Still The (Gay) Nineties


(permanent link) added: 2010-08-17 11:24:45 sponsor: HawktureShorts155 (last reply: 2012-08-08 12:30:41)

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As the word in parentheses suggests, this trope doesn't refer to the decade of Starbuck's, Seinfeld or Timothy Mc Veigh (or, for that matter, Ellen Degeneres or "Don't ask, don't tell," either).

No, this trope covers anachronistic depictions of the 1890s - the realm of Oscar Wilde, William Jennings Bryan, and the Gibson Girl.

Historically, the 1890s was one of the more iconic periods of American history, leaving an impression every bit as indelible as The Fifties still does today. As a result, long after the actual decade had faded from memory (sometimes quite long after it faded), many of its tropes and stereotypes remained common fodder for depictions in the popular arts. This wasn't usually done without at least a bit of irony (usually only in satirical or Cloudcuckoolander works), but writers and artists returned to the Gay Nineties well so often that its conventions became even more stereotypical.

Most of the time when this occurs, it is not so much the social expectations and attitudes of the Gay Nineties that will be incorporated (which would seem especially out of place), but certain cherry-picked aesthetic touches (usually related in some way to clothing). Characters will still drive cars, fly on airplanes, or watch television, but the way many of them personally look, dress, and behave may be wildly anachronistic.

Prominent examples include: civic leaders (mayors, for the most part) sporting huge guts and sideburns and wearing top hats and tuxedoes; aristocrats and the wealthy sporting monocles and acting in even more outdated fashion than the other anachronistic characters (and being accompanied by overdressed maids and butlers); police officers still dressed like the "Bobbies" of the nineteenth century; political campaigners decked out in wide-striped suits and boater hats (although, to be sure, this continues to be Truth in Television); women still attired in white gloves and tricked-out hats and carrying parasols even when it isn't raining; little boys pairing suit coats with short pants (think Richie Rich or Angus Young of AC/DC); little girls with either pigtails or bows in their hair; "ethnic" whites (that is, anyone not at least 50 percent Anglo-Saxon) still speaking in their "just-off-the-boat" accents; nonwhites (the Chinese, in particular) barely able to speak English at all; and circus performers (strong men, particularly) with elaborate handlebar moustaches.

The Walt Disney comic books used to be (and, occasionally, still are) extremely guilty of abusing this trope, often to the point where it stopped being funny or charming and crossed the line into annoying. In fact, some of their characters (Scrooge McDuck comes to mind!) never got over it.

As was suggested earlier, The Fifties eventually replaced the 1890s as the nostalgic period of choice, with the result that that decade's tropes largely replaced the ones mentioned above (resulting in Still The Fifties, perhaps)? However, kooky Gay Nineties stuff still pops up occasionally - most often in works directed at preteen children, or in surreal comedy series such as The Simpsons or Family Guy.

Nor is this trope exclusively American. If anything, the British seem to make a fetish out of it even more.
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