11 Iconic Moments From the 90's That Have Shaped Our Generation
As our generation continues to grow older and come into its own, other generations are still trying to figure out who we Millennials are and how the heck we generally got this way: constantly connected, unrushed to marry, wary of institutions and politics and deeply aware of the things that both divide us and bring us together as a generation.
To see why this is, one need only look at what it was like to be a kid in the '90s, with consideration given to the political, cultural and economic happenings of the times. While Generation X dealt with coming into adulthood, many of us were at the height of our kid-dom in the '90s, at a moment when events were being set in motion that would shape how we would grow into who we are today.
1. The World Wide Web launches and the Information Age arrives.
While this system of "interlinked hypertext documents" began to be developed via the Internet in 1989, it wasn't until 1990 and 1991, when the project had its first test runs and was fully publicized, that it changed the world as we know it.
Thus the most important aspect of the 1990s was quietly ushered in, leading to the creation of all things digital: Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Whisper and other platforms that keep us connected.
2. The Rodney King verdict and L.A. Riots tear the nation apart.
Church members pray for calm before the Rodney King verdict.
After decades of race issues being pushed aside, the videotaped beating of an African-American man named Rodney King by police officers in Los Angeles — and the subsequent trial where those officers were found innocent — ignited not just riots in L.A. and across America, but new passionate conversations and considerations about race in the United States.
The conversations that grew from these trials helped shape, for better and worse, a generation's view of race in America.
3. The WTC and Oklahoma City bombings cement "terrorism" in the national consciousness.
A new trend that thrust itself onto the '90s news scene came in the form of random terrorist attacks against Americans. With the first WTC bombing by a handful of Muslim radicals in February 1993, the precedent for terror was set. This was made worse with the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995, as it was caused by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, two Americans. Yet these events seemed to only be precursors to the terror and challenges to come in the 21st century.
4. Bill. Clinton.
Bill Clinton, that smooth-talking governor from Arkansas who came to power with the election of '92, embodied the modern American politician.
He was cool, young-ish, smart, got shit done and even rode out a little bit of scandal. He was charismatic, politically calculating and knew how to use the media. Yes, the 1990s easily would have never been the same without ol' Slick Willy (as well as Hillary and Chelsea) at the helm in the White House, and politics today wouldn't be the same without the playbook he helped create.
5. Newt Gingrich redefines the American Right.
Hate him or love him, Newt Gingrich defined everything about the new American Right in the '90s.
As George H. W. Bush lost reelection and the Reagan days became a thing of the past, Gingrich used his position as Speaker of the House from 1995 until 1999 to work against and with President Clinton, ultimately enacting welfare reform, helping to create the first balanced federal budget since 1969 and becoming Time Magazine's "Man of the Year" in 1995.
While he was pressured out of his leadership role in the Republican party due to ethics violations in 1999 and his political career hasn't been anywhere near as notable in the 21st century, it's hard not to recognize his Republican Congress' contribution to the development of the new American Right that continues today.
6. The O.J. Simpson chase, trial and acquittal.
Whatever conversations about race started with the Rodney King beating and trial, they continued a few years later as former athlete and actor O.J. Simpson was implicated in the killing of his ex-wife, a white woman, as well as her possible lover.
As the trial dragged on, issues of bloody gloves and DNA shaped televised court room proceedings for years, but the emotional issues surrounding the couple's abusive interracial relationship caused different races and sexes to take different sides. Nonetheless, the event marked another time in the '90s when our generation was challenged to think deeply about race and priviledge.
7. Rap music and the new hip-hop spark debates over race, class and censorship.
The rap music scene had built up to a crescendo by the end of '80s, and in the '90s it blew up, causing not only inner city youths to have rap playing on their Walkmans, but suburban youths too.
From Dr. Dre and The Chronic, to Snoop Dogg and Doggystyle, to Tupac with All Eyez on Me, to The Notorious B.I.G. and Ready to Die, to The Wu-Tang Clan and Enter the Wu-Tang, to The Fugees and The Score — the decade of the '90s generated a ridiculous number of rap hits and was primed for the music genre to create classic sounds that not only defined music, but an entire generation and the issues around them.
8. The Real World and Pedro Zamora make sexuality and HIV part of the discussion.
The reality TV craze that dominated America throughout the '90s and into the 21st century arguably got started with a little show on MTV called The Real World in 1992.
By focusing on a group of young people living together in an apartment in New York City and talking about such topics as sexuality, substance abuse, abortion and other hot-button issues, The Real World came to define not only what was important to the generation just above us, but also how they talked about it and later, how we would as well.
9. Seinfeld, Friends and the new American sitcom are all about single adults.
While Seinfeld officially kicked off in 1989, it undoubtedly came to prominence and even defined television in the '90s. Focusing on "nothing" and centered around four single friends' ridiculous misadventures involving dating, work and the city, Seinfeld brought many sexual topics into casual conversations and gave us such memorable catchphrases like "Yadda Yadda Yadda," "King of Your Domain" and "No Soup for You!" Not to be outdone, Friends provided something even younger and edgier, with six sexy young people all dealing with love and lust in New York City as well.
Both shows featured unmarried characters well past the age a previous generation might have considered "normal," shaping our view of modern relationships.
10. The Simpsons, South Park and the modern cartoon explore issues deeper than any sitcom.
Yet another brilliant aspect of the '90s that actually got its start in the late '80s, The Simpsons defined the modern prime time cartoon of the '90s, and allowed other cartoons to be created in the same form, thrusting off old cartoon adages and combining new characters that everyday people could relate to with crude humor.
This led to a slew of new cartoons for the modern era, from Beavis and Butt-head to Ren & Stimpy, but the most successful by far for those coming of age in the late '90s was South Park, a show that continues to educate us still.
11. Napster and the rise of free digital content
In 1999, in a seemingly prophetic way to usher in the new century, a peer-to-peer file-sharing service called Napster became immensely popular for pirating music, and soon young people all over the world became accustomed to free digital content.
While Napster would later pay its dues for its copyright infringement, the online company helped set a precedent that would dominate the new generation: We wanted our music and entertainment content for free or for cheap, and we wanted it at the touch of our hands on our computer.