I Watched Dawson's Creek For The First Time & It Turns Out The '90s Were Awful

As a self-respecting millennial, you'll know that '90s nostalgia is the very foundation of our overworked, underpaid, selfie-taking, avocado-eating being.
From finding the theme tune to Round The Twist stuck in your head, oh, about once a day, to the part we played in the return of Ben-from-A1's curtain hairstyle, our interest in the pre-millennium decade has gone from a gentle comedic obsession to full-blown fetishisation. BuzzFeed even has an entire category page dedicated to the subject.
The '90s, in our twenty-to-thirtysomething heads, remind us of a safer time. A time before the internet, when the biggest question we needed to grapple with was whether we wanted Monster Munch or Wotsits in our packed lunch. It was a time when adults could sort things out for us, when things just seemed to 'work'.
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And so, as a form of escapism, we turned to the culture of the '90s. Reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer are far less scary than watching a news item on Brexit.

In 2017, no one knows what's going on. Our generation, upon reaching adulthood, found ourselves handed a world that had been left in a less than shipshape manner. The internet existed and suddenly we were aware of 50 times the amount of problems. We couldn't even fake it 'til we made it by blindly following in our parents' footsteps and hoping for the best; things like buying a house and saving money were all of a sudden Off The Table.
And so, as a form of escapism, we turned to the culture of our childhood. Turns out, reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer are far less scary than watching a news item on Brexit.
It was therefore rather canny of Channel 4 to purchase the rights to the entire six seasons of favourite teen television show, Dawson's Creek. In November, they released all of it online via All 4, entirely for our viewing pleasure.
Back in 1998, the year Dawson's Creek and its ubiquitous theme tune* hit TV screens, I was an awkward 11-year-old Briton growing up in a suburban American town like Capeside. I didn't watch Dawson's Creek though. While I was really into other seminal '90s shows like Are You Afraid of the Dark, Fresh Prince and Friends, the long-word-using, Abercrombie and Fitch-wearing world of Dawson's Creek seemed too far removed from the British TV shows my friends back home were into at the time. I missed them terribly. I was living in Dawson's world, I thought. I don't have to watch it on TV as well.
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Fast-forward 20 years to 2017. Dawson's Creek was back. Intelligent people I followed on social media seemed very excited. The Sad Dawson meme was being shared more than Distracted Boyfriend. Then, last week, I found myself with a long plane ride ahead of me. "What the hell," I thought. "Let's give Dawson and pals a whirl."
What an eye-opener that was.
Because, it turns out, '90s nostalgia is one giant lie. The '90s were not the schmaltzy, safe, escapist climate we think they were. They were not Hallmark movie-perfect, rose-tinted or anything of the sort. The '90s were rubbish.
Take, if you will, three of 2017's biggest issues: underage sex pursued by people in power, slut shaming and racism. All three of these (along with homophobia) are visible in just the first six episodes alone. Nineties' culture, despite how much we fetishise it in our 'woke' society today, was decidedly not woke. It was so not woke that what was perceived as the most woke young person's show on television in 1998 makes for a pretty jaw-dropping first-time watch in 2017.

"The Graduate. The one where the older woman seduces the younger man," she says seductively to this boy who, were it 2017, wouldn't be able to remember Nelly's 'Hot In Herre' being played on the radio. Because he wasn't born yet.

Let's look at Pacey. Much like many 15-year-old boys, Pacey wants to have sex. Sadly, this was before the invention of smartphones and therefore, Pacey, unable to Snapchat his way to hot teens in his local area (or something), instead settles his affections on Miss Jacobs, his 38-year-old teacher who, on her first day in Capeside, struts into the video store where Pacey works and asks for his help finding The Graduate. "The one where the older woman seduces the younger man," she purrs seductively to this boy who, were it 2017, wouldn't be able to remember Nelly's Hot In Herre being played on the radio. Because he wasn't born yet.
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The two pursue a sexual relationship. On Pacey's part, it is consensual. As much as we determine a 15-year-old can consent. For 38-year-old Miss Jacobs, though – pursuing a 15-year-old boy? There's a reason the last few months of 2017 have been dedicated to outing people who used their positions of power to do just this. It's not OK. Not even a little bit.
Moving swiftly on, we come to Katie Holmes' Joey. In the pilot, she is asked why people don't like her. "Pick a topic," Joey says. "There's my dad the imprisoned convict, or my sister, impregnated by her black boyfriend."
Bodie, the "black boyfriend", is an excellent human being and yet his race, and the fact that he lives, unmarried, with a white woman who is mother to his unborn child, becomes an unfortunate – but somehow understandable – reason in Capeside as to why Joey doesn't fit in.
Fifteen-year-old Jen, four episodes in, admits to new boyfriend Dawson that not only has she had sex before, she's had sex with (gasp) multiple partners. Dawson stops talking to her. Jen feels awful about herself, especially about the bit where she lost her virginity aged 12 to an "older guy who got her drunk(!)" and tells Dawson that she's "not that girl anymore". Dawson, for his part, magnanimously accepts this fallen woman back into his life.
If TV shows are a mirror to society (feel free to add in Pacey's constant harassment of his brother for being gay and refusing to admit it), watching Dawson's Creek made me confused as to how, as a politically aware generation, we've managed to find escapism in the culture of a decade which was as far behind our political ideals as you can get.
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Dawson's Creek is a product of its time but, as the show went on, it produced some seriously important and groundbreaking moments.

If we look back at the '90s objectively, we know things were awful for oppressed communities. Even as children we knew. It was right there in our faces. The LA riots provided an illustration of the horrifying impact of unending systemic racism. Many of the Weinstein allegations date back to the '90s; politicians openly called LGBT people things like "weak, morally sick wretches"; lads' mags ran features on how to pull "birds" with "massive tits".
Mainstream '90s attitudes leaked into television to create the sort of bananas plotlines you can see in the early episodes of Dawson's Creek and, no doubt, countless other television shows from the same era (props must go to Fresh Prince, though, which took on racism over and over again during its six seasons – example six-million-and-one of why it's so important to have diversity in media). As Dawson's Creek went on it did actually produce some seriously important storylines: It had the first gay kiss on US network television. Mental health was tackled way before we got obsessed with anxiety. The show paved the way for its more political, more woke younger brothers and sisters. So why do we insist on harking back to culture from a time that didn't reflect our current mindset?
Because in 2017, TV shows, even escapist teen and comedy shows, do not shy away from important issues. Modern Family had a storyline with a transgender child; Riverdale delved into rape, slut shaming and homophobia. Even laugh-a-minute sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine dedicated a not-funny-but-deathly-important episode to police brutality. Things have changed.
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I guess what I'm trying to say is that, yeah, things are scarier now. Our TV shows reflect the time we live in – the same escapism from the outside world just isn't available anymore. But thank GOODNESS that it's not. The fight for equality in every area is still ongoing and if we're to keep going up that steep hill, we need the mainstream media on board.
So thanks to Dawson and co for starting the fight, paving the way, and then handing the reins down to us. We got it from here.
* FYI – for those of you who are watching the show on All 4 and are confused about why "I Don't Want To Wait" isn't the theme tune anymore, so was I. Turns out it's something boring to do with song rights. But fear not, Sony did splash out on the overall rights for the two-part finale so if you get that far, get prepared to hear it in all its glory.
If not, here you go.
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