The Quoting Years refers to the stretch of time in the mid 90’s-late aughts (think 1995-2010) when popular movie and television quotes dominated interpersonal conversation. It was a fundamental mode of communication between young men from middle school into adulthood.
Brother, I can’t believe we spent so much time in circles of people quoting shit rather than saying original shit, but that WAS how we interacted with pop culture for several years. I’m not here to tell you that this was a BAD thing, but it was a very specific thing in my high school and college life. There were great quoters and awful quoters. The dudes who would quote something incorrectly and never live it down. The guy who spoke almost exclusively in quotes. The shy-quoters who might interject once in a while with a Simpsons reference but otherwise say little. The people who recycled two quotes for an entire decade and lost a LOT of friends as a result of it. There was the adept quoter who knew just the right time and moment to crush an Anchorman quote and bring everybody together.
Let me set a scene for you: you’re at a party in the summer of 2007. It’s a small one, maybe fifteen people, and you’re all drinking Keystone Light. Your friend has her older boyfriend over, and it’s clear that he feels weird about being out of college while the rest of you are fresh undergrads. You’re doing that thing where you stand around the table in the kitchen, draining beers and goofing around. Your friend’s boyfriend needs a new beer, and he feels like this is the time to connect with the group. He decided to drop what he thinks is a gem, a Family Guy quote. “Hey Peter, you want to play "drink the beer"?
Peter: Sure. (takes drink of beer)
Quagmire: You win!
Peter: What do I win?
Quagmire: Another beer!
Peter: Oh man, I'm going for the high score!”
The group laughs tepidly. What the boyfriend doesn’t know is that Family Guy quotes, once de rigeur among white dudes in 2002, have since fallen out of style. He would have been better served with a sampling from Superbad or Nacho Libre, two much cooler quote-machines that premiered in 2006 and 2007. Needless to say, your friend breaks up her boyfriend shortly after. You two hook up for a while, and it’s pretty fun, but you both realize you’re better off as friends.
ANYWAY. We used quotes as a kind of social currency. If you were a skilled quoter, as in, you didn’t do it too much but when you did, it was impeccable, then you had the ability to appeal to a larger group of people. You could connect with disparate social groups with a familiar and well-timed reference. I am not trying to toot my own horn here, but I was not a big quote guy. I had seen too many of my comrades misquote something AWKWARDLY, or use a quote well-past its sell-by date. Maybe it’s because I was too cool by the time I reached college, but I didn’t love the idea of relying on popular films and TV to replace a lack in my own humor. Of course, it would be foolish to say that i NEVER quoted something to friends. I’m sure I did. If you check the records of my life, I guarantee you’ll find an instance of me saying “dirty pirate hooker” or “It’s the fucking Catalina Wine Mixer.”
Once I emerged from a few years abroad and a few years in graduate school, my relationship to the monoculture had changed drastically, and I wasn’t attached to what people were quoting, if they were quoting at all. By 2014, there were no universal quotes to be had anywhere. We were in a Quote Desert. IF you chose to quote something, you were running the serious social risk of looking like an out of touch old person or simply missing the vibe completely and alienating yourself and everyone else.
Quoting changed how we viewed television and film. Now, people who make TV and film will try to create memeable moments. You know, images that can be made into memes and dispensed widely. In the same way, movies of this time clearly attempted to provide the next big QUOTE that all the cool kids would use as a crutch in social situations. As viewers, we wanted to find the best quotes to walk out of the theater with. It almost became competitive: who could remember and properly recite the dopest quote from the thing we all just watched? Who was the best impressionist? How could you apply a particular quote to the mundane task you were performing? Essentially, you went to movies in search of quotes.
This was a way of life that rapidly disappeared with the fracturing of popular culture and the proliferation of media, meme culture, and streaming services. People won’t throw out a quote from their favorite obscure Netflix show unless they know they’re in the company of other fans. We have a culture of niches that makes quote-culture disappear.
Miles Klee, in a Mel Magazine article called: “WHAT HAPPENED TO THE BYGONE PASTIME OF QUOTING MOVIES TO EACH OTHER?” posits that because so much communication now occurs through text, the specific way that a quote is conveyed (voice, posture, intonation, accent) is lost in translation and therefore lacks the punch. Klee posits that (QUOTE), “It’s exceedingly hard for visual entertainment to represent the nuances of texting in a way that feels dynamic to watch, so actual speech absorbs those rhythms. For quite the same reason, these mumblecore idioms lack the singular voice and delivery that define, say, your favorite exchange from Wayne’s World. The internet promised exponential divergence but congealed into another monoculture.”
“While it’s easy for a person of my age to remember this bygone era, it’s rather difficult to reconstruct why we might have found a friend reciting lines from Old School (“Earmuffs!”) or Happy Gilmore (“You eat pieces of shit for breakfast?”) so hilarious. I know it took a mixture of confidence and talent to truly pull it off; nothing was more awkward than sitting there as a guy mixed up his allusions or botched the cadence of an easy one. The people who excelled in this format were often gifted impressionists…”
Part 2: How Quote Culture lives on and What Even IS a quote?
Quote culture DOES live on in meaningful ways…I THINK. Of course it lives in our hearts (if you’re with other Millenials, the likelihood of landing a quote is significantly better than if you’re among Boomers or Zoomers). It also lives on in meme culture. For instance, the popular culture quotes that used to occupy our minds have been replaced by hyper specific viral video and niche meme culture quotes.
Many of my students will reference memes or videos in the same way we used to bang out a Simpsons quote. The desire to reference culture still exists, but it is harder to reach a wide audience with your potent quotables. Sometimes the outlet for this desire comes in the form of sharing videos or shoving your phone in someone’s face so that they see the funny thing. I contend it is the same impulse, and I also think the internet has been doing this for a while. We were shaped by internet quotes just as much as we were movies and TV.
I was curious, so I investigated the viral memes of the early 2000s, and some of them were frequent quote-fodder in my friend circle. Things like “badger badger badger” were originally online videos and they became quotes. I remember having my mind blown by the cheap video of cartoon badgers and the intermittent “oh it’s a snake.” The DEAN SCREAM became a quotable sound that was popularized as a meme and a Chappelle’s Show sketch. The transition from a Quote Culture that only referenced film and TV to a multifaceted internet-based quote culture was already underway. Sure, quoting the Numa Numa guy (a popular 2004 meme) didn’t have the same power as referencing anything Will Ferrell was in from 2003-2009, but it DID serve a particular purpose. It was a warm hug in a social world that could feel isolating. It was like saying, “hey, I think we share a common sense of humor, and I wanna show you.”
We still want to quote shit, but what and how we quote is totally different. To present a meme/video to someone is fraught with danger, and it isn’t as personal. A quoter took the risk of misfiring, but a person just showing you their phone doesn’t risk anything.
What even is a quote? I mean, we know what it is literally. But what is its function?
Most popular films and TV Shows of the era
My Top Quotes from the quoting years: LISTEN, I’m not saying these are the top quotes from this period. ALL I am saying is that these quotes presented themselves weekly in my life for a span of about 8 years. I come from a specific background where the films and TV we watched were catered to the straight young dude crowd, but I imagine that you’ll recognize some of these.
LISTEN folks, I’m going to rank these on their potential effectiveness in social situations and their ability to get a good laugh. If you plan on taking a time machine to 2007 and you want to ensure that you’ll be a hit at any gathering, keep these quotes in your back fucking pocket. According to my rankings, some quotes from the same film will land in different categories. The real QuoteHeads know that good quoting isn’t just about the most popular movie. I am omitting my most quoted film, Wet Hot American Summer, because although I quoted it heavily from 2005-today, it was made in 2001. I’ve left out any film outside of our parameters. I call this the 2000’s Quotability Scale.
Least Effective and You Need to go back to Quote School (LEYNGBQS):
40 Year Old Virgin
“"Oh, Kelly Clarkson!"
The Dark Knight Rises
“I was born in the dark.” (this was for lame dudes who wanted to sound cool and edgy)
“This. is. Sparta.” (this is also for lame dudes who wanted to seem crazy)
“Milk was a bad choice!" (like, why?)
"I'm very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany." (over-quoted. We don’t need this.)
“Stop trying to make fetch happen.” (stop trying to make this quote happen)
“Let’s go drink until we can’t feel feelings anymore.” (overused and too obvious before a night of drinking)
Moderately Effective, Especially Among the Right Crowd (MEEARC):
40 Year Old Virgin
“"You know when you grab a woman’s breast and it feels like a bag of sand.”
“It's not about butthole pleasures at all.”
“what I do have are a very particular set of skills” (this was often misquoted as: “I have a very particular set of skills”)
"I love scotch. Scotchy scotch scotch. Here it goes down, down into my belly." (important to say if drinking scotch)
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
“You sound like you’re from London!” (great for mocking British people)
“Game. Blouses.” (after winning some kind of intramural sporting event)
Superbad (superbad is a good movie, and it definitely dominated quoting in the summer of 2007)
“Prepare to be f*cked by the long dick of the law.”
Anything “McLovin” related.
“Whooaa, an old fashioned!” (in reference to a handjob)
Highly Effective Quoting (HEQ):
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Singing “Dracula’s Lament” (a low key banger comedy moment of the decade)
“Fuck yo couch.” (when you want to trash your friend’s couch or anything that they love)
Borat (The quote king. Obviously, we want to bring back Borat quoting as much as possible. If you do a Borat quote, you’re an American hero. It isn’t lame. It’s GOOD.)
“Very nice, very nice! How much?”
Her vagine hangs like sleeve of wizard.
“Did we just become best friends?” “Yup!” (effective when making a new friendship or solidifying an old one)
“When you are a man, sometimes you wear stretchy pants in your room. It’s for fun.” (my pick for quote of the decade. Nacho Libre is so funny and underdiscussed, but this quote is a very good all-purpose quote. Any time when you want to make fun of masculinity, or you’re wearing a dumb outfit, or you just want to shorten to “it’s for fun”.)
Part 4: how do the quoting years represent the time period?
It’s pretty obvious. This WAS the time period. In fact, this was the last age of a non-fractured mainstream culture that quoting needs to thrive. The ways in which we just quoted reflexively won’t be replicated in the future because every niche community has its own set of media to quote from. Gen Z’ers and their offspring won’t have the same small pool of quotable material. They’ll gaze into the abyss of content and pull out whatever they can. It’s kind of like, we used to look into the pond and there were five species of fish. We all knew their names. I knew that YOU probably knew their names. If a new fish showed up, we’d ALL know about it.
Then the pond was absorbed by an ocean, which had millions of different species. I can’t confidently say that you know a fish unless I catch it and drag it over to you. It isn’t bad, but it isn’t the same. It’s yet another thing that makes us feel seen by someone and still isolated. I like that we don’t quote mainstream stuff to each other anymore. I think it was kinda lame, but I do miss the language of it. How we communicated in this bizarre way.