Jessa Crispin

When will the Nineties revival end?

These two podcasts are the last word on this much-excavated decade

Operator is a new eight-part series from Wondery where you get to learn about a strange part of the 1990s: the 900 number

We’ve been living through a nostalgia for the 1990s that has lasted longer than the decade itself. That was back when music was cool, the only Batman movie wasn’t a fascistic fantasy of surveillance and control, and dresses over jeans looked good.

Podcasts and documentary series have really dug into the decade to reinvestigate and reappraise everything that went down in those ten years. I’ve listened to a podcast that takes the top hits of the decade one by one and defends each song, I’ve watched specials on why every maligned woman of the era (Lorena Bobbitt or Tonya Harding or Monica Lewinsky) was good actually and the only bad thing here is patriarchy actually. The 1990s cults, fashions, political manoeuvrings and wars have all been picked apart and scrutinised by a panel of experts (or often what sound like two seemingly high comedians). Surely there is nothing left but the dregs.

But with Operator, the new eight-part series from Wondery, I get to learn about a strange part of the 1990s I didn’t know I wanted to know about: the 900 numbers. It was big business in the era, and as long as you could keep someone hooked on the phone, either by giving them ‘therapy’ or forecasting their future with astrology and psychic powers or by talking dirty, you could charge them by the minute and make a lot of money. The biggest draw was of course the sex lines — every technological advancement whether VHS or 900 numbers or the internet goes mainstream by first gaining acceptance by the perverts and the freaks. But this story is ultimately a story of big business, of who was allowed to profit, hugely, off people’s loneliness and misery and whose labour was exploited before they were abandoned by their employers.

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