How multiculturalism and sexual liberation shaped a distinctive decade.
Emmy Award–winning documentarian and Vanity Fair editor Friend (Watching the World Change: The Stories Behind the Images of 9/11, 2006) meticulously captures the libidinous 1990s through the milestones that made the time period so indelible—and sometimes cringeworthy. The author casts a wide net over the entire decade and encapsulates political shifts and social changes, including the tabloid sensationalism of Donald Trump’s divorce from Ivana, an event that marked the beginning of this heady “high-living, free-spending, balls-out era.” Through key interviews and focused cultural analysis, Friend brings to life the “seismic shifts occurring at society’s core,” such as the rise of Viagra, medically enhanced fertility, the narrowing window of puberty for young women, Camille Paglia and third-wave feminism, the controversial “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, gay marriage equality, and the fascinations with breast augmentation and the Brazilian bikini wax. The multifaceted world of entertainment was graced with the outspokenness of Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues, the antics of Howard Stern, Hollywood psychodramas, and the normalization of perennial plastic surgery. The author also discusses the brave sensuality of Demi Moore’s magazine cover and Ellen DeGeneres’ self-outing as having as much popular culture clout as the surgical precision of scorned wife Lorena Bobbitt and the courtroom circuses involving Monica Lewinsky, Paula Jones, and Anita Hill. Friend also shows how the mainstreaming of sex and the prevalence of and reliance on the internet for entertainment, pornography, and rapid-fire information (and the conservative, morality fueled backlash) played influential parts in swaying the masses toward less puritanical attitudes about eroticism. The author’s field studies include joining a Manhattan bus tour of Sex and the City filming locations with anthropologist Helen Fisher and enlightening, contemporary interviews with Bobbitt, Jones, Heidi Fleiss, and others. Friend’s clever afterword dovetails the political sins of the 1990s with how their eventual forgiveness ushered in the age of the billionaire as presidential candidate.
A witty, comprehensively researched time capsule from an unforgettable age of excess, scandal, and sex.