It would be easy to say that our self-obsessed culture, rampant cynicism in politics and the decline of traditional dating are all recent trends. But to understand how we get selfies, President Trump and Tinder, you have to look back to the 1990s, Vanity Fair’s David Friend says.
Friend joined Recode’s Kara Swisher on the latest episode of Recode Decode to talk about his new book, “The Naughty Nineties: The Triumph of the American Libido.” In it, he argues that the last decade of the 20th century was the start of a sea change in social and political attitudes that have carried us to the present day.
“The boomers took over,” Friend said. “They started raising children, they started coming of age, they started becoming the powerful people that ran Hollywood, that ran Madison Avenue and — for the first time — ran the White House. And suddenly, you had the counterculture becoming the culture. Their values became the main values of America.”
And it’s no coincidence that the world wide web was born in the same decade. Friend said the thing that separated America Online from its early competitors was that that AOL did not censor sexual conversations; for people logging onto the web for the first time (as well as historically marginalized groups such as the LGBT community), the internet enabled a new sexual revolution.
“Porn and sex and these conversations were always — you were with another person,” he said. “Now, it was totally anonymous and it was intimate in a way that people did not know what you were doing. The embarrassment and shame left.”
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On the new podcast, Friend also talked about Anita Hill’s groundbreaking testimony against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas in 1991; Hill ultimately failed to convince enough people that Thomas was a serial sexual harasser, and he was confirmed to the court. However, Friend said the #MeToo movement of today that is exposing sexual harassment in Hollywood, Washington and beyond owes a debt to Hill’s actions.
Back then, a record number of women won elections to Congress, the so-called “Anita Hill class.” And Friend suggested that something similar could happen again, as a reaction to President Trump.
“If there’s any silver lining in all this, it would be if men just stopped and let women take over for a while,” he said.
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This article originally appeared on Recode.net.