TV in 1991: War and Police Brutality

The two biggest subjects of television in 1991 centered around the worst police beating ever caught on video (yes, even to this day) and a conflict in the Middle East that turned televisions into 24-hour war journals. While war and police brutality dominated the air waves in 1991, they were not the only notable moments on TV. One of the most famous music videos in history debuted in ’91 as well as the shocking retirement of an athlete that helped change the way the world viewed HIV and AIDS.

1991’s Most Notable Moments (by date)

January 16, 1991America Goes to War

“Just 2 hours ago, allied air forces began an attack on military targets in Iraq and Kuwait. These attacks continue as I speak.”

I will personally always remember Bush’s first two sentences. Twelve year-old me found the reality of war fascinating and terrifying at the same time. The coverage of the the Gulf War turned out to be historical, not to mention outstanding. Millions of viewers were stuck to their televisions, especially during the first night of battle when they watched Baghdad get hit with a bombing that looked like it came out of a Sega Genesis game. Just as important, CNN’s coverage of the event helped establish itself as one of the premier news channels, outdoing every major network in viewership.

*More about the Gulf War here if you’re interested

January 27 – The Greatest Performance of the “Star Spangled Banner” Ever?

Whitney Houston arguably stole the spotlight from the Super Bowl that day with her performance of America’s national anthem. She belted out the “Star Spangled Banner” in a way no one will ever duplicate, a remarkable display of vocals that warmed your heart. Not only the perfect introduction to a fantastic game, but a performance cemented into the debate for best ever.

This is the only double whammy: two unforgettable moments in one single event. Whitney came first, and then the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills battled hard in a game for the ages. You do not have to like or know football to understand how close it was. The score was 20-19, the Giants taking the Super Bowl on the biggest missed field goal in history. It was decided by one point in a game where neither team committed a turnover. Rarely are games decided at the last second. Far more rare is a championship game decided as time expires. This was one of those. The halftime show provided more to remember because there wasn’t one. At least, not a live one. Instead, those watching at home saw ABC cut to a special report on the Gulf War while New Kids on the Block performed to those in attendance.

March 3 – The Beating

The video created a stir both in the states and internationally for how brutal the beating of Rodney King was. A lot of misinformation has been spread about it, including why it occurred in the first place. While some believe it was completely random, it was not, although it does no excuse any of the officers. Truth is, King had evaded the police because he was under the influence, and wound up stopping near the Hansen Dam Recreation Center. People also assume only King was in the car. He had two passengers, one of whom was also beaten, just not as severely as King. What transpired continues to shock to this day. After reviewing the video, then Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates stated, “officers struck him with batons between fifty-three and fifty-six times.” Oh, he also got blasted in the chest with 50,000 volts from a stun gun. Watching the video told one story, his first press conference showed the aftermath. He sat in a wheelchair with a broken right leg, cuts and all over his badly swollen face, and a terrible burn mark on his chest from the stun gun. The incident helped fuel the L.A. Riots just over a year later.

Read more about Rodney King and the L.A. Riots here

August 11 – The Beginning of an Influence

This was the best version I could fine online from Daily Motion. It is the full first episode that debuted on Nickelodeon on August 11, 1991 after Doug and Rugrats.

The Simpsons revolutionized animated television, for both adults and children. That is impossible to argue. Ren & Stimpy, however, paved the way for the edgier, more mature adult cartoons that is often affiliated with Adult Swim. In short, without Ren & Stimpy there would be no Beavis & Butthead, South Park, Rick and Morty, etc. The show centered around an angry chihuahua named Ren and his pea-brained cat best friend, Stimpy. Where other cartoons were family-friendly, Ren & Stimpy derived many of its laughs from bathroom humor and incredibly detailed artwork that made it grotesque yet fascinating. If you have never watched it, I promise it is worth your time if only to see how it impacted so many other cartoons that came afterwards. Simply for its influence, it deserves a spot here.

September 29 – Welcome to Grunge

Something about that starting guitar riff pulled us in immediately. What was this? It sounded like rock, except rawer and grittier. And who were these guys? The young men playing inside the dimly lit, grimy high school gym appeared apathetic and had hair so shaggy you could barely see their eyes. Their guitars were loud, real loud, but in a good way. Aside from the grim visual tone of the video, the cheerleaders stood out with their tattoos and odd dance routines. There is a violent end that is oddly satisfying amid its destructiveness. As noteworthy as “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is, its distinction is that it was the start of an inspiring yet tragic rock and roll story. It is a must watch music video and always in the discussion for greatest ever for its impact.

October 26 – Kirby Puckett’s Classic Hit

Legendary sportscaster Vin Scully calls Kirby Puckett’s unforgettable home run

The Fall Classic had already been a classic. The 7-game series between the Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins was an evenly matched championship series made memorable by the fact that 5 games were decided by one run. Game 6 is where the biggest moment of the series occurred. With the game tied at 3 runs apiece, the tension was dense in Minnesota in the bottom of the eleventh. Puckett stepped to the plate and, with the count at two balls and a strike, he launched a shot to tie up the series and send it to a winner-take-all game 7. Minnesota would go on to win the final game by a score of 1-0.

November 7 – The Announcement

Magic Johnson. One of the biggest sports stars of our time announces an early retirement because he contracted the HIV virus. This one hit me hard. My favorite player on the planet would no longer be dishing dazzling passes on the court. The worst part was the grim reality that Magic Johnson would soon die. That, regardless of its shocking nature, is what everyone thought at the time. The negative stigma around HIV at the time came from its hostility toward homosexuals as they were believed to be the only group that could contract the virus. Magic Johnson’s unfortunate tragedy helped bring a new awareness to HIV and AIDS that would have never happened if it weren’t for that November 14, 1991 announcement to the world.

Read more about Magic Johnson’s famous announcement here

November 14 – It Doesn’t Matter If You’re Black or White

To give you perspective on the extent of Michael Jackson’s popularity in 1991, the “Black or White” music video debuted that evening to 500 million viewers. A music video. 500 million people. Whether people liked it or not, it delivered ratings and everything else. From the most popular kid star at the time in Macaulay Culkin to a mind-blowing morphing technique that no one would shut up about afterwards, “Black or White” became the number one worldwide single of 1992. Taking you from Africa to the Statue of Liberty, it could be seen as an around-the-world short movie, doing its best to show as many cultures as possible. The video brought controversy as well with the ending of Jackson vandalizing a car and grabbing his crotch did not sit well with everyone.

Published by aaronpkahle

I like a lot of things but 90s American pop culture is my jam.

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