STRAIT ON – AMERICA’S CHANGING LIFESTYLES – PART VIII – CHAOS

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(Part VIII – Chaos)

The nineties 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 extravagant spending. It was as though we were granted the right to “just charge it,” without any thought of how to pay for it. Bankruptcies increased as did divorce, child and spousal support. Step-fathers 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.

The Unhealthy Practice of “Getting Even”

Leading into the nineties, 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 fistfight 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 that permeate the media today and there seemed to be little to deter the trend. The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 was neutered as some 30 states enacted right-to-carry gun laws. More guns in the home, meant better access to 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 perpetrators or victims.

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 continued into the 21st century against gays.

A Religious Split

The Gen-exers had a different review of religion that had nothing to do with gender. Spiritualism in what became “New Age” became a mantra for many, unhappy with the strictness of orthodoxy. Individuality prevailed over longtime traditions. Belief in Biblical heaven and hell was questionable. It was a different form of Creation vs. Evolution. White Anglo-Saxons did not stand alone in what appeared to become a social revolution. Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, organized a Million Man March, in some ways mimicking Reverend Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington when close to 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. Work comfortably became code words for casual dress attire. Dress down Friday’s 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 and rips that often exposed nearly as much flesh than they covered. It was a special style designed to be non-conforming as they conformed to be non-conforming. The 21st-century hip-hop made its entry into the youth fashion world.

Some of these clothing fads became a tradition and added to the mix of non-conformity came along Ralph Lauren, Stone Island, Harrington jackets, Tommy Hilfiger sweaters, Guess, Hush Puppies shoes, Doc Martens boots and Aviator sunglasses.

By the late nineties, a Southeast Asian and Indian fashion became influential, not only in the United States but around the world. Some blamed it on the sixties and seventies’ 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 nineties.

Financial Spin and Whirl

Your 1990 hundred dollar bill would be worth $163.26 today. In 1990 an average house came at $123,000. By 1999 it would appreciated to $150,000 plus. 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. In 1999 that same vehicle would have 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.

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, Bill Clinton, a Democrat, was elected President. Former branches of the Soviet Union declared their independence, including Bosnia, Herzegovina and Czechoslovakia became Czech Republic and Slovakia. Freedom from terror and tyranny were becoming a part of the revised history of 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, Madeline Albright became the first female Secretary of State.

Economic sanctions against South Africa placed by the United States and the European Economic Council forced the country to amend its constitution to eliminate 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.

The World of Music, Movies, Television and Cosmetics

American popular 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 nineties were 4 to 1 in favor of the ladies. Mariah Carey was number one, followed by Janet Jackson, Madonna and Whitney Houston. Boys II to Men came in fifth.

Boys’ bands were generally popular. N’SYNC, New Kids on the Block, and All 4 One are examples. As to girl bands, Spice Girls, TLC and En Vogue were big. 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 Raggae hit. Vanilla Ice’s Ice Baby topped the one-hit wonders list. Achy Breaky Heart was the fad song of the decade. Billy Ray Cyrus soared like a spike in blood pressure, then dissolved into the dust of forgotten melodies. His daughter did better. This could go on and on, but I’m sure you get the gist.

The top ten 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 nor mine, but that’s what makes for so many differences in our personal selections.

Sports in the Nineties

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%. Fans were frustrated and angry. Somehow we always feel that they make enough money and are not grateful 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, deciding 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, as had soccer which is still moving toward competing with the NFL for their place in the sun.

They Go Hand in Hand

Medical science and technology made great strides in the nineties both individually and as partners. Thanks to computers both prospered. We saw the growth of the World Wide Web and Personal Computer PC. In 1991 WWW first made the web available for public consumption. Early users grew at the rate of 3500 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 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 an 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 medical community 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 denied 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% of food products on the grocery shelves included GM ingredients – and most folks never knew the difference.

In technology, Microsoft conquered the world with 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.

The world waited and hoped. Waited for the last bell of the clock that introduced 01/01/2000. Happy 21st century. The hopes and dreams of a tired and war-torn world sought 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 sayin… [email protected]

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