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The year that was: 1990

The year that was: 1990 — 2 Live Crew, ”Pretty Woman,” ”In Living Color,” and ”The Civil War” were some of the pop-culture highlights of the past year

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2 Live Suits
The results were more comic than carnal when rap and heavy metal went on trial this year. In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., three members of the 2 Live Crew faced a year in prison for performing music deemed obscene by a federal judge. But then a police-made tape of the performance turned out to be badly muddled, Crew leader Luther ”Luke” Campbell flipped his middle finger at a prosecutor, and the jurors laughed along with the rappers’ exaggerated sexual brags — and promptly found the Crew not guilty. One juror remarked that the local sheriff who arrested the group ”ought to be shaking up crime instead.”

In Reno, Nev., a judge ruled that the metal group Judas Priest didn’t intentionally sneak the words ”do it” into one of its 1978 songs and thereby % persuade two young fans to shoot themselves in 1985. ”When people don’t understand something,” said lead singer Rob Halford, ”they begin to fear it.” One prosecutor, Vivian Lynch, seemed fearless: She asked the group for autographs for one of her sons and wrote a song she titled ”No More Deadly Music.”

Shop in the Name of Love

Once Pretty Woman became a monster hit, everyone from Hollywood copycats to left-wing theorists pondered its success. ”The return of romance,” you’d hear, or ”Crass yuppie Cinderella story.” But really, it was this simple: shopping. That scene where Richard Gere drags Julia Roberts into the Rodeo Drive clothing store and says, ”We are going to be spending an obscene amount of money in here, so we are going to need a lot more help sucking up to us” — that’s wish fulfillment on a level everyone understands.

Screen Steam
Kilning Me Softly
Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze focused their foreplay on a revolving pottery wheel and transformed a cold lump of clay into an erotic masterpiece in the summer blockbuster Ghost.

Smitten by Grace
After opposing each other in court last spring, L.A. Law‘s Grace Van Owen (Susan Dey) and Victor Sifuentes (Jimmy Smits) repaired to Victor’s car to seal a more passionate contract with a kiss. Said a blissful Grace, ”I’ve always wanted to do that.” Months later, Victor returned the favor at the office Christmas party. Judging by Grace’s stunned expression, we could tell it was worth the wait.

No Nudes is Bad Nudes
When ”The Perfect Moment,” an exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs of flowers, angelic-faced children, and extravagantly well-endowed men performing eccentric sexual high jinks, toured the nation in 1990, conservatives jumped on the propaganda opportunity of the decade. Led by North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms, they assaulted the National Endowment for the Arts, which had helped fund Mapplethorpe’s exhibition. Confronted with pictures from the show, Mrs. Helms exclaimed, ”Lord have mercy, Jesse, I’m not believing this!” Cincinnati citizens’ groups, decrying Mapplethorpe photos showing children’s genitals, provoked the country’s first obscenity trial targeting a museum and its director. But Melia Marden, a Mapplethorpe model at 3 and his defender at 9, rebuked the adults. Said Marden, ”Everybody was born without clothes.” In October, defendants Dennis Barrie and his Contemporary Arts Center were found not guilty — after a six-month court fight.

Snap, Crackle, Flop
Three whose public lives took wrong turns this year might do well to consider a round of career counseling:

Andrew Dice Clay
We saw the future of comedy in 1990, and it was no Dice. Saturday Night Live guest Sinéad O’Connor and regular Nora Dunn boycotted Clay’s stint as host, not wanting to share the screen with a man who refers to women as ”chopped meat.” Riding the media wave, Dice and his movie Ford Fairlane abruptly wiped out; his follow-up film, The Andrew Dice Clay Concert Movie, was postponed. He wound up sniffling on the Arsenio show.

Deborah Norville
Last winter, NBC replaced Today show anchor Jane Pauley, 39, with 31-year-old Norville in the most-hated corporate switcheroo since the Classic Coke fiasco. Norville was branded a job-stealer, Today‘s ratings sank, and the executive who made the decision bowed out. Meanwhile, Pauley’s stock soared — she’s getting her own prime-time series in January.

Donald Trump
Someone should have told The Donald that timing is everything: In a year when his personal wheel of fortune kept landing on bankrupt, Trump chose to title his braggadocious memoir Surviving at the Top. The book tailspun off the best-seller lists after a mere four weeks — 44 fewer than its Trump-talk predecessor, The Art of the Deal. Trump’s literary failure capped a rough year: The bonds for his Taj Mahal casino turned to junk, his fling with Marla Maples was grist for the tabloids and spectacular ammo for his now-ex, Ivana, and he lent his name to Trump Card, one of 1990’s dopiest game shows.

Property Values
Apartment to Die For
With its glowing wood floors, jukebox, and radically chic Art Deco furniture, Demi Moore’s loft in Ghost was the year’s best haunt.

Home Sweet Hovel
Furnished with dirty dishes, tattered Marilyn Monroe posters, and ratty Astro-turf, Susan Sarandon’s blue-collar abode in White Palace was scarcely fit for her yuppie prince.

‘Living’ On the Edge
According to TV tradition, wee-wee jokes are best consigned to the wee, wee hours, along with political humor and race-, class-, and gender-tweaking. But with the dead-on, down-and-dirty In Living Color, Keenen Ivory Wayans and his ensemble proved they were more than ready for prime time. Within weeks of the Fox series’ spring premiere, everyone was laughing, except perhaps for the targets of the show’s sketches: Oprah Winfrey, shown binging on ribs and floating like a helium balloon up to the ceiling; Arsenio Hall, woofing, whooping, and whirling his heavily padded butt through an interview; Morgan , Freeman and Jessica Tandy, in the eyebrow-raising sequel Riding Miss Daisy — and those who objected to the equal-opportunity offensiveness of sketches like the Homeboy Shopping Network and Men on Film (Damon Wayans and David Alan Grier). “Grease my gears,” hooted critic Blaine in appreciation of the flier drama Memphis Belle. ”I’m coming in for a landing.” And don’t forget the show’s most prescient sketch: last April’s ad for a you-too-can-be-Milli-Vanilli kit.

Wall of Sound
It was only an ersatz, Styrofoam structure, but on July 21 more than 350,000 people gathered in Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz to watch it crumble. The staging of Pink Floyd’s The Wall couldn’t match the real Berlin Wall’s fall for breathtaking drama, of course, but Cyndi Lauper, Sinéad O’Connor, Albert Finney, and the rest of a high-powered cast lent genuine emotion and eye-popping style to the two-hour extravaganza.

Best Foote Forward
When PBS’ hit documentary The Civil War aired this September, 74-year-old historian Shelby Foote, whose witty anecdotes shaped a coherent picture of the complex era, became a video folk hero. Before his TV stint, Foote had spent 20 years in his Memphis home writing his trilogy, The Civil War: A Narrative. Afterward, he suddenly had 14 million admirers — and constant requests for public appearances. The instant star complained he was so busy, ”it’s getting so I can’t even balance my checkbook.”

The Good, The Bad, The Plugly
The field was littered this year with high-profile contenders for most obnoxious appearance by a brand name. Michael J. Fox’s Nikes were prominently worn and discussed in Back to the Future III, and Graveyard Shift posited Diet Pepsi cans as the ammo of choice when dealing with giant rats. But, with nearly 70 products parading across the screen, Days of Thunder gets the nod for Longest Commercial Disguised as a Feature Film.

A few — very few — product placements showed sparks of ingenuity. By running a packet of Sweet ‘n Low up Nicole Kidman’s thigh in Thunder, Tom Cruise gave new meaning to the phrase “sweet nothings.” And if the Mars Today newspaper vending machine in Total Recall is any indication, denizens of the Red Planet enjoy pointless pie charts and Larry King as much as we do.

And the Losers Where…
Our vote for the year’s worst awards-ceremony performance goes to Guns N’ Roses’ guitarist, Slash, and bassist, Duff. The two showed up at January’s American Music Awards visibly sloshed and, while accepting trophies, let loose a string of four-letter words. The runners-up:

Kim Basinger
Her Oscar performance was also something of a shocker. ”One film is missing because it told the biggest truth of all,” she said to the crowd, referring to the absence of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing from the Best Picture category. ”Yes! Yes! Yes!” she added, inexplicably.

Bert Parks
He neglected to name 15 of the 29 former Miss Americas who had returned for the 1990 pageant telecast.

M.C. Hammer
clutched a can of Pepsi to his bosom while accepting his MTV award (he had just signed a multimillion-dollar endorsement deal with the soft-drink company).

And finally, a guy who won for losing (his toupee): Ted Danson accepted his first Best Actor Emmy while good-naturedly exposing his crown to the overhead camera.

Television’s ‘Fallen’ Star
A little old lady stumbled over her own two feet, yelled for help, and — in the space of a one-minute commercial for Lifecall’s medic-alert service — became both the most celebrated TV tumbler since Chevy Chase and the purveyor of 1990’s most unwittingly comic distress call: ”I’ve fallen…and I can’t get up!” This campy complaint was bandied across campuses, sampled in a rap song, and borrowed by Saturday Night Live‘s Dennis Miller, who put it in the mouth of toppled boxer Buster Douglas. But who really deserves the catchphrase’s 15 minutes of fame? An anonymous stuntwoman took the fall for Lifecall, and Edith Fore, a 74-year-old retired nurse dubbed the line.

Great Discovery
When the nation’s booksellers convened in Las Vegas last June, the buzz was all about new works by old reliables: Jean Auel (The Plains of Passage), Colleen McCullough (The First Man in Rome), Jackie Collins (Lady Boss). Nobody much noticed Edward Rice’s 20th book, Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton. But the biography of the legendary 19th-century English explorer proved as triumphant as the daredevil Burton crossing the Sahara by camel. The February release of Mountains of the Moon, Bob Rafelson’s epic film about Burton’s adventures, hadn’t done big box office, but evidently it was enough to prime a reading audience that put Burton on The New York Times‘ best-seller list for 10 weeks and made it one of the year’s most surprising publishing successes.

”Just Let Go…”
In Longtime Companion, the first mainstream feature film to deal with the devastation of AIDS, Bruce Davison (as David) delivers the most moving speech of the year at the deathbed of his lover, Sean, played by Mark Lamos. Having nursed Sean at home for months, David understands that his exhausted, tortured friend is ready to die. Softly, slowly, gently, he talks him into letting go of life.

The Great Escape
One of the year’s best scenes contained not one word of dialogue. All we heard while Miller’s Crossing‘s Albert Finney gunned down two intruders and leapt from his burning mansion were the strains of ”Danny Boy” coming from his old Victrola. Then he machine-gunned a speeding car until it crashed and ignited. He lowered his weapon. He raised his cigar. And the tenor’s voice swelled.

Feuds: Nasty As They Wanna Be
Roseanne Barr wasn’t the only entertainment heavy-weight who cultivated public enemies in 1990:

Delta Burke and the Bosses
In an interview last summer, the star of the hit CBS series Designing Women hinted she was less than happy with her producers, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and husband Harry Thomason. The Thomasons responded with a press realease: ”We are all mentally and physically exhausted from ‘The Daily Trials and Tribulations of Delta Burke.’ Every week has been a crisis.” As tension escalated, Burke released a series of statements accusing her bosses of ”abusive behavior,” including ”screaming at (me) in a threatening manner” and ”throwing things.” The battle came toa head in November when a sobbing Burke lambasted the Thomasons on a Barbara Walters special. Incredibly, all three still work together.

Tom Wolfe and Mary Gordon
The author of The Bonfire of the Vanities struck the match in a November ’89 Harper’s magazine essay lamenting the dearth of realism in modern American fiction. Writers across the country smoldered, and by February, when Wolfe appeared with Mary Gordon (Final Payments) on Lewis Lapham’s PBS talk show, Bookmark, an inflamed Gordon spoke for many by calling Wolfe’s essay ”the most self-aggrandizing literary piece I’ve seen in a good long time.”

Frank Sinatra and Sinead O?Connor
Ol’ Blue Eyes threatened to ”kick (O’Connor) in the ass” after the Irish singer insisted that the national anthem not be played before her August concert at New Jersey’s Garden State Art Center.

Not Cleared for Takeoff
When that standing-room-only jumbo jet hit the tarmac at Dulles International Airport, you knew Die Hard 2 wouldn’t show up on in-flight screens any time soon. But the skies were unfriendly for other 1990 movies as well. According to Steve Silverstein, who programs movies for Continental Airlines, the following films won’t be playing on airlines near you: Steven Spielberg’s Always (a paean to a dead aviator), the Mel Gibson vehicle Air America, even the WWII bomber flick Memphis Belle (”I saw the first two planes get chopped in half and said forget that,” Silverstein explains). The dark Michael Caine comedy A Shock to the System did earn its wings — but the sputtering sound of a troubled Cessna, which ends the movie, was edited out.

Iraq the Casbah
Following the precedent set in Panama last Christmas by American soldiers who tried to smoke out a barricaded Manuel Noriega with taunting pop songs like ”I Fought the Law,” Armed Forces Radio opened up its first program for U.S. troops in the Middle East with the Clash’s ”Rock the Casbah.” ”It’s not the norm,” a radio spokesman admitted. ”We don’t play oldies.”

Box Office Gross
It’s not easy, but we’re trying to forget we ever saw these magic movie moments: Fred Ward’s gums in Miami Blues; Willem Dafoe’s teeth in Wild at Heart (not to mention the climactic shot of his Hanes-clad brains hitting the sidewalk); the bullet-riddled body used as a shield by Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall; Michael Gambon getting his just dessert in The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover; and, ickiest of all, Kathy Bates’ approach to podiatry in Misery. Thanks for the memories, folks.

Making a Killing
The show must go on, and so, apparently, must American Psycho, the third novel by Bret Easton Ellis (Less Than Zero, The Rules of Attraction) and the scandal of the publishing world this fall. Simon & Schuster was about to publish the “satire” (for which it paid $300,000) — until staffers got squeamish, then furious, about the hero, a serial-killing investment banker who skins women alive and works on them with nail guns and chain saws. When the press quoted horrifying excerpts, S&S bowed out, abandoning its investment. And Ellis learned the new rules of detraction: He reportedly made another $350,000 on a subsequent deal with Vintage Books, which will publish the novel early in 1991.

An Unreel Moment
In a movie full of gonzo self-referential gags, the critters of Gremlins 2 really kicked down the fourth wall when they took over the film projector itself. Audiences were startled when the screen went white, amused when gremlin hand-shadow bunnies appeared, and delighted when Hulk Hogan, as a moviegoer within the film, went upstairs to muscle the little buggers. For a wonderfully disorienting second, you had no idea where you were.

Marge to Barbara: Eat My Shorts
In this crisis year in Washington, one scandal in particular rocked the White House: Call it Simpsongate. It all started Oct. 1 when Barbara Bush called Fox’s hit TV series The Simpsons ”the dumbest thing” she’d ever seen. At the bidding of the show’s executive producer, James L. Brooks, cartoon mom Marge Simpson fired back an angry letter to the White House. ”If we’re the dumbest thing you ever saw,” Marge told the First Lady, ”Washington must be a good deal different than they teach me at the current-events group.” On Oct. 9, Marge received a response: ”I’m glad you spoke your mind,” Mrs. Bush wrote. ”I foolishly didn’t know you had one.” When all was said and done, the women discovered they had much in common. ”Each of us lives our lives to serve an exceptional man,” Marge pointed out. And Mrs. Bush returned the compliment, remarking that ”Homer looked like a handsome fella.”

Have the two become fast pen pals? ”We don’t discuss Mrs. Bush’s personal letters,” hedges a White House spokesman. But a Simpsons representative says the comic correspondence has not continued.

The Medium is the Massage
Some TV series are good, some are bad, some inspire critics to use terms like ”vast wasteland” and then there’s The Howard Stern Show. After years on Washington, D.C., and New York radio, during which his tasteless commentary antagonized just about every minority group — and drew the disapproving attention of the FCC — Stern took his act to the tube with a weekly late-night talk hour. A small but loyal core of viewers got to watch Stern and his shock troops talk a Queens, N.Y., housewife into inviting them in for body massages, fondle seminude spokesmodels, and ask Anthony Quinn whether he’d like to be interviewed while sitting on the toilet. ”This is no show,” said Los Angeles Times critic Howard Rosenberg. ”This is an enema.”

Ms.-Ogyny
In the magazine biz, 1990 was the year of the glorified male demographic. The year began without Ms., which died from the neglect of advertisers who felt it shouted and hard-line feminists who thought it whispered. In June, Esquire dealt another blow to women with ”The Secret Life of the American Wife,” featuring a cover diagramming female anatomy. ”Her plumbing,” read one caption. ”How much should you know?” Feminists called for a boycott, while new or revamped publications aimed at the retro-male — Details, M inc., Forbes FYI — inspired others to call for a bonfire. Particularly goofy was the short-lived Men’s Life, ”an embrace to guys saying it’s O.K. to be a guy again.” But women may get the last word: In August, Ms. was reborn — without ads but with plenty of attitude.