On a whim, I pulled up that dinky of dinky drawing programs, Paint, and doodled an image that has been at the center of my contemplatio lately. It took no time (because there is nothing much to do with Paint) and when I was done I chuckled to myself, “Well, that’s very 1995.”
1995. As soon as I said it, I felt the weight of spirit settle upon it; it isn’t even the first time I’ve gotten a nudge around that date this month. I started to do a little digging to see if I could find that message. It’s a busy time and seems absolutely pivotal to the decades between now and then. I’m going to ramble around that, mostly thanks to Wikipedia and a little supplementary Googling (this is very U.S. focused; in part because it is where I am and in part because this time has to do with the character of U.S. ascendancy).
Let’s start cinematically. It saw the beginning of the end for the first wave of big comic book movies: Batman Forever (which fueled the popularity Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose,” a personal little synch for me that cuts through many layers). It also gave us 12 Monkeys, with its contemplation of an inescapable disaster and terrorism (released in January, it precedes the Oklahoma City Bombing by months–the bombing that begins the effort to secure and fortify D.C.).
Let’s not forget three strange bedfellows that helped remake our cinematic sensibilities. Se7en, whose perverse sense of grit and justice forms the basis for so many crime dramas, made its debut (fair enough, though, you really have to jump back to Silence of the Lambs for some of this). 1995 also brought us Clueless, providing an exemplar for the combination of wit and feigned superficiality that pretty much remade our world. Finally, the year winds to a close with Toy Story, which opens the door to all manner fo digital storytelling and the future integration of CGI and live action.
The world of newspaper comics gets dimmer, foreshadowing the decline of the medium and its transition to other formats. The Far Side ends its run with the opening of the year and Calvin and Hobbes ends its run at the year’s close. Both comics continue to exert a great deal of influence in how people think about intellectual issue.
The cultural force of these movies and comics to reshape our consciousness derives in part from the historical moment of which they were a part: the internet became entirely privatized in 1995. Think about that for a moment. AOL and Prodigy browsers became available for personal computer users. This is also the year of Windows 95, which sets the tone for the OS well into the future.
Oh, yeah, a little thing called the World Trade Organization was born alongside the year, furthering the nouveau-imperialism that will make possible the radical inequality that defines our contemporary world.
We see the first round of concern over WMD’s held by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The real danger at this time provides the basis for the false danger that will sell us the recent Iraq War. That concern with WMD’s comes alongside the 50th anniversary of the U.S. dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Bill Clinton rescues Mexico from financial collapse at the beginning of the year and lifts the federal speed limit at the end of the year. While not directly related, place both of these alongside NAFTA coming into force just before 1995. Neuvo-imperialism (again), then quickening the pulse of the arteries through which commerce moves. Could we have our current on-demand economy at 55 mph?
We get the Million Man March which throws into bold relief the unresolved issues that remain for the civil rights movement in the U.S., both internally and externally. It also becomes fodder for the fears of whites, helping to galvanize a fresh countermovement against civil rights.
Pioneer 11, our first probe to pass Saturn, goes silent. Galileo enters Jupiter’s atmosphere.
For the first time, the National Basketball Association held its draft outside of the United States. Jerry Garcia dies. On the same day, March 31, Selena Quintanilla Perez and Jimmy Page are both attacked; Selena dies. Numerous stereotypically ’90s’ albums are released. It also sees more than a few musicians busted for cocaine and heroin–I don’t have a good baseline to compare, though.
Newt Gingrich becomes Speaker of the House and we have the government shutdown. This is an important phase in the increasingly more brittle and partisan character of U.S. national politics that continues today.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average goes wild, exceeding two millenium marks in 1995. The outlines of the boom and bust world of bubbles that haunts us through the 1990s and 2000s can be seen in hindsight.
The Bosnian War, which with the genocide in Rwanda cemented the place of ‘ethnic cleansing’ in journalistic vocabularies, ends with the year. The mixture of fatigue and optimism that follows in its wake seems more than a little important to European and global affairs during the next two decades.
That is a theme, isn’t it? An increasingly more global world, one in which international commerce and politics vitiates national and local life, widening the gyre that engulfs us today. Perhaps it would not be so troubling were that international situation not so fragile, if I didn’t have a sense that globalization happened the wrong way.
I’m not sure quite how to think through all this from a spiritual angle, except to consider that we may be reaching a point of crisis in which we’ll need to revisit the ethos of the world that we have made for ourselves and remake it. That usually isn’t pretty or fun business, but the work well-executed is worth the pain. Perhaps part of what has to date been an aptly named Year of Ghosts?
Or, perhaps, this is just the downward turn of the upward turn 1995 marked? That’s a change, no doubt, but that comes with less scope for transformation, at least up front. Maybe 2014 will be to 2015 what 1994 was to 1995, but in reverse?
I don’t know. I’m watching.