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1990s: cynical or optimistic?
#1
How do you view the decade? I have seen it characterised in both ways.

Cynical side:
-popularity of dark subcultures: goths, punks, metalhead
-high crime rates all over the Western world
-sinister movies like the Matrix

Optimistic side:
-the "smiley face" trend
-upbeat pop music like the Spice Girls

It seems the cynicism was more prevalent in the early to mid 90s, and the optimism in late 90s. It might represent a transition from Xer to Xennial culture.
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#2
I grew up in the 1990s. What I can tell you about that period is that it was very optimistic. People were living the good life on a whole. The economy in general.was doing well (aside from the brief recession in the early 90s), the entire culture was looking forward to "the new millennium" and the music at the time heavily reflected on those values. Even on the TV, aside from paranoid concerns about the millennium bug, the future was going to be great and we were going to enter a new period of technological advancement and prosperity. 

It all came down after 2001 and since then a period of overall cynicism and despair has played a large role in determing people's points of view. I'll give you an example. Ask someone in 1999 what the future was going to be like and they would say it is going to be fantastic. Ask someone that same question in 2020 and the future is going to be Muslim civil wars, climate catastrophe and economic depressions 

Huge difference.
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#3
I saw it as things tailored towards millennials as optimistic, and culture tailored for older folk as dark and taken to the extreme.
1984 Apollonian Civic
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#4
1990: Optimistic
1991: Cynical/optimistic
1992: Cynical
1993: Definitely Cynical
1994: Definitely Cynical
1995: Cynical/optimistic
1996: Cynical/optimistic
1997: Optimistic
1998: Optimistic
1999: Definitely Optimistic

Culturally, I don't think 1999 and 2002 were that different, but politically, they were definitely different. 1999 was before the Y2K bug never happening, Dot Com Bubble burst, the controversial Bush vs. Gore election, 9/11, the War on Terror, the NCLB, and TSA-era airports.

Culturally (X to Millennial):
1990: X
1991: X
1992: X
1993: X
1994: X
1995: X
1996: Xennial
1997: Xennial
1998: Xennial
1999: Millennial
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#5
To be honest, when it comes to the UK, the only major concerns at that time was the drug culture and obviously the John Major government, after of course black Monday. Otherwise, it was a very prosperous and optimistic decade. I recall 1993 and 1994 being filled with more optimistic cheer then anything today.

To borrow a quote from Harold Macmillan, "the British people have never had it so good." That is how I would describe Britain in the 1990s.
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#6
(06-09-2020, 11:38 AM)Isoko Wrote: To be honest, when it comes to the UK, the only major concerns at that time was the drug culture and obviously the John Major government, after of course black Monday. Otherwise, it was a very prosperous and optimistic decade. I recall 1993 and 1994 being filled with more optimistic cheer then anything today.

To borrow a quote from Harold Macmillan, "the British people have never had it so good." That is how I would describe Britain in the 1990s.

I was going by mostly pop culture, and 1993-1994 was the peak of the grunge movement in the US.
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#7
(06-09-2020, 04:23 AM)Blazkovitz Wrote: How do you view the decade? I have seen it characterised in both ways.

Cynical side:
-popularity of dark subcultures: goths, punks, metalhead
-high crime rates all over the Western world
-sinister movies like the Matrix

Optimistic side:
-the "smiley face" trend
-upbeat pop music like the Spice Girls

It seems the cynicism was more prevalent in the early to mid 90s, and the optimism in late 90s. It might represent a transition from Xer to Xennial culture.

I agree, both trends occurred. The quality of pop music continued its overall decline.

The return of Democrats to power, although only the somewhat-neo-liberal "new" Democrats, was an optimistic trend. The president does have an effect on the mood of the times. The early 1990s were optimistic because of the end of the Cold War. Pessimism returned later, as the possibilities of real change were squelched by scandal and right-wing resistance. But the dot com boom brought back some optimism toward the end of the decade.

The Matrix wasn't all that cynical; it was an epic hero's journey story.

NCLB = no child left behind. Not a big mood factor; just one of the many Bush failed policies after the year 2000. Overall, the 21st century remains a non-starter.
"I close my eyes, and I can see a better day" -- Justin Bieber

Keep the spirit alive;
Eric M
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#8
I feel like the 90s were very optimistic. I'm an Xennial, and I grew up thinking that everything was moving in the right direction, and things would continue to get better at a steady pace.

I feel like that continued until the 2000 election and into 9/11, and the optimism of the Urban Coastal areas tranformed into a cynical dash for cash, where everyone is in a race against everyone else to make more money and beat their competitors. That's when college tuition started going through the roof and residential and commercial real estate started to make absolutely insane increases month over month.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that 2000/2001 was the first wave (cusp) of the 4T
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#9
I think the 90s were outwardly an optimistic time, especially in the early years, but ultimately cynicism won the day. 

In the early 90s, the Soviet Union had fallen and the Cold War was over, with the US triumphant.  Apartheid had ended in South Africa.  A new era of freedom and democracy seemed to be dawning.  Technology was advancing rapidly and becoming more accessible, with the creation of the world wide web, and the future seemed limitless.

But this was also the era, following the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, in which Fox News first aired.  The era of the tabloid TV circus--Geraldo, Jerry Springer and, later, reality TV.  The era of police brutality and riots in LA, when minority children were called "super-predators" and the Crime Bill was introduced leading to accelerated mass incarceration.  The era that introduced harsher, more intolerant immigration law.  The deregulation of banking that would lead to the financial crisis of 2008. The rise of powerful international organized crime which would in later decades threaten democracies. 

Such was the world when Gen X came of age.  I don't see goth, punk, grunge and metal as cynical.  Punk was angry and goth was romantically gloomy, but being angry or depressed is not the same thing as being cynical.  In fact, I think many people who are angry or depressed, especially the young, are actually idealists who are unhappy with the way the world is, but perhaps can't articulate it, or feel powerless to do anything about it.  Punk was often highly political, as was rap in the 90s.

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#10
(06-09-2020, 09:53 AM)taramarie Wrote: I saw it as things tailored towards millennials as optimistic, and culture tailored for older folk as dark and taken to the extreme.

That's why millennials are so nostalgic about the 1990s. They (as well as younger Xennials like me) were sheltered from the sinister culture anyway. I was aware of the dark trends as a kid, but they didn't concern me personally. I was never a pop-culture maniac.

(06-09-2020, 12:31 PM)Eric the Green Wrote: The Matrix wasn't all that cynical; it was an epic hero's journey story.

The idea that reality is an illusion generated by a hostile AI is very sinister and can make a person cynical.
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#11
(06-10-2020, 02:23 AM)Blazkovitz Wrote:
(06-09-2020, 09:53 AM)taramarie Wrote: I saw it as things tailored towards millennials as optimistic, and culture tailored for older folk as dark and taken to the extreme.

That's why millennials are so nostalgic about the 1990s. They (as well as younger Xennials like me) were sheltered from the sinister culture anyway. I was aware of the dark trends as a kid, but they didn't concern me personally. I was never a pop-culture maniac.

(06-09-2020, 12:31 PM)Eric the Green Wrote: The Matrix wasn't all that cynical; it was an epic hero's journey story.

The idea that reality is an illusion generated by a hostile AI is very sinister and can make a person cynical.

The Matrix is getting a 4th movie, written and directed by Lana Wachowski -- one of the then Wachowski Brothers.  If you're looking for a theme or a message, it should be in this one.
Intelligence is not knowledge and knowledge is not wisdom, but they all play well together.
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#12
(06-10-2020, 02:23 AM)Blazkovitz Wrote:
(06-09-2020, 12:31 PM)Eric the Green Wrote: The Matrix wasn't all that cynical; it was an epic hero's journey story.

The idea that reality is an illusion generated by a hostile AI is very sinister and can make a person cynical.

The Matrix is a dystopian fantasy about resistance against an oppressive order, a common theme in science fiction for ages.  It spoke to the general sense of unease in the 90s, a feeling that something was amiss, the suspicion that we were being lulled by commercialism and materialistic pleasures while being stolen from (which was pretty much exactly what was happening.)

Dark, dystopian fantasies have been quite popular in YA lit in recent years.  Are Millennials cynical because of the Hunger Games?

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#13
(06-10-2020, 10:58 PM)gabrielle Wrote: The Matrix is a dystopian fantasy about resistance against an oppressive order, a common theme in science fiction for ages.  It spoke to the general sense of unease in the 90s, a feeling that something was amiss, the suspicion that we were being lulled by commercialism and materialistic pleasures while being stolen from (which was pretty much exactly what was happening.)

Dark, dystopian fantasies have been quite popular in YA lit in recent years.  Are Millennials cynical because of the Hunger Games?

There are so many dystopian fantasies and so few utopian fantasies out there... the Culture novels are the only popular utopian fiction, and the are a few decades old. Tell me that isn't cynicism!
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#14
(06-11-2020, 04:43 AM)Blazkovitz Wrote:
(06-10-2020, 10:58 PM)gabrielle Wrote: The Matrix is a dystopian fantasy about resistance against an oppressive order, a common theme in science fiction for ages.  It spoke to the general sense of unease in the 90s, a feeling that something was amiss, the suspicion that we were being lulled by commercialism and materialistic pleasures while being stolen from (which was pretty much exactly what was happening.)

Dark, dystopian fantasies have been quite popular in YA lit in recent years.  Are Millennials cynical because of the Hunger Games?

There are so many dystopian fantasies and so few utopian fantasies out there... the Culture novels are the only popular utopian fiction, and the are a few decades old. Tell me that isn't cynicism!

Nothing surprising here. It’s been obvious for decades that the PTB have control of a rigged game, and Millennials arrived just in time to suffer the worst of it. The Wachowskis are both Trans. That alone should cement their sympathies. Count n the next Matrix movie for some serious crusading.
Intelligence is not knowledge and knowledge is not wisdom, but they all play well together.
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#15
(06-10-2020, 02:01 AM)gabrielle Wrote: I think the 90s were outwardly an optimistic time, especially in the early years, but ultimately cynicism won the day. 

In the early 90s, the Soviet Union had fallen and the Cold War was over, with the US triumphant.  Apartheid had ended in South Africa.  A new era of freedom and democracy seemed to be dawning.  Technology was advancing rapidly and becoming more accessible, with the creation of the world wide web, and the future seemed limitless.

But this was also the era, following the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, in which Fox News first aired.  The era of the tabloid TV circus--Geraldo, Jerry Springer and, later, reality TV.  The era of police brutality and riots in LA, when minority children were called "super-predators" and the Crime Bill was introduced leading to accelerated mass incarceration.  The era that introduced harsher, more intolerant immigration law.  The deregulation of banking that would lead to the financial crisis of 2008. The rise of powerful international organized crime which would in later decades threaten democracies. 

Such was the world when Gen X came of age.  I don't see goth, punk, grunge and metal as cynical.  Punk was angry and goth was romantically gloomy, but being angry or depressed is not the same thing as being cynical.  In fact, I think many people who are angry or depressed, especially the young, are actually idealists who are unhappy with the way the world is, but perhaps can't articulate it, or feel powerless to do anything about it.  Punk was often highly political, as was rap in the 90s.

What many Americans forget today, being too literal as they are, is that the tone and sound of a piece of sound culture says as much as the words. Whatever the message may be, and however relevant, all these genres are very cynical. Such sound does not elevate immediate consciousness, it assaults the senses. Exceptions may apply. It certainly reflected the "cynicism won the day" situation as you described the era. Harshness in law and other media; harshness in sound. It's all of a piece.
"I close my eyes, and I can see a better day" -- Justin Bieber

Keep the spirit alive;
Eric M
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#16
(06-10-2020, 02:23 AM)Blazkovitz Wrote:
(06-09-2020, 09:53 AM)taramarie Wrote: I saw it as things tailored towards millennials as optimistic, and culture tailored for older folk as dark and taken to the extreme.

That's why millennials are so nostalgic about the 1990s. They (as well as younger Xennials like me) were sheltered from the sinister culture anyway. I was aware of the dark trends as a kid, but they didn't concern me personally. I was never a pop-culture maniac.

(06-09-2020, 12:31 PM)Eric the Green Wrote: The Matrix wasn't all that cynical; it was an epic hero's journey story.

The idea that reality is an illusion generated by a hostile AI is very sinister and can make a person cynical.

Except that the character went through a process of transformation and emerged victorious with something to take back to the world. A true hero's journey epic.
"I close my eyes, and I can see a better day" -- Justin Bieber

Keep the spirit alive;
Eric M
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#17
(06-09-2020, 04:23 AM)Blazkovitz Wrote: How do you view the decade? I have seen it characterised in both ways.

Cynical side:
-popularity of dark subcultures: goths, punks, metalhead
-high crime rates all over the Western world
-sinister movies like the Matrix

Optimistic side:
-the "smiley face" trend
-upbeat pop music like the Spice Girls

It seems the cynicism was more prevalent in the early to mid 90s, and the optimism in late 90s. It might represent a transition from Xer to Xennial culture.

I'd characterize your trends as follows:

- freedom to explore one's own preferences and fantasies:  goths, punks, Spice Girls, movies like The Matrix
- declining crime rates throughout the US
- I don't remember a smiley face trend other than the ironic one left over from the late 1980s Watchmen graphic novel

There was nothing on the surface negative about the 90s after the initial recession, in my opinion.  If anything, there was excessive optimism, which in some cases laid the seeds for future problems, such as with the repeal of critical elements of Glass-Steagall and the CRA amendments that set the stage for the housing bubble and bust.
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#18
(06-10-2020, 02:01 AM)gabrielle Wrote: I think the 90s were outwardly an optimistic time, especially in the early years, but ultimately cynicism won the day. 

In the early 90s, the Soviet Union had fallen and the Cold War was over, with the US triumphant.  Apartheid had ended in South Africa.  A new era of freedom and democracy seemed to be dawning.  Technology was advancing rapidly and becoming more accessible, with the creation of the world wide web, and the future seemed limitless.

But this was also the era, following the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, in which Fox News first aired.  The era of the tabloid TV circus--Geraldo, Jerry Springer and, later, reality TV.  The era of police brutality and riots in LA, when minority children were called "super-predators" and the Crime Bill was introduced leading to accelerated mass incarceration.  The era that introduced harsher, more intolerant immigration law.  The deregulation of banking that would lead to the financial crisis of 2008. The rise of powerful international organized crime which would in later decades threaten democracies. 

Such was the world when Gen X came of age.  I don't see goth, punk, grunge and metal as cynical.  Punk was angry and goth was romantically gloomy, but being angry or depressed is not the same thing as being cynical.  In fact, I think many people who are angry or depressed, especially the young, are actually idealists who are unhappy with the way the world is, but perhaps can't articulate it, or feel powerless to do anything about it.  Punk was often highly political, as was rap in the 90s.

That's a great analysis.  Being T4Ters, we all know that 3Ts breed arrogance among the mighty, so feelings of anger, depression, hate and cynicism among the rest of us are par for the course.  I've always pegged the emergence of Rush Limbaugh as the first signs this was beginning, but, you're right, it took the '90s and the '00s to bake this into the culture.
Intelligence is not knowledge and knowledge is not wisdom, but they all play well together.
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#19
This was the decade that Rush Limbaugh came into his own. Began his daily propaganda broadcasts, complete with lies, half-truths, lunatic analysis of events and rhetoric trickery.
[fon‌t=Arial Black]"... a man of notoriously vicious and intemperate disposition."[/font]
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