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Old 05-20-2020, 01:00 AM
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Question for American Baby Boomer Dopers (please be at least age 60) about the 1990s


I've been rewatching The Sopranos lately.

The Pilot episode for that show was shot from June to August of 1997, although because of the creator David Chase's inability to find a network, the episode and show didn't get greenlit until Christmas 1997 and didn't air until January 1998. Season 1 of the Sopranos was filmed in the Spring and Summer of 1998. So the first season was in essence produced between mid 1997 and mid 1998.

In the Pilot, the character Tony Soprano says how:

"It's good to get in something from something from the ground floor. I came in too late for that; I know. But lately I'm getting the feeling that I came in at the end. That the best is over."

His therapist, Dr. Melfi, says "Many Americans, I think, feel that way."

As he's saying this monologue, we see him reading a newspaper with the headline "CLINTON SAYS MEDICARE WILL GO BUST IN 2000" to further illustrate what he's saying.

He talks about his father's generation. How his father "never reached the heights like me" but that he had it better because he "had his people, and they had standards, they had pride. Today, what we do got?"

Chase has said he created The Sopranos to show a 40 something year old guy lost and bewildered by the rapid changes and consumerism of the 1990s, and the Mafia context was just used because it was interesting.

I've also, in my family's home movies, noted a certain cynicism and jaded sentiment that grows as the 1990s progress.

My parents, both of whom were born in 1954, seem upbeat and optimistic in the early 1990s. By the middle 1990s a certain sort of cynicism creeps in - by 1996 my father was so disgusted with how things were he kind of forced us to move from NYC to NJ.

My parents would fight over my mother's obsessive watching of the OJ Simpson trial in 1995 or my mother's compulsive usage of the phone. By 1996 it seemed like they were fighting over everything.

In a candid home movie shot by me in 1998, I happen to accidentally capture my parents' arguing. My father says at a point, "I'm not young anymore" and my mother goes "no you're not." They were both 44 here, which to me is a young age.

My parents both voted for Clinton, but it doesn't seem like they liked him. My parents also watched the short lived Howard Stern TV show. Basically, they were your average upper middle class Americans.

Ironically, my parents both miss the 1990s greatly now.

Basically my question boils down to -

For those of you who were at or around 40 by say 1995, was the sentiment expressed in The Sopranos, and what I see in my home movies prevalent among your age group - a weariness, a jaded cynicism about the 1990s, about life, about Clinton, about things in general?

If so...Why?

The 1990s were a time of prosperity at home and peace for Americans. No major wars. The biggest issues as I see them were the culture wars. So why, if it's true that this feeling of cynicism was prevalent, why was it?
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Old 05-20-2020, 03:02 AM
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I view Tony's statement as simply part of the script. Speaking financially, if you were in the stock market in the 90's, you should have done very, very well. Concerning Clinton, I couldn't care less about someone else's sex life and compared to Nixon, he was a Saint.

The O.J. Simpson trial captured the interest of the country but the verdict served up division. Most whites believed the verdict was unfair while many blacks supported it, perhaps as retribution for past court injustices against their race.

I have no bad memories about the 90's and didn't consider it as an era of missed opportunities nor a time for cynicism.
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Old 05-20-2020, 04:48 AM
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Just remember that The Sopranos was fiction, and your parents were merely two people. Take all of that with a grain of salt.
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Old 05-20-2020, 06:14 AM
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Drug laws and snitching meant that the Mafia code of omerta was basically dead. Nobody could trust anyone. You would either be snitched out or killed. I think its as simple as that.
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Old 05-20-2020, 06:30 AM
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I didn't see it. Things were going pretty well for me and my parents, I liked my job, and I was selling 4-5 short stories a year. Also, my daughter was growing up.

Politically, I liked Clinton and the Lewinski issue was overblown. I can now see the beginning of the trend toward polarization, but it wasn't as apparent back then.

The O. J. Case was just another trial of the century. I found the Hall-Mills trial of the 20s more interesting.
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Old 05-20-2020, 07:19 AM
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Economic conditions often vary with location and other factors, even in prosperous times. But the measures (stock market, unemployment rate) were pretty positive in that era.

Long-term conditions--e.g., wage stagnation for low-skilled workers--can make a strong economy look less so, if you're in group effected.

Political affiliation can play a role. At my 20-year high school reunion in 1997, a group of classmates were adamant that Clinton had wrecked the economy. They were all pretty prosperous. But they were also conservative Republicans.
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Old 05-20-2020, 02:12 PM
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I was 50 in 1990, and agree with these two.


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Originally Posted by RealityChuck View Post
I didn't see it. Things were going pretty well for me and my parents, I liked my job, and I was selling 4-5 short stories a year. Also, my daughter was growing up.

Politically, I liked Clinton and the Lewinski issue was overblown. I can now see the beginning of the trend toward polarization, but it wasn't as apparent back then.

The O. J. Case was just another trial of the century. I found the Hall-Mills trial of the 20s more interesting.
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Originally Posted by Dereknocue67 View Post
I view Tony's statement as simply part of the script. Speaking financially, if you were in the stock market in the 90's, you should have done very, very well. Concerning Clinton, I couldn't care less about someone else's sex life and compared to Nixon, he was a Saint.

The O.J. Simpson trial captured the interest of the country but the verdict served up division. Most whites believed the verdict was unfair while many blacks supported it, perhaps as retribution for past court injustices against their race.

I have no bad memories about the 90's and didn't consider it as an era of missed opportunities nor a time for cynicism.
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Old 05-20-2020, 03:41 PM
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I am in my 60s and knew people in the 1990s who did feel that way. But I did not feel that way myself. The '90s were a kind of golden age for me. I spent most of them, from January 1994 to the end, in Thailand, but from 1990, when I returned from my first stint in Thailand in the '80s, until returning there, I lived in Albuquerque and Honolulu. Albuquerque I remember as kind of poor, with even skilled labor being paid low, although I never had a problem finding a job and paying my bills. I moved here to Hawaii for grad school and spent 2-1/2 years, with my interactions being mainly with college folks, a perennially poor but optimistic crowd. So for me, the 1990s were a decade of hope and even adventure, but I knew a lot of people who fit the description of Tony Soprano's words.
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Old 05-20-2020, 03:59 PM
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I'm 63. I think it's pretty common for people to hit a certain age and start to feel like the best has already happened, but for other people, that they somehow missed it. Also, in our twenties, many of us see a limitless future where almost anything can happen, and we have a blurry view of our future (middle-aged and older) selves as being accomplished and content. A lot of people hit their forties and realize they have a pretty clear view of what life will be like from then on and that their life is not how they imagined it would be when they were growing up. It can breed cynicism.

It's not the 90s you need to characterize; it's the age of Tony Soprano and your father were in the 90s.
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Old 05-20-2020, 04:10 PM
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I'm going to fall back on the standard, "It depends."

The 80's began the era of the corporate raider, leveraged buyout, hostile takeover, and creative bankruptcy. If you were a non-executive (blue or white collar) you got more work dumped on you and more threatened by layoffs every year.

My Greatest Generation-era parents firmly believed that if you worked hard and kept your nose clean, you could have a job for life. Even cyclical businesses like construction and the auto industry, might have seasonal layoffs but would soon bounce back. My father died in 1997, never really understanding why a company might choose to lay off an excellent employee in favor of an adequate employee who they could pay a lot less.

None of which had anything to do with Tony Soprano's own life or career path, of course.
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Old 05-20-2020, 04:32 PM
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I'm going to fall back on the standard, "It depends."

The 80's began the era of the corporate raider, leveraged buyout, hostile takeover, and creative bankruptcy. If you were a non-executive (blue or white collar) you got more work dumped on you and more threatened by layoffs every year.

My Greatest Generation-era parents firmly believed that if you worked hard and kept your nose clean, you could have a job for life. Even cyclical businesses like construction and the auto industry, might have seasonal layoffs but would soon bounce back. My father died in 1997, never really understanding why a company might choose to lay off an excellent employee in favor of an adequate employee who they could pay a lot less.

None of which had anything to do with Tony Soprano's own life or career path, of course.
I know OP asked for people aged 60+, but my impression as someone in between Gen X and Y, that things were pretty good but started turning bad in the mid/late 90s for a variety of reasons.

Obstructionist and radical politics; health care became unaffordable (I remember people saying their entire premium was less than $100 a month in the 90s, thats for the whole plan not just the employee premium); 9/11 and endless wars; wage stagnation and real estate made the middle class feel squeezed; plutocracy became more naked; fascism made a resurgence globally; debt exploded; climate change became more serious

Thats been my impression. The last ~25 years have more or less been continuous bad news in one way or another (economic, cultural, political, etc) for a lot of people.

I've noticed too my parents don't seem to understand what the modern economy is like. Job security is rapidly disappearing for a lot of people, and benefits through work aren't always reliable since so many jobs are contract now. IT and automation advance so fast that your tasks could be automated next year. That has happened to me at my last two jobs. I was hired to do a job, and then it eventually got automated and I was unceremoniously let go.
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Old 05-21-2020, 12:33 PM
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The last ~25 years have more or less been continuous bad news in one way or another (economic, cultural, political, etc) for a lot of people.
I'm going to focus on this one for a moment. Starting in the 1980's but really getting traction in the 1990's, it's not so much that the last ~25 years have been continuous bad news, it is that the past ~25 years have had continuous 24 hour news. The rise of 24 hour cable news has driven the need to have compelling content to capture and retain viewers. The old "if it bleeds it leads" has been morphed into "if it conflicts it leads". So, constant "news" with hightened conflict as content wears people down mentally.

Now, add into that the last ~15 years of constant online sources.........
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Old 05-21-2020, 02:11 PM
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I don't know if its just that.

There is an issue where crime rates have dropped dramatically since the 90s, but most people think crime rates have risen due to constant media attention devoted to crime. So constant bad news from the media can skew perspectives.

But the war on terror wasn't really an issue in the 90s. I don't believe politics was as polarized as it is now. Also issues like health care affordability, climate change, competing with China, etc were not nearly as front and center. Plus people seemed to feel the government could solve problems. Now people feel the government is so gridlocked and beholden to financial interests that they can't do much of anything for the people. The national debt was starting to be paid off towards the end of the 90s and there were arguments that we may pay it off too fast. There wasn't, to my recollection, widespread efforts to bring down democracy from the inside here. Back in the 90s the world was undergoing a wave of democratization, right now democracy is being rolled back globally.

I don't think its strictly the media.
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Old 05-23-2020, 07:22 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kent Clark View Post
I'm going to fall back on the standard, "It depends."

The 80's began the era of the corporate raider, leveraged buyout, hostile takeover, and creative bankruptcy. If you were a non-executive (blue or white collar) you got more work dumped on you and more threatened by layoffs every year.

My Greatest Generation-era parents firmly believed that if you worked hard and kept your nose clean, you could have a job for life. Even cyclical businesses like construction and the auto industry, might have seasonal layoffs but would soon bounce back. My father died in 1997, never really understanding why a company might choose to lay off an excellent employee in favor of an adequate employee who they could pay a lot less.

None of which had anything to do with Tony Soprano's own life or career path, of course.
I agree with this. Born in 46. 60's and 70's seemed like a time for optimism and progress. The 80's seemed to be when overwhelming greed began to surface - or at least become more visible. Massive bank failures in late 80's and early 90's were the kiss of death for a lot of previously good careers.

Since then the rise of "influencers" and their like leads me to believe civilization as we know it is doomed, I tell you, DOOMED!!!
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Old 05-23-2020, 04:15 PM
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I think the ending of the Cold War also plays a role. For better or worse, the Cold War gave us all a common theme by which to see the world. But then we went and actually won the damn thing, almost unexpectedly. We had a few years of "Woo! We won!", but at the same time, we had a feeling of "What now?"

All the little things that took a back seat during the Cold War started trying to crawl into the front seat, and now we see the culmination of that: Religious conflict, culture wars, terrorism, factionalism, tribalism. Allies have become rivals, rivals have become frenemies. For decades "Politics ends at the waters edge" held back the worst aspects of this, but now, politics is everything, everywhere, at all levels. Compromise is a dirty word.
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Old 05-24-2020, 06:12 AM
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A 1954 kid checking in here. The late 1990s were really the last good time for America. The economy was booming as the Internet became a factor in our economy for the first time (and was a hell of a lot of fun too, I remember this great message board I found in early 1999, I wonder what ever happened to it ), and that particular rising tide actually did raise all boats: wages went up across the board during the last half of the 1990s.

Contrasted with the early 1990s, when we were having a jobless recovery (speaking from personal experience, 1993 was a really sucky year to finish a degree and enter the job market again) and crime was much more of a front-page issue, the late 1990s were great. There was a sense that we'd solved our major problems, and it didn't really matter who ran the country because it could pretty much run itself. (Oopsie.)

So I'd say the Tony Soprano quote reflects the perspective of someone involved in organized crime as it had existed during the post-WWII era, rather than the perspective of the average American.
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Old 05-24-2020, 07:02 AM
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Trivia : The first network they tried to sell Sopranos to was FOX. Good thing they turned it down it would have been lame on regular TV
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Old 05-24-2020, 09:22 AM
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Born in the early 50s here.
The 90s was the last good decade.
By the end of the decade the US society had clearly started to fracture.
What is apparent in retrospect to me is that prior to 1996, the US was basically a one party state. The Democrats dominated the policy of the country. However, I hasten to add that the Democratic Party was only part of that. There was a sometimes uneasy but well understood alliance between large parts of the Democratic Party and large parts of the Republican party (lets call them moderates in both parties but they weren't always) to get things done. Reagan got his 60 votes in the senate when needed. The Democrats made life miserable for Bork and kept him out of the Supreme Court. etc. The country had unifying causes-the cold war, environmental protection, technology, free trade, and others. Many of these causes generated a lot of noise and argument in the margins of both political parties, but the bills got passed and the decisions got made. This alliance of common interests worked for each party (remember earmarks?) and when the cold war ended, there were suddenly opportunities to grow new ideas. A few actually worked.
Then Newt Gingrich and the new Republican party came along and turned the country back into a real two-party state for the first time in a long time. Depending on whether you are in the middle of either party or on one of the edges, this was a good or bad thing.
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Old 05-25-2020, 01:00 PM
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Well for me.... KInda


Was born in 56 does that fit into your timeframe? Marched in antiwar demonstrations as a "tween" I guess you'd call it now. I was all in" Peace Love.... we can change the world etc." By the mid to to late 90's, yeah I was starting to realize that without fundamental systemic change we were never going to change. My "ideals" told me that anything so obvious must be easy. By mid 90's .... after death, after death, after Disco, after Manson both Charles and Marilyn , after whatever Pop Tart rules the world this week.. well, yeah around that time all hope died of real change for the majority of us.

Gotta put this in. It was around that time that my username came to be. All my life, I read, I studied, if I was curious I looked it up. Pre Internet y'all. As a young man as I learned I KNEW that I had all the answers. I KNEW I could end world hunger, it was so easy? Why didn't anyone see it? I KNEW I could .... but you get the idea. When the future is long and seemingly attainable you can dream big. After years or seeing "life" and sometimes new ways of seeing the same information you have already.... Things change. When I realized that instead of knowing the answer to life, the universe and everything and instead knew quite nothing.... BigOleDummy and his replacement a few years later , after further review you could say and to this day my main man RealBigOleDummy.
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Old 05-26-2020, 02:40 AM
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Apologies, I'm younger than the OP's target responder, I think I'd sum it up with a conversation that I had with an older colleague in the 90's:

I was in sales and was bemoaning that I'd missed the "good old days" when sales organizations went on big all expenses paid annual sales meetings to places like Hawaii, Cancun, Aruba etc.

He simply said,"Don't worry, you haven't missed the good old days. In 20 years these will be the good old days"

He was 100% correct, those were the good old days. In fact, as I think about it, last year was also the good old days.

It's true of life.

Last edited by GMANCANADA; 05-26-2020 at 02:41 AM. Reason: typo
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Old 05-26-2020, 10:47 AM
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For those of you who were at or around 40 by say 1995, was the sentiment expressed in The Sopranos, and what I see in my home movies prevalent among your age group - a weariness, a jaded cynicism about the 1990s, about life, about Clinton, about things in general?

If so...Why?

The 1990s were a time of prosperity at home and peace for Americans. No major wars. The biggest issues as I see them were the culture wars. So why, if it's true that this feeling of cynicism was prevalent, why was it?
I was 38 in 1995. I think it's an inkblot test like any such question. Personally I was very happy in that period. I'm more in tune with politics than the truly average person, but not among the IMO very small minority, though over represented on the internet, where what they thought of Bill Clinton would factor in any serious way into how happy they were in the '90's.

In contrast my parents were major pessimists on the state of the area (Tony Soprano's actually), country and world in the 70's. They married late so were older relative to us than me to my kids, but talk about jaded. I didn't feel that way at all about the world when my kids were similar age in the 90's-00's. That kind of difference *can* be from some personal effect of a major issue (long term unemployed in a depression, victim of a serious crime, loved one is killed in a war, etc) but none of those applied to my parents. It was just their personalities I think.

Also I admire The Soprano's (it's not my all time favorite but certainly a good show) but have always felt (having gone to JH/HS right near where Tony Soprano is supposed to have lived) that the show was basically about 1970's mobsters released into the world of ca. 2000 and the amusing ways they dealt with that shock. The basic anachronism at the center of that show IMO is also relevant to 'how people felt about the 90's' based on the show.

Last edited by Corry El; 05-26-2020 at 10:48 AM.
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Old 05-26-2020, 11:54 AM
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I was 44 in 1995, and it was a pretty good time. And it was right before the internet revolution and the rise in the market and decline in unemployment. And things were pretty good for me even before that.
Of course there were people who moaned about how hard it was to get a job - but with unemployment levels below what was thought possible then, it was probably them and not the economy.
I agree with others that the line was probably about Tony feeling that the glory days of gangsters were behind him. Not to mention he was a shlub.
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Old 05-26-2020, 12:54 PM
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The 1990s were a time of prosperity at home and peace for Americans. No major wars.
The late 1990s were a time of prosperity and peace. The early 1990s were not a time of prosperity, but rather a time when the market corrected all the excesses of the 80s. Granted, it wasn't the longest recession, but it was big enough to kill the Bush presidency.
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Old 05-26-2020, 03:06 PM
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1953 baby here and my general frustration levels were brewing but that might have been because of a personality quirk that makes me believe that almost any system can be improved, whether with a few tweaks or a total overhaul. That quirk has only become stronger as I've aged, which admittedly might not be a good thing. It does mean that I'll never be a Republican, though.
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Old 05-26-2020, 03:32 PM
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I think the ending of the Cold War also plays a role. For better or worse, the Cold War gave us all a common theme by which to see the world. But then we went and actually won the damn thing, almost unexpectedly. We had a few years of "Woo! We won!", but at the same time, we had a feeling of "What now?"

All the little things that took a back seat during the Cold War started trying to crawl into the front seat, and now we see the culmination of that: Religious conflict, culture wars, terrorism, factionalism, tribalism. Allies have become rivals, rivals have become frenemies. For decades "Politics ends at the waters edge" held back the worst aspects of this, but now, politics is everything, everywhere, at all levels. Compromise is a dirty word.
I'm younger than the OP requests, but I was somewhere between 18-27 during the 1990s, and there was a certain "Where do we go from here?" kind of feeling, especially in the 1992-1995 stretch. The Cold War had a definite way of clarifying a lot of things, and once that was over, there was a lot of uncertainty and confusion about where the nation went from there- do we concentrate on domestic policy? Do we try and remake the world? What's the next threat? (this last one is important- different groups interpreted that question differently)

Along with that, there was a pretty good paradigm shift going on in the economy- it had shifted from manufacturing in the 1970s, and had shifted into technology somewhat in the 1980s, but that didn't really shift into high gear until the second half of the 1990s with the advent of the Web and the need for computers in everyone's home. So as a result, there was a lot of trepidation on the part of mid-life workers- are their jobs going to be there for another 10-20 years? What will my industry look like? What are these newfangled computers? Why do I have to use this thing? What's the internet? How is it going to mess up my kids? Violent video games! Pornography!

On top of that, the 24 hour news cycles accelerated a bit with the advent of the web- no longer did hot articles/stories have to wait for the next printing of the paper or next cycle of news. They could be published instantly on the web from anywhere. So our parents, who were used to newspapers and the 5/10 news, were suddenly bombarded with even more news and stuff than ever before- I'm sure that without pausing to think about it, it seemed to them like more worse stuff was going on than ever before. Which wasn't, isn't, and never has been the case, but I don't doubt it seemed that way to them at the time.

All this combined likely put our 40-something parents under more stress than you might think for such an economically successful period.
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Old 05-26-2020, 04:15 PM
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...I found the Hall-Mills trial of the 20s more interesting.
Snyder-Gray or GTFO.

https://www.history.com/news/double-...crime-tabloids
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