CAROL A. STABILE
As the twentieth century lurched toward its close, media consumers in the United States were treated to a variety of competing accounts of the meaning of this closure -- some cheerlessly apocalyptic, others gaily optimistic. Although the crime wave that began in the 1980s was said to have abated by century's end, the final decade bore witness to intensified international military aggression: The 1990s were framed by the Persian Gulf War on one hand and the bombings of Iraq and Serbia on the other. And although the crisis in family values that had pervaded public discourse in the late 1980s and early 1990s receded as the decade waned (and as the political goals that had motivated this discourse, such as welfare "reform," were achieved), a series of so-called schoolyard shootings -- from Pearl, Mississippi to Littleton, Colorado -- provoked a new debate about middle-class angst and alienation and about the role of violence in the media.
When the mass media reflected on the role of communications in these and other events, their commentaries were similarly millennial in tone. The prominence of celebrity scandals in the news and the Monica Lewinsky case, the media proclaimed, had contributed to deepening political apathy; in the same breath, they observed that the World Wide Web was generating new and exciting opportunities for virtual communities and political organization. Internet access had its downside in cyberporn, virtual sexual predators, and other "security"-related issues; but at the same time, the information superhighway promised to lead everyone -- schoolchildren, workers, and retirees alike -- into the beckoning oasis of the twenty-first century.
Whether positive or negative, media commentaries were awash with renewed claims about the uniqueness of the present historical moment. In breathless anticipation of the myriad breakthroughs that the new century and millennium would bring, politicians, scientists, experts, and media pundits spoke with almost fundamentalist fervor about the information superhighway and the array of new media technologies that were paving the way to that bright future. At these higher echelons of cultural production, the world had never been so small, and the opportunities for profit, never so vast. During the waning decades of the century,