3 of 45

Even liberals became obsessed with growth.

(And we inaugurated “our first black president.”)

Photo: Dirck Halstead/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

The Internet age began, with the first Web browser (and AOL 2.0).

“We were on tour, and this guy came backstage and showed us the Internet. We were very impressed.” Mike D., Beastie Boys

Tony Kushner’s Angels in America brought AIDS, and gay life, to the center of our culture.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell made gay rights, for the first time, a matter of federal debate.

“It was enormously exciting to feel like we were being taken seriously. The LGBT community had been outcasts for decades, and as a group they weren’t used to being welcome at the table. After the failure to overturn the ban, we learned the importance of playing a long game.” Nathaniel Frank, author of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell history Unfriendly Fire

Photo: Joan Marcus

Beavis and Butt-Head put juvenilia on TV (and pointed the way to Idiocracy).

“It was just meant to be an antidote to what was on TV—things like The Cosby Show, everyone’s going to Princeton, and they’re so smart and successful and good. The baby-boomers were really cramming education down our throats, like it was going to make everything better. But there are just some people who you can stick in a classroom and education is not going to change them.” Mike Judge, creator of Beavis and Butt-Head

Photo: Everett Collection

Major-label grunge made it okay for a niche movement, no matter how “radical,” to cash in.

“Selling out was suddenly available for people for whom it had never been an option before—for the bands who it never would have occurred to try to be a hit band. Nirvana had management, a dedicated A&R team, and a record label. But they also had fuck-off money, which is good, so they essentially made In Utero independent of the label and presented it as finished.” Steve Albini, recording engineer on P.J. Harvey’s Rid of Me and Nirvana’s In Utero

Gangsta rap helped, too.

As did Indie music.

New York elected its first quality-of-life strongman, paving the way for a richer, safer city.

“The theme of 1993 was the ungovernable city. Fifty percent of the population talked about wanting to leave the city. People say Giuliani was a son of a bitch. Absolutely true. Can you imagine someone who wasn’t like that braving the hostility? Like a good prosecutor, Rudy knew his case and what had to be done.” Fred Siegel, Giuliani biographer

Photo: Michael Albans/AP

High fashion went downtown and stayed there with this Vogue editorial and Marc Jacobs’s spring 1993 grunge collection.

“Kurt Cobain used to wear my baby-doll dresses on top of flannel shirts and sneakers, and I loved that part of music was going crazy.” Betsey Johnson

And yet the city’s middle-class promise was beginning to fall apart.

“Generation X, having been identified, was suddenly marketed as a brand. Every generation has its romantic myth, and Generation X was the first generation who was expected to do less well than their parents—living at home and listening to grunge. At the same time was this whole counter-trend; it was becoming fashionable to be an entrepreneur.” James Truman, then editor of Details

Slacker scenesters like Art Club 2000 figured out how to embrace commodity culture as a form of critique.

Photo: Courtesy of the artist and the Estate of Colin de Land

The Club Kids fueled New York City nightlife with their insistence that everyone could be a celebrity if they just dressed the part. (Imagine what they might’ve done with an Instagram account.)

Photo: Tina Paul

Moby started to merge music and marketing (beginning with rave tracks, which amazingly never went out of style).

“You’d go to raves and parties and what-have-you, and music was a big part of it, but its success was largely depending on the availability of good ecstasy.” Moby

Photo: Courtesy of Wolfgang Tillmans and Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York

With NAFTA, globalization finally hit home.

With the bombing of the World Trade Center, the vulnerability of American empire hit home, too.

“NAFTA—that’s when the Democrats just dropped their pants and took a huge shit on the working class. 1993 was the last time when you had this hope that things might change. And after that it was really clear that it won’t.” Thomas Frank, editor of The Baffler

Photo: Porter Gifford/Getty Images

Four years after the fall of the Berlin wall, the Unabomber reminded us we could still count on plenty of domestic resistance.

Photo: Allan Tannenbaum/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

Culture went multicultural.

“Public Enemy revolutionized the subject matter in hip-hop, but then you had A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Brand Nubian, us, telling people that black is proud, that diversity is cool. We’re not all one color, but we can still be one in thought.” Speech, Arrested Development

And so did intellectual life.

A year after the L.A. Riots, Rodney King returned to the witness stand and put race back on trial. (The jury’s still out.)

Photo: Douglas Burrows/Getty Images

The end of apartheid made us think history moved in one direction. (Jury’s still out on that one, too.)

Photo: Walter Dhladhla/AFP/Getty Images

Israel and Palestine tried to make peace. (Ditto.)

And Europe began its grand experiment.

And politics sold fashion (this is a Benetton ad).

Dazed and Confused initiated the nineties New Wave (and gave the world Matthew McConaughey).

“It seems free now, but at the time, I felt oppressed! It’s only in looking back that I can go, ‘Wow, it’s really amazing that I was able to get this movie made in the studio system.’” Richard Linklater, director of Dazed and Confused

Photo: Everett Collection

Basquiat’s New York had become a movable feast—first to the Lower East Side, then Williamsburg and beyond.

“There wasn’t that much of a remove from 1993 to the New York of Warhol and Max’s Kansas City. You could still think it was 1977. The Max Fish jukebox—that was like getting on American Bandstand or Top of the Pops. I remember seeing Sleater-Kinney on it and thinking they’d made it.” Marc Spitz, Spin editor and author of Poseur

Photo: Nancy Siesel/New York Times/Redux

Chloë Sevigny moved to New York (and Larry Clark took this picture).

“You could go into Washington Square Park on a Friday evening and find 13-year-olds staying out the whole night, the whole weekend, going to raves, taking acid. What the fuck is going on? Where are their parents?” Larry Clark, Director of Kids

“We all would stay out all night on weekends, lying to our parents about where we were—doesn’t everyone do that everywhere?” Chloë Sevigny

Photo: Courtesy of Larry Clark and Luhring Augustine, New York

“With Pearl Jam and L7, it was ‘Everyone wants a piece of us.’ That was a big thing. ‘Who do we give that piece to?’ It was a really good problem to have. We could get really worked up about using our huge platforms for good. Now, it’s like just give me a platform.” Jane Pratt, editor of Sassy

“RuPaul was taking off; she was so big that drag queens in New York were doing impressions of her instead of Marilyn Monroe or Eartha Kitt. In a way, it was the start of the gay cultural explosion. You had RuPaul telling us to ‘sashay, shanté,’ and Kurt Cobain nodding off in the corner.” Michael Musto, the Village Voice

Photo: Walter McBride/WM Photography/Corbis

The post-Carson late-night era began, making irony our lingua franca.

(Jon Stewart got his MTV show then, too.)

Photo: Leslie Weiner/NBCU Photo Bank

“The gender barrier was definitely breaking in alternative art in the early nineties. It was something to talk about. People always said, ‘You’re the only girl in The State,’ never, ‘You’re in The State.’” Kerri Kenney-Silver, The State

“One note MTV gave us was to do recurring characters, like they have on SNL, and we just didn’t want to do that. So as an F-you to the network, we created Louie, and he only spoke in a catchphrase: ‘I wanna dip my balls in it.’ And then he became a hit right away!” Michael Ian Black, The State

Photo: Everett Collection

Hillarycare introduced us to health reform. Its failure meant exploding costs and a solution, when it came, built piecemeal by committee in congress.

Photo: Terry Ashe/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

With Lorena Bobbit, life became as lurid as our tabloids.

Photo: Consolidated News/Getty Images

Provocation became wallpaper.

“Our intention was to shock. Hood movies had been made for a black market, and very few people knew our real goal was to make it for white people. When we completed it, because this was our first film, we thought, ‘This is a piece of shit.’ It wasn’t hard enough. It was just soft. And then we started getting the reactions. The critics loved us, and the thing I remember is the head-fuck of it all.” Albert Hughes, co-director, Menace II Society

And wallpaper got pornographic.

The Whitney Biennial showed us that painting was over…

Photo: © Charles Ray/Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery

That politics were personal …

Photo: © Nan Goldin/Courtesy of Matthew Marks Gallery

And that the personal was everything.

Photo: Courtesy of Cheryl Donegan and Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York

The techno-utopian gadget-geek bible Wired was launched, rebranding Silicon Valley as our land of hopes and dreams—and cheering on the liquidation of print.

“In the beginning of 1993 there were computers, but if you were playing with them then you were outcast. By the end of that year, there was this visual interface. And that was just the beginning.” Kevin Kelly, Wired founder

River Phoenix died, a celebrity tragedy in real time.

Photo: DMI/Getty Images

MTV became a Clueless star-maker; Snooki was just around the corner.

“I remember being in a research meeting in which MTV said that kids didn’t feel the need to rebel anymore, and I thought that sounded insane. But you have to be willing to accept that the world changes. Everyone is their own media outlet now.” Michael Alex, former MTV News VP, and a senior producer in 1993

TV got weird.

“I wouldn’t call The X-Files a punk-rock show; I would say it had some of that spirit.” Chris Carter, creator, The X-Files

Photo: Everett Collection

And “highbrow.”

“Networks were losing audiences to cable, and so they were willing to reexamine their standards based on that. We were very fortunate in that regard, because the puritanical residuum made it difficult otherwise.” David Milch, co-creator, NYPD Blue

Photo: Everett Collection

Pearl Jam’s cinematic high-school gun-violence video for “Jeremy” took home the Best Video Moonman, proving that we’re all transfixed by outcasts.

And Waco revealed our fringe-paramilitary impulses.

Photo: Susan Weems/AP

The middlebrow studio movie had its last great year: Philadelphia, Sleepless in Seattle, Groundhog Day, Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park, The Fugitive, Carlito’s Way, The Remains of the Day, Short Cuts.

Photo: Everett Collection

And the era’s real auteurs were shooting their first breakthrough movies.

Photo: Everett Collection

Dave Eggers founded Might magazine, the so-earnest-it-was-insolent predecessor to McSweeny's, and it was the first full year of Tina Brown's New Yorker, Graydon Carter's Vanity Fair, and Liz Tilberis's Harper's Bazaar.

Advertising