When it comes to documentaries about analyzing decades of the 20th century, the 1960s will probably go on record as having more documentaries than any other time frame. While prior to that seemed to be the World War II era, we’re still analyzing that as well and may be second to the ’60s in figuring out how those years shaped us today. If it seems we still haven’t taken the 1950s on seriously and we’re currently mocking the 1980s, the 1990s have been sitting in-wait for a while ready to be looked at with a truly serious eye. The 1990s are still considered a golden era that we all lament can’t seem to be repeated based on a stagnant economy.
Since history always repeats, you could liken it to the 1930s when the Great Depression hit and everyone wished they were still living in pre-1929 times. In fact, you could say the same about the early 1970s when America was in a nasty recession and there was a strong wave of nostalgia sweeping over the populace for the 1950s. This resulted in shows like “Happy Days” and the musical “Grease”, even if it was a bit of a fantasy view of the decade.
Is it possible we’ve placed a bit of a gloss over the 1990s as we did with earlier eras? Perhaps it takes about 20 years for this to set in and for us to create near myths about particular eras that seem so much better than the one we’re currently living in. Despite being undeniable that living in the 21st century is no picnic in many respects, how much of the 1990s are really a golden era and more just a troubled era in disguise?
National Geographic Channel’s 1990s Miniseries
When the National Geographic Channel did a miniseries on the 1980s a couple of years ago, we finally had a serious look at a decade that’s been so easy to mock lately. With several shows now on the air exploring the decade that look at it through comedic and somewhat serious prisms, National Geographic reminded us of how important the decade was in shaping us toward where we are now. In many respects, it set up the 1990s where those who were into the excesses of the 1980s ultimately pared down their lifestyle during a time when simplicity of living was having a new renaissance.
We couldn’t have known, though, that the 1990s were going to be the last decade where the word “simplicity” would be uttered. Lessons like this will likely be learned when the National Geographic Channel airs a new miniseries on the 1990s this summer called “The ’90’s: The Last Great Decade?” It’s interesting that they put a question mark there, because we’ll likely be reminded it wasn’t always a bed of roses.
Recently, with the noted 20th anniversary of the O.J. Simpson murder, Bronco chase, and trial, we were reminded how much of a media circus was developing in 1994. We have to consider the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan event and the Simpson case set up a newfound media hunger for such cases that still goes on to this day. Almost daily since, we hear a story about a celebrity trial or other troubling story the media knows audiences will tune in to watch every time.
We were also reminded recently of the Monica Lewinsky debacle with President Clinton and how the 1990s ended with somewhat of a sour note, along with the economy slowly starting to plummet. This included as much hysteria about Y2K as we had later about terrorism.
Nevertheless, most people look at the last two years before September 11, 2001 as the last of a golden age before the whole world changed into one full of fear and with a glut of technology. The technology boom of the 1990s was exciting merely because things didn’t move quite as fast then as they do now. Just absorbing the early days of the Internet was enough of an evolutionary experience that perhaps is the true highlight of the decade ahead of everyone seemingly being employed.
When we watch the above 1990s National Geographic special, will we realize that we’ve probably been looking at the decade through an overly starry prism? If we seemed more secure then, many still feared that terrorism was around the corner after the 1993 World Trade Center event. The true economic boom also lasted only a few years and wasn’t through the entire decade. We also set ourselves up for being drowned in technology to a point where nothing seems real any more.
Eventually, we’ll have to see if the 2000s are still going to be remembered as the sorrowful decade we still deem them to be. As each decade passes with a 20-year buffer, we start to see things differently, which may eventually take away the old phrase of “the good old days” in favor of more subjective views.