5 Stories From The '90s That Defined Your Childhood But Probably Make A Lot More Sense Now
Ah, the 1990s. Maybe you were a bright-eyed young adult, just coming up in the world. Maybe you were a bright-eyed teenager, cutting your teeth on news for the very first time. Maybe you were a kid, just swimming in the media milieu and absorbing whatever you could. Or maybe you were a well-informed adult, in which case you might recognize a lot of this already — here are 5 stories from the '90s that defined your childhood, even though you probably didn't really understand what was happening at the time.
It was a pretty exciting decade, all things told. But sadly, a lot of the headlines throughout the '90s feel more than a bit remote nowadays, by virtue of the millennial generation being a little on the young side to have really examined it thoroughly. This means the '90s nostalgia effect is in full-swing, however — there's a reason you still buy thousands and thousands of pogs on eBay, after all.
When you look back on events through that fuzzy, soft-focus lens of your childhood, a lot of the nitty-gritty facts get blurred out, if you were ever aware of them to begin with. Here are five stories that look a little different these days, with benefit of hindsight.
1. The O.J. Simpson Trial
This was billed as the "Trial of the Century" when it began in 1994, and it left an indelible mark on '90s culture. O.J. Simpson, a former star running back in the NFL and later moderately successful actor, was charged with the brutal murder of his wife Nicole and her friend Ronald Goldman. The case resulted in one of the most controversial verdicts of its time.
After nearly a year in court, the 12-member jury acquitted Simpson on both murder charges, in spite of evidence connecting him to the scene of the crime. The verdict created a deep racial divide; black groups rallied behind Simpson while the white community was sure of his guilt. Also take into consideration that nine of the 12 jurors were black.
But now, with issues of race and policing squarely back under the spotlight, maybe it's time for white America to understand why so many black Americans distrusted the Simpson investigation. The LAPD at that time had a well-documented reputation for anti-black racism, and the lead detective in the case, Mark Fuhrman, was exposed for having made racist comments throughout his career. In fact, his under-oath denials eventually earned him a perjury charge, which he accepted in a plea bargain.
Fuhrman's history of racism allowed the defense to undermine the credibility of the evidence, arguing that it could've been planted out of racial bias. Whether or not you believed that Simpson was guilty, you can certainly understand why so many black people would be unwilling to take the LAPD's word for it.
2. The Internet
If you could go back in time and see how everyday people talked about the internet in the early '90s, I reckon it'd be quite a hoot. Nowadays, with the benefit of hindsight, we now what the Internet is — a massive global data network that more or less keeps the world on its axis, without which modern life would be unthinkable.
But back then, people were falling over themselves to come up with illuminating euphemisms or descriptions for this uncharted new technology. Remember "the information super-highway," for example? Here's how the Department of Education described it back in 1997, on a truly '90s-looking website.
Back in the '90s, these were the closest analogues we had for just what the Internet represented, and even though none of it's incorrect, it all feels so laughably understated nowadays, just a couple of decades later.
3. The Clinton/Lewinsky Affair
If you grew up during the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the subsequent impeachment of President Bill Clinton — impeachment is the process that comes before a Senate vote on whether to remove a president from office — odds are it may have been a little confusing. If you grew up in a Republican family, you may have heard it was all about Clinton's lying, or if you grew up in a Democratic one, all about Clinton's private sex life and not at all related to his ability to lead as president.
In reality, however, it was really a little bit of both. The reason Clinton was impeached was that he was accused of lying to a federal grand jury about whether he'd had "sexual relations" with Lewinsky, who worked as a White House intern. Setting aside its legal merits, even a die-hard supporter would have to admit the explanation was pretty ridiculous — that the meaning of "sexual relations," as defined by the investigating committee, applied to performing oral sex but not receiving it.
It was this claim that earned Clinton a perjury charge, and that served as the basis for his impeachment. Many Democrats stuck up for him, on the perfectly reasonable grounds that his sex life was none of the country's business to begin with, but it's not accurate to say it was all about sex — it was both about the sex, and about what he said about it afterwards while under oath.
4. The Lionization Of Alan Greenspan
Back in the '90s, it was hard to find an economics mind as prominent and revered as Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan. Alongside Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and Deputy Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, he was centered on a Time magazine's cover above the blaring headline: "The Committee To Save The World."
And yet, Greenspan's reputation has taken a series of devastating hits. Namely, the 2008 financial crisis, which was spurred in large part by unregulated derivatives trading, a market that Greenspan personally and strenuously argued against regulating in the late '90s.
He, Rubin, and Summers famously squared off against Brooksley Born, Clinton's appointment to head up the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, on this point and successfully squashed her efforts to exert oversight on derivatives, paving the way for the catastrophic collapse a decade later.
5. The Y2K Bug
Nowadays, when people talk about the so-called Y2K bug that was the source of so much anxiety in the waning months of 1999, it's more or less completely glossed over what the actual problem was. Speaking as a person who was 13 years old at the time, most of what I absorbed was just "the computers are going to stop working on Jan. 1, 2000, and the world economy will collapse."
In reality, the Y2K issue was pretty specific and simple, and it became the subject of a lot more fear-mongering than it really demanded or deserved. Basically, the concern was that computing systems that abbreviated four-digit year values to two digits — like, "99" instead of "1999" — would be prone to failure when the year rolled over to 2000, because they'd recognize the new "00" date as "1900." Fortunately, there was an aggressive response to fix these flaws ahead of time, and the actual problems proved to be minimal. One good thing that did come out of the whole craze was the increased sales of duct tape, which was definitely in everyone'sY2K emergency kit.