Sunday, January 3, 2010
The measurement of time, of course, is a human invention. It's only an accident that there are 60 seconds to a minute, 24 hours to a day, and so on; I've yet to find someone who can explain Daylight Savings Time in a way that makes sense. So obviously, “looking back on the decade,” as so many publications and websites have been doing, is just a way to fill space during a slow news month. Why not look back on the decade 1995-2005? Why not look back at the last 13 years and claim that it's a “thircade"? We like big round numbers—witness those celebrations when a baseball player slugs his 500th steroid-assisted home run—and 2010 seems big and round enough for us to celebrate in some way. Culture magazines are choosing to celebrate by releasing arbitrary list of the “best of the decade.” The worst list I've come across—possibly the worst list of the decade—is Rolling Stone's 100 Best Albums of the Decade, which asserts, among other things, that Bob Dylan came out with two of the top 11 albums of the past ten years, that U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind is somehow preferable to OutKast's Stankonia, and that Coldplay released better albums than The Hold Steady. I had never heard anyone say any of those things before, but then, I don't hang out with the aging 60s rockers who are Rolling Stone's only audience.
But let's move from the Viagra-popping generation to the Adderall-popping generation, which is my generation, and the generation that had the misfortune to grow up during this decade, whatever we decided to call it—the Oughts? The Zeros? A Series of Unfortunate Events? Whatever we decide to call this collection of 3,653 days, one day in particular will stand out for everyone, especially everyone who was under the age of 20 when it happened.
I was 14 in 2001, and riding the bus to my high school in Seattle when I heard that some planes had flown into some buidings in New York. At first, the information was confused—what happened? A bomb? A plane, like a little propeller plane? Was the whole thing a joke? It was seven in the morning and New York was thousands of miles away. The gym teacher told us that we could see the counselor if we wanted to talk about the tragedy, our feelings, whatever, and I guess some students probably knew people in New York, or even in the Towers, and some others probably had enough teenaged angst and psychic damage without worrying about planes crashing into fucking office buildings, but I pretty much went about my day as usual, just glad that we were gossiping about the new, devastating news instead of playing dodgeball or discussing Great Expectations. It was like hearing about a windstorm on Venus that had killed millions of aliens—tragic, sure, but also impossibly distant.
In my book, 9/11 was the real start to this lump of time we're calling a “decade,” and the end would probably be the inauguration of Barack Obama. The Bush Years, in other words, and some ugly years they were to grow up in. Right off the bat, we learned that people, mostly bearded men in caves, wanted to kill us for no reason, and were willing to blow themselves up for their cause. This wasn't the 60s or the 70s, where if you got disillusioned with Amerika you could join the other team and become a hard-core Communist/Anarchist. You had to say, okay, our government may be run by evil shitheads who steal elections and lie to us and might be tapping our phones, but Osama Bin Laden is even worse. This wasn't the 90s, either, when you could join the stream of slackers and cynics who could hide in the shelter of a kind of commercialized nihilism—not caring isn't an option when men kill themselves in order to kill others, and the world is growing dangerously warmer and the oceans are rising to engulf us all, and apparently the global economy is basically a collective illusion too complex for us to understand. For someone my age, 9/11 represents an imperative, a command that's a hell of a lot more effective than any adult's rules or anti-drug ad: Evil exists in this world. Fight it.
Our response, maybe, was to elect Obama, in the first presidential election someone my age could vote in. He understood that we needed to fight evil, and unlike Bush or John McCain or any other old white man, he didn't look evil himself. This generation came through the last ten years of bad news with our idealism not only intact, but buffered. The world was so shitty, so obviously, transparently unfair, that we had to change it, and we could, because America could improve, it didn't have to be this lumbering, world-despised giant, we didn't have to have all these problems in the schools and in the cities and all these horrible, lying assholes in power—yes, we fucking can, motherfuckers.
That would be an inspiring narrative, if it didn't have this last year as an epilogue. Obama's certainly a better president than Bush, but Guantanamo is still open, and we're sending more troops to Afghanistan. And those old white guys, the enemies of pretty much everyone, got more money from that financial bailout that was such a complicated disaster. All our idealism and energy and rage went towards electing a moderate president, and a host of moderate-to-conservative Democrats in Congress who, as swing voters, get whatever they want. It could be worse, but if our generation has all this idealism that I think it does, we need to do better, to set our sights higher than just making sure that we don't elect people who think torture is okay. It's no easy task to fight evil, it turns out, but if we look back at the last 10 years, we know we need to do something, even if all we're doing is pointing out how much everything sucks these days.
I'll start: Rolling Stone, Coldplay has some good songs, but they're pretty interchangable with every other popular Britpop band of the past 20 years. The Hold Steady released three excellent albums that you really should care about if you care about rock music. Your magazine is a dinosaur that exists solely to make 60-year-olds feel hip. You suck.
Happy New Year, everybody!