Monday, July 24, 2006

An Uncontrollable Attack of Nostalgia for the 1990s

In the dead of night, or the wee hours of the morning depending on how you look at it, unable to get to sleep, I found myself listening to Jesus Jones' one wondrous hit from 1990, "Right Here Right Now." Heard in the light of George W. Bush's post 9/11 "new normal" America, the song sounds dated; as much an artifact of its time, a time long passed into the mists of history, as Scott McKenzie's "San Francisco" or other hippie-dippie odes to the summer of love, yet it remains that rare song that captured the zeitgiest of the era and summed up the national mood; a mood of almost ebullient optimism that seems almost quaint when looked back upon from the perspective of a mere sixteen years. Having lived through this time, I hesitate to call it a simpler era, for me personally it was a far more complicated and emotionally trying period, though it must be admitted that there was a lot for America as a nation to be optimistic about as we entered the final decade of what many historians had long called The American Century.
The haze of nostalgia that has already settled over the 1980s makes it easy to forget that the tough talk of Ronald Reagan's "cowboy diplomacy" had increased tension with what he termed the "evil empire" of the Soviet Union and, more than any time since the administration of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, war with the USSR loomed as a very real possibility in the hearts and minds of many Americans. Two graphic novels from the period, Frank Miller's The Dark Knight and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen, perfectly capture the paranoia of the era.
By 1990, however, all that had changed. The Cold War, that half century game of chicken between nations with the firepower to annihilate the world's population several times over, was drawing to a close and the good guys, as we saw ourselves, had won. The Berlin Wall had come down; the USSR was in turmoil and on the verge of collapse; and democratic governments were springing up in former Soviet satellite nations such as Poland and Czechoslovakia. It truly seemed as if a new era of world peace and prosperity, led by "the world's only remaining super-power," was truly beginning.
That feeling hung around for most of the decade as the economy boomed and it really seemed as if the most important thing Americans had to worry about was whether their President inhaled or if his girlfriend swallowed.
We know now, we found out the hard way in the very early days of this new millenium and century, that we were fooling ourselves as our relief over having survived and, indeed, triumphed in our struggle with the now defunct Soviet Union led us to turn a blind eye to a growing threat to our new found era of peace that may yet prove a more formidable and enduring foe than the old USSR.
As I sit at the Whetstone library typing this, the refrain of "Right Here Right Now"--"Right Here, Right Now; There's no other place I want to be. Right Here, Right Now; Watching the World wake up from History"-- floats through my thoughts once again and I wonder if during my lifetime I will ever again see the spirit of triumph and optimism that inspired those words.

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