The RIFT Rewind: Top Crazes of 1999
05th November 2020
Welcome back to the RIFT Rewind party, celebrating the 21st anniversary of RIFT! Remember to get your hand stamped, because we’re keeping this thing rolling for the rest of the year. Each month, we’re firing up our trusty Time Telescope to peer back through the decades to the distant and mysterious landscape of the year 1999. What will we find there this time?
Well, there’s a huge range of era-defining world events to choose from. 1999 saw the introduction of the Euro, the launch of the Mars Polar Lander and the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton. The world was introduced to the likes of Slim Shady, the Millennium Dome and the notorious Melissa computer virus. The human population of Earth topped 6 billion. It was a significant year in a whole bunch of big ways – but this is a party and we prefer to tighten our focus a little. So here’s a RIFT Rundown of the top crazes that had us all captivated in 1999.
5) Panicking over the “Y2K Bug”
1999 looked set to be the year of the Machine Uprising. Banking systems would catch fire, planes would drop out of the sky and all our digital watches would suddenly launch us back in time to the year 1900. A whole new micro-industry exploded into the world, based on magically immunising all our electronics against the impending technocalypse.
Or, maybe it was all a bit overblown. The Millennium Bug, depending on who you were listening to, was either the end of the world or an elaborate hoax. When it came down to it, the truth was a lot less exciting than the chaos clouding it. There were certainly a few fairly notable software failures, but nothing on the scale we’d been warned to expect. Did we do all that panicked preparation for nothing? Well, no. That’s like saying we all wasted our time by stayed indoors during the pandemic lockdown because no one we knew got sick. That was really the whole point, wasn’t it?
4) Getting excited over new TV shows
It’s actually pretty hard to imagine British culture even existing back in the days before Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’s 1999 debut. What did we even do? TV viewing was hitting a real peak in 1999, with big-budget, hard-hitting shows like The West Wing and The Sopranos filling the airwaves for the first time. Meanwhile, modern animated classics Family Guy, Futurama and even Spongebob Squarepants can trace their origins back to the same year.
Still not convinced what a grip the TV held in 1999? How about Angel, Spaced, Farscape, The League of Gentlemen and Walking with Dinosaurs? We can almost guarantee you were glued to at least a couple of these.
Ask pretty much any film expert what the last great, golden year of cinema was, and the chances are they’ll say 1999. Yes, alright, we’ll address the Gungan in the room first. Whatever you personally think about Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace, you can’t deny that the launch of a new era in Star Wars was a legitimate cultural phenomenon. If anything, the film’s actually seeing kind of a reassessment these days. After all, for a lot of 90s kids this was their first Star Wars film.
Phantom Menace aside, though, there was a lot to get excited about on the big screen in 1999. The 6th Sense was teaching a generation of viewers that spooky horror could be smart, while The Blair Witch Project was proving that smart horror could be spooky. Fight Club was sucker-punching audiences with some big questions about “being a man” and South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut was... well, it was...
If we picked a single film from 1999 that really set the pace for the coming decade, though, it’d have to be The Matrix. Slick special effects and brain-bending sci-fi ignited trends in everything from cinematic storytelling to insane street fashion. To this day, it’s still got us questioning the nature of our own reality. Was there even a spoon at all?
When we talk about crazes, we’ve really got to go to the toy shops to see what’s what. In 1999, there was only one weird-looking nightmare factory on every kid’s wishlist: the Furby. Sure, the toy world had flirted with the idea of “animatronic” toys before. We’d seen our fair share of Teddy Ruxpins and Sony Aibos. The Furby was in a class of its own, though. This talking, dead-eyed owl-rat was unbelievably tough to track down, and yet was somehow everywhere we looked. They learned from us, expanded their vocabularies as we played with them – and then suddenly vanished.
Where did the Furbies go, we still wonder. What did they want from us? More to the point, will they one day return in force to enslave us all?
While Furbies were causing fist-fights among parents in toyshops around the country, it was the Pokémon craze that saw their kids literally robbing each other in the street over trading cards. 1999 bore the brunt of the incredible cultural storm of Pokémon across gaming devices, card games and TV shows. It’s a stranglehold that can still be felt today, with Pokémon Go dragging people who wouldn’t normally leave the house to escape a fire out into the wilds in search of mythical murder-beasts.
Back in 1999, this was THE craze – the benchmark by which all other crazes were measured. If you couldn’t name all 151 of the little blighters back then, you could be banned from polite society. If you incorrectly identified one, we heard you could actually be jailed!
So, what were you obsessing over in 1999? What obvious works of cultural genius did we miss off our list? As always, sound off on our Facebook page – and keep checking back as the RIFT Rewind party builds toward its Christmas climax.