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March 23, 2004

The Nineties

The 90s was the decade of the African American.
Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Puff Daddy, Denzel Washington, Oprah Winfrey, Colin Powell, Janet Jackson.
This is the decade in which African Americans came top with style, with class, and power in reserve. Men and women began wearing dreads and braids like never before. Reggae music became more popular than ever, and black models like Tyson and Tyra changed the look of high fashion. Where there was once only the Cosby Show, now whole networks seemed dominated by black sitcoms. At the beginning of the 90s nobody believed hiphop would move beyond gangsta rap, by the end of the 90s BMW commercials had hiphop soundtracks. African Americans pushed the multicultural agenda, migrated back to the South, recreating it, integrated the mainstream like never before, closed economic and educational gaps and triumphed on the domestic and world stage.

The 90s was the decade of the Republican.
Bill Clinton moved the entire Democratic Party to the right, why? Liberals were toast. We had Newt Gingrich's Contract with America, Term Limits, Tax Abatement, Welfare Spending reductions and the rise of governors playing at presidential politics. Rudy and Rush redefined the public sphere. People forgot Mario Cuomo existed.

The 90s was the decade of the tribe.
Decentralization became the standard and American culture made peace with its multiple personalities. When I think of the look of the 90s, I see Janet Jackson's album. The 90s are orangeish brown. It is dark red with stainless steel highlights. Think Urban Outfitters. Think Houston's restaurant. I see Djimon Hounsou and all fashionable black men with shaved heads. Clothes have become baggier, casual Fridays an institution. Facial hair is a lot more prevalent, but not quite like the 70s. If the 70s was plastic and neon, and the 80s steel and glass, the 90s was cherry wood and platinum. It was the decade where people named their kids Jason and Connor. It was the decade of the Alternative Mainstream, when everything that split off didn't die but survived on its own, where people felt more comfortable in their niches and niches became more acceptable to everyone. Cable battered the networks. McMansion 'communities' shrank the size of the new suburbs. Show what tribe you belong to, what's your tatoo? What's your gender? What's your preference? What's your ethnicity?

The 90s was the extreme decade.
Once the 'Parental Advisory Explicit Lyrics' sticker became almost de reguer on half of pop and rock. Rock music came back in the 90s and finally made it's accomodation with hiphop. Rock and hiphop have merged and the best is still yet to come, but radio for youth is all of a piece. Baggy pants are what you wear, period. The X Games became an institution and Sprite and Mountain Dew duked it out. Ultramarathons, Eco Challenges, Iron Man Triathalons, Snowboarding, Bungee Jumping, Wakeboarding, Street Luge, Mountain Biking, new forms of skydiving, Base jumping all reached peak levels. It got to the point where even James Bond couldn't do anything to surprise us.

90s was the decade of computer.
Computers and software finally lived up to their potential. All of the ideas that had been germinating in universities and thinktanks catually came to fruition in the 90s. In the 90s, everyone finally got a cell phone, a home computer, an email address and voice mail. Now it is the exception that you have a little machine with tapes at your office from which to get your messages. In the beginning of the 90s, having a fax was a big deal. At the end of the 90s, people talk about email attachements. The 90s was the last decade for the videogame arcade. It went from the fringes of society into nonexistence. As was predicted, cocooning happened in the 90s, and something dramatic in home technolgy. Suddenly, people began spending more money on Video than on Audio. DVDs really exploded and The Matrix was the killer app. The number of people who don't have at least two stereo speakers in their television has probably dropped down to zero. There are no more dial phones anywhere. Cordless phones in the home are the norm rather than the exception - the very sight of a woman in a kitchen untangling a long phone cord is anachronistic. In the 90s, computer generated graphics signalled the very end of cheesy special effects. Jurassic Park was the beginning of a long string of films, including the reawakend Star Wars series that proved movies could once again be magical.

The 90s was the decade that introduced us to the Big Box.
Walmart emerged as the king of the outdoor 'destination' mall, but other big winners were Home Depot, Best Buy, Bed Bath & Beyond and Staples all of whom didn't exist or were tiny and unheard of in the 80s. We changed our way of shopping. Mongomery Wards died. Woolworth died. K-Mart wheezed on its death bed. Costco proved that for lower prices, people will abandon cushy department stores and spend half a day consuming mass quantities. We started going to Smart & Final instead of Pavillions. We shoved these mass quantities into the back of our huge minivans and SUVs. Shopping was not about browsing in a mall, but pushing huge cart in a warehouse-looking store, after having checked the internet for the lowest prices. We didn't need any floor staff to help us, except to get that box down from the 20 foot high shelf.

The 90s was the decade of the 'investor class'.
The new upper middle class went beyond just talking about. In the 80s we could all joke about yuppies, their BMWs and their cell phones. In the 90s they moved away and wound up in half million dollar homes and suddenly it wasn't so funny anymore. They were for real. There were probably more new models of Mercedes-Benz introduced in the 90s than ever before. The E Class, The C Class and the S Class began to be seen everywhere.

The 90s was a decade of domestic terrorism and ever more gruesome crime.
The LA Riots were not just in LA but in every major city. The OJ Simpson trial, the Unabomber, Waco, Ruby Ridge, Oklahoma City, Centennial Park Bombing, Polly Klaus, Heidi Fleiss. While most Americans felt safer and violent crime was generally held down, the crimes we paid attention to became ever more bizarre. Our fascination with crime also became bizarre as expressed in our interest for movies like 'Silence of the Lambs', 'Seven', and 'Natural Born Killers'. Television shows like 'NYPD Blue' and 'Cops' satisfied this appetite for extreme crime.

All in all, the prosperity and innovation of the 90s made it a very powerful time. The 80s were extreme in their own way, but they only seemed to be the chaos and accelleration that prepared us for what was to come. The 90s proved that even greater robustness was possible, that America could swing with extremes and even when the center didn't hold, the margins could stand on their own. What do you think?

Posted by mbowen at March 23, 2004 10:21 AM

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The Nineties from Dean's World
I kinda like Cobb's take on the Nineties. Can't wait to read his take on the Naughties come 2014.... [Read More]

Tracked on March 23, 2004 11:17 AM


NIce post. Reading through the list of fads and trends through the 90's brought it all back.

Posted by: bleedingbrain at March 23, 2004 05:13 PM