The 10 Stupidest Things We Were Worried About in 1998

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The 10 Stupidest Things We Were Worried About in 1998

The modern world is, like, so complicated. We’re constantly a single contentious election away from losing a good number of rights. We’re completely dependent on the little computer in our pockets to do our jobs, feed ourselves, navigate the streets, meet sexual partners and just about everything else. There are plural genocides happening. Wouldn’t it be nice to go back to a simpler time, but not, like, “pre-antibiotics and pre-desegregation” simple? When the most we had to worry about was whether our Furbys were listening to us and teenagers were having, gasp, oral sex?

Okay, okay. There were inequities and outrages in the late 1990s, too. But there was also panic and fearmongering about some incredibly stupid shit, proving how far we’ve come in some ways and how impressively backward we’ve gone in others. Just hop in the time machine, turn the dial back a quarter-century, and get ready to relive the time of boy bands and dick pills.

Furby Spies

Furbys were the hot toy of 1998, dazzling our primitive little brains with the ability to learn what we wanted them to say based on how often we pet them when they say certain words. Paranoiacs mistook this for the ability to listen to and repeat us, leading professional paranoiacs, aka the Pentagon, to ban them from the premises just after Christmas, presumably after going on a Jingle All the Way-style journey to buy them for their kids without knowing what they were and then immediately drop-kicking them into the trash.

Free and Fair Erections

On March 27, 1998, the FDA gave Viagra its stamp of approval, sparking surprising controversy. You might assume, in the days of abstinence-only sex education, that it would arrive in the form of slut-shaming people for being so desperate to boink, but you’d be a silly billy who thinks we shame all genders equally. Since these are men’s sex lives here, it was mostly about whether the pills were too expensive to require Medicare to cover.

Is ‘Ally McBeal’ Killing Feminism?

Its lasting legacy turned out to be a dancing baby, but in 1998, Ally McBeal was outraging critics by centering a woman who didn’t seem that smart. Newsweek was scandalized by the character’s declaration that she wants to get married, GQ by her positioning as “the thinking man’s sex kitten — if only she had a brain” and Time ran a whole cover story with the headline “IS FEMINISM DEAD?” It begins by quoting Courtney Love. These people were not ready for the Kardashians.

‘Pay for Play’ Music

No, not iTunes — they’re fine with us paying for music. When Limp Bizkit’s “Counterfeit” became the first “pay for play” single in 1998, meaning the record label paid radio stations to play it (after a message clearly introducing it as a paid broadcast, differentiating it from illegal “payola”), music fans worried the airwaves would soon be nothing but sponcon. Little did they know they wouldn’t be listening to the radio much longer, sponsored content would become totally normalized and nobody will play Limp Bizkit anymore without being paid.

Will MP3 Players Destroy the Music Industry?

Speaking of iProducts, before the iPod, the first successful portable music player was the Diamond Rio, a product so dangerous and subversive (it could store “up to an hour’s worth of CD-quality music”!) that the Recording Industry Association of America sued Diamond Multimedia to stop its sale in 1998, claiming it encouraged music piracy. They failed, which is why Madonna has to sit outside Denny’s begging for leftovers now.

Did Britney Spears Get Breast Implants?

What with the industry’s imminent collapse, you’d think music fans would have more to worry about (like, say, anything else) than a 17-year-old’s cosmetic procedures, but just a few months after the release of her debut single, Britney Spears was forced to deny that she’d gotten a boob job. Her publicist also denied she was dating Justin Timberlake in the same article, so grain of salt and whatnot, but neither of those things are any of our business.

Jenkem

WTF is jenkem? You wouldn’t be asking that in the late ‘90s — you’d be too busy visually locating the nearest puke receptacle. That’s when articles like this one from the New York Times began squeamishly reporting on the latest hobby of impoverished African children: huffing fermented poop. The media was certain the craze would soon reach American teens, but for some reason, the jenkem epidemic never materialized.

Are Teenagers Having Oral Sex?

Ask that question to anyone who’s ever watched the CW, and you’ll get a prompt “Uh, duh,” but it was a major moral panic in 1998, with headlines from newspapers as prestigious as the Washington Post announcing, “Parents Are Alarmed by an Unsettling New Fad in Middle Schools: Oral Sex.” Considering the teen pregnancy rate reached a record low in 1997, they probably should have been grateful.

Is the President Having Oral Sex?

Okay, sure, the impeachment of President Bill Clinton was a little more complicated than that, but it should have been a national embarrassment that it was kicked off by the question of whether he had a very specific kind of affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. People were just very concerned about blow jobs in 1998.

The Y2K Bug

It seems cute, here in the time of A.I. and smart homes, that we were once worried the computers might not date right, and it wasn’t not a problem that system developers were so shortsighted that they hadn’t remembered millennia were a thing. It just turned out to be an incredible fixable one. In the meantime, people went full prepper, expecting society to collapse when the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve 1999 and all computers ceased to function. Sadly, nothing happened, and we were forced to live through the Y2K fashion era.

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