The Vulgar Wave

1991 - 2008

I recently got an interesting message by one of my readers that reminded me of a concept that I used to talk about. The Vulgar Wave.

The message is about a new doctor show which premiered on ABC recently.

The show is by the same writer who created House MD. Clips of the new show went viral on Twitter because the scenes are unintentionally comedic. The premise of the show is simple, it’s about a doctor who is autistic and has to live his life. The way it is written, though, makes it look like a Saturday Night Live skit.

People may forget but the character of GregoryHouse is also supposed to be an autistic doctor. They even made an entire episode about it. In the episode he bonds with an autistic child at the hospital and can communicate with him in ways no one else can, it is speculated he may have Aspergers by his coworkers. They added this episode for a reason, they’re trying to tell you that House is on the spectrum. But it’s not his identity. It’s just one characteristic of his identity.

In the new show, “The Good Doctor”, they state openly in the beginning he is autistic and make it painfully obvious in the scenes. His identity is autism. It’s not just an attribute to a wider character. In 2023, your identity is a personality. So when we think of autistic or aspergers or being on the spectrum we see a boyish doctor who has bizarre interactions.

There are other differences between the shows. He looks like a grown man, not a boy. He swears a lot, he does drugs, he breaks the rules and has a chaotic kind of life. He does a lot of unethical things on the show. He’s an anti-hero. It’s no surprise that the first season House came out in 2004. 2004 is not 2023. Two different eras. 2004 was at the tail end of an era I like to call the Vulgar Wave.

The Vulgar Wave

There was a period of time between roughly 1990 to 2008 where pop culture focused on entertaining heterosexual men in their 20s and 30s. I grew up during this era. I felt like the entertainment industry was catering to my personal taste, because indeed, they were. It does seem unimaginable today.

Mainstream entertainment today is trying to be the opposite. inclusive of all groups. Part of the reason for the change in mainstream culture is that demographics have changed. Women are driving the majority of Americas 'consumer side' economy.

Beginning around 2010-2014 there appears to have been a shift in mainstream culture. You can see how the NYTimes has changed with articles. 

Also, many people even opted out of anything mainstream. How many of you just watch your favorite youtube channels, tiktok or whatever? Pop culture isn’t what it used to be. Things are much more personalized today. But still, there are movies at the cinema and shows on TV. Before the internet became what it is now, there was another era. The Vulgar Era

What do Young Men Like?

The best way to explain this era is to start with a young man. What does he like? He probably likes the following:

  • Comedy (the more offensive the better)

  • Freedom and Rebellion against Careerism

  • 9/11 and Action Movies

  • Sports Jerseys in Public

  • Beautiful women

You can find all of these online now. But for a brief moment the entire culture revolved around these categories. In this newsletter I’ll run through each of these categories and show you how the entire entertainment industry in America focused on manifesting content for these attributes.


Humor is a very important part of a man’s life. Males bond with each other with humor. Many examples of male friendships revolve around humor and making fun of the world or sometimes each other. I feel like I can trust someone a little who can make me laugh. Moreover, I can’t trust someone who has a total absence of any sense of humor. You can spot a fundamentalists because humor doesn’t fit into their worldview. Absence of sense of humor is a marker of a total inability to get nuances.

Humor also serves an important function. Hitchens once wrote an article on why men are funny. They need to be to attract women:

It’s no surprise many Vulgar Wave movies had a funny guy with a gorgeous girlfriend. This does, indeed, happen in real life sometimes.

Since the Vulgar Wave was about appealing to men, we saw a golden age of comedy in the 90s and early 00s. Unsurprisingly, big comedy movies don’t really exist anymore. When’s the last time you saw one in theaters? It’s a genre that has disappeared. There used to be wave after wave of comedy movies. Think of Adam Sandler, Jim Carrey, Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller and many more. It slowly ended right around Superbad in 2007.

Comedy in the vulgar wave punched both up and down and had no boundaries. That meant a lot of tasteless jokes. You can see a big difference with corporate comedians like Jimmy Kimmel or Jimmy Fallon who used to do risky comedic bits in the vulgar wave but now have gone the other way. Comedy today is supposed to only punch up. If you focus your attack on a certain group (women, disabled, homeless, poor, or on race) it will come across as mean and unacceptable. But that wasn’t always the case.

The Onion used to post articles like this attacking poor African countries. Clearly punching down.

Or Child Abuse jokes

or jokes about disabled kids

By 2013, the Onion was issuing public apologies for their satire. Their jokes were always mean but the environment changed. The Onion today is a little bit different. Their comedy is fine. But it has limits. The jokes do not punch down anymore.

The Onion isn’t alone, It was reported that Vice was going into bankruptcy. Vice is a woke publication today. But their content changed dramatically. They got very popular during the vulgar wave with articles like this about executing your dog or making fun of how people dress. It was an era of insulting comedy. You can do this game with most publications that have been around for 20 years. You can see a dramatic change in content over time.

I believe this is why Donald Trump stands out today. Trump refuses to enter this new era we are in. He wears 90s baggy suits, he has a 90s hair style, he is a horn dog, a comedian, a braggart and a vulgar guy. He carries himself like a 90s male. He was one of the biggest celebrities of the vulgar wave and he did explicit interviews.

People like him either disappeared or they toned down how they spoke. Trump never toned it down. He just kept going. Everyone else is in the mainstream is trying to live in a post Vulgar Wave era society. That’s why his humor hits different than everyone else’s.

Rebelling Against Careerism

America at large was prospering in the ’90s. The United States economy grew by an average of 4 percent per year between 1992 and 1999. (since 2005 not even by 3 percent for a whole year.) An average of 1.7 million jobs a year were added to the American work force, versus around 850,000 a year during this century so far. The unemployment rate dropped from nearly 8 percent in 1992 to 4 percent — that is, effectively zero.

However, at the same time, there was this cultural idea that this was bad for the soul: a corporate job, a home, a spouse and kids, a car. Every 90s movie is like this, having a well compensated job and easy access to consumer goods is considered hellish and dystopian. Films like Fight Club:

Or other films like Reality Bites, today people would be confused why affable Ben Stiller is the villain and not mopey, obnoxious Ethan Hawke. Dilbert became mainstream in the 90s, Office Space was a hit, films like Waiting… or Clerks or Clockwatchers or Being John Malkovich. Good films. If you could walk & talk in the 90’s, you could get an office job. It was a full employment society.

The Vulgar Wave was characterized by a rebellious and anti-establishment spirit, fueled by alternative music. It was a time of questioning authority and pushing boundaries, and many embraced a counter-cultural mindset that devalued the idea of a conventional career. Non-conformity, individualism, and the pursuit of unconventional paths that allowed for self-expression and personal freedom were celebrated. The notion of selling out to the corporate world and surrendering dreams to the grind of a 9-to-5 job was met with disdain.

The vulgar wave was about rebelling against careerism. Today we expect a lot from the companies that employ us and their mission. There is a lot less rebellion against careers. Most people are looking for a way to work to make the world a better place or to make work fun for them. When a recent Pew Research survey asked about the secret to happiness, most Americans, of all ages, ranked ‘a job or career they enjoy’ above marriage, children, or any other committed relationship. Careerism is ascendant.

9/11 and Action Movies

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