So here we are, just two turns of the page into the ’90s, and the last decade—the ’80s, remember?—already seems to have happened so long ago. That’s true in part because so many of the people who tumbled into our lives this year bear names that jingle like bright new coins—Norm Schwarzkopf, Garth Brooks, Naomi Campbell—and in part because many of the others who compelled our attention focused on a single, vexing issue: the relationship between men and women.
In a year when we fought a war in the gulf and watched the Soviet Empire crumble, the real power struggle was between the sexes—and the players still fascinate and instruct us. One woman steps forward with an accusation of sexual misconduct by a Supreme Court nominee; another charges sexual battery at the hands of a scion of America’s most famous family. The resulting imbroglios surge onto national television, accompanied by the kind of sexually graphic detail that turns us into a nation of voyeurs. Afterward, reputations lie tattered, while a debate festers over whether justice has been served or abused. Elsewhere, the renegotiation of sexual relationships finds other forms. A poet’s best-seller instructs men on how to recover their primordial masculinity; a basketball star candidly confronts AIDS and admits his sexual excesses; a fairy-tale princess struggles to carry on with dignity despite a seemingly loveless marriage; a movieland Princess cancels her wedding and flees to Ireland with another man, and a children’s TV star is arrested for indecent exposure but stirs more sympathy than outrage.
Even best-sellers make strange bedfellows. On the fiction list the sequel to Gone with the Wind is a kind of Baedeker of bodice ripping, while the year’s hottest nonfiction tells both sexes that You Just Don’t Understand. Fortunately, though, for those who hunger for continuity in a time of change there is Elizabeth Taylor. Thank you, Liz and Larry, for reminding us that old-fashioned marriages still exist between consenting adults. Maybe there’s hope for 1992.