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The Nineties
When pop culture became the only culture. note 
"We're the MTV generation. We feel neither highs nor lows."
"Really? What's it like?"
"Eh."
The Simpsons, Homer's Triple Bypass

The Nineteen Nineties: The last decade before 9/11 when the world was just getting over the Cold War and starting to fear Y2K. All of the kids (of whom the older ones were of the cynical and disaffected Generation X) listened to grunge bands, wore flannel or a Jennifer Aniston haircut while watching Friends, Seinfeld and The X-Files. Or they listened to Gangsta Rap, wore their baseball caps sideways and routinely "capped" people who "dissed" them, or they were beaten up by police and taped. Everything was neon, colorful, and Totally Radical. Cowabunga!

The world at this time was awash in radical changes and catastrophes on a global scale. The Soviet Union collapsed in a Great Politics Mess-Up (resulting in more than a couple ethnic wars between the newly independent states), Nelson Mandela was finally freed from prison, Iraq invaded Kuwait, and Margaret Thatcher hung up her handbag.

Yugoslavia, Somalia and Rwanda exploded into savage sectarian genocide, while Liberia and Sierra Leone faced a deadly civil war that was frustratingly difficult for other nations to stop, provided that they even cared. Radicals revolted against corporations in Seattle at the beginning and end of the decade. Germany reunites after decades of post-World War II division, Czechoslovakia splits up and Canada comes within a hairsbreadth of doing the same. Japan came to terms with the end of its economic bubble and settled in for the long, frustrating stagnation of the Lost Decade. "Made in Japan" was replaced by Red China as the big outsourcing villain. HIV awareness grew, as its notorious pandemic spread among the heterosexual population of Africa finally killed the "Gay Plague" stereotype of the disease even as effective drug regimes finally were developed to fight the disease. There were riots in Los Angeles and the OJ Simpson chase/trial/circus. The younger tropers might have been born at this time — possibly in the back of a white SUV. In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan pressured Mullah Omar's Afghanistan to extradite a dissolute Saudi nobleman, Osama bin Laden, who was holed up in the newly radicalized Afghanistan. It was almost as if he was planning something big...

The Reagan/Thatcher/Gorbachev era ended with a bang as "greed is good" got replaced by the 1987 Wall Street Crash and postwar recession ennui through the early 90s. In the U.S., Ross Perot led a political revolution of pissed-off independent voters; dissatisfaction with The Man became the norm and Conspiracy Theorist talk radio became the rage. Bill Clinton got elected thanks to Gulf War Syndrome, then impeached. Seattle coffee culture was all the rage as a Starbucks opened up on every street corner, driving fear into the hearts of Hipsters everywhere, who sought solace in post-hardcore, postmodernism, and other things with "post-" and "-core".

Modern culture's obsession with electronics was born in The Eighties and became dominant in the Turn of the Millennium, but it really came of age in the last half of this decade as people switched out computer models every other year. Dolly the sheep was cloned. GPS became operational. Cell phones became smaller and more common. Home computers that were actually easy to use instead of requiring a degree in programming hit the market and everybody wanted one, and this, coupled with the invention of the World Wide Web note , inevitably led to the explosion of the Internet note , which opened the floodgates. Porn, gifs of kittens, porn, jokes about the Clinton sex scandal and evil overlords, and porn involving Clinton were widely accessible for the first time. Bulletin Boards hooked up, moving from dial-in systems to the web. People began to band together to discuss their opinions of Star Trek and Star Wars on Usenet, the original "message board" system. Soon, other people joined in to talk about other shows, too, and thus the seeds for the birth of this wiki were planted. So while in 1990 teenagers who "spent time on computer message boards" were nerds, by 1999 it was a social stigma among teenagers if you didn't have an e-mail address.

On the business side of the internet sensation came the Dotcom Bubble of the late 90s, powering the biggest economic boom of the 20th century, putting even the best years of The Roaring Twenties, The Fifties, and The Eighties to shame, meaning people had more money than ever to spend on all the exciting new technology, while at the same time ironically having less cash in their pockets than ever thanks to another exciting new technology, digital banking. ATM machines appeared on every street corner and allowed people to withdraw as much money from their accounts as they needed anywhere at anytime 24/7 without having to deal with asshole bank employees. In store debit often eliminated the need for cash at all, and the credit card was never more widely used (partly because more places than ever were accepting them, and partly because people didn't quite grasp the long term consequences of their overuse and abuse yet). Some even predicted the end of paper money all together. As the Web Browser was invented, garage entrepreneurs sold content-free websites for hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Nineties also saw the largest government budget surplus in American history.

The Ford Explorer became the first SUVnote , and the GM EV-1 became the first electric car. The Explorer would be successful, while the EV-1 would not for the same reason as the Sega Game Gear of the same decade, as indeed was a problem for many of the decade's portable devices, the incredible new technology drained batteries too fast, as GM insisted it be fitted with the same lead-acid batteries as all its cars. The Lithium batteries that would power the cars and electronics of future decades were still in their infancy, and still far too expensive and unproven for most manufacturers or consumers to bother with. The gas crisis of the next decade had its origins in the short-sightedness of a decade when gasoline was much cheaper. Cars from this decade are easy to spot thanks to a cartoonishly curvy look, moving beyond the unaerodynamic box-on-wheels design that dominated The Seventies and The Eighties, thanks to computer-aided drafting and design, but still not quite like the more aerodynamic angular cut corners look that dominated in the Turn of the Millennium and The New Tens.

Electronics under went a similar change in design from depresingly boxy to cartoonishly curvy, culminating in the first iMac, and from analog to digital for exactly the same reason. In terms of media technology, this was the decade of Cable TV and the first emerging direct-broadcast satellite TV services.note  Movies ran on VHS or in Multiplex theaters with digital sound systems. DVD emerged at the end of the decade, but was in its infancy and ridiculously expensive. Music came on CDs or cassette tapes in the very early 90s, to a more CD dominated culture until the invention of Napster.

Internet dollars gentrified the inner city, turning what had been viewed as an irredeemable wasteland into a playpen for the rich. Every building, sneaker, and coffee shop was painted in pastel colors with the black lights at the rave club making them all glow, along with that mustard stain you thought you got out weeks ago.

Everyone attended music festivals like Lollapallooza or Lilith Fair — or at least, claimed to their friends that they did, as they were just as likely doing either "Lambada" or "The Macarena". In the US Grunge dominated the real life soundtrack for five years, before collapsing into an identity crisis. Kurt Cobain continued chart-topping for two years after his death, alongside Alanis Morissette and Alice in Chains, eventually replaced by pop music during the latter half of the decade. Across the pond, meanwhile, Britpop and the Cool Britannia movement soared; Oasis and blur had their famous chart war, while the Spice Girls became cultural icons. In academia, modernism was out and relativism was in; the magazine Social Text published a word salad hoax by an angry physicist as the "Culture Wars" smoldered between scientists, anti-abortionists, and radical academicians. Raves and Ecstasy became huge, along with the Perishing Alt Rock Voice. Boy bands and girl groups began to dominate the market, and two major Gangsta Rap stars were killed within months of each other following a war of egos between the east and west coasts.

CGI completely changed what you could see on the silver screen. Blockbusters like Jurassic Park and Titanic made full use of cutting-edge Visual Effects of Awesome on their way to record-smashing box-offices. The first animated films created entirely in CGI also began their slow but steady takeover of the animated marketplace. On the other side of the spectrum, indie films became hot commodities as young, self-made filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith and Richard Linklater used the advances in filmmaking technology to create unique, edgy films on shoestring budgets. For a whole year, America lost its collective mind in the woods of Maryland over a film made on $20,000.

Seinfeld, after a shaky start in the '80s, shot to wild popularity. The Simpsons redefined both animation and the family Sitcom. Reality Television started. The millennial decade's comedy superstars were getting themselves known on Saturday Night Live, including future senator Al Franken. MST3K got really good, then was canceled twice. After people got the answer as to who killed Laura Palmer, Special Agents Mulder and Scully chased aliens, monsters, and other creepy creatures, Buffy Summers chased vampires, demons, and vampire boyfriends, while Hercules and Xena fought the tyranny of the gods in ancient Greece. Surfing and going to the beach became even more popular thanks to Baywatch. This was also the heyday of modern-era Star Trek, with TNG, DS9 and Voyager all airing in the same decade. Furthermore, that franchise finally got real competition from Babylon 5 and Stargate SG-1.

Adventure Games hit it big in the mid-1990s; Strategy Sim games with orthographic landscapes were invented. People bought games in boxes with elaborate supplements and funky midi music. Or pirated off their neighborhood BBS, along with the copy protect page. "The 3D revolution" meant vector graphics, which meant "virtual reality" and Wolfenstein. Superman came back (albeit with a horrible game). Doom, Mortal Kombat, and Pokémon scared the Moral Guardians, with Doom as one of the perpetrators that triggered the Columbine High massacre.

Games like the Super Mario RPG, Chrono Trigger, and the Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy series introduced Western gamers to the concept of the Japanese Role Playing Game, and with the arrival of Final Fantasy VII and Pokémon in the latter part of the decade, the genre went mainstream: Pokémon became a worldwide phenomenon of unprecedented scale; Square Soft became a household name for any video game enthusiast, and their games came to exemplify the cutting edge of innovation in graphics, sound and storytelling in games for years to come.

Kids and adolescents played Street Fighter in the arcade leading to a Fighting Game boom led by Capcom, SNK, Sega and Namco. On the PC side of things, Doom helped make the First-Person Shooter mainstream and StarCraft was starting to conquer Korea.

Oh yeah, and there was also this one guy who came around who had blue hair, was kinda like Mario, except faster, and he went through loops and stuff. He kinda disappeared around '95 though, and wouldn't return for three years in this one 3D game for this one system I can't remember, hmmmm...

Digital pets, Pogs, yo-yos, laser pointers and Beanie Babies were all the rage with kids. The Razor scooter and roller blades were invented and quickly considered two of the must have items, and the Discman began to replace the Walkman. In Japan, we saw a farewell to the Darker and Edgier Metal Heroes and Kamen Rider as well as Ultra Series as they went through an ice age while Super Sentai prospered and was beginning to be adapted for western audiences as Power Rangers.

Michael Jordan reigned, retired, and returned. Mark McGwire and other beefy dudes beat out Roger Maris as home-run king, totally legitimately. The New York Yankees "dream team" inspired Americans with good old-fashioned teamwork from 1997-2001. David Beckham became a star. The NHL introduced a ridiculous new rule which they would abolish after it brought extreme controversy in the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals. FOX Sports introduced a glowing puck for American audiences. This is also crashed and burned. The game's greatest player, Wayne Gretzky, retired at the close of the decade.

The Dark Age of comics was going strong, and Rob Liefeld was at his peak of popularity, as comics became gradually Darker and Edgier, culminating in the death of Superman, before hitting the brick wall of the comics crash, while the likes of Kingdom Come killed the "Grim and Gritty" mid-decade.

AKIRA, originally released in Japan in 1988, became a surprise cult hit on home video in the West, ushering in an entire generation of anime fandom and helping, along with The Simpsons, to mount a serious offensive against the Animation Age Ghetto. Following in its footsteps, Ghost in the Shell, Princess Mononoke, and Perfect Blue would go on to grab the attention of serious film critics the world over and signal the arrival of Adult Animation as an artistic presence. Meanwhile, Pokémon redefined "Cash Cow Franchise" for millions of children (and adults) around the world. Sailor Moon gave girls strong female heroes to idolize besides Wonder Woman;note ." on the flipside, Dragon Ball Z redefined "action cartoon", and would be responsible for more kids taking martial arts than anything since The Karate Kid; Ranma ˝ became the most famous and funniest show to never be able to be shown on US Television. Slayers and Record of Lodoss War showed the D&D community that Japan was just as nerdy as we are. Neon Genesis Evangelion shook the anime world with its dark Deconstruction of the medium; its unexpected success ushered in a torrent of imitators attempting (with varying degrees of success) to copy its visceral mecha combat, trippy plot, and unconventional use of Judeo-Christian symbolism. The Toonami Cartoon Network block was launched, bringing Anime to the viewing options of The Nineties children en masse. Even though it took almost a decade for it to be widely accepted as "mainstream" media in the United States (it was already mainstream in Latin America before that), and its influence should be obvious by now.

The Nineties politically started with the fall of the Eastern Bloc in 1989, and ended on September 11, 2001. Pop-culturally, it started with the release of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" on September 10, 1991 and ended with the rise of internet video and friending networks in 2002-03, making this one of the longest cultural decades. To distinguish the era from the "Turn of the Millennium", look for the original World Trade Center (Twin Towers) in establishing shots or title sequences of TV shows and films set in New York City. Of course, this is also true for the 1970s, 1980s, and early 2000s.

Although one could argue it ended with the quashed Seattle rebellion of November 30, 1999; or the Great Internet Crash of March 11, 2000, which marked a jobless turning point for the new generation; or even the 2000 presidential election, which saw the victory of George W. Bush and eroded some Americans' confidence in their institutions. Some take it all the way to September 11, which left people so stupefied that it functioned as something of a cultural reset button. Note that the word "Nineties" means a very different thing in post-Soviet Russia, a thing much more cynical on the Sliding Scale of Cynicism Versus Idealism.

Not to be confused with The Gay Nineties, which were a century earlier. But these Nineties were probably just as gay.

Because most media is Two Decades Behind, expect most of fictionland to start appearing to be set in this decade some time between now and 2020; at time of this writing, it appears to be the late '80s there still.

See Also: The Edwardian Era, The Roaring Twenties, The Great Depression, The Forties, The Fifties, The Sixties, The Seventies, The Eighties, Turn of the Millennium and The New Tens.

Now has a totally fresh Useful Notes page!

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    open/close all folders 

Tropes associated with the 1990s:

Naturally, a lot of technology tropes due to the rapid pace of technology and the Internet:

    Tropes 

Many things were created or existed in the 1990s:

    open/close all folders 

    Eastern Animation 

    Magazines 

    Manga 

    Newspaper Comics 

    Pinball 

    Pro Wrestling 

    Radio 
  • It was during this time that The Howard Stern Show started to become nationally syndicated and eventually became highest rated nationally syndicated morning radio show in most major radio markets the United States.
  • Chris Evan's (in)famous BBC Radio One Breakfast Show from 1995 until 1997. Initially credited with "saving" the station (the hugely-popular national station had suffered a drop in listeners following a serious shake-up under Matthew Bannister starting in 1993 in his attempt to re-position Radio One as a "youth" network following two decades of it being a "housewife's favourite"; Evan's show co-incided with an upturn in listener numbers) he increasingly became egotistical, dismissive of BBC and general broadcasting guidelines and often took what many thought was a bullying attitude to his on-air colleagues. Things eventually came to a head when he and the rest of his staff refused to come in for a Friday morning show leading to someone else having to cover for him. Evans was subsequently sacked and his career took a long, very slow nosedive which culminated in several flopped attempts at TV "comebacks" in the 2000s. He has now reached middle age, has regained much (if not all) of his former popularity and hosts the Radio Two Breakfast Show. He apparently regrets many of his past mistakes and behaviour.
  • During this time, Rush Limbaugh became a nationally syndicated star of talk radio who gave the medium an ideological bent that was unchallenged until the middle of the next decade. (Limbaugh also was popular in the mainstream media for a period in this decade, including being given a television show that aired during President Clinton's first term.)
  • This was the decade in which shock-jocker Howard Stern became the "King Of All Media" from his radio base in New York; he set the way for many imitators. (The radio show was also broadcast on TV for a time; something which even Limbaugh could not claim.)
  • Neal Boortz began his show in 1993.
  • The third installment of the Star Wars Radio Dramas, adapting Return of the Jedi, aired in 1996 after spending a decade in Development Hell thanks to Reagan-era cuts to NPR's funding.
  • Says You! began in 1997.
  • Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me began in 1998.

    Tabletop Games 

    Theatre 

    Theme Parks 

    Toys 

    Web Animation 

    Webcomics 

    Web Original 
  • The Funday Pawpet Show. Started in 1999.
  • The Goddamn George Liquor Program, a 1997 cartoon series created by John Kricfalusi that was the very first cartoon made exclusively for the internet, and the very first to be made using Adobe Flash.
  • Weekend Pussy Hunt, a 1999 Adobe Flash cartoon parody of the Film Noir genre, created by John Kricfalusi.
  • The Legion of Net.Heroes, a superhero parody shared universe which is one of the oldest and longest-running online fiction projects.
    • The LNH also led to the creation of the rec.arts.comics.creative newsgroup for superhero comics-inspired online fiction. It hosted several other shared worlds such as the Patrol, Omega and Academy of Superheroes. Other writing fora from this period include alt.cyberpunk.chatsubo and alt.pub.dragons-inn
  • Neopets. First discussed in 1997, launched on November 15th, 1999.
  • StarDestroyer.net. Launched in 1998.

Works set, but not made in the decade:

    Anime & Manga 
  • Another
  • Black Lagoon
  • Blue Drop: Begins in 1999, manga started in 2004, anime aired in 2007.
  • Koi Kaze: In one of the last episodes, a note on a 20-year-old says she was born in 1975. The technology in the show also doesn't appear to correspond to when the anime aired (2004).

    Fan Fic 

    Film 

    Literature 

    Live-Action TV 
  • Lost in Space, made from 1965-68, was set (apparently) in 1997.
  • Several flashbacks in LOST episodes
  • Several opening flashbacks in episodes of Psych, starting in Season 5 (2010).
  • Mocked in Portlandia, which is set in the 2010s but is all about Portland living the dream of the 1990s.
  • Space1999. Run from 1975 to 1977, set in 1999.
  • Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers represented the Nineties during the actual Nineties. Even now, much of their aesthetics are still in the recent seasons of the show.
  • My Mad Fat Diary, made in 2013 and set (so far) in 1996

    Theatre 

    Video Games 

    Web Comics 
  • Superego is set sometime in 1995, possibly June 1st.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 


"May the power protect you."
Zordon, Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers

</hammertime>

The EightiesThe 20 th Century    
Kung Tai TedCreator/Brad JonesThe Reviewers
FlashpointNames to Know in AnimeAli Hillis
Nighthawks ShotImageSource/ArtNobility Marries Money
Operation Urgent FuryHollywood HistoryThe Gulf War
Network DecayThe New TensSuper Bowl

alternative title(s): The Networking Nineties; The Nineteen Nineties
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