Looking back in anger is perhaps the only way to remember the years we have just spent. While we may have made personal mistakes, we also were part of larger mistakes, errors for which we have only begun to pay the costs. These would be our wars, our hyper-consumer lives, and a technology that has isolated as it has connected. Our last decade, perhaps the last decade on earth of free refills filling our Big Gulps, twenty-four hour power supplies, and hot water on demand for all, will be remembered as the most important since the 1960s and perhaps even more so, as it may be the “oughts” that represented the highwater mark of the American Century that, if indeed it is closing, lasted a mere seventy years.
The 1960s were bookended by the election of John F. Kennedy and ended with the summer of love and Woodstock. The bookends of the oughts are the stolen election of 2000 and the election of Obama 2008. We had no summer of love along the way, while all of us, that is the bottom percentage of the dwindling middle class, did get fucked – it was not by a blond farmgirl on acid. We fucked ourselves, and did so with a condom since we are living in the post-free love world and we must use protection, even from ourselves. We have to look outside of history to find our current generation. We cannot look to the media, since not everything is “[scandal name here]gate” nor every war the “next/current/another Vietnam.” These 1960s indeed were more distinct in ways we see now. At the start of the 1960s were guys in slender suits and black skinny ties, women in modern dresses, and classical music, top hats, and high art ended in mud and young kids fucking each other in vans. The replacement of the cannon of literature, the invention of Kwanza, the endless rebellion that was to mark the next several decades and transform into commoditized descent and our present consumer conversation. “Issues” came the rage, and Abortiongayrights our measuring stick of every law of the land from parking tickets to sundown laws. Identity politics alongside of Issues consumed our nation and washed away any vestage of “we” since “we” never bought as much as “I” and while there is no “I” in “team” as American management constantly reminds us, there does seem to be a certain amount of “shut the fuck up and sit down hands folded!” in our version of “team.” The fights and plights of those BabyBoomer Issueidentity Politics rumbled over our own lives and these august battles have crash landed in our decade, the oughts, burning at our feet. Things have changed in the world in a way that is different from the 1960s but no less substantial and we cannot look back for reference. Fashion, music, arts have hit the repeat button and like the media, have disintegrated into CGI and films that involve perpetual falling and screaming. If we measure our decade, the oughts would not be jazz, cafes, happenings, art openings, or teach ins. We’d be at a loss to find any difference between Emenim of 2000 and the Emenim of today, conceptualism of today or 2003, sculpture of today and 2002, or clothes since the crap at Target and K-Mart seem to blur together into one pile of invented fabrics, dumb statements on tee shirts, and clothes designed to allow yearly growth of waistline in keeping with our Americapitalist ideal of 8% on the bottom line. In the world, however, the world of today looks nothing like 2000.
I picked up a copy of the National Geographic Magazine from 1989. There was a story for everyone. Sadly, every story in that issue is today historical, gone forever from this current world and captured only by those large photos the magazine is known for – well, large photos (funny, a word heavy magazine known for pictures while Playboy, a picture heavy magazine was known for the articles – but that’s another post). The Iraqi marsh dwellers, erased by the Gulf War and their environment drained, the small towns of Australia now enlarged by highways, China no longer a nation of farmers and muddy roads, the battle grounds of the south now being taken over my Walmarts and McMansions. Everything in that world, a world of only twenty years ago, is vanished. Today, we can look even closer to a world that is changed in shorter time. Let us look to the National Geographic Magazines, or just to our own lives.
The America of today is a waning empire becoming more intent on internal security as it is media obsessed with trivia. Our landscape is blotted by a housing boom that has changed the environment at a time when there is no longer any excuse in doing so. We feel the first effects of climate change at the end of the decade we started still saying “more study is needed.” More importantly, we launched two wars. It is the two wars that will be our defining moment of the decade. The decade where the people rose up, shouted “no” and then melted away. A reverse 1960s effect. For those looking to the past to say, this decade was not the 1960s, they are correct. There was no “summer of love” (perhaps a late spring of handjobs), no British invasion, no 1960s this or 1960s that. The demonstrations were in the beginning of the decade, the world held hands and candles at 9/11, then we marched in the streets, then we watched as our nation clarified, and the top 1% of the population rose higher and higher in money and power and we sunk into a new poverty where we have all the supposed trappings of our middle class ancestors, but none of the security and stability. In this decade we have transformed into a mute nation. The majority of the population not empower by democracy but frightened by it. We do not want collectives we want gated communities. We do not want civic, we want consumer service. In this decade our society has shed a great deal of rights, while making old issues of the 1960s distracting puppet shows. As we worry about Abortiongayrights, the world too has quietly realigned itself as if fitting into the clothes our nation once wore as the understudy in All About Eve and who seemed so innocent at first but those powerless conspiring against you always seem innocent when they are not in power. When the Soviet union anathematized, we had no reason to fear the workers. There was no Red Threat, no need to placate the socialists of this nation and provide social nets or services which, when dropped into a consumer society, only seemed to create welfare mothers and people who made a full time job of gaming the system. In this decade, now closing, we have seen that others in the world…. they also don’t fear the workers. There is no other option than our consumerism and Americapitalism. Workers rights, self reliance with a degree of protections from powerful corporations, market freedom with controls for the larger players to allow for honest ideas and small businesses, these are gone. Even socialist countries shed their programs and protections as France – the beacon of communism in the minds of our right wing – is talking like Friedmanists. Our Walmart economy was our problem. Now it’s the world problem.
In sixteen days we close out this chapter in our history. Many of us look back on these ten years and see an entire chunk of our life, lost. We perhaps stand on the edge, and as Hunter S. Thompson said, we cannot know that point until we have crossed it – and in having done so, cannot describe it to those who remain on the other side of sanity.