The millennial memory — mapped.
By Elliot Owen
People love throwing shade at the Millennial generation. We’ve been called everything from entitled, selfish, and narcissistic, to the “most hated generation” to ever walk the Earth. But can we really talk about this?
Fact: millennials have seen some things. Yeah, the oldest of us are only 35, the youngest a tender 18, but the historic events to hit center stage during our generation’s most formative years have been intense and almost overwhelming in number.
I’m 30 years old. That’s old enough to know the totality of human history is a relative jumble of schizophrenic ups and downs that outplay any novella out there. Tragedies follow triumphs, massacres beget miracles, scandals create inspirations, disasters illuminate truths, and drama, seemingly the most diligent worker of all, shows up for duty every day.
But the world millennials stepped into is one of changed trajectory. It’s not clear where exactly we’re going, but our generation grew up knowing we inherited a conflicted world in extreme flux.
Here’s a list of 30 historic events that blew our young minds, captured our attention, marred our collective consciousness, made us dream big, and continue, even today, to stand as our generation’s reference points for reality.
1. Nelson Mandela freed | 1990
After 27 years of incarceration for anti-apartheid resistance activities in South Africa, Nelson Mandela is released from prison.
2. Rodney King beating | 1991
The videotape of Rodney King, a Black taxi driver, being brutally beat by four white LAPD officers aired around the world, calling into question the police department’s use of force against Black people. The officers were charged but acquitted of charges brought against them, which caused the LA Riots in 1992.
3. Magic Johnson announced HIV-positive | 1991
The 32-year-old Lakers point guard announced he was retiring because he had contracting HIV. Prior to the announcement, HIV/AIDS was commonly associated with only gay men. Johnson is still alive today.
4. The Real World kicks off | 1992
The first season of The Real World aired on MTV. It became the network’s longest running program and laid the foundation for modern day reality TV.
5. The internet goes global | 1993
The World Wide Web opens for free public use.
6. Lorena Bobbitt’s revenge | 1993
After finding out her husband, John Bobbitt, cheated on her, Lorena Bobbitt cut off his penis while he slept, took it for a drive in her car, then threw it out the window. It was later found and reattached.
7. Rwandan genocide | 1994
Over a 100-day period, Hutu extremists murdered 800,000 Tutsis. The conflict is widely associated with the international community’s failure to respond to the killings in a timely and comprehensive manner.
8. Tonya Harding v. Nancy Kerrigan | 1994
Olympic figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was attacked after a practice session at the 1994 US Figure Skating Championships in Detroit. Tonya Harding, her competitor, was allegedly behind the assault and later plead guilty to hindering prosecution of Kerrigan’s attackers.
9. O.J. Simpson acquitted of murder | 1995
Described as the most publicized criminal trial in American history, the O.J. murder case closed with Simpson’s acquittal of two murder counts, one for ex-wife Nicole Brown, the other for Ron Goldman. The trial and subsequent acquittal intensified existing racial tensions across the country.
10. Oklahoma City bombing | 1995
Carried out by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, this domestic terrorist attack blew up a federal building in downtown Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and injuring almost 700.
11. JonBenet Ramsey | 1996
Six-year-old child beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey was found murdered at her parents’ Colorado home. The case remains unsolved.
12. Tupac shot dead | 1996
Tupac Shakur was fatally shot in a drive-by shooting after leaving a boxing match in Las Vegas. His death is widely believed to have been ordered by rapper Biggie Smalls a.k.a. The Notorious B.I.G., who was murdered in a Los Angeles drive-by the following year.
13. Dolly, the cloned sheep | 1996
Cloning was revolutionized after Dolly, a domestic sheep, became the first mammal successfully cloned from an adult cell.
14. Comet Hale-Bopp | 1997
Visible from earth, Comet Hale-Bopp was the most widely observed comet of the 20th century.
15. The death of Princess Diana | 1997
Princess Diana, the “People’s Princess”, was killed in a car accident while traveling through a tunnel in Paris, France. She was 32 years old. Her death was mourned across the world.
16. Monica Lewinsky scandal | 1998
The 1995-96 sexual relationship between then President Bill Clinton and White House intern Monica Lewinsky came to light in 1998. Clinton lied under oath about the affair which led to his impeachment by the House of Representatives but subsequent acquittal by the Senate.
17. Columbine shooting | 1999
Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado became the site of a particularly traumatizing school shooting that left 13 students and the shooters, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, dead.
18. Y2K | 2000
The moment of truth when all of humanity found out the anticipated breakdown of power, communications, and civilization as we know it was an overdramatized, unfounded fear.
19. Elian Gonzalez | 2000
The famous photo of terrified six-year-old Cuban migrant Elian Gonzalez being ripped from a relative’s arms by an armed federal agent transfixed the U.S.
20. September 11 attacks | 2001
Four commercial airplanes were hijacked by al-Qaeda terrorists the morning of September 11, 2001. Two flew into the north and south towers of the World Trade Center, one crashed into the Pentagon, the last crashed in a Pennsylvania field. Almost 3,000 people died, over 6,000 wounded. Footage of the Twin Tower collapse aired live on national television.
21. Space Shuttle Columbia | 2003
The Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart on live television over Texas while it was re-entering the earth’s atmosphere. All seven astronauts were killed.
22. Operation Iraqi Freedom | 2003
A United States-led coalition invaded Iraq with the intention of dethroning Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein on account of his alleged possession of WMDs (weapons of mass destruction). Live broadcasts of “shock and awe,” the initial bombing of Baghdad, were aired on American news networks.
23. Terri Schiavo dispute | 2005
After a 15-year legal struggle, the feeding tube sustaining Terri Schiavo, a woman in a persistent vegetative state, was removed, causing her eventual death. The highly publicized legal battle between her husband and parents involved several state courts and even President George W. Bush at one point.
24. Hurricane Katrina | 2005
The third-deadliest hurricane to ever hit the U.S., Katrina caused catastrophic damage to Mississippi and Louisiana coastlines. While no one really knows exactly how many people died in Katrina, estimates range from 986 to almost 2,000. The disaster is often associated with the poor government response that followed.
25. Obama elected POTUS | 2008
Barack Obama became the first Black President of the United States.
26. Michael Jackson dies | 2009
Global pop superstar Michael Jackson died of an overdose of propofol, a drug being administered to him by his doctor, who was later convicted of involuntary manslaughter. Jackson’s death was mourned throughout the world. The broadcast of his Los Angeles public memorial service garnered around one billion viewers.
27. BP oil spill | 2010
Also known as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, this disaster is recognized as the most devastating oil spill in US history. After an oil rig blew up in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 people, an ocean floor oil gusher released over 3 million barrels of oil into the sea before it was capped 87 days later.
28. Osama bin Laden captured | 2011
The leader of al-Qaeda was killed in Pakistan by U.S. Special Forces conducting a raid on his family compound. His death elicited celebration from most Americans.
29. Occupy Wall Street | 2011
Protesting worldwide social and economic inequality, the Occupy Wall Street movement started in New York City’s Zuccotti Park. “We are the 99%” became the slogan, which highlighted wealth disparities between the rich and poor.
30. Trayvon Martin killed | 2012
Unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, a Black high school student, was fatally shot by 28-year-old George Zimmerman, a white-passing Hispanic man. Zimmerman, who argued the shooting was justified under Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ statute, was tried for murder but acquitted the following year. Martin’s death is widely recognized as marking the beginning of a new wave of Black activism.