10 Ways '90s Pop Culture Destroyed the American Male

10. If guys didn’t look like heroin-addicted street dwellers…

Before committing suicide, musician Kurt Cobain copyrighted the grunge look that came to define Gen-X/millennial crossovers in the ’90s. A reaction to the preppie style made famous by ’80s yuppies, grunge involved a level of disheveled that transcended even the dirtiest of ’60s hippie looks. Grunge trademarks included wrinkled, untucked clothing complemented by greasy, knotted hair and an expression best defined as heroin chic. The style depicted an “I don’t care” attitude that took punk’s anti-authoritarian attitude to a darker, more disengaged level. Grunge became the look of resigned defeat among American males.


9. …they were presumed to be gay.

Not all guys embraced grunge. The ones who didn’t were typified by British writer Mark Simpson as “metrosexuals“:

Metrosexual man, the single young man with a high disposable income, living or working in the city (because that’s where all the best shops are), is perhaps the most promising consumer market of the decade. In the Eighties he was only to be found inside fashion magazines such as GQ. In the Nineties, he’s everywhere and he’s going shopping.

Bret Easton Ellis first tapped into this trend with his 1991 novel American PsychoWhile they retained a sexual attraction to women, metrosexuals’ main interest was in themselves, specifically their social status as most clearly expressed through extensive personal grooming. Deemed by some as a movement to feminize the American man, metrosexuals drew attention to the pressures felt by most American men to imitate the male model image.

8. Fathers were couch-bound alcoholics, liars and perverts.

Al Bundy was one of two fictional characters on the fledgling FOX television network to project the anti-Dad image to a national audience. Gone were the days of Ward Cleaver, Steve Douglas, Mike Brady and Bill Cosby. Al Bundy blew the image of a supportive, loving provider out of the water with his collection of pornographic magazines, trips to the nudie bar, and favorite television show Psycho DadMarried With Children‘s rack of Emmys and Golden Globes scored FOX’s first and longest running sitcom both critical and popular acclaim, making it one of the most favorite dad-defeating shows the world-over.


7. Dads were fat and abusive, too.


Homer Simpson, FOX’s second anti-Dad, quickly became famous for his three greatest loves: beer, donuts, and choking his son Bart. Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons and fellow traveler in the Seattle/grunge movement, believed that depicting a dysfunctional family would be a more accurate portrayal of American life on television. Hence, Homer (and later, his son Bart) is the cartoon embodiment of fatherhood succumbing to the defeatist ethos popularized through grunge.

6. Eligible bachelors had commitment issues.

Ross and Rachel defined relationship drama in the 1990s. For ten seasons, Ross Geller (David Schwimmer) and Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston) had a will-they-or-won’t-they relationship based solely on the premise that Ross could never adequately or accurately voice his feelings for Rachel. Three failed marriages later, it took an unplanned baby for Ross to finally tell Rachel how he felt, making him the most committed non-committal man of all time. Statistics would later show that Ross illustrated a nation-wide trend. While divorce rates fell in the 1990s, marriage rates did as well, proving that commitment became more of a question than an answer.

5. In fact, they were downright neurotic.

Woody Allen made neuroses funny. Jerry Seinfeld made neuroses a way of life. For 9 seasons, Jerry dumped women for, among other minutiae, having “man hands,” using his toothbrush, and eating their peas one at a time. If Ross couldn’t bear to say “I love you,” Jerry took non-commitment to a whole new, disturbing level. After convincing George that it’d be better to be committed to someone, the two go out to make their proposals. Jerry thinks twice, and after George gets engaged to Susan it’s Jerry who can sleep well at night. Sneaker-clad, obsessed with superheroes and cereal, Jerry epitomized the ultimate neurotic bachelor.


4. Probably because they never really wanted to grow up.

Jerry Seinfeld wasn’t the only guy who didn’t want to grow up. Kevin Smith garnered critical acclaim for his indie hit Clerks, which depicted two 20-something Gen-X bums doing nothing with their lives. Christopher Noxon may not have published Rejuvenile until 2006, but what he wrote about was a ’90s trend: grown boys who had no desire to become men. While the slightly metrosexual Jerry and George “reasoned” themselves out of relationships, grunge clerks Dante and Randal immersed themselves in a world of childish behaviors and impulses.

3. Because being a “man” meant being a “thug.”

(Warning: NSFW language)

While white men were establishing new chapters of the He-Man Woman Haters Club, black men busied themselves becoming gangstas. Rap transitioned from MC Hammer’s parachute pants to songs about thug life involving rival gangs gunning for each other in street warfare. Tupac Shakur, a rapper with family ties to the Black Liberation Army, found himself in the crossfire between rap and real life. Shot by a Crips gang member in 1996, Tupac’s death would shine a light on the dangers of the gangsta rap movement that had come to symbolize Gen-X/millennial black masculinity.

2. All men, especially white guys, were hotbeds of suppressed rage.

By the end of the 1990s, white guys were mad, and they weren’t going to take it any more. At least Chuck Palahniuk wasn’t. His nihilistic contempt for society defined male literature in the ’90s. His book Fight Club would be made into a 1999 movie starring Brad Pitt as the violent but sexy alter-ego of a rather shrimpy, neurotic Ed Norton, who frequented a variety of 12-step support groups for the validation of a free hug. The dystopic Fight Club reinforced popular myths floating around liberal studies academies for the past decade: white males had a tendency towards destructive violence fueled by uncontrollable rage.


1. Ultimate masculinity meant screwing every woman in sight …and getting away with it.

The Fight Club myth also had a nasty co-theory that typified white males as sexual predators. The Lewinsky scandal solidified this notion, as the multiple sexual exploits of the white, male leader of the free world, also known as “The First Black President,” flooded the media. The fact that he perjured himself about the affair only added fuel to the anti-man fire.

By the end of the decade, American masculinity had been beaten into submission. With apathetic acceptance, men rejuveniled themselves into boyhood, shielding themselves with childish behaviors and neuroses in order to avoid commitment to adult responsibilities. Those who did choose to take on manhood did so at the threat of death or public shaming. The few who did choose to fight back only illustrated the academy’s myth that masculinity was ultimately the most destructive force in our culture.


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