Clickbait websites, most notably Buzzfeed, are full of “articles” replete with pictures of 1990’s fads. A large component of the most internet saturated among us grew up during this decade. Seeing images of Kid Pix, Tamagochi, and Capri Sun juice packets give the reader a whiff of nostalgia for their childhood. Dangerously however, nostalgia is often inaccurate. This author grew up during the 90’s, and also enjoys seeing pictures of Dexter’s Laboratory, Rugrats, and Art Attack. Nevertheless, the readers of these articles were children during the period. Our image of the decade is formed by the innocence, if not ignorance (often being intertwined), that childhood allows. On the contrary, the 1990’s were a period where our contemporary political issues began to ferment; proving to be the final decade of the Pax Americana, following the Second World War. Behind the Nickelodeon cartoons and gimmicky toys therein lied a darkness our childhood minds did not comprehend, and furthermore, a darkness that went unseen even among the political class, believing we lived in the End of History.
1. School Games!
Columbine. On April 20, 1999 two fourth year students from Colorado, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, murdered 15 of their classmates and faculty members, injuring over a dozen more; all filmed by the school’s closed-circuit cameras. Nearly every politician and guru offered their own explanation. These varied from rational ones, such as lack of gun control, to nonsensical theories, like condemning the television programme South Park. Others pointed to bullying, however later testimony from other students painted the killers as surly and aloof. Many blamed the rock musician Marilyn Manson, a performer neither of the perpetrators appeared to have enjoyed. Regardless of the cause, the mass-killings at Columbine High School contributed to a growing climate of fear which existed even before the events of September 11, 2001. Children were no longer safe at school.
2. Wasn’t Clinton Zany?
“When Clinton lied, no one died”, as goes the rhyme. The disastrous Bush presidency lead to an upswing in nostalgia for the relative prosperity of the Clinton Administration. Once again, hindsight isn’t 20/20. In Waco, Texas there was a small religious group known as the Branch Davidians. They were an offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventists, a Christian denomination founded during the Second Great Awakening in the mid-Nineteenth Century. The Davidians were followers of a man named David Koresh, and were a strange religious cult, believing Koresh was the Second Coming of Christ. However, certain high-ranking members of the Clinton Administration, most notably Janet Reno, feared a repeat of the Jonestown Massacre, where hundreds of people committed mass suicide during the 1970’s. The Davidians did have a number of weapons, nevertheless, this was in rural Texas. Members of the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) stormed the Branch Davidians’ farm, and nearly 100 people were killed. There is dispute among certain circles whether members of the ATF started a fire at the compound which killed several children. The so-called Waco Siege, lasting from February to April 1993, is still a controversial event among many Americans; Libertarian extremists in particular. Regardless of the fire’s cause, the Waco Siege was a thoroughly botched exercise on the part of the ATF, and was intrinsic in contributing to the growing climate of fear and insecurity before September 11th, and the police and civilian militarization ever since.
3. Everybody got Along!
One such Libertarian extremist outraged by the events in Waco was Timothy McVeigh. He believed the Siege was proof-positive of a government conspiracy to overthrow personal liberty and the rule of law. On April 19th 1995, on the two-year anniversary of the Siege’s end, McVeigh and his associate Terry Nichols car bombed a government building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people. McVeigh has often been touted as an example of Christian terrorism, however, this is an inaccurate portrayal. McVeigh described himself as an atheist or agnostic in several interviews. Rather, McVeigh is an example of an anti-government/Libertarian terrorism. Once again, September 11th did not create America’s current anxiety, rather, it was the culmination of a decade’s worth of home-grown strife. Arguably, 9/11 created a headstrong and more outwardly bellicose American foreign policy. Furthermore, foreign reactions to American economic and political supremacy did not begin with the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, their seeds were planted much earlier, during the 1990’s.
4. Wasn’t Yeltsin Kooky?
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia was on its knees. Many within the country wanted to be accepted as a part of Europe and the West. However, many of the economic policies inflicted upon Russia were inspired by a vindictive streak among many of the old Cold Warriors in the United States government. The policies of “Shock Therapy” employed during this period allowed unscrupulous businessmen to gobble up vast swathes of the Russian economy, especially its manufacturing sector. The top-heavy Soviet government was privatized nearly overnight, all under the watchful gaze of the incessantly intoxicated Boris Yeltsin. These businessmen came to be known as the Oligarchs, and were hated by much of the Russian populace. On December 31st, 1999, the last day of the decade and the millennium, Vladimir Putin became President of Russia. Putin was able to quickly purge many of the Oligarchs, creating a loyal business class, all the while able to cast himself as a friend of the people, and more importantly, a restorer of Russian pride.
5. THE TOYS! THE TOYS!
No 1990’s Nostalgia Peddling Buzzfeed article is complete without discussing 1990’s era toys. These, too, are emblematic of the issues which began in the 90’s leading to our contemporary social and political issues. While innocuous within themselves, these cheap plastic toys were products of President Clinton’s deregulation of the manufacturing sector and liberalization of trade policies with the Chinese, policies which continued during the Bush Era. This Liberalization would lead to the mass job losses during the Great Recession and the total annihilation of the Western manufacturing sector. While this process began during the Reagan and Nixon Administrations, Clinton did nothing to stop these changes, and in certain ways accelerated the process. The wide variety of inexpensive plastic (Chinese-made) trinkets available during the 1990’s are symbolic of the industrial sector’s collapse throughout the developed world.
The internet is inundated with lists that contain pictures of toys, media, and fashion trends of the 1990’s, creating an image of care-free and innocent halcyon days. This perception is a by-product of those who were children during the period, and were not yet old enough to understand the era’s events. Nevertheless, those in the the political class at the time were as blind as the children. In 1992, Japanese-American political scientist Francis Fukuyama published a book entitled The End of History and the Last Man. In his work, Fukuyama posited that since over the Twentieth Century all competing political systems to Liberal Democracy, i.e.: Absolute Monarchy, Fascism, and most recently at the time, Communism, had failed, and as such, the world had come to “the End of History”. Liberal Democracy would flourish across the globe and a new world of peace and prosperity would commence, In retrospective, his thesis was fatuous, ideological, and arguably self-serving, being praised by many capitalist and political elites in America. Fukuyama’s idealized period of peace and prosperity included the events described herein, as well as the Yugoslav Wars and the Rwandan Genocide. Fukuyama has since moderated his views without completely recanting his earlier claims. Neither hindsight nor foresight is ever 20/20, it would seem we are all wandering blind. Whether we fall into the abyss or avoid it appears to be a mere matter of chance.