it comes to reductive music, but I find everything about Buckcherry’s proudly crude music noxious. Maybe I could have prevented it all with a carton of smokes and some Hooters’ gift certificates.
I could do without Showgirls existing. Besides it being especially depressing to watch both Elizabeth Berkley’s (Saved By The Bell) character—a struggling Las Vegas showgirl—and career fail in a spectacular fashion, it’s also awful to remember that Kyle MacLachlan (Twin Peaks) was somehow roped into this trainwreck of a movie. Furthermore, scenes in which two girls bond over the taste of dog food just reek of disgusting and completely unrealistic fantasy via Joe Eszterhas’ screenplay. And that rape scene is unwatchable and unnecessary. A certain film writer around these parts will argue that it’s a wonderful satire, but I’m not entirely buying it, based on Berkley alone.
There is one element of popular culture that could be quickly excised from history for the greater good of all: the 1995 MTV dating show Singled Out, and the subsequent fame of Jenny McCarthy. Besides being a fairly noxious lunkhead parade, the show gave McCarthy her mainstream career, something that has subsequently led to the TV host and actor being given a mainstream platform to espouse her ignorance, most particularly the defiantly anti-science positions linking autism to vaccines. If I could erase that aspect of our timeline by traveling back and preventing it from happening, I could feel I had done some good with my powers of negating pop-culture past. Besides, Chris Hardwick has proven he didn’t need that shit, so he’d be fine.
Since we’re strictly talking 1995, I can’t wipe Donkey Kong Country from Nintendo’s history completely. However, preventing the creation of Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest and any further games in that lineage seems like the better move anyway. The original DKC should stand as it is: an experiment with divisive results. After all, I’d hate to take away the joy it brought to the many who love it, and without the enthusiastic reaction to its high-tech faux 3-D graphics, Yoshi’s Island wouldn’t have rebelliously evolved into its vibrant coloring-book pastiche. But I’d rather have seen Rare step away from that muddy art and even further away from DKC’s plague of collectible doodads that infected the developer’s games for many years to come. I really would miss the “DK Rap,” but sacrifices have to be made.
I’d thwart the production of Cleghorne!, the one-season sitcom that premiered in 1995 as part of The WB’s fall slate. Ellen Cleghorne flew solo after four seasons on Saturday Night Live, a tenure that made her the show’s longest-serving African-American female cast member at the time. She showed great potential during her SNL run, especially in her “Weekend Update” appearances, and she could have grown even more formidable with a few more years of repertory experience. Instead, she went for the sitcom, which was a bad path considering her career trajectory. Networks were handing out sitcoms to stand-up comics like after-dinner mints back then, but Cleghorne wasn’t an established stand-up before she got the show, and the lack of experience showed. Though it was emphatically named after her, Cleghorne! lacked a point of view, and considering how blandly it was written, anyone’s name could have gone in front of that exclamation point without significantly altering the result. The show tanked without even airing a full season, and Cleghorne has since gone into academia. I’m not sure why she left SNL so soon. There were rumors of conflict with the staff, but I can’t invest too heavily in those considering how often “boys’ club” accusations have been hurled at the show. Whatever Cleghorne’s reasons for joining the sitcom, I’d gladly hop in a time machine to go back and talk her out of it.
I don’t have any particular grudge against Billy Madison, Adam Sandler’s first starring vehicle. It has an inspired premise—an irresponsible man-child is forced to re-take grade school, from kindergarten on up. And Sandler’s the first person who comes to mind when you hear “irresponsible man-child,” so well done there, casting director. But try and imagine a world if 1995 had come and gone without a movie that established that Sandler could be a leading man. No Big Daddy. No I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry. No Jack And Jill. No Grown Ups. Food would taste better. Air would smell sweeter. And Sandler himself would be fine. He’d be a successful stand-up, making comedy albums for college students to snicker over, and maybe put in the occasional supporting turn as a likable goof like he did in Airheads. Obviously if I had a time machine, I’d kill Hitler first thing. But if I had a time machine that only went to 1995? I’d kill Adam Sandler’s film career, and still feel like I’d done humanity a service.
Likewise, I don’t especially hate the movie Cutthroat Island, though when I finally caught up with it years after its notoriously money-losing release, I certainly found much of it forgettable and overblown. I wouldn’t be preventing it to save my own eyeballs, then, or even to save the money lost by Carolco Pictures (RIP) or the perpetually doomed sorta-studio MGM; I’d get rid of it to give Geena Davis’s career a better second half. The combo failure of Cutthroat and her second collaboration with then-husband Renny Harlin (the much-better The Long Kiss Goodnight) shunted her off to Stuart Little, TV, and not much else. Granted, Davis turning 40 in 1996 might have had a similarly chilling effect, but I like to imagine she could have at least headlined a few more movies on the level of A League Of Their Own, Thelma & Louise, or the underrated Hero before Hollywood decided it was Julia Ormond’s time. While making other actors’ bad patches disappear might have a domino effect on better movies that followed, Cutthroat Island would be particularly easy to erase; it seems less likely to deny us later great work from Davis because her career afterward has been so sporadic.
Like a lot of indie film geeks, I spent a lot of time debating the relative merits of Larry Clark’s Kids. As attracted as I was to the idea of the nascent indie film movement smashing a few taboos, I just couldn’t shake the queasy feeling that the middle-aged Clark was pushing buttons for the sake of publicity, and that his controversial first film was less a scathing expose of the supposed actual moral bankruptcy of (then) today’s youth, and more a cynical exploitation film trading on guaranteed moral outrage at the sight of barely legal (or not at all legal) non-professional actors debasing themselves. As Clark’s later career has shown, my suspicions were right on the money. As Dazed And Confused’s Wooderson might say, Clark’s gotten older, but his actors have stayed the same age, their conspicuously lithe and pubescent bodies twining and squirming in service of Clark’s apparent desire to be the creepy old guy at the high school pot party.
I have mixed feelings about expunging the first You Don’t Know Jack game from the timeline (presumably taking all of its spawn along with it.) Because the fact is, I love You Don’t Know Jack. I love the tone, I love the perfectly balanced difficulty and diversity of the questions, I love the thrill of beating down my opponents in mental combat. And that’s the problem; I love it too much. The number of friends I’ve alienated and annoyed with this series over the years, our shoulders hunched together and our fingers hovering over our answer keys, just isn’t worth the fun that it’s brought me. Even knowing that I’m taking down the legitimately brilliant Jackbox Party Pack, with all its delightful party-game variants, won’t stop me from eliminating the time I made my mom sigh sadly by shutting her out of yet another stupid Jack Attack, wielding my ill-gained trivia knowledge like an emotionally stunted cudgel.
I would summarily dismiss Rednex’s “Cotton-Eye Joe” without so much as the blink of a freaking eye. I have no problem at all with the original composition—you can’t go wrong with the version by Bob Wills And His Texas Playboys, and there’s a fantastic version sung by Ricky Skaggs with The Chieftains—but hearing it turned into a thumping dance club track by a bunch of Swedes calling themselves Rednex and putting together a video that plays up the stereotype of hick southerners in the worst possible way? No. Absolutely not. Seriously, it makes me want to drop everything and perfect a time machine just to do away with it.