Gene Grant: Were The Aughts Really So Bad?

Gene Grant
6 min read
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So, have you pulled your head out of your Oh, I am so glad that decade is over, everything was terrible, the world is coming to an end pity potty? Not yet? Then please spare the rest of us. If yes, or better yet, if you never went there in the first place, good on you. Be a shining light, will you?

I’m sorry. But that was some serious whining the last week of ’09. Sure, it was a crap decade in many regards. No question. But it was also a total and complete wonder in others.

There was no finer display of Aught Angst than on the interwebs (mainly Twitter and Facebook). Before we get to that, can we just stop for a second and give thanks to what just transpired via the net these last 10 years? It was quite possibly the greatest decade of democratizing innovation since the bicycle.

In that light, a spin through Twitter and the hashtag “
#tenyearsago,” revealed a rather fascinating array of emotions and remembrances. The #tenyearsago thread ranged from the lyrical and hilarious (“#tenyearsago ‘let me see that thong’ was a Sisqo lyric; now it’s a demand from TSA screeners checking for explosives.”), the celebratory (“ # tenyearsago I was afraid to come out of the closet as #gay. Now I won’t shut up about it.”), the stiffened upper lip (“#tenyearsago I began my fight for a greener world – still fighting.”), and Twitter being what it is, a portal for the fabulously vapid (“#tenyearsago my hair was long & dyed dark brown. Since then it has mostly been dark brown or black. Except now it’s blondeish.”).

Those brutally disappointed by the current state of affairs were certainly represented (“#tenyearsago I was making $28.75+full medical. Bought a truck. Could afford paintball. Paid for my college education. Now I’m unemployed.”), to the achingly reflective (“can’t help but think #tenyearsago my fiancé was above ground with me. R.I.P.”)

No one, it seems, is the same. It was a hothouse decade, no question—a true test of resolve. But there were signs early on this was gonna be a wild ride.

One tweet in particular set the tone. It observed thus: “#tenyearsago people were stocking up on canned goods & water, praying money would fly out of ATMs in the morning. Dorks.”

In other words, what in hell did you expect from a decade that started off with that millennium mishegas? This thing was headed for some regrettable twists and turns.

It’s also clear that one’s take on the decade depended heavily on your vintage. If you, dear reader, are anywhere near the half century mark (as I am), my suspicion is the Aughts were as equally about being shocked as being awed. And in a lot of examples, I was pissed off at the familiarity of it all. The dreadfulness of the ’70s (Nixon, gas lines, culture wars), ’80s (Reaganomics, HIV-AIDS) and the ’90s (Monica Lewinsky) were not exactly smooth sailing as decades go. Weren’t the ’90s when we were going to get all this right?

Pick any decade going back to the nation’s founding; each was fraught with assorted mayhems and disappointments.

If, however, you’ve just passed your first decade as a “grownup” (“#tenyearsago I rushed home to catch Arthur at 4:00. lol”) then it gets a bit trickier. There’s some sympathy from this semi-old timer. If I was 23 and looking back, I’d be a bit wigged-out by what transpired as well.

But the idiocy, greed and warmongering on display during the Aughts was not unique to this decade. Trust me when I tell you it’ll all become one big, sordid mashup at some point. Once you get a few under your belt, you realize the folly of tracking progress by decades. It never ends. We’re still at war (hello, ’60s), Iran still hates us (hello, ’70s), Wall Street, for all intents and purposes, still runs the nation (hello, ’80s), and politicians still steal and step out on their spouses (hello, ’90s).

You gotta be hopeful despite the evidence to the contrary (“#tenyearsago I thought being a journalist meant I could help save the world.”) because, in its own way, these next 10 will be crap as well. A Santa Fe-based venture capitalist tweeted of 2010 (and beyond, hopefully) that he vowed to simply “be present.” That’s the trick right there—always has and always will be.

What the tweets also revealed was a lesson for the ages. Wherever you’re at today (“#tenyearsago I was incarcerated.”) does not have to define your decade (or life). But you can help your emotional chances by being engaged and voting, volunteering, making art, whatever it takes. This is the antidote to looking back with regret and keeps the lunacy in perspective.

In spite of the problems and unspeakable horrors, there have been some good results these 10 years. We’re all closer now, via the net. People no longer have to tilt against the wind, the lone freak seeking justice inside their hellish circle of workplace or family. You have a world of allies, even if they have dopey Twitter names.

An Iranian music student was killed in a protest march, cell phones captured the moment, and in an instant—via Twitter—the world knew of Neda; the Iranian struggle for democracy and freedom no longer belonged only to Iranians. That would have been a nice tool during Kent State or the integration battles of the ’60s, no?

So chill already. The Aughts are done. Much like when Alec Baldwin’s character in the film
State and Main emerges from a car he just flipped and says, “Well. That happened.” Now, if we can make it past this 2012 thing, it’ll all be a cruise.

You can follow this idiot at: @dredlockflaneur

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

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