Thursday, December 3, 2020

Cultural Ground Zero



This is going to be a long post, so be sure to settle in. It's been a long time coming. There is much to discuss and go over.

There has been a lot of talk in the last few years about the end of pop culture, the loss of community, the stagnation of just about everything, and the death of creativity, in the modern world. It feels as if we are trapped in a limbo state that refuses to break.

Nowhere is this more self-evident than in the arts. Every year we are faced with bastardized and Frankenstein versions of old things created decades ago, or new things with Corporately Acceptable Aesthetics yet with nothing under the hood and storytelling as bad as an episode of Captain Planet & the Planeteers. There is a divorce here that didn't use to exist.

But it isn't just in storytelling, as mentioned earlier, it is a lot wider spread than that. The music industry has been a void of creativity for decades, video games have given way to stale AAA madness, and OldPub is about ready to collapse in under its own weight. Then you have Hollywood's string of bombs and sinking box office receipts. In a year where a pandemic has shut down most of these industries, many are realizing . . . they aren't missing all that much.

So what happened? How did we get here?

The people in charge are stuck between trying to be your high priest, and your meth dealer. They want you hooked on product that will also inform your life and make you a Good Citizen. They don't want anything from you except your soul. They are willing to lose as much money as it takes to do this.

Was it always this way? Yes, and no. It didn't happen overnight, but it was acerbated by a generation of spiritually dead cosmopolitans who were raised on The Best Toys Ever Made as an exchange for having no familial relations, community, or roots, to fall back on. They got this way because those in charge let these spiritually dead people in, unaware that these young up-and-comers are living off the fumes of a long decaying corpse.

You could find millions of articles proclaiming why culture is dead written by progressives, conservatives, paranoiacs, normies, pop cultists, and everyone and everything on the fringes and in-between, but the one thing that unites them all is that they are always declaring one era or another is The Defining Point--the moment where Things Went Wrong. Whether it's the wavy gravy '60s or the materialist typhoon of the '80s, everyone has an opinion on what to go back to, and what to demonize. You could spend hours discussing such things. It causes passionate stirrings in many.

However, little is talked about the era where no one wants to go back to, regardless of background or beliefs. For even people who love the decade, few will ever acknowledge the late '90s as anything but an abysmal, embarrassing, and creatively stagnant time with little to offer. But even fewer acknowledge that these same loathed years have defined the 21st century as a whole, so far. Everything you hate, everything you can't get away from, and everything that refuses to go away--all of it metastasized in the late '90s.

Ironically, the period that few like has ended up being the one to define the current state that no one likes. It's odd, and that can't be avoided.

Now, don't get me wrong. I am not saying the source of all of evil is in the late '90s. You would have to go back centuries, even millennia, for that. What I am saying is that the root of most modern day ills could easily be remedied by admitting that we have not culturally moved on from the late '90s, and finally decoupling ourselves from that burning car. It's a problem that stems from a lack of reflection.

The reason that you are swimming in nostalgic movements from other time periods is because you are dealing with a culture that is dying to move on from being as stagnant and stuck as it is. So they've instead chosen better times to fashion their culture around. In other words, the modern world is waiting to move on.

The question then becomes "Why the late '90s?" What is it about that time period that caused all this to happen? Well, it's hard to explain. Hence, this monster post before you.

From my research, I've concluded that cracks split the foundation in 1996, the house crumbled in 1997, and the last splinters were swept away in 1998. By 1999 there was nothing left of the culture people recognized from even a few years earlier in the decade. Western culture froze, before melting into the puddle it is now. We've been living in the dried out remains ever since. This post exists to chronicle all the changes that occurred between 1996 and 1998 and show, once and for all, why this time period is so ubiquitous and deserves more attention.

First, let us deal with some complaints and charges sure to unfurl from this. We cannot talk about the subject until we clear up a few things.

I am not some Gen-Xer who grew up in the 1980s and merely miss better times so I need to tear apart the 1990s. I am a member of Generation Y. I was 12/13 in 1997, in my prime nostalgic years. Due to personal issues, I was far more plugged into the culture than was healthy at the time, and even then I realized something was wrong and was questioning why things were going the way they were. I am a '90s kid. It was only years later that I realized the problem I was seeing was far more widespread than I originally thought.

Also, you might have personally had a great 1997. It might have been the best year of your life. Good for you. That's not what this post is about. There are people who had a great 2001, but it doesn't change what happened in the world in that year. There's nothing wrong with being nostalgic for your personal situation at the time or the good times you had. But to look at it from an objective sense, 1997 was an awful year, and I'm not chronicling your life, but what was happening in the wider culture at the time. Please keep that in mind when you read this.

Lastly, I certainly have missed things. Be sure to leave them in the comments. But no matter how many good albums the Spin Doctors released, it does not change the overall picture of the time period, at all. The changes from this era remain what they are.

Whether it is positive or negative can be gleamed by what it led to.

Without further ado, let us begin our descent into the quagmire of the past. Each year will list important happenings worth talking about in the wider culture, accompanied by a short description of said event. You might want to keep a tab open or a bookmark ready. This is going to be long.

We will start with the first black mark: 1996.





1996


1996 was a transitional year. Most people usually think of 1996 when they describe the highlights of the 1990s, though in retrospect, it is where a lot of the problems to come first set in. Mega corporations, fandom, and the wider death cult, first found their footing here. These all exists beforehand, but 1996 is when they pushed to the forefront, blocking out all else.

Without 1996 you wouldn't have a lot of the madness to come, but there was still much good to be found. I can't say the same for the following years.



  • War on fansites spurred on by furries harassing creators
A prominent furry, still active in the scene to this day, sent crazed fan messages to a voice actress on Tiny Toon Adventures, effectively helping to end the show. This, paired with the rise of fansites, put creators and consumers at war with each other, for the first time. The growth of the internet helped make this all possible. Before this, fanatics were harmless letter writers. Now they were important voices to be listened to. I wouldn't be surprised if said furry was given a consulting position on the upcoming reboot.


  • US FDA approves Olestra, banned in other countries
You wonder why people sue McDonalds for making them fat or for not putting the lid on their coffee right? The health crisis stems from mistrust over things such as this. Olestra caused abdominal cramps, and inhibition of vitamin absorption. Mixed messages spurred on by bureaucrats looking to make a few extra bucks. Again, not the first instance of this sort of thing, but it's definitely not the last.


  • Scream releases
Scream changed the landscape for horror movies permanently. By making them all parodies, stepping back from the high concepts, and forgoing practical effects, it started the slasher revival that still plods on to this day. Scream might be decent, but nothing it influenced did anything to help the genre. In 1996, horror was already bad off. This dealt the final blow.


  • Sabrina the Teenage Witch begins
TGIF was the most successful family block on television, focused on the whole family. It made its name by being family friendly and for having some of the most popular sitcoms of the time on (Perfect Strangers, Full House, Family Matters, Boy Meets World, and Step By Step, to name a few), as well as airing on a Friday--typically seen as a ratings dead zone. With the release of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, the block deliberately made a hard turn into targeting teenagers and preteens at the expense of everyone else. From this point on, the block would decay until its cancellation by the decade's end. But it started here, in 1996.


  • Independence Day and Twister released
The return of the Hollywood Event Movie began here in 1996 with these bloated, overblown movies. The focus on the growing trend of CG, mindless carnage over characters or story, and the usage of loud film-making all overtook the action movie and the summer blockbuster that the 1970s and '80s had created so long ago. You want to know why all movies are peal and thunder signifying nothing? You can thank the influence of these movies.


  • The Rock released
But I repeat myself (get used to it). This is considered Michael Bay's best movie, and it is his last one before he abandoned the action genre entirely for mindless blockbusters for decades to come. You can thank the success of the previous 1996 movies for that.


  • Telecommunications Act of 1996 passed
This Act, among other things, lifted the restriction of national radio station ownership, effectively clearing the way for what the music industry would do in the years to come. 1996 is the year FM radio died, and it is why not long into 1997 that you stopped hearing anything outside of the same sounds anymore. The conglomerates owned the airwaves. This Act also contains the very controversial Section 230, the effects of which are still being felt today. This was the first major Act of its kind since 1934, shaping the decades to come.


  • Marvel Comics files for bankruptcy
I shouldn't have to tell you why this matters. Had Marvel gone bankrupt like they should have, you wouldn't have cape movies or the current state of the Hollywood blockbuster. The comic industry wouldn't also be in the zombified state its been in since this happened, instead forced to innovate. But though this happened in 1996, it didn't really effect them or the industry until the next year.


  • Last Malibu Comics produced
Malibu Comics was the last comic company to rise out of obscurity, but the comic crash stopped them dead. They were acquired by Marvel where their creations sit in obscurity to this day because the megacorp doesn't want to pay a few dollars to those who created these characters. It wasn't the last of these. 1996 was not a good year for comic books.


  • Tupac Shakur killed
The tragedy of the gangsta lifestyle in rap should have been a wake up call. Tupac's death sent ripples throughout the culture. Yet, here we are a quarter of a century later, and nothing has changed. Rap is still as bad now as it was in 1996. Nothing has changed, both musically or culturally.


  • First Backstreet Boys album released
The group that broke the corporately owned boy-band into mainstream culture first came out in 1996. Even though boy-bands themselves aren't really a thing anymore, their influence is. Record companies now own all of their artists, lock, stock, and barrel, from their sounds to their songs to their very voices. The first instance of this practice is right here, and the industry would never be the same.


  • Tickle Me Elmo introduced
You would have to have been there for this one. Essentially the peak of holiday shopping madness, it has never quite recovered from the mess it was here. Sure, we have online shopping now, but the consumer culture that birthed Tickle Me Elmo is still alive today. Try taking the last roll of toilet paper off the shelf in 2020 and see what that gets you. It peaked in 1996.


  • DVDs first launched in Japan
DVDs are still around now, still being produced 25 years after their creation. They've outlived VHS, Beta, Laserdisc, HD-DVD, and every other attempt to replace them since. Blu-Ray is essentially just DVD+, not really offering anything new and has still yet to kill off the older format despite being used for well over a decade. As far as the physical medium goes, nothing is as influential as DVD still is to this day.


  • Oprah Book Club started
Putting aside all the controversies, the Oprah Book Club was instrumental in popularizing fad books that contributed a net negative to culture except to use them as a decoration for your coffee table. Using books as a force for "Social change" instead of entertainment or knowledge really began in earnest with this push from a pop cult multimillionaire. And of course OldPub supported this the whole way.


  • The Nintendo 64 and Super Mario 64 releases 
Though the PlayStation and Sega Saturn released in 1995, it didn't signal much in the way of change until they went up against the Nintendo 64. The advent of 3D gaming changed the field entirely, more or less beginning the age of AAA games with Super Mario 64, where the single mammoth title was appreciated more than a healthy library of games. 2D gaming was also targeted by executives like Bernie Stolar and game journalists for execution, prioritizing the new flash over the gameplay. It took nearly 20 years for 2D to return to consoles again, but it was still treated as lesser and never regained the focus it had. Meanwhile, the industry still prioritized AAA over all else, which is leading to its current crash.


  • Pokemon game releases
The original Pokemon game was a megahit that created a subculture of anime fans, gamers, and collectors, overnight. Despite the sudden explosion, the end of the fad never really arrived. 25 years later and Pokemon is still around and still just as big a megahit. Kids from 1996 and kids from 2021 still watch the same show and play very similar games.


  • Quake releases the same year as Duke Nukem 3D
1996 was a banner year for PC gaming, with the release of many high profile hits. The two that perfectly emphasize this is Duke Nukem 3D, a 3D game built in a 2D space, and the first fully 3D action game with the original Quake. This would begin the constant revisions and updates of game engines that continue on to this day. Meanwhile, Duke Nukem 3D attained controversy for being very politically incorrect, something that was then becoming a more common complaint.


  • Resident Evil and Tomb Raider release
Speaking of 3D gaming, two of the biggest franchises created in 1996 were Resident Evil and Tomb Raider, a Survival Horror and a 3D adventure game. Thought of as revolutionary and game changing, these two series would inspire many copycats that would go on to define that gaming generation. 3D gaming was here, and you needed to get in or get out. Oddly enough, both franchises are still kept alive by brand name alone, neither of which playing anything like they did when they began way back in 1996.


  • In ten months internet users go from 1 million to 10 million
The internet exploded in popularity in 1996, its first step to consuming public attention. The rest would come later, but this needs to be noted for upcoming entries.


  • Ken Williams sells Sierra On-Line
To understand how important Sierra is would be to go in depth with their history stretching back to the early days of PC gaming. Suffice to say they created the first graphic adventure game, the first color PC game, and created countless other inventions, as well as being a top notch maker of adventure games. They were pioneers. Unfortunately, in 1996 Ken Williams made the mistake of selling Sierra, a disaster which would become clear in the following two years. More on this later.


  • First version of Java released
If you know anything about computers from programming to software specifications then you know how important Java was to getting so much off the ground. Its first release was here in 1996.


  • MSNBC and Fox News Channel launched
The ubiquitous and never-ending presence of political posturing and arguing was fostered by the 24/7 news-cycle. Guess when it began? That's right: 1996.


  • Rocko’s Modern Life and Ren & Stimpy end
Nickelodeon was the last maverick in children's programming, billing itself as the edgy choice over Disney. By 1996, all the original cartoons that had made their name ended. From this point on they would be going in another direction. These last two finished running in 1996.


  • The Adventures of Pete & Pete, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, and Roundhouse end
Ditto for their live action series. Aside from Spongebob Squarepants (released in 1999 and headed by ex-Rocko's Modern Life guys), Nickelodeon would never reclaim the popularity they had at their peak. But they d still milk their past.


  • The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon ends
By 1996, the original run of popularity for TMNT was at an end. There wouldn't be a reboot until 2003. That said, the property had run its course and was allowed to rest. What came up in its place? Well, that's why we're in the predicament we are now. The answer is nothing.


  • Captain Planet & the Planeteers ends
The biggest punchline in cartoons finally finished its run in 1996. I'd like to say that's where its influence ended, but Hollywood and OldPub insist on replicating its formula in everything they make now. From the stereotypical characters to the hokey writing to the hammer over the head moral messaging, Captain Planet is still around and even worse than it was back then. And you just know someone will unironically reboot it within the next decade.


  • Fresh Prince of Bel-Air ends
One of the biggest sitcoms of the era, and one of the last big ones, Fresh Prince was what launched Will Smith into the stratosphere . . . and somehow still remains his most popular project even 25 years since its finale. It's still in syndication today. This era of Prime-time TV was undergoing heavy shifts, and this series ending opened the door for NBC to become the monstrosity it would soon become not even half a decade later.


  • Radio Disney goes on the air
In a strange bit of irony, that day I put this post up Disney announced that Radio Disney is disappearing in 2021, 25 years after its start. Instrumental in bringing in the tween pop era, its influence carries over to the modern day.


  • Murder, She Wrote ends
Speaking of Prime-time TV ending, Murder, She Wrote was the last megahit mystery series and still remains in syndication to this day. This adult-oriented yet still family-friendly sort of series, a staple since the medium began, was quickly becoming a rarity even in 1996. This series ending cleared the way for the cesspool of nihilism to come.


  • Tales from the Crypt ends
Much like Are You Afraid of the Dark? which also ended this year, Tales from the Crypt, itself a relic of the 1980s, was the last vestige of that decade being wiped away from the landscape. Horror anthologies vanished from television after it did, never to return. This was the period where the 1980s were being declared uncool by talking heads, which was easy to do with it no longer having accessibility in 1996.


  • 21st Century Film Corporation disestablished
1996 was the year the 1980s died, basically. The last of Cannon Films' productions, made years earlier, were finally released, and the last trace of Golan and Globus' presence in the cinema world was now extinguished. With this, B-movies would never be the same.


  • The final produced Cannon Films movie, Chain of Command, is put out
As I said, it was the end of an era. Not a year before did Speed release, the last big studio action movie to use practical effects and stunts as a selling point. Now strain your brain to think of a big traditional action movie in that vein to come after Cannon's last film in 1996. There weren't any. The genre was abandoned, and soon enough, it would be dead.


  • Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers and V.R. Troopers end
The most famous child trend of the early 1990s was the appearance of tokusatsu shows from Japan unexpectedly blowing up. But by 1996 steam was running out, and both the original Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers series and V.R. Troopers ended. Power Rangers did continue (it's still on today), but it never reclaimed that level of popularity it had in the early '90s during its original run. Neither did another tokusatsu series ever get another shot like this in the west again.


  • First Taiwan presidential election
I shouldn't have to explain how this changed things, and in ways it didn't considering who was elected, but it still happened.


  • Taliban captures Kabul and declares Fundamentalist Islamic State of Afghanistan
In case you thought this sort of thing began in 2001.


  • The Dunblane School Massacre
A madman walked into a Dunblane elementary school and killed 16 students and teachers, injuring 15 others. This led to the 1996 Cullen Report and banning most use of guns in the United Kingdom. It is still the largest mass shooting in British history.


  • Paris Subway bombing
An IED detonated on the southbound tracks of the Gare de Port-Royal Reseau Express Regional in Paris. There were four deaths. It resulted in Vigipirate, allowing the police to put up security in sensitive areas, spot checks, and increased patrolling. No one ever claimed responsibility for the bombing ever since it happened in 1996.


  • Over 100 churches in Mississippi are burned to the ground over an 18 month period
No, the mainstream never reported this, and yes, this happened. If you're still enamored with the "Satanic Panic" canard that the media was trying to sell you then you might not like some of the entries coming up. This was still going on in 1996, and was no less serious.


  • Australian Martin Bryant shooting spree in Tasmania on April 28th 
Between two days in April of 1996, Martin Bryant killed 35 people and injured 23 others in the largest shooting spree in Australian history. It had a heavy effect on Australian gun laws and registration. Odd side note: The media controversy shaped around manipulating footage to make Bryant look more terrifying or deranged than he was. The case remains one of Australia's most notorious to this day.


  • 17 Greek tourists killed by gunmen in Cairo
Four Islamists carried out a mass shooting spree in 1996 on 88 Greek tourists while they were on vacation. Al-Jama'a al-Islamiyya claimed responsibility, thinking they were Israelis. 17 tourists were killed in the attack. Again, in case you thought any of this was anything new.


  • End of the First Chechen War
From December 1994-August 1996, a number as high as 30,000 soldiers and civilians were killed in the conflict between Russia and Chechnya. This conflict, of course, goes back much further than even 1994. The second war would start in 1999.


  • Manchester and Canary Wharf Bombings
The PIRA sets off a bomb in the Manchester city center. It is the biggest to go off in Britain since WWII. Amazingly, no one was murdered. 212 were injured. This is after injuring 200 and murdering 2 with a bomb in Canary Row months before.





As stated, 1996 was more of a transitional year, one of endings and sowing the seeds that would later sprout poison flowers. In the following years, we will see just how much has actually changed since the Good Old Days. You'll be surprised at how little.

So let us continue.





1997


  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is released (US version in 1998)
I shouldn't have to explain this one, especially to readers. Harry Potter was the final literary phenomenon, inventing an entire subgenre that consumed kids but didn't invent new readers or expand the field beyond its success. "Read Another Book" indeed.


  • The Simpsons officially becomes the longest running prime-time animated series
The Simpsons hit its peak in 1997 with season 8 ending, and season 9's start signaling the end of the classic run. It should also be mentioned that most of the new writers that would come in over the next two years are still running the writing room to this day.


  • Titanic becomes the biggest movie of 1997
As mentioned before, James Cameron joined the movement to destroy action movies and turn them into empty blockbusters that started in 1996. On top of that, it becomes the first "blockbuster" to win best picture. Pop has forgotten its place, and 1997 turned it upside down.


  • The explosion of bad blockbusters started by Independence Day (1996) continues, consumes box office with movies such as The Lost World (1997)
It's much more obvious today, but 1997 was a really bad year for movies. Even Spielberg put out one of his biggest turkeys with this sequel to Jurassic Park. There isn't much that has held up to scrutiny. This is one of the first indications that Hollywood has lost touch with its audience.


  • Batman & Robin destroys superhero movies
Here's another indication of the bad state of film. Reminder that Batman's first movie only released 8 years prior to this, and this is what they came to by 1997. Again, a horrific year for movies.


  • X-Men cartoon ends
Some of the last cartoons that took adventure storytelling seriously. It is difficult to state its influence at the time, never mind the 1997 end point. It has been rebooted multiple times since, but none of them attempted anything new like these did. Instead, they are endless reboots.


  • Microsoft bails out Apple with 150 million investment
Imagine a landscape without Apple around. Well, we almost had it in 1997.


  • Steve Jobs returns to Apple
We all know what happened after this.


  • Mini-Crash in the stock market (1997), beginning of the end of the economic boom
The 18th biggest point loss in the history of the Dow. Consumer confidence and economic growth slowed and never recovered to the heights they were at before. A signal of things to come.


  • TSR absorbed by Wizards of the Coast, creating a monopoly
If you're into gaming then you know that TSR and Wizards of the Coast were the two biggest names in Role-Playing Games. When TSR went bust and was absorbed by WOTC, the field turned into a monopoly in 1997. This is the moment it became what it is now.


  • Woolworth's closed its remaining stories
One of the biggest retail chains closes its doors in 1997 after over 100 years in operation. One of many businesses that either went under or merged with someone else. It then changed its name and became a sporting good store.


  • Incredible Universe stores close
One of the last gimmick stores, it was a consumer electronics location. All 16 stores were bought out by Fry's in 1997.


  • Lionsgate Pictures forms
Formed by a banker in 1997 from Cinepix, it quickly began buying and absorbing other movies studios and libraries. Cinepix was already moving in this direction, but now it was made official. Its highest grossing films are the Hunger Games movies. However, it has been recently started hurting like the rest of Hollywood. It recently laid off a bunch of staff.


  • Princess Diana dies, media obsession explodes
You might have had to be there to understand this, but this was a news story that was everywhere. A bunch of paparazzi chased Diana and her husband, leading to a car wreckage that ended up being a media event for years afterwards. Trust in the press hit a new low for the time period. Since it originally happened in 1997, however, no one really talks about how she died, especially in the media.


  • The Beanie Baby explosion and obsession
Fueled by the speculator market, this weird period in rampant consumerism is not going to make sense outside of its 1997 context. Nonetheless, you could not escape these things for what felt like forever, but turned out to be less than a year. This was before they moved on to a new fad. Just hopping from product to product. At least they're not Funko Pops.


  • Hong Kong handover from Britain to China
Should you want to take a dip back in time to see something that truly hasn't aged well, I suggest reading articles about Britain's handover of Hong Kong to China when it happened in 1997. As to how it relates now, well, I don't think it needs to be said. Needless to say, Hong Kong and China are not the best of friends.


  • Multimedia Entertainment disestablished after existing since 1968
One of the many production companies absorbed, leveled, or outright bought around this time period. 1997 was the end of many. Some examples of series ME ran: Sally Jesse Raphael, Donahue, Rush Limbaugh, and Jerry Springer. All were over by or in 1997.


  • Boss Film Studios special effect company closes doors
One of the key special effects studios since 1983 and working on projects such as Die Hard, Ghostbusters, Monster Squad, Heat, and Big Trouble in Little China. Due to the rise of competition and expenses on CG effects. Independent studios such as Boss Film could no longer compete, and by 1997, they were gone.


  • 62 people are gunned down by Islamic Terrorists in the Luxor Massacre
Six gunmen with knives descended on the Mortuary Temple of Hatshesput in 1997. After killing two guards, they sealed the people (the majority of which were tourists) inside. They then massacred those inside, mutilating the corpses beyond recognition. This attack turned public opinion on Islamic terrorists in Egypt, and attacks even subsided for awhile. That obviously didn't last.


  • Kyoto Protocol Agreement conference
This was an attempt to create an agreement for all involved countries to, as they said, "lower greenhouses gas" effects all over the world. All countries involved must follow the same standards. This was agreed upon in 1997 before finally being activated in 2005. This, eventually, through a long string of events, led to the Paris Agreement in 2015. 


  • Dow Jones Industrial Average closes below 7000 for the first time
It was temporary, but for a few months, the Dow closed at under 7000 during a period of what was supposed to be an economic boom. It was later raised back up by Boeing (more on them later) and other blue-chip issues. This was, essentially, the end of the economic growth period. The cracks were first shown here, in 1997.


  • The GIA massacres villagers in Algeria
400 civilians were killed in Relizane, around 150 miles southwest of the capital. This was an attempt to overthrow the Algerian government and install an Islamic State, and was their bloodiest campaign yet. They stormed many villages and towns, murdering many. The GIA was very active through the '90s, killing over 70,000 people since 1992, but their activities only ramped up throughout the decade.


  • Scotland votes to create its own parliament after 290 years of union with England
This is pretty self-explanatory. Though this was the first time Scotland had voted to do something such as this in its history. It isn't that out of joint for 1997, though.


  • Wales votes in favor of devolution and the formation of a national assembly
In a close vote, Wales also does something unprecedented and votes for Devolution, leading to the forming of a National Assembly. The Government of Wales Act later passed in 1998 followed by the National Assembly of Wales in 1999. The number of votes this passed with in 1997 to change their future? 6,721.


  • Civil jury declares OJ Simpson guilty
It didn't even matter if he was guilty or not, this course case was inescapable in the 1990s, and was a media circus. When the verdict was finally read the public could finally go back to their normal lives. It's easy to make jokes about how he did it now, but back then it was a very divisive issue. In 1997, this only added fuel to the fire.


  • Biggie Smalls fatally shot
Whether this was reprisal for the fatal shooting of Tupac Shakur remains unknown, because this case is more of the East coast Vs West coast rapper feud that ended up permanently staining the genre as one for low life gangbangers who care as little about other lives than they do about fixing the streets where they came from. It's no coincidence gangsta rap has been unchanged since the early '90s. It's no different now than it was when Notorious BIG was shot in 1997.


  • Dolly the sheep cloned
It's easy to make jokes about this now, since it didn't lead to anything in 1997, but the ethical issues brought up were tremendous. An era of science gone amok was starting, foretold by those such as Michael Crichton, warning scientists to keep an ethical head. In an age where Harvard hires people who think babies have less rights than pigs, this was a sign of things to come.


  • Bird Flu first appears in Hong Kong on May 19th, 1997
1997 wasn't a good year for Hong Kong. 18 people were infected by chickens, six victims died. That was the start of the Bird Flu breakout. There was then a country-wide slaughter of over 1.5 million chickens by December to get the disease under control. This was the first known case, but it certainly wasn't the last.


  • Mother Teresa dies
I hope I don't have to tell you all the good work Mother Teresa did despite getting slandered by someone who thought Josef Stalin was motivated to slaughter millions of innocents because of Christianity. Nonetheless, she was an important figure and one many found inspiration in. That she died in 1997 isn't all that surprising.


  • Andrew Cunanan goes on a cross-country killing spree
Cunanan killed 5 people including Gianni Versace and Lee Miglin over three month span before killing himself. This was shocking at the time, and more of an anecdote now, but still no one knows exactly what caused this. There is no known motive. 1997 had some strange killing sprees.


  • Teenage Satanist spree shooting
Teenage Satanist Luke Woodham fired at 10 people in a spree shooting, killing 3. The pre-Columbine school shooter that was memory-holed rather fast. This would have been shocking when it happened in 1997, had the media spent half as much focus on this as they would on Columbine. In case you're curious: no, he wasn't a gamer.


  • Teenager murders Christian prayer group
14-year-old Michael Carneal open-fired on a Christian prayer group, killing 3 and wounding 5. He’d stolen a pistol, two rifles, two shotguns, and 700 rounds of ammunition to shoot up his school. No one was talking about an epidemic of school shooters in 1997, even though apparently Bill Clinton sent Janet Reno to gather a report. Obviously, that never happened. As for Carneal? I don't think he was a gamer, either.


  • Dr. Satan caught in Chicago
Occult fanatic Michael Swango, “Dr. Satan”, was caught in Chicago in 1997 after killing 30 people since 1981. His favorite method of murder was poisoning. Estimates state that he most likely killed over 60 since he began his serial murders. We will never know.


  • The Order of the Solar Temple commits mass suicide and murder between 1994-1997
For some reason, 74 members of the OST cult committed suicide over a period of three years which ended in 1997. One strange case in Quebec had three members kill themselves and burn their home down while a bunch of teenagers were found drugged and unharmed in the shed behind the house. By 1997, 74 people had been killed by the cult. No further suicides or murders were ever recorded.


  • Heaven’s Gate cult mass suicides
The Heaven's Gate cult who committed a mass suicide to be let on a space-ship coming overhead to take them from oncoming disaster. This happened in 1997 and has never fully left public consciousness. Probably because it's so bizarre and oddly prescient about things to come.


  • Lottie Williams is the first person hit by space debris
This is a case of an innocent woman going for a walk with friends in 1997 who managed to get hit by debris from 1996, the first ever in recorded history. It was from the 1996 Delta II rocket. Incidentally, she lived. There might be a lesson somewhere in this story, but who knows?


  • The Cosmopolitan becomes the #1 drink after its popularity on Sex & the City
Perhaps a sign as to where popular culture was heading, and influencing the real world, this drink purely became popular in 1997 by being featured in a book and little else. 


  • Cost of a new PC from HP and Compaq dropped below $1000 for the first time
One of the first steps for computers being affordable for the common man, prices fell to affordable levels in 1997. It might not have mattered much at the time, since the internet was still not quite there, but for the first time it felt like anyone could own one of these things.


  • 56k modems became standard
Then again, the internet was there. 56k was the standard for the time and though now looked at as a joke today was the first instance of easy connectivity online for the common person. It made a difference. The internet was made easy in 1997.


  • Facebook, Netflix.com, and Craigslist come online
Once again, as the internet and computers become affordable for normal people, so too do the things that would take most their online activity in years to come. 1997 was a big year for computers and the internet. It all began here.


  • Google.com becomes a registered domain name
Speaking of: the future purveyors of doing no evil first came into existence in 1997. To mention what they would become is a waste of time. What a year!


  • The television rating system goes into effect
Due to parental advocacy groups, in 1997, the FCC regulated that all television shows had to be given ratings to match their content. In an odd bit of coincidence, several other countries all over the world gained a similar ratings system to this at the same time. Welcome to your focus-group tested future.


  • The infamous Ellen episode is broadcasted
It might be hard to understand today, but Ellen DeGeneres' '90s sitcom was one of the most popular of its time. It was then announced that the main character would come out as homosexual, which happened in the 1997 season. After an initial pop in ratings, they soon tanked and the show has since been forgotten to the ages.


  • The Disney Channel moves from subscription model to normal broadcast
Disney began much of their restructuring in 1997 which would begin their path going forward. One was setting up a channel purely for their own brand to reach younger audiences. There was more to follow, but the Disney Channel would shape their original programming going forward.


  • Toonami debuts
After the destruction of Saturday Morning cartoons thanks to the ACT and Peggy Charren, the only place most kids could get their fix of action cartoons was on the Toonami block which began in 1997. Because of the lack of competition, Toonami took the landscape by storm. It has since been revived as a pale imitation of itself, but then so has everything first made before 1998.


  • TV ads for prescription drugs began showing up on mainstream TV
Since no one watches TV anymore it is hard to say just how awkward this was, but Big Pharma soon bought their way onto the airwaves to sell their products. Standards became laxer as the rating system was invented in the same year.


  • DVD players, digital cameras and flavored vodka all began being sold on the marketplace
Once again, the new technology of DVDs were rushed out quick, as were the players. Digital cameras were also slowly being positioned to take over for the old style. As for flavored vodka? It makes a good drink for the madness of 1997.


  • Ally McBeal starts
This isn't known so well these days, but Ally McBeal was the Gen X yuppie series of 1997. That blasted dancing baby fad is probably the first cursed meme, too. Nonetheless, it set the blueprint for just about every young adult drama on television today.


  • Auto-tune debuts
It should not be understated what auto-tune did to the music industry. Essentially a program that can tune anyone's voice with computers to be good, it allowed record labels the option to instead create their own stars instead of relying on talent working up to success. This practice became very apparent in the years to come. 1997 is regularly marked as the year the music industry died, and this is one of the premier reasons. Auto-tune changed music.


  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer starts
Joss Whedon's writing on Buffy is the most imitated in the modern world to such an extent that no one else comes close. It started here in 1997 but would soon hit critical mass with Marvel movies in the decade to come. Aside from those examples, just about every modern urban fantasy writer takes from this series. Its influence carries on to this day.


  • Gargoyles ends
The Disney Afternoon's first 100% original series ends after a fantastic run beloved by many. It would also turn out to be the final series made exclusively for the block aside from an aborted attempt at a '90s sitcom with Quack Pack.


  • The Disney Afternoon ends
Right after Gargoyles ended, so did this. TDA technically wrapped up as the title was dropped and was turned into a block to re-air Saturday Morning fare. Because of the Disney Channel, Disney no longer required The Disney Afternoon or syndication to make money. The Saturday morning dumping ground  it became would be gone not long later.


  • The edgy era of family sitcoms ends 
Series such as Roseanne and Married with Children ended in 1997, making way for the young adult yuppy Gen X series to come. Family sitcoms mostly died after this, becoming either made exclusively for boomer parents or ironic hipster types. Series that were made for the entire family soon went extinct.


  • TGIF dumps family sitcoms for the teen market
As just mentioned, TGIF dumped their demographic just as everyone did in an attempt to be hip in 1997. Sabrina the Teenage Witch became their new flagship series, and their family shows disappeared to be replaced by this new fad. Incidentally, TGIF would be gone by the end of the '90s. Not bad considering how popular it was at its peak.


  • Beavis & Butthead ends
The show that epitomized the Gen X era ended in 1997. What would come in the genre after it would be completely different in tone and approach. Just as with the death of the edgy family sitcoms, TV totally changed after this went off the air.


  • Unsolved Mysteries taken off of NBC after 9 seasons
Though it returned on CBS for two seasons after this, Unsolved Mysteries, one of the most groundbreaking and influential series of the 1980s ended for the first time in 1997. It was a sign of things to come as series such as this with a wider scope would soon be replaced by reality TV in the years to come. Series like Unsolved Mysteries soon stopped being made.


  • Goosebumps TV show and original book line ends 
Goosebumps had a rocky 1997. After a contract dispute and slowing sales, Goosebumps had its show end despite good ratings. The follow-up book series soon stop being promoted before ending entirely in 1999. What was once the biggest book series of the '90s disappeared virtually overnight. It didn't survive the jump to the '00s.


  • South Park begins
Despite being made by Gen Xers, South Park is a series that doesn't have much in the way of what we know as '90s humor. Though controversial, it began the trend of more topical humor and obscure quirks being the focus of the comedy. A rash of imitators soon followed. Nonetheless, it started in 1997 and is on the air to this day.


  • Seinfeld ends
Seinfeld was the final megahit sitcom. Its popularity is difficult to emphasize today, but it has remained in syndication for over twenty years after ending for a reason. Because of its demise it allowed Friends to take its spot and climb to super popularity and taking the genre off the rails not long later. In essence, it ending more or less was the end of the sitcom form's popularity.


  • "Wannabe" by Spice Girls hits #1
Before Wannabe, manufactured bubblegum pop was a joke that died quickly after New Kids on the Block did. Things were moving back to rock and r&b sounds. In 1997, when this song hit #1 it started the trend of bubblegum pop swarming the charts and choking out every other genre. There are more reasons for that change, but we will get to that.


  • Limp Bizkit’s first album releases
At the same time Wannabe hit, nu metal was being positioned as the replacement for grunge which was the replacement for hair metal. This wasn't clear at the time, but one of the bands that would be pushed incessantly over the next few years into the '00s was Fred Durst's pet project. These angry sounds were inescapable. 1997 was a very rocky year for music.


  • Clear Channel destroys radio 
No one mentions it now, but at the time everyone was up in arms over this. Clear Channel acquired the bulk of its broadcasting properties following the Telecommunications Act of 1996 mentioned earlier, which lifted restrictions on national radio station ownership. During the late 1990s, the company was diversifying beyond the broadcasting business by acquiring billboards in major metropolitan markets. By 1997, the company ranked as the second-largest outdoor advertiser in the United States. In addition to its domestic radio and television stations, Clear Channel also operated broadcasting properties in New Zealand and Australia. It created a monopoly that has since destroyed radio and the music industry.


  • Diamond Distribution becomes the monopoly in comic book distribution
1997 was the year Diamond Distribution became the sole distributor in comic books, creating a monopoly that has existed until this day. From this point on, comics became locked to hobbyist shops that rapidly shrank over the years while also preventing any growth whatsoever, even with a superhero movie boom that took Hollywood by storm.


  • Milestone Comics shut down
Milestone, like Malibu, was one of the last new comic companies to emerge before the 1990s popped the comic book bubble. As the decades have gone on, Milestone became just another IP farm for DC as the industry has done nothing but shrink while only Marvel, DC, and to a lesser extent Image, remain in tact. 1997 was not a good year for comics, but it was one that defined them to the present day.


  • Marvel cancels many books over the next few years
Marvel's 1996 bankruptcy was mentioned earlier, but it was felt by readers in 1997 as they were driven further away. In many ways this was the end of Marvel, as they would ditch their Marvel Method of creating comics and begin a "Writer's first" path that would lead them to where they are now. In many ways, 1997 was the end of Marvel Comics, which is why they never regained the relevance they lost here.


  • Orion Pictures sold to MGM
In this age of mergers it is easy to forget how things were before the mess of overstuffed corporations bled competition dry. Orion wasn't as memorable a company as Cannon Films, but their library contained some of the best of its era. Excalibur, Platoon, Malone, Robocop, First Blood, Caddyshack, The Terminator, Sharky's Machine, Return of the Living Dead, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Dances With Wolves, and Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, are just some of the highly regarded films Orion produced. Since it was bought and absorbed in 1997, what has become of Orion? It was revived as a brand for random films in 2013. Because of course it was.


  • New World Pictures and countless syndication stations sold to Fox
Continuing our merger madness, New World Pictures was another highly regarded film company, and Fox became one of the Big 4 major networks due to moves such as this. With this purchase, Fox became a real competitor with the others. Co-founded by film legend Roger Corman, New World quickly became one of the stops for B-movie excitement, even when a new regime took control. They had movies such as Death Race 2000, The Stuff, Tuff Turf, Rock n' Roll High School, Star Crash, Black Moon Rising, House, House II: The Second Story, Vamp, Battletruck, Slumber Party Massacre, Hellraiser, Deathstalker, Space Raiders, Hell Comes to Frogtown, and Warlock, among many others. If you know anything about B-movies then you know at least some of those names. So what happened to New World since it was sold in 1997? Same as Orion. It now only exists as a brand name.


  • Chris Farley dies
A lot of Gen Xers will talk about how Kurt Cobain's death affected them, but for their younger brothers in Gen Y, Chris Farley's death in 1997 hit harder. Much like John Candy, Chris Farley was a larger than life character who loved to entertain and had a natural "good" charisma about him that you just can't fake. That he died of an overdose after we could all see him physically deteriorating over the year was a real shocking moment, especially when we later learned he suffered depression due to his overwhelming loneliness. It was hard to imagine then, but little did we know how big a social problem this would become in the decades to come. Please say a prayer for Chris Farley, because he deserved better than modernity.


  • Star Wars “Special Edition”
The first zombie rose from its grave in 1997, instantly sparking so many creative problems, anti-customer attitudes, and corporate decisions, that still exist in Hollywood today. Suffice to say, the space battle movies were dormant and left as nostalgia pieces since the early '80s. It was this moment where the lifestyle brand zombie franchise that exists today comes from, with all the historical revisionism to come along for the ride. This was the first indication that the creativity well in Hollywood might really have run dry. In 2020, it's blindingly obvious in retrospect.


  • Oasis releases "Be Here Now"
Britpop was the last big British musical movement. Essentially a revival of their mod scene, it was a rock-based subculture that took the world by storm. British flags, peppy horns, anthemic choruses, and walls of noise, brought excitement back to the musical landscape as the sludge of grunge was taking over the Yanks' musical landscape. Unfortunately, it also meant a rise in egos and drug use. The best indication that the scene was over was when Oasis released their third album, Be Here Now, in 1997. Though initially received quite well, further listens proved a creative dud was hidden underneath the gloss and the big sounds. It was a sign of the end, as rock music faded to be replaced by the Spice Girls and the bubblegum nonsense that would soon swallow the British music scene to this day.


  • First NSYNC album releases
Almost on cue, as rock began its descent from the charts did bubblegum acts come out of nowhere to seize control of the music industry, where they've been in charge ever since. Even if you don't recognize NSYNC these days, you will recognize their sound as well as their lead singer, Justin Timberlake. They've never truly gone away. It all began here in 1997.


  • Britney Spears signs recording contract
Much like the above, it feels as if the record companies had been planning this 1997 takeover of the music industry for quite a while. Starting with Britney Spears' Madonna-aping act, the age of the singer songwriter was replaced with the manufactured sex-starved schoolgirl. Over the next few years she would be inescapable, as would her sound which exists to this day.


  • The McDonnell Douglas takeover / Boeing 737 crisis
The two biggest names in global aviation merged in 1997. The resulting mix of corporate cultures and methods eventually led to internal discord, peaking 20 years later with the crashes of two 737 jets and 346 lives, on top of a cost of over 10 billion. Progress and better product has been waylaid for cutting costs and looking for the cheapest solution to every problem. Sound familiar? The corporate merger age has been an unmitigated disaster for the human race.


  • Duke Nukem Forever starts development
Duke Nukem Forever, the first AAA game to be endlessly delayed and gone over budget began in 1997. Before this game, the industry had delays and expensive games, but never to the level this one created. A sign of things to come, now all AAA game budgets are bloated in a way that not even selling a couple million copies will break even. In fact, games sell about as much as they did back in the '90s. They just cost more to make now, which means their budgets are out of control. It all started with this game.


  • Raven Software bought by Activision 
Raven Software was one of the most popular developers of first person shooters, following after id Software's lead. Responsible for such titles as Heretic, Soldier of Fortune, CyClones, and Hexen, they were then bought by Activision in 1997. Unfortunately after a single bomb due to rushed development brought on by their publisher, they have since been gutted and exist as a Call of Duty support team now. Raven no longer exists, despite all they were responsible for creating. This is where the industry is now.


  • Final Fantasy VII releases
The game that changed RPGs, whether you want to admit it or not. Taking then burgeoning anime tropes, depressing psychological issues, and wrapping it in a pseudo-cyberpunk aesthetic, ended up becoming the biggest RPG of the generation, and quite possibly of all time. Its influence remains now, even though 1997 is a distant memory, by even having a recent remake that outsold the previous mainline game in the series. RPGs, and even non-RPGs, are still being influenced by this game today. Its influence is inescapable.


  • Castlevania: Symphony of the Night popularized "Metroidvanias"
Though Metroid perfected the 2D free-form open world (IE, not stage-based gameplay) adventure genre, it wasn't until Castlevania: Symphony of the Night came around that this subgenre had an unofficial name and a template that everyone could crib off of. While action-based 2D games were almost made extinct throughout this time period, the "Metroidvania" style of game persists to this day, unchanged from what it was in 1997. It is still one of the most popular games for 2D game designers even now so far from this game's release.


  • Diablo releases
Blizzard Entertainment was fairly unstoppable in the '90s, and this, their second-to-last new big '90s franchise was the biggest dungeon crawler of all time at its release in 1997. Though the franchise's popularity more or less went on a downhill slide into its current irrelevant state, Diablo set off a chain of "clones" not unlike how DOOM did years earlier. The main difference is that none of them came close to the original. Just about every "loot" game has its roots in this one. Its influence still exists in gaming today.


  • Sierra Entertainment resignations and scandals begin to consume company
Sierra On-Line became Sierra Entertainment and fell apart not long after Ken Williams resigned from the company after its sale. Though his wife Roberta would stick around to finish off her last game, King's Quest VIII, the corporate culture that ejected what made Sierra work crumbled almost instantly after their 1996 purchase. 1997 was fraught with even more resignations and emerging corporate scandals that would put many of these executives in jail. For all intents and purposes, 1997 was the end of Sierra. Over the next few years, Sierra would dissolve into nothing but an IP farm for Activision.


  • GoldenEye 007 releases
GoldenEye 007 was a revolution for first person shooters and console gaming in 1997, showing just what could be done with this new 3D technology. It also caused a boom in James Bond video games followed by even more licensed games attempting to be just like it. It also eventually left developers to make "console shooters", by dumbing down elements of the genre that even GoldenEye 007 didn't dumb down, peaking in a little series called Call of Duty. Though the two games have nothing in common, the mentality that led to the state of the genre blossomed from GoldenEye 007's release.


  • Grand Theft Auto and Postal release
I don't think I should have to say how the 1997 release of both Grand Theft Auto and Postal would eventually change that gaming landscape in years to come, though they wouldn't look much like they did when these games first came out. Nonetheless, open world, explicit, mature-rated games were becoming a force in the industry, and these games led the way for them. Within mere years they would release some of the most popular and influential games of all time. It began here.


  • Gran Turismo releases
Gran Turismo doesn't quite enjoy the clout it once had, though in 1997 it successfully created a phenomenon that turned racing games into simulations. It's difficult to say how much of its influence remains today, as the only real popular racing games are Forza and Mario Kart, but it did successfully steer the genre further from its arcade roots, eventually ending up killing the genre's wider popularity, not unlike EA did with sports games. Perhaps it was too good at what it did? Who knows. But the era of Rock n' Roll Racing, Pole Position, and OutRun, was now over.


  • Uyghyr Bus Bombings
28 people were injured and 9 killed in a series of bus bombings in China by the Uyghyr separatists in 1997. This was a response to the execution of 30 suspected separatists during Ramadan. This culminated in the Gulja Incident which killed 9 further protesters. As can be gleamed, China and the Uyghyrs do not have a friendly relationship with each other. They still do not to this day.


  • Island of Peace Massacre
A Jordanian soldier opened fired at a group of Israeli school girls, killing 7, wounding 5, and also injuring their teacher. It was said he had mental problems, which was the only motive given. After the 1997 incident, the perpetrator spent 20 years in prison before being released in 2017.


  • The Albanian Civil War
Entirely contained in 1997 to a period of six months, the Albanian Civil War was an odd one. Essentially, victims of a pyramid scheme began protesting for justice to be done and a reimbursement from the government. The prime minister resigned and the President declared a State of Emergency. The leader of the Socialist Party became the next prime minister, leading to even more protests. Order collapsed, causing a rise of criminal gangs and rebels. The UN sent in 7,000 troops which eventually aided in quelling the rebellion. The looted weapons were eventually made available to the Kosovo Liberation Army which became part of next year's Kosovo War. Death estimates are unknown, but low-balled to 2000-3000 and up to 5000 wounded. Essentially this all sparked from the first democratic elections of Albania in 1992. All of it spilled out here in 1997.


  • Las Abejas' Acteal Massacre
In 1997, a massacre of 45 Catholics including women and children took place at a prayer meeting. This was supported by the Mexican government though that wasn't admitted until 2020. This occurred because the people were sympathetic to rebel causes and were slaughtered as law enforcement looked the other way. It would be nice to say that such a thing is rare in Mexico, but it really is not.





There is much more I did not mention, because this post is long enough. Nonetheless, 1997 was the end of much, and the start of many modern trends that still exist today. Many more events occurred as they always did oblivious to the rules of "progress" and utopianism that first worlders were still enamored by. That illusion would shatter permanently in just a few years. However, despite that bubble, the world spun on regardless.

As we end, we will check out 1998 which consists of the final sweep up of the changing landscape. This is where the remains of the previous decades crumbled and the final creatives were birthed that are all still enjoying success to this day. For all intents and purposes, 1998 is just a sweeping up of the smashed glass the previous two years caused.

By 1999, it was all gone.





1998



  • Armageddon releases
The Michael Bay movie that put the final nail in the coffin for traditional blockbusters. You couldn't escape the song, the stars, or quotes, for a long time. But you have to remember that was also released in 1998. It had less staying power than Deep Impact, if that's even possible.


  • There’s Something About Mary re-launches gross-out comedies
Comedy had a rough transition period from its 1980s popularity peak. Starting with There's Something About Mary in 1998, gross-out comedies made their big return to the cinema. Eventually they transformed into soppy Gen X dramas with crass jokes like the Judd Apatow movies where the gross-out stayed but the comedy gave way to improv and wacky situations. It's never really gone away, but audiences have.


  • Bad Robot Productions forms
This might appear innocuous if you don't know what it is. Bad Robot is J.J. Abrams' production company responsible for . . . just look at every modern Hollywood "blockbuster" these days. His style of flash over substance and mindless mystery over coherence is seen all over the modern Hollywood landscape. And it started here, in 1998.


  • Sony Pictures Entertainment Group formed from the ashes of Tristar and Columbia Pictures
Sony Pictures has been an outright disaster from the get-go, unable to get much in the way of hits, and even screwing up obvious moneymakers like Spider-Man. They combined Tristar and Columbia Pictures into a monstrosity named the Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group. They are known as a punchline today, especially after the 2016 leaks, but they did form from two much better companies. Just like all mergers, it meant less jobs and less content being produced. 1998 just continued the trend from the past two years.


  • Carlos Castaneda dies, his cult followers disappear overnight
Carlos Castaneda was a guru-type cult leader, not unlike the Oprah-backed John of God, who disappeared from public life in 1973 to his LA mansion. He was so popular that he was featured in Time Magazine and his books were the topic of every free-love advocate out there. To explain everything about him would be to write a full post, so we shall leave it there. After he died in 1998, several of his followers vanished. No one to this day really knows what he was doing in seclusion for 25 years. Near a decade later the remains of one of his disappeared followers was found in the desert.


  • California bans smoking in all restaurants and bars
The first of many to come, 1998 showed the first western country to ban smoking from their property which soon spread everywhere.


  • The Wide World of Sports canceled after 37 years
In this culture of sports as a lifestyle brand it is easy to forget when it was a more casual hobby. The Wide World of Sports was the program everyone went to when they wanted to indulge a little and relax. Since its ending, entire networks, websites, and subcultures have formed around the once innocuous hobby to blow it up to absurd levels. In retrospect, it is coincidental that this went off the air when it did in 1998. Perhaps it just wasn't obsessive enough for what was to come.


  • Sex & the City premieres in 1998, based on the 1997 book
This phenomenon of older women obsessing about their degenerate sex-lives, due to not having anything else worth discussing, was the start of a trend that still exists today. Where it was fringe it is now mainstream. Instead of being relegated to cable, however, all the major networks air shows with this same aim and even more extreme content. The series itself might be forgotten, but its influence remains.


  • Will & Grace begins
The same as the above. This is a series more well known for what it pushed than what it actually was, which was a bottom tier sitcom with the worst writing to be found on television. If it wasn't about a controversial topic, no one would remember how awful it actually was. 1998 was a fairly lousy year for sitcoms, with this being symbolic of the end of the format.


  • That ‘70s Show starts
Third time is a charm. This is another series more well known for the edgy content it pushed than it was for the typical content it had. 1998 was a year where the sitcom died, being used as little more than magnet for controversy, leaving behind its roots of family entertainment forever. That said, this one was at least better written than the above two were, though it is no more memorable. Several of its stars' later fortunes can't help but raise some eyebrows, however.


  • Shari Lewis dies 
The creator of the Lamb Chop puppet phenomenon, she passed away suddenly in 1998. Since her death children's entertainment is no longer the product of those who love children but of corporation-driven initiatives, mass market merchandising, and focus testing groups. Before that, it was the territory of normal people. She was very much the last of her kind.


  • Pokemon anime premieres
The Pokemon games were a big hit out of the gate, but it was the anime coming out in 1998 that brought it to a whole new level of popularity, including creating many other kids shows just like it in the process. However, the anime series itself that started over 20 years ago is still on the air now and still exceedingly popular despite its age.


  • Choose Your Own Adventures ends
This book series which took tabletop gaming into prose form way back in the 1970s was finally shelved in 1998 around the time many other male-friendly kid books were. For those who grew up in the '80s and '90s, these books were staples of every library, used book store, book fair, and child bookshelf. Their success was something to behold. They were short, pulpy, and popular. And by 1998, they were gone.


  • Total Request Live starts
At the same time the record companies were unleashing their carefully constructed pop stars on the world, MTV joined in with their own teenybopper program to hype up these new acts. Within a year, TRL would become a monster hit with its host Carson Daly soon getting a career of his own. 1998 was the year of bubblegum, and it is one that has still never ended, even long after TRL was shelved after serving its advertising purpose for the recording labels.


  • Dawson’s Creek begins
I'm not certain what it was with the late '90s and the obsession with raunchy young adult programming, but its peak came in the 1998 melodrama Dawson's Creek. No longer would younger audiences get adventures, but soap operas with plenty of sex, drugs, and moral lessons, that were as vapid as the era itself was. Though the show itself has been forgotten, and its stars went on to much bigger things, its influence has never truly died.


  • Murphy Brown and Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman end
These were programs for older women that ran their course at just about the same time. What is odd is that these were huge juggernauts at the same time and had much cultural impact, but as shows themselves were forgotten rather fast. They would also be replaced with series for hip, "younger" urbanite demographics to cash in on the Friends fad that was exploding at this time. Nonetheless, they were still the last of their kind.


  • CBS’s "Friday Night Block Party" family block canceled after one season
Another sign of the death of family programming on TV was CBS's one attempt to rival ABC's TGIF block. It only last one season, and they even poached two of ABC's flagship family sitcoms for their own Block Party Friday night block. However, they did not support it well and the two other series that were on the Block Party were canceled rather fast with the other two making it to the end of the season. Family Matters and Step By Step were two of the biggest sitcoms of the '90s, but they were quickly memory-holed by CBS without even so much as a send off despite all their success. 1998 was the end of the sitcom, and family programming as a whole.


  • Milton Bradley closes, becomes brand
One of the biggest board game manufacturer's closed down in 1998. With the decline of board games in the ensuing years it lingered on as little more than a brand name to sell newer releases of old product. The old Milton Bradley was known for quality, not the cheap cardboard and pathetic plastic the current editions are made of. But it isn't remembered for much else these days.


  • The Secret World of Alex Mack ends
One of Nickelodeon's last originals concerned a young girl who got superpowers and had to hide from the people who created her. Much like Are You Afraid of The Dark?, this was an anomaly, and future Nickelodeon live action shows would solely be sitcoms produced by skeevy characters with shady connections. In other words, this was one of the last attempts the network made to compete and differentiate itself from the competition. Adventure shows as a whole were more or less dead by 1998 as it was.


  • Spider-Man cartoon ends
The 1990s Spider-Man cartoon was the first real attempt to adapt the comics to the screen and was fairly successful at doing it. However, much like X-Men ending, it showed a change in focus was coming for these franchises. Their next attempts at these franchises would all be focus-tested and aimed at demographics that didn't really respond to them as they had with these early series. But this was the climate by 1998.


  • Animaniacs ends
The end of WB's "Silver Age" of animation came to a close with the end of the popular Animaniacs in 1998, the last original. A series of shows and spin offs that started with Tiny Toon Adventures at the beginning of the decade, gained massive popularity and are still looked at fondly. However, after the end of Animaniacs, the older style of gag cartoons more or less died with it. There has never been a "Bronze Age" for WB, let's put it that way.


  • Babylon 5 ends
Despite its rocky final season and network interference, the ambitious Babylon 5's attempt to create a space opera story with a finite length went over big with audiences. Though it was influential for much that came later, network TV never really attempted a new series like this after 1998. In many ways it was the start of a new era while also the end of another one.


  • "OK Computer" by Radiohead releases
With this album, Radiohead changed the landscape of alternative rock, turning it into a despairing sadsack genre of music with a post-modern obsession on sound over songcraft and internal concerns over the external. What is odd is that despite how popular this album was, and how much it sold, your average normal person would not even know who they were or what their most popular song is. OK Computer came out in 1998 and succeeded in turning alterative rock insular permanently, and towards a hipster demographic that created sites such as Pitchfork and insufferable youtube channels. Combine this with the rise of corporate bubblegum, and you can just see the industry splitting at the seams.


  • Gladstone Publishing shut down
Gladstone was a company that focused on selling Disney comics, one of their few ventures whose popularity is entirely due to overseas sales as opposed to their own homeland. After a publishing implosion all of their comics aside from two ceased publication and the publisher shut down. Today Disney has other avenues of comics, but their original comics have never quite gotten the focus or attention they did everywhere else. And after 1998, they probably never will.


  • DC Comics consumes Wildstorm
Much like Marvel, DC was on a rampage consuming companies. One of the most promising was Wildstorm, which carried lines such as Cliffhanger that attempted to do more than superhero comics. After being absorbed, the properties were all relegated to the backburner or outright forgotten, much like everything else that the Big Two consumed throughout the '90s. One can't help but wonder if things like this would have happened in 1998 if companies like Marvel had been allowed to go under. We will never know.


  • Penny Arcade begins
1998 was the beginning of the age of webcomics, a topic one could make endless jokes about, but I will refrain. One of the early examples was Penny Arcade, a comic on the gaming subculture that became a template for the burgeoning medium going forward. Penny Arcade would grow tremendously over the years, eventually starting their own gaming convention years later. It all began here with this straightforward, innocuous webcomic.


  • Phil Hartman murdered
Where Chris Farley's death was saddening, it was Phil Hartman's 1998 murder that really hit many younger audience members hard. His mentally ill wife shot him before turning her weapon on herself during a particularly bad argument. You see, Phil Hartman had a natural charisma, much like Chris Farley, that drew people to him. Unlike Farley, Hartman was doing well, on a popular show, starring in hit movies, and was fantastic in everything he did. His death came out nowhere like a splash of a bucket of cold water. To this day there is no one like Phil Hartman who did what he did, and there never will be. Especially not out of Hollywood.


  • Fraud discovered at Sierra
This was the period where Sierra Entertainment's stock crashed and they were thrown towards bankruptcy. It is hard to believe that the company was only sold two years prior at a creative and commercial peak, only to end up on death's door in 1998 with only a handful of products to be squeaked out the door over the next few years. This sort of closure would never happen today, of course, though that's part of why this list even exists.


  • StarCraft releases
After Diablo, StarCraft cemented Blizzard Entertainment as the #1 PC developer of the time. StarCraft was a strategy game phenomenon, eventually taking the world by storm, especially with its eventual sequel. Little did anyone know that it would be one of their last original IPs, one that they would just let die off without much in the way of support, or a sequel, decades later. But 1998 is seen as the peak of PC gaming for a reason. StarCraft is one of those reasons. 


  • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time releases
The N64's second biggest game was also one of the biggest of 1998, still making best of all time lists to this day. Though it is essentially just the SNES's A Link to the Past in 3D, a lot of technical firsts were made with this game that carried over into the wider industry from game design to mechanics. You'll still find elements of its design in AAA games today.


  • Half-Life releases
What Half-Life is known for is taking the level-based approach of the First Person Shooter action genre, and turning it into an immersive world with a focus on story. It was the first game to rely on story over game design, with everything supporting the story and everything else coming second. Though it worked for this one, it is an approach the industry would adopt in the years to come to far less impressive results. By 1998, the older style of shooter was becoming extinct.


  • Metal Gear Solid releases
The second game from 1998 to put story first. Metal Gear Solid put Hideo Kojima's name on the map, taking him from a producer of visual novels into a game designer that put story and CG cinematics at the forefront of the game. Where once your reward in games was high scores or more gameplay, Metal Gear Solid changed it into seeing the next overblown and exciting cutscene. This would be the approach the AAA game industry would take video games, forgoing the old ways entirely in the decades to come.


  • Westside School Shooting
Two children, age 13 and 11, walked into Westside School and shot four children and a teacher dead and wounded ten others. No motive was ever given for the event. As mentioned before, then President Bill Clinton supposedly put Janet Reno on a task to find out the causes of the recent school shootings. However, nothing was ever done, and the Columbine massacre occurred the next year in 1999. Columbine was merely one event in a long string of them, as horrific as it was, but the problem was never addressed. Instead, schools merely became worse prisons to incarcerate children into. Something could have been done in 1997 or 1998 before things spun even further out of control, but nothing ever was. They weren't gamers, by the way.


  • US Embassy Bombings
Over 200 people were killed, and 4000 injured, in two separate truck bombings in East Africa on the US Embassy. The perpetrators were Al Qaeda, and Osama Bin Laden. This attack ended up putting him on the FBI's most wanted list. It was believed to be a reprisal for a skirmish that happened in Albania two months previous, and was scheduled for the eighth anniversary of the US's arrival in Saudi Arabia during the early stages of the Persian Gulf War. This event in 1998 was the first public mark Bin Laden would make, but it wouldn't be the last.


  • The Kosovo War
Kosovo was mentioned earlier as part of the Albanian mess, but they would have problems of their own in 1998 that stretched into 1999. It was fought between the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Kosovo rebel group known as the Kosovo Liberation Army which had support from NATO. Eventually a treaty was signed after many bloody campaigns and massacres. Over 13,500 casualties are reported, and NATO's involvement remains controversial even in 2020. The ethnic conflict, however, still continues to this day.


  • The Troubles officially end
At the same time Yugoslavia was being bombed to bits by NATO, the Troubles in Ireland were officially coming to an end. The conflict in Northern Ireland between the Catholic Nationalists and the Protestant Loyalists lasted near 30 years before the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 "officially" brought them to an end, though sporadic attacks still exist. Over 3500 civilians were killed since they began, not including combatants.







And now I must bring this post to an end. I hope you got something out of this massive catalog of what we call Cultural Ground Zero, the moment culture became what it has been for over two decades of stagnation.

The reason I wanted to make this post is because this is a thought that has bothered me for a long time now. Why has so little felt like it has changed? Why is it that bad things remain unchanged and unwilling to "progress" along with the good things that have vanished? Why is it that we accept things being the way they are despite knowing they aren't what we want them to be, or what they should be? Why does it feel like we're still in the late '90s?

The 2000s were a dud, a relative nothing in the grand scheme of things except a downhill slide into the pit that was dug in 1997. I have stated there will be no mass nostalgia movement centered on the 2000s for the simple fact that you can't have nostalgia for something that has never gone away. Everything that came to be in the late '90s is still around today. There was '80s and '90s nostalgia fairly quick in the early '00s, indicating there was something wrong long before anyone noticed it. But the '00s ended a decade ago and there has been no mass movement for nostalgia over it. Heck, '90s nostalgia rarely includes things made post-'97, just for that reason. I hope this post successfully explained just why that might be the case.

Of course there are also things I didn't cover that started long before, and continued long after, 1997, mostly because they were irrelevant to the thesis. I can't list every Islamist attack, especially the countless ones in India over the decade. I would run out of space. Discussing the atrocities in Colombia or Sri Lanka at the time is counter productive when the conflict started long before and continued long after, as if the passage of time didn't even matter. That is a different sort of Cultural Ground Zero than the one that was happening in the west.

I don't want this to be a defeatist post or a celebration of anything, but to instead be a marker of an era that should be looked into more than it has been. Something happened in the 1990s that led to the death of culture, creativity, and any sense of progress or hope, before 9/11 came along to deliver the final blow. In order to get beyond this stagnancy we will have to face it, and find a path forward again. We cannot keep putting it off and ignoring this reality.

The world that existed before 1997 doesn't exist anymore. Instead we're living in a perpetual state of endless repetition of the same trends, the same fashion, and the same events, over and over again. Nothing is happening in the present, the past is vilified, and there is no future beyond degeneracy and mindless hedonism. We're about to enter 1997 part 24 next year of the same cycle we've been trapped in since the end of the 20th century. It's about time to move on, don't you think? There is nothing left to salvage from this nightmare that hasn't been corrupted or destroyed. It's time to wake up and move on already.

What we can do is remember what we lost and take it forward with us as we look toward a brighter future. We can do better than the current state of cultural decline, and we will.

Nothing stays the same forever. Eventually, the sun sets, and then it rises again. Eventually you have to walk out of the other end of the tunnel.

It'll just take some time, and effort.

25 comments:

  1. Good post. One minor correction: Beast Wars: Transformers' first season ended in 1997, but the whole series ran until 1999.

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  2. Frak. Great post, JD. Definitely locking in on that "it all changed around 1997" vibe. Thanks!

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  4. This was rather interesting, while I would argue about the "death of creativity" in some areas I do honestly feel like there's a fair amount we had that was really important and we threw out what we needed in favour of something to really be less innovative.

    Very good read.

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  5. I'll be processing this one for a while. Fascinating read. I am in awe of how much research you must have done.

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    1. Thanks for reading. Yes, it took a good while to make.

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  6. You've got the 21st century's number down cold. We're three decades in, and we still haven't moved on from the low 90s. If this century were a person, he'd be a lethargic 30-year-old still living in the 1960s' attic. The walls would be plastered with posters for the re-make/boot/imagining of the Brand X franchise he loved in grade school, polaroids of the high school crush he never got over, and shelves overflowing with 3D HD upgrades of the JRPGs he played in college.

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    1. The perfect encapsulation of Gen Y.

      When I was younger we would all fantasize about what wonders and change the future would contain. Now everyone cuts coupons, hopes their gas bill won't go up too high, and looks forward to that remake that reminds them of when they weren't so miserable.

      I went into the city before Corona and was stunned to find it looked exactly (and I mean EXACTLY) the same as it did ten years ago. The same badly paved roads, the same buses, the same fashion, the same stores (except less of them), and the same decaying brutalist buildings.

      It's pathetic, and this era of perpetual mediocrity has long since worn out its welcome.

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  7. Thinking of potential parallels and explanations brings a question to mind: Has anything new and positive come out of Europe since the Great War (1917-1945)?

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    1. Most of the things I like from Europe post-Great War basically extends to music like Mod and Britpop, and some pulp stories and comics.

      There really isn't a lot.

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    2. This lends credence to my theory that culture dies with religion. Europe had turned secular around the time of the two parter that was The Great World War, with the last gasps of culture you mentioned coming from the children of those old enough to remember a Christian Europe.

      In 1997, the first wave of Boomers, the first generation to fully reject their elders, were in their early 50s, the age when they would have been making corporate decisions. Boomer political decisions seem to be 'get what's mine and slam the door behind me,' so why would corporate ones be any better? Since then, the last gasps of original art and culture that is truly American have been coming from Xers.

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    3. That definitely explains why Hammer's horror films holds up better than any of their other cinema from that time.

      Right now, all art from every urban center in the west is interchangeable with everything else. From Doctor Who to the upcoming amazon Lord of the Rings disaster it's all the same.

      Without a religious purpose, nothing will be changing any time soon.

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  8. I'm only a little older than you, and I can confirm these patterns. The only post-1997 stuff I honestly enjoyed that wasn't an inferior rehash, ripoff, or sequel to something that came before (that I can immediately think of) are The Matrix and Avatar: The Last Airbender.

    Looking back, I also realize I got into tabletop at the worst possible time: 2000. FASA was on life support. White Wolf was in turmoil. GURPS was effectively dead. It was years before I played much of anything that wasn't just a reskin of 3e D&D. Only recently did I look back to ask when this happened, and the two major events are:

    FASA loses 'unseen' lawsuit to Harmony Gold, resulting in the loss of some of Battletech's most iconic mechs, like the Marauder and Archer, 1996. Battletech only recently recovered (now under Catalyst Game Labs), though FASA itself never did.
    After years of mismanagement by Lorraine Williams, TSR sold to WotC, 1997 (and was then bought by Hasbro in 1998)
    This was also around the time White Wolf began rereleasing all of its World of Darkness supplements, eventually leading to "New World of Darkness" in 2004.

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  9. A well-written post!
    I read the intro, skimmed the year-by-year and read the wrap up.
    A couple of thoughts:

    Rock music peaked in 1968. I am still finding gems on YouTube that I might have heard once or twice that year.

    Get outside and do something- ride your bike, swim, snorkel, ski, camp, hike and make time to watch the sun rise and set.

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    1. Thanks for reading! 1968 did have a lot of great music.

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  10. Lots of good stuff (though I admit that for now I mostly focused on all the events because I was interested in those, having read a lot of your other analyses).

    So that's what happened to Sierra. When I was young one of my favorite games was the Return of the Incredible Machine: Contraptions.

    I have a couple questions also about games and such:

    What do you think of Undertale's success? In some ways it is one of the ultimate "game as story" creations, though it's independent and gained a massive audience.

    (Though after I noticed the LGBT characters and risqué humor I just rolled my eyes at it.)

    Do you think the continued success of Poh-Kemon (I like to pronounce it that way after seeing ScreenRant's "Pokemon First Movie Pitch video) is good because it indicates they're doing something right and haven't caved to Woke nutsters, or bad because an awful lot of it is "same old, same old," or just is? (Though in one discussion on Wright's blog someone said that unbelievably one of the recent anime seasons was actually good as opposed to its standard of "mostly lame but inoffensive," and I tend to respect that commenter's opinions on such things.)

    While I haven't played Metal Gear Solid (Never was much of a gamer and never owned any modern consoles), I have heard that there are a lot of funny and clever things built into some of the games such as the now-famous mind-games played with the player, like forcing him to unplug the controller and move it to the other port to win a certain fight. I think it also had some fairly new mechanics when MGS2 came out, such as "sneaking" everywhere and being able to complete most missions without killing the goons. It seems like more than "just a story" as the analysis above appears to call it. (Granted, some of those things may have existed elsewhere and I'm not competent to pronounce on its originality.)

    What do you think would work for small creators in the modern era? While with the Internet, they now in some ways are in a better position than they ever were, it can still get a bit exhausting trying to manually keep track of everything (as I can attest from experience). It almost seems like we need an "independent-only" publisher for movies, "TV shows" and the like. Amazon, Netflix, and all that are right out.

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    1. Note: I entirely agree with your comments elsewhere that people need to read more books to get their story fix and that will also leave games free to be games instead of "D-grade movies." I'm a massive bookworm myself, and very often prefer books and comics to animation and TV.

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    2. I think Undertale's success purely comes from the game design. Being able to play game's in different ways and getting different results is one of the medium's strengths. The Earthbound-style quirkiness definitely added to its appeal aesthetically. If the themes were the same but the gameplay wasn't solid I don't think it would have been nearly as popular.

      Pokemon is the result of a brand that has never waved from its focus for over 20 years. I think it has hurt the games (the recent Sword and Shield is not up to par) but doing things such as Pokemon Go or the anime continually shaking it up in interesting ways proves that the franchise has much to offer beyond just being rehashed.

      The thing with Metal Gear Solid is that its influence has purely been with the storytelling aspect. The things such as plugging in a controller in slot 2 is not one that gets used much these days. But the confusing, convoluted storytelling being emphasized over the stealth gameplay is what has led to a lot of the issues in modern gaming. Kojima's most recent game, Death Stranding, is the sort of thing that wouldn't exist in a healthier gaming industry, at least in the state it is. His storytelling chops was never his strength, but it is what everyone gives him the most credit for.

      We need more news and centralized sites that help cover different subjects in the different independent spaces. The closest I've seen has been Indiegen.xyz (https://www.indiegen.xyz/) which is an attempt to do just that.

      What NewPub and independent creators need is somewhere potential customers can find them with as little effort as possible on the seeker's end. I think that's going to be the real next step to changing the landscape in the future.

      There's a lot of good stuff out there. It just needs a way to be found.

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    3. Thanks for the response. You have a lot of good points there.

      Just out of curiosity, do you play any video games at all or mostly keep to reading and (the good) anime?

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    4. Sure, I play video games, though not as much as I used to. Recently just played through Sakuna: Of Rice & Ruin which was fantastic.

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  11. It's hard to argue against that exhaustive list. May I add, Now That's What I Call Music Volume 1 came out in late 1998.

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    1. Oh man, I almost forgot about that entire series. You couldn't escape that thing!

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