STRAIT ON: America’s changing lifestyles, Part 8: Society in chaos

Photo courtesy of U.S. Government and Wikipedia
After 12 years of Republican rule in the White House, Democrat Bill Clinton became the 42nd President of the United States in 1992.

■ By Rusty Strait / Senior Reporter

The ’90s came in like a lamb and went out like a windstorm. Everything in our society seemed topsy-turvy. It was the decade of credit-card mania, bigger homes, more expensive cars, and luxurious spending. It was as though we were granted the right to “just charge it,” without any thought of how we would pay for it. Bankruptcies increased as did divorce, child, and spousal support. Stepfathers became more important than biological ones to children abandoned by fathers who married too young and couldn’t, or didn’t want to, deal with the responsibilities of family life.

Unhealthy practice of “getting even”

Leading into the ‘90s, television and movies became more realistically violent, as did a lot of popular music. Because of that, kids especially began to become desensitized to blood and gore. When disputes erupted, instead of a using fist fight to settle the argument and making up the next day, more and more guns began to be employed by teenagers, especially young men, to settle arguments. Almost daily, newspapers and television headlined a new killing involving youth. It was the dawn of mass killings, which permeate the media today, and there seemed to be little to deter the trend. The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 was neutered after some 30 states enacted right-to-carry gun laws. More guns in the home meant better access for angry young men. Most folks shrugged their shoulders and saw it as a sign of the times, that is, until one of their own became a perpetrator or victim.

A cultural divide
As the crusade for gay rights progressed, so did the right to traditional masculinity. Gymnasiums had a sudden increase in membership. Machismo prevailed as some men took to the woods to chant and beat on drums like wild men. However, the Christian right considered homosexuality a curse and abomination. Nonetheless, in a survey taken in 1998, the majority of Americans found same sex relations acceptable. Bigotry and prejudice continued as violence and legal actions moved into the 21st century against gays.

A religious split
The Gen Xers had a different view of religion that had nothing to do with gender. Spiritualism, in the form of “New Age” practices, became a mantra for many unhappy with the strictness of orthodoxy. Individuality prevailed over longtime traditions. Beliefs in a Biblical heaven and hell were questionable. It was a different form of creation from evolution. White Anglo-Saxons did not stand alone in what appeared to be a coming social revolution. Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, organized a Million Man March that in some ways mimicked the Rev. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington when nearly a million African American men marched onto the mall in D. C. to listen to speeches and sermons lauding the virtues of family and community responsibility. It was the largest assemblage of African Americans ever held.

Loosen up, be yourself
The age of self-realization in dress codes fell upon us. Men began trading ties and suits in the workplace as women took to slacks and denims in favor of dresses. Sneakers were popular over dress shoes and high heels. Dress down Fridays led to casual dress codes throughout offices across the country. Grunge music influenced young people to wear loose-fitting jeans, flannel shirts, and T-shirts with designs that seemed alien to their parents. It was the advent of thrift stores and ragged jeans with holes that often exposed more flesh than they covered. It was a special style designed to be non-conforming as they conformed to being non-conforming. Hip-hop made its entry into the youth fashion world.
Some of these clothing fads became tradition and added to the mix of nonconformity came along Ralph Lauren, Stone Island, Harrington jackets, Tommy Hilfiger sweaters, Guess, Hush Puppy shoes, Doc Martens boots and Aviator sunglasses.
By the late ‘90s, Southeast Asian and Indian fashion became influential, not only in the United States but around the world. Some blamed it on the ‘60s and ‘70s influence of the Beatles and their mentor, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, an Indian guru who first met the Fab Four in 1967. He introduced them to Transcendental Meditation, which became part of the self-realization movement in the ‘90s.

Financial spin and whirl
Your 1990 hundred dollar bill would be worth $153.26 today. In 1990 an average house came at $123,000. By 1999, it would appreciate to $131,700. The average income for a family of four in 1990 was $28,970. At the end of the decade it was $40,819. A new car cost approximately $16,000. By 1999, that same vehicle would cost $21,000. However, a gallon of gasoline was $1.34 in 1990 but down to $1.22 at the beginning of the 21st century.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
After being imprisoned for years, Nelson Mandela became the first black president of democratic South Africa in 1994 thanks to pressure from the U.S. and Europe.

Political upheavals
The United States’ political situation was still traditionally a two-party system. George H. W. Bush was President, having succeeded Ronald Reagan in 1988. Such peaceful politics did not exist around the world. Boris Yeltsin became the first President of Russia and served as such until 2000. The current president, Vladimir Putin, succeed him in 2000.
As the Soviet Union collapsed, East and West Germany were reunited. Operation Desert Storm pushed Iraqi Armed Forces out of Kuwait.
After 12 years of Republican control of the White House, in 1992 Democrat Bill Clinton was elected President.
Former branches of the Soviet Union declared their independence, including Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Czechoslovakia became the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Freedom from terror and tyranny were becoming a part of history in Europe.
Kofi Annan became Secretary General of the United Nations and Bill Clinton (after being impeached and acquitted) was re-elected President for a second term. Under Clinton, Madeleine Albright became the first woman U.S. secretary of state.
Economic sanctions against South Africa by the United States and the European Economic Community helped force the country to amend its constitution to get rid of white rule and accept a new multiracial constitution. As a result, all black political leaders, including Nelson Mandela, were released from jail. In 1994, Mandela would become the first black president of a democratic South Africa.

Music, movies, television and cosmetics
American pop music took a sharp turn in the nineties. We were inundated with grunge, hip-hop, Britpop, psychobilly, punk, skater, Goth and preppy. While their parents were still hung up on Elvis and the Beatles, their offspring were going off in every direction when it came to musical tastes. The most popular singers of the ‘90s were 4 to 1 in favor of the ladies. Mariah Carey was number one, followed by Janet Jackson, Madonna and Whitney Houston. Boyz II to Men came in fifth.
Boys’ bands were generally popular. *NSYNC, New Kids on the Block, and All 4 One are examples. As to girl bands, Spice Girls, En Vogue and Missing. The Capris was the only Doo Wops with a hit.
Eminem’s “My Name Is” topped the rap/hip hop charts. “Murder She Wrote” by Chaka Demus & Pliers was the big Reggae hit. Vanilla Ice’s Ice Ice Baby topped the one-hit wonders list. Achy Breaky Heart was the fad song of the decade. Billy Ray Cyrus soared like spiked blood pressure, then dissolved into the dust of forgotten melodies. His offspring did better.
The top 10 male movie stars were Tom Hanks, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Keanu Reeves, Johnny Depp, Matt Damon, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Carrey and Sylvester Stallone.
Top ten female movie stars were Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Aniston, Meg Ryan, Demi Moore, Winona Ryder, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angelina Jolie.
The top ten movies: Pulp Fiction, Forrest Gump, The Shawshank Redemption, Schindler’s List, The Silence of the Lambs, Titanic, Jurassic Park, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and Toy Story.
Do you remember the top ten television shows? If not, here they are: Seinfeld, Friends, The X-Files, The Simpsons, Law and Order, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, ER, Saved by the Bell, Roseanne and Ellen.
Perhaps these would not have been your choices or mine, but that’s what makes for so many differences in our personal selections.

Sports in the ‘90s
For the second or third time, baseball players went on a strike. As a result, when they came back to play ball, attendance dropped more than 20 percent. Fans were frustrated and angry. Somehow, we always feel that they make enough money and are not grateful enough to their endearing public. Maybe. But the market dictates attendance. The players have families and as sports heroes they have their own tastes and desires as befits their status in the entertainment world. Never forget that sports entertain.
Basketball players also decided to strike. To get even, the owners locked the players out in 1998, decided that what’s good for the grunts is good for the elite.
It was mostly routine for football, hockey, and tennis. The United States launched Major League Soccer, which has thrived since and is still moving toward competing with the NFL for its place in the sun.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Government and Wikipedia
Under President Clinton, the ‘90s saw the nation’s first woman Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright.

They go hand in hand
Medical science and technology made great strides in the ‘90s, both individually and as partners. Thanks to computers both prospered. We saw the growth of the World Wide Web and the personal computer (PC). In 1991, internet browsers first made the web available for public consumption. Early adopters grew at the rate of 3,500 a year. By the end of the decade, more than 295 million users were on the Internet. Communication was becoming revolutionary. Consequently, medical science turned to the Internet to solve medical problems. Two advances have helped doctors to take giant leaps into the future of medicine.
Cloning gave us the ability to clone one animal from the cell of another. The first cloning produced Dolly from a ewe. In 1998, stem cells from human embryos created a storm of controversy. Although fundamentalists decried it as interfering in God’s work, it nevertheless found approval with the rank and file as it became more evident how much it would assist in the cure and prevention of diseases that previously were killing us by the millions. Morality and social traditions were a bar in some social areas. But medical innovations were not to be halted in the search for a healthier nation.
Genetic engineering was first tried on foods, helping them to resist herbicides and insecticides. By the end of the decade some 100,000 acres were planted with soybean, maize, cotton and other vegetation. Because of that, more than 60 percent of food products on the grocery shelves included GM ingredients – and most folks never knew the difference.
In the computer world, Microsoft conquered the world with its computers and computer programs. It has become as common to say Microsoft as it is motor vehicle. All of this technology brought mobile phones and the cell phones we use today, which not only provide communication, but ready access to the world’s compiled knowledge we take for granted today.

New baby comes dressed as 2000
The world waited and hoped. Waited for the last bell of the clock that introduced 01/01/00. Happy 21st century. The hopes and dreams of a tired and war-torn world would bring peace and prosperity, but mostly peace. Funny how the past has a way of turning out better in the future than it was at the time. There is an old saying that belongs to the military – or at least it used to. Perhaps it also belongs to all of us. It goes like this: The only places that are good are those where we have been and where we are going. But this place sucks!
Just saying..

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