I was eight years old when the Berlin Wall fell in June of 1990. The teacher told the class that this was a very good thing. It meant the end of the Cold War. The imminent threat of nuclear devastation was seemingly averted. This exemplifies the characteristics of the 90s, the decade in which I spent my formative years. I lived through them from ages eight to eighteen.
Dr. Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man (1992) basically stated that the entire world would eventually accept democracy, and there would be no more war. He saw the Soviet Union as the last obstacle to world peace. Wired magazine featured a cover story on "The Long Boom," (July 1997) prophesizing 25 years of prosperity, freedom, and a better environment for the whole world.
Following the end of the Cold War, there was a strong faith in technological progress to increase our wealth and our well-being as well as those of developing nations, which, as they became part of the global marketplace, would adopt our values of democracy, tolerance, and freedom of expression. Globalization meant the increasing disappearance of borders and ultimately, an end to conflict, ensuring world peace.
On September 11, 2001, the optimism of an age of prosperity and the promise of world peace collapsed on a single Tuesday morning. The ghosts of the Cold War had returned. Osama Bin Laden, who had been trained and aided to keep the Soviets out of Afghanistan became our latest enemy. America would again enter a state of war, the War on Terror.
The interval of time between the collapse of those two structures, the Berlin Wall and the World Trade Center towers, lasted just over eleven years. In hindsight, the 90s were an anomalous period of timea brief respite of peace in an age of perpetual war.
With the absense of a foreign threat, America's focus turned inward. Youth culture became increasingly self-obsessed and also self-destructive. Teen angst manifested itself in the problems which were considered endemic of those times: anorexia, suicide, and a string of school shootings culminating with the Columbine massacre in 1999.
The most popular rock icon of that time, Kurt Cobain, whose music focused on alienation and personal pain, was called "the John Lennon of his generation." But while both met untimely deaths from gunshot wounds, Cobain's were self-inflicted. In the days after Cobain's death, teenagers around the nation flooded suicide hotlines, wondering if their role model didn't have the right idea.
There was naive optimism, and there was self-destructiveness. But there was also driving through the desert in an ice cream truck, James Iha in a dress, boys and girls making out, having fun with paint and singing "today is the greatest day."