Neon ’90s: Ranking the most influential parts of the glowing decade

I just missed out on being a Millennial.

Since I am not a part of Generation Y, that means I am a Generation X baby. Remember Gen-X was supposed to be the doom of this planet and end the world. Now those phrases are being applied to the Millennials.

But before there was Instagram and downloading, we had Teddy Grahams and loading … on your new video game console. The entertainment, technology and trends of the 1990s are my prime years. I am officially a child of the ’90s. The politics of George Bush I to Bill Clinton shaped party lines for years to come. Then a guy like H. Ross Perot introduced America to the third party and alternatives in Washington, D.C.

Several serious matters and milestones occurred from 1990 to 1999. There were a few U.S. Americans dying to get a copy of the Starr Report, detailing President Clinton’s dirty deeds in the White House. Meanwhile young, talented actors like River Phoenix and Chris Farley saddened us and placed a spotlight on drug addiction.

The United States was introduced to a term we know all too well now, school shootings. Columbine and Jonesboro were two of the first cities hammered by the tragedy of losing children to gun violence perpetrated by a peer.

We had grown used to grown-ups committing violence, but video cameras gave us a chance to view it consistently on our televisions. The 1992 Los Angeles riots over the Rodney King verdict were epic. They rivaled the outcry of the 1960s.

With so much real pain going on from Waco, Texas, to Oklahoma City, we needed happy distractions in the 1990s. One of the last attempts of joy in the decade came at Woodstock 1999. The music of that era ranged from 2Pac and Biggie to pop princesses Britney Spears, Mandy Moore, Christina Aguilera and Vitamin C. Beyonce was just becoming Destiny’s Child. And we enjoyed listening to other artists like Hootie and the Blowfish, U2, Alanis Morissette, ’N Sync, Mariah Carey, Madonna, Garth Brooks, Backstreet Boys, 98 Degrees, Jennifer Lopez and Hanson with the hit “MmmmBop!”

“MmmmBop!” was the Macarena of the month. We had so many one-hit wonders. And other fades of the ’90s included Pokemon Cards, WWJD bracelet, Beanie Babies, Gel pens, fanny packs, Goosebumps, slap bracelets, Tamagotchis, Game Boy, Silly Putty, Furbies and the Super Soaker.

The Disney Renaissance took place, and America had to choose between Jay Leno or David Letterman every night. We didn’t have to choose Bob Saget. Thanks to Full House and America’s Funniest Home Videos, we were all winners to that decade’s Steve Harvey.

And Gen X fashion kept shopping malls busy. We wore plaid for a certain outdoorsmen look that boys and girls were seeking. Other fashion musts were high-waisted ripped jeans, bike shorts when walking, windbreakers, bandannas and Dr. Martens. The baggier the clothes, the better. If you liked the hip-hop scene, grab a Starter jacket, the latest sneakers or Timberlands, oversized jeans and a shirt that reached your knees.

So much shaped the totally awesome decade of the 1990s. But I am here to rank the 10 biggest moments to shape this decade.

10. Zack Morris

Every afternoon while doing my homework, I would pop my TV in my room onto TBS or WGN for “Saved by the Bell.” I had to see what Zack Morris was going to do today. Would he finally get Kelly? Could he outsmart Mr. Belding? Morris was brought to life by actor Mark-Paul Gosselaar. Zack was a fictional character from the sitcoms “Good Morning,” “Miss Bliss,” “Saved by the Bell” and “Saved by the Bell: The College Years.” He also makes a guest appearance in the spin-off series, “Saved by the Bell: The New Class.”

Zack Morris was the symbol of ’90s coolness. From his frosty blonde hair to his high-top sneakers, Zack was a role model for so many. He broke the fourth wall with a “timeout.” How cool was that.

I wanted an oversize cellular phone so I could set up my latest hijinks. Like Zack, I had dreams of starting up a band, being a star track athlete and even scoring a high number on the SAT.

Zack Morris is a symbol of ’90s excess, but he had enough vulnerable moments to help you realize you have to work for the things you want in life.

9. 1994 movies

I’m just going to run down the list of highest-grossing films for that magical year. “The Lion King,” “Forrest Gump,” “True Lies,” “The Mask,” “Speed,” “The Flintstones,” “Dumb and Dumber,” “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Interview with the Vampire” and “Clear and Present Danger.” Just missing out on making more than $215 million at the box office that year were films like “Pulp Fiction,” “The Shawshank Redemption,” “True Lies,” “Speed,” “Quiz Show,” “Natural Born Killers,” “The River Wild,” “D2: The Might Ducks,” “Hoop Dreams,” “Ace Ventura” and my personal favorite, “House Party 3.”

This year was Hollywood’s high point. So many big stars and so many great films. Of course the decade would go on to produce other iconic films like 1997’s Titanic. But as for a year of pure excellence, 1994 will be the best for a long time to come.

8. Must-see TV

If you didn’t feel like going out to the cinema, the television provided many great options. NBC coined the phrase “Must-See TV.” But other networks like Fox, CBS and ABC had some quality programming. Let’s start with some of the best from the home of Must-See TV. NBC featured shows throughout the 10 years like “The Cosby Show,” “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “Friends,” “Suddenly Susan,” “A Different World,” “Cheers,” “Mad About You” and “Seinfeld.” Over at CBS, a more mature audience enjoyed “In the Heat of the Night,” Walker,” “Texas Ranger,” “Silk Stalkings” and “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.”

Over at ABC we got the groundbreaking “NYPD Blue.” Then more traditional programs like “Growing Pains” and “Who’s the Boss” closed out impressive runs. Then sitcoms like “Roseanne” and “Ellen” made national headlines for plot twists. But the network gave birth to TGIF with shows like “Family Matters” (aka The Steve Urkel Show), “Full House,” “Step by Step,” “Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper” and “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.”

But upstart network Fox grabbed the Gen-X viewers with “Married with Children,” “In Living Color,” “Martin,” “New York Undercover,” “X Files,” “COPS” and “When Animals Attack.”

7. Grunge rock

In the ’90s, music took on new sounds. Artists started to rely back on instruments and acoustics. Lyrics started to come back into our lexicon. Music that was regional started to be shared across the borders. The South gave us crunk music. The North pushed out neo-soul and the Pacific Northwest gave us the sound of the 1990s – grunge. Sometimes referred to as the Seattle sound, grunge is a sub-genre of alternative rock and a subculture that emerged during the mid-1980s. It was underground and trendy for the cool kids of Seattle until the early 1990s. The sound spread to California, then to other parts of the United States and eventually into Australia.

The most successful grunge acts were bands like Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots and the iconic Nirvana. I still love to listen to the heavy metal sound with a distorted electric guitar with a nice drumbeat to keep the flow. The face of this genre will always be Nirvana’s lead singer Kurt Cobain. He is the John Lennon of his generation.

6. Jordans

These shoes are expensive now. When they first hit the scene in the mid 1980s, the price sent some parents into shock. But by the mid 1990s, the namesake Michael “Air” Jordan was so dominant in the NBA, some folks started to justify the cost of these Nike brand sneakers.

Jordans became essential gear for most teenagers. It was the deciding factor if you were cool or a nerd in school.

The different colors, designs and models kept the Jump Man in style. And the better Jordan did with his Chicago Bulls, the more the shoe sold. Jordan’s six NBA championships in eight years made us want to wear Jordans, grab some Gatorade to be like Mike and go watch “Space Jam” in theaters.

But there is a negative side to these shoes being so popular. Some people were robbed of the $200 pairs of sneakers. Even a few children lost their lives over some Jordans. The good and the bad of Jordans is the reason why it makes this countdown at No. 6.

5. Magic Johnson’s announcement

November 7, 1991, is a day I will remember the rest of my life. As a 10-year-old, I thought one of my favorite athletes would be dead by the next morning. Los Angeles Laker star and NBA champion Magic Johnson announced his retirement from the league because of his HIV status.

What is HIV? Is Magic going to die? How did he get it? I had so many questions. And Magic’s statement sparked a conversation about AIDS across this nation from board rooms to classrooms.

As a nation we got education on HIV and AIDS. We figured out quickly that the disease is not biased. It will infect young or old, black or white, fat or skinny, rich or poor and either straight or gay. Magic Johnson became the face of the disease. Then he decided he would become the voice and educator of it. Now we are more aware of AIDS and its risks. We also have a vast knowledge of treatments from years of research. Magic Johnson’s announcement has a lot to do with the speed of technology being found to combat AIDS.

4. Trial of the century

Those four words are an idiomatic phrase used to describe certain well-known court cases, especially of the 20th century. The last case to garner the term “trial of the century” before the new millennium was the OJ Simpson murder trial. I don’t have to go into details of the case. Just watch one of the countless TV specials, movies, documentaries or series on it.

I will outline the effects of the trial since 1994-95. We love watching court TV, which gave birth to the ID Network. We learned more about our judicial system and the process. We learned how to make celebrities out of untalented people. The OJ case was the embryo of the Kardashians.

3. ’90s hair

You can identify most decades in a photo by the hairstyles. The 1990s is no different with frosted tips, the Rachel Green style, high-top fade, crimped hair, pineapple hair and the Aaliyah style.

I sported a high-top fade to look like Kid from the rap duo Kid N’ Play. But I wouldn’t dare frost the edges of my hair.

2. CDs and DVDs

No longer did we need a tape to listen to music. No need to remember to rewind those VHS tapes. The compact disc came to our rescue throughout the ’90s. Features like skip, back and forward were magic to our entertainment time. We started to toss aside VCRs and Walkmans. Instead we carried bulky CD players, fumbling around with a carry case full of discs. But the beauty was if you wanted to hear a particular song, all you had to do was hit one button.

Then that technology made its way into our living rooms with the digital video disc. Now a new generation had a different meaning for the word “chapter.”

How many of you still have a book case full of CD and DVD cases? If so, how much dust does it have?

1. Windows 95

The operating system developed by Microsoft was released on Aug. 24, 1995. Windows 95 merged Microsoft’s formerly separate MS-DOS and Windows products. With huge improvements over its predecessor, Windows 3.1, the graphical user interface made for hours of visual enjoyment. Windows 95 also simplified “plug-and-play” features. With additional technology, Windows 95 made it a must for U.S. Americans to own a personal computer. Then as households made the purchase, computers gained more and more features like Napster, websites, 32-bit games and later improved Windows systems.

THOMAS SELLERS JR. is the editor of The Millington Star and both the sports editor and a weekly personal columnist for Journal West 10 Media LLC. Contact him by phone at (901) 433-9138, by fax to (901) 529-7687 and by email to