I was speaking with a friend of mine about the project on which I’m working about the 1990s as a decade of Revolutionary Music that failed to materialize revolutionary movements (for the most part). He’s a pretty politically active individual, so I was interested in his take.
He asked me to define the 1990s. Would a song released in December 1989 or January 2000 be excluded? Is this a black-and-white January 1, 1990 – December 31, 1999 project?
After some discussion, we mutually agreed that the decade of the 1990s lasted from November 8, 1989 through September 11, 2001.
The late 1989 Fall of the Berlin Wall was the shocking and sudden realization that the Cold War would soon be over, and Western Liberal Democracy was the victor—bookended by Francis Fukuyama’s essay, “The End of History.” The 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States signaled the sudden and shocking reality that the American people are vulnerable against ideologically-driven violence—not just vulnerable, but sitting ducks. Samuel P. Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations bookends opposite Fukuyama.
In between these bookends is the 1990s as an idea and a phenomenon. It is a brief period where Americans felt safe. The existential threat of nuclear war was (mostly) over. And the existential threats al Qaeda and other non-state operatives posed were not yet realized. The 1990s was a period of security, especially in America. Yes, some far-right Christian and far-right anti-statist terrorist attacks happened, but we know how to deal with those—throw some federal agents at the problem until it goes away. We didn’t really know how to handle the Cold War, and we weren’t prepared for the new wave of terrorism hiding around the corner. But for that brief period, between November 9, 1989 and September 11, 2001, we felt safe.
Because of this, I feel fine bringing in songs from the late 1980s and early 2000s. The 1990s does not fit to a calendar decade. It’s bigger, fuzzier, and less rigidly defined.