Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Could Someone Tell Me What Just Happened?

The Noughties are drawing to an end. Asinine name, asinine decade. Nil, nihil, nullity. A void after all the ballyhoo build up towards the millennium. The world didn't come to a cyber end. The Millennium Dome remained a white elephant until being rehabilitated by commerce into a perfectly serviceable branded entertainment venue (with good transport links), so we can watch American wrestling and Russell Brand and pay through the nose to do so. Still, it did have an indirect role in finishing off M.Jackson (deceased).

It's hard to do a review of a decade of drift and listlessness in which very little happened. But here's my stab at it (with no pun in reference to point 6).

0) Despite Madoff waltzing off with ill-gotten swag and the sub-judice sub-prime fiasco bringing down the property and finance markets, the world has not ground to a halt (other than Iceland, ha ha West Ham United). Unlike the South Sea Bubble of the 1720's and the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the world has demonstrated itself to be in rather robust health despite this latest economic crisis. It's pulled its belt in, but the world has carried on spinning and trading (and waging global warfare). Depressing really. Corruption and unalloyed greed represent just a blip, requiring a readjustment of the market, but no real measures to prevent them being repeated in the future. Anyone remember Nick Leeson? And now the bankers are on the warpath again, demanding huge bonuses to reward their efforts, otherwise they'll be off to pastures new. Behaving like pouty footballers seeking more money and a fat transfer fee.

1) Reality TV as a relatively cheap programming option had a foothold on the schedules prior to this dreary decade. But the rise of the Talent show has established a stranglehold over all media outlets; not just the TV transmissions and the backstage/green room/behind the scenes add ons, but discussions on radio, in the newspapers and magazines and of course online. In fact such shows are nothing without them being supplemented by the coverage in the press, revealing the holes in their publicly aired back stories, kiss and tells and Mothers who aren't really on disability and the like. They are all about manipulation. After all this was the decade that saw fixed public phone-in votes being outed - Ant'n'Dec to Blue Peter for godssakes. As with everything else, such shows seem to open up a democracy of access, that anyone can make it to the top and realise their dream. But like the Premier Football league, there can only be one champion at the end of the series. The strength of such shows seem to offer its audience sat barricaded at home, the chance to play a Greek God of old and manipulate the fates of other demi-gods and reduce them to mere mortals once again. So the question of exactly who is manipulating who is a tangled one, though if Max Clifford and Simon Cowell are involved, you've a pretty good idea where to look for the puppeteers. I don't really care about any of this trend, were it not for an insidious coccus infecting the dreams and aspirations of our younger generations. No longer do they want to achieve and fulfill a vocation through hard work and honing their talent. Now they just want to be spotted and become famous. Fame is the only vocation.

2) Our licensing laws were put in place during the Great War of 1914-18 to ensure munitions production was not affected by drunkenness. All drinking establishments had to shut at 11pm with very few exceptions. The violence outside pubs and clubs at throwing out time reached such proportions by the start of this decade, the Government decided the best response was to stagger it across more hours so now you can be randomly thumped at any hour of the day. My novel deals with this to some extent, so I don't want to bore on about it here - I've written about it on another website if you're interested. I just want to offer this economic analysis since the drinks industry has changed radically in the Noughties through the new legislation. Old style pubs are closing left right and centre, being replaced by theme pubs and chains, where the emphasis is on selling units and happy hours and promotions. (Did some one say parallels with the Net Book Agreement being abolished?) Reaganism-Friedman economics in the 80's built its growth on just 3 industries: private health insurance, fast food and Silicon Valley. Well by the time we reach the Noughties in the UK, we can't compete with Silicon Valley's scale; fast food leads to obesity, so not a good one to follow and our complex relationship to the NHS means private health is fraught with impediments. But one thing we can do is drink, and I would offer the untrammelled, rampant drinks industry as our version of Reagan-Friedman economics. Even the tobacco industry has had to reassess its morals. No such compunction for the brewers and drinks retailers. Alcopops anyone? Down the hatch.

3) Since the collapse of Communism and Socialism's retreat towards a soft left position, there has been no new intellectual theories emanating from the Left. Since Reagan-Thatcher-Friedman economics, which were just an updating of John Bright and Richard Cobden's Free Trade ideas of the 19th century, well again the Right have come up with no new ideas. Thank god for that you may say, where have ideologies ever got us other than strife and societies split down the middle? What are all these think tanks doing I ask myself? What's a Labour Government with 10 years of huge majorities actually using that power to push through as legislation? Very little in truth, too afraid of alienating Mrs average in Worcester as she sits on the latest focus group. 10 years of otiosity and inaction has fostered a culture of corruption and MPs getting what they can from the post, since sure as hell any dreams and ideas they may have entered politics with will not get addressed. So here's a notion, sweep the lot away seeing as they're not actually doing anything anyway. The internet means we could run ourselves with plebiscites on every aspect of government. We take the decisions and have a Civil service to do the people's will. No more delegating. Now I admit as things stand there is a class bias in this that not all households have computers, internet broadband or are necessarily well versed in how to surf it effectively. So there would have to be some educating of future generations in what used to be called Civics. The terrestrial shutoff in 2012 should see to the computer/broadband access issue being dealt with satisfactorily. But we know the biggest obstacle to my suggestion. Apathy. Who wants to read a 526 page EU document on fish quotas for something that will only affect the good burghers of Grimsby? Not if it takes us away from getting bombed down the theme pub or our vote having to be diverted from Strictly Come Prancing. People like to depute their responsibilities for bureaucracy to others, leaving themselves free to have responsibility-free fun. So we get the politicians we deserve, stop moaning and whining. And if you want a better calibre of MP and to stop them putting their fingers in the till, for goodness sakes pay them properly - just ask the Bankers about the higher echelons of the labour market.

4) Shopping online, the lure of the unexpected find a la car boot sales without having to drag yourself down to a cold school playground at the crack of dawn. The chance to satisfy the completist and the collector within you as you locate that piece of 60's kitsch crockery (and we thought only boys possessed the 'football stickers' album mentality). And finally the thrill of the chase as you sit there, fingers hovered over the mouse to counter somebody's bid on e-Bay. A veritable joust and so much more exciting than trawling musty antique shops. More of that flexing omnipotent god muscles that we had with voting in TV reality shows. I've used e-Bay to find cheap props for my upcoming book trailer shoots. It's an invaluable resource. If book and record shops are dying, it's not solely down to online shopping. They cut their own throats in other ways too. For music, the record companies were creaming their artists for so long, (remember George Michael trying to sue his record company?), that it was inevitable musicians would not only record at home but distribute it for themselves and cut out all middlemen. But back to online shopping itself. I associate e-Bay very much with this whole retro thing, looking to reconnect with one's childhood artefacts. There has always been a trend for this, as each new generation of bright shiny things come to control TV and other media, they foist their parochial tastes upon us which normally means revisiting their childhoods and what appealed to them back then. (Hollywood remakes of Bewitched, Brady Bunch etc). But this urge among the common man to own things from their past, well it suggests to me how cut off from the here and now we all are. We cannot connect with the helter-skelter mayhem of the technological world that changes day by day. Our I-Pod is obsolete after a week. Instead far easier to regress to a perceived idyllic time, when your parents may even have still been together. A (recent) mythical past, a return to a womb, albeit one outside the body, swaddled with toys and other soothing familiar landmarks with kitemarks. We are all infantilised (aka dumbing down) because we fail to think socially, but like a buffeted windsock, allow ourselves to be fragmented and atomised in a world that seems ineffably complex to our overhelmed individualism. Hence we want our pacifiers, to rebuild the nursery of familiar landscape around ourselves. Hence we shop for retro. There, I've said it.

5) Climate change is rapidly becoming the new holocaust denial. I won't apologise for such hyperbolic comparison, firstly I'm of the faith of the holocaust so I don't use it lightly and secondly it is merely a question of pace at which we are currently snuffing out not just one race but the entire species. Aha foot in mouth diseased one I hear you cry, prove it! Of course I can't. Both sides of this argument bring out their expert witnesses and ground the debate down into stalemate and playground name calling. All I can offer you is the interest groups ranged behind keeping things just as they are; the oil companies, the timber industry; the GM producers. Politically, the debate is fatuous, since there is no real opposition to the capitalism that devours all the earth's resources with huge social costs. When owning your own car and having a foreign holiday every year are pedalled as an aspiration to tilt for, it actually elides over in to being a human right. No government would dare overturn either of these two hugely polluting sources, for it would have to completely overhaul the basis of society. More significantly, no political party could get elected proposing either platform. To be honest, there is no point outlawing private car ownership while public transport is not free, plenteous and efficient. The bus I travel to work on every day probably pours out more pollution than any car, so antiquated is it. In my formative teens when I was reading quite a lot of political theory, I imagined a 21st century that was post-industrial and post-labour. Automation and robots would manufacture and maintain all our physical needs and we could relax back into a leisure economy, a bit of playing sport in the morning to get the heart and lungs pumping, followed by a social lunch and debating platform among our peers (pausing only to cast our internet vote on the plebiscites of the day), before being followed by a trip to the cinema or theatre to see the latest artistic representation of some important moral virtue within a very real social situation. Um, I was wrong... We seem to be labouring harder than ever, in fear of losing our jobs. Our commutes seem to be taking ever larger chunks out of our day. Who wouldn't seek to go and get bombed out of their craniums after work within such a scenario? I neither drive a car nor take foreign trips. Not quite so worthy as might appear on the surface, I never passed my driving test and I have a phobia of flying. Still, how big is your carbon footprint?

6) Britain used to make a cultural contribution on the world scene. We always had a push me pull you dynamic on rock/pop music for example. Originating from the blues in the US, we followed suit, but then we unleashed the Beatles & the Stones on the world. The Jesus & maryChain wrote a song called "Sidewalking", Stephen Malkamus called his band "Pavement". A creative fission between our two Anglo cultures. But now we are in thral to US globalisation; Hollywood, US sports, HipHop culture predominate. Most depressing of the US global imports is youth gang culture. Yes we have put our own spin on it, but this is not the UK pastoralism of the Beatles or Blur for godssakes. We lack for the subtle immigrant diversity of ghetto-based community gangs, so we employ post codes. We still don't have the right to bear guns, so our kids arm themselves with knives. We may not have Crips and Bloods, but our yute display their colours of allegiance all the same. Bandanas instead of cummerbunds. I have written extensively on this subject but to date no one has taken up my challenge to publish me. It should be mandatory, not in the schools, but a manual of how not to parent, pocket sized since "Thresholds" is only a novella. It's all about the language (and therefore the logic) gap between the generations and is written in the language of hand-wringing parents that even they can decipher. Right, rant over. This one was for all the kids who bled to death on Britain's streets and outside schools in the NOUGHTIES. Those whose lives came to NOUGHT. The knife in the back pocket or up the sleeve is a minotaur that demands its blood tithe.

7) Obama will not change one thing about the world or even America. You, we, voters all, fall for it every time. He is a figurehead. An inspiration to get up and back to work. To make it happen for yourself. Nothing wrong with that at all. But just don't expect him to deliver anything. He is a welcome change from the previous incumbent is all. Didn't he award himself 8 out of 10 recently? More like 1 out of 10. Still, that's one more than Blair and 6 more than Brown. In a world economy and even with America at the centre of it, political leaders can do very little to affect the world market. Instead they can build monuments to themselves like French presidents, or they can make a name for themselves by making wars. My wife left work early to come home and watch his inauguration speech. It was on my birthday. I spent the duration of the speech having a nice hot bath and reading a book. I was right and she was in error. I forgave her because the book I read in the bath was mighty fine and it was her present to me. (John Burnside "Glister").

8) Football's bubble will burst. The people's game. Wall to wall coverage will exhaust appetites. If it's not English football, it's Spanish football. The Mickey Mouse league in the US for the insomniacs evidencing withdrawal symptoms. Veteran matches. Schoolboy matches. Celebrity matches. If Sky aren't covering your team live, you can watch it online or go to a pub and watch an Albanian feed and admire the local adverts at half time and excitable commentators. Football is uncompetitive. It is entirely determined by bank balances and purchasing power. Standards have dropped - just look at how none of the powerhouse teams in the Premiership can defend this season. When England fail accordingly in the World Cup, will people still believe we have the best product in the World? Why do I say the bubble will burst? Simply because of glut. Growing up male in this country means the longest relationship you will have with anything in your life will in all likelihood be with your football team. 40 years for me and now I've fallen out of love. I don't even seek occasional visiting rights. I didn't used to care what my players (note 'my') did of a friday night, so long as they performed on the pitch on the Saturday. But now it is thrust in your face when players stagger out of nightclubs at 3am, such is the ubiquity of the coverage. 24-7 we have the private lives of the stars fellated in our faces and we can't but help link it to when they perform poorly on the pitch. Players are contracted to so much money, they don't have to bother - the worst that can happen is they are given a transfer for more big bucks. I do not lay this accusation at the hands of foreign players, it is the British ones who are abusing their bodies with alcohol, they don't even have that minimum level of professionalism and pride. Referees have been left behind by the stakes of this multi-million pound industry and are simply not up to the job and the level of responsibility. But for all that, the murderous assault on their authority by the Managers of teams undermines any rule of law within the game and reduces it to a win at all costs, cheating aplenty 'game'. I for one will don a black armband when the game goes tits up, but I will also have a smug grin on my face. The only question is whether the death blow is delivered by the sport gorging itself on money til it explodes and the market cannot sustain it, or whether its audiences turn their back on it for its uncompetitiveness. Get your bets on.

9) A curiosity really, but adverts on TV and in the cinemas don't seem to have developed at all in this decade. When I was at College, the majority of my friends wanted to go into advertising. Creative and well paid. Then there were periodic culls in the 80's and 90's as the economic rise and falls meant advertising was often the first item on the Corporate budget to be cut. But it left a leaner and meaner industry. One that seems to have stabilised with digital TV opening up so many more slots for advertising. And yet, car adverts remain the same. Drink adverts haven't managed to come up with any new ways of enticing us while staying within the legislative strictures that mean you can't show someone enjoying a drink on screen. Look, don't get me wrong, I don't really care that their art form hasn't developed in any way. I am not their target audience since I have very few material possessions and don't drive, travel or drink. But I find it amusing that my 11 year old son channel hops through adverts as this fate must await most adverts on TV for the short-attention spanned generations of today. Just don't tell me copywriters and creatives that you are CREATIVELY fulfilled.

And so onwards to the next generation, so full of hope in our hearts that we cannot even come up with a label for it.


@triplecherry said...

Really sad decade. Groan. Especially youth, climate & figureheads. It is all so vile.

TF said...

I read the above and I think we, the human race, are in trouble. But when were we not in trouble? Maybe there are only degrees of trouble and the less trouble you're in at the end of the decade, the better it was.

"Asinine name, asinine decade."

Agreed. And it's legacy?

"Fame is the only vocation."

Is any of it the metaphorical shout and trumpets signalling Judgement Day? Maybe, but seconds, years, decades are illusory boundaries we have created and this decade, I would posit, is little different to the previous one.

I found point 2) curious - and wonder if we will see that become the norm here. Australian pubs and clubs rely heavily, if not only, on gaming revenue - NSW has one third of the world's poker machines - and it is this that is scrutinised more than the national drinking problem. This is something I'm very interested in.

"We are all infantilised (aka dumbing down) because we fail to think socially, but like a buffeted windsock, allow ourselves to be fragmented and atomised in a world that seems ineffably complex to our overhelmed individualism."

This is, unfortunately, my view of all of Western civilisation.


Great summary of the issue, probably the best, and most blunt, I have read.

All the best for the new decade, whatever crazy name they call it. Onwards and upwards.

Sulci Collective said...

Thanks TF, of course you are correct about the artificial time marker posts. As a trained historian, history itself is entirely dependent on where historians drop down these time marker posts (think American Football chain marker for marking out the whole 10 yards to determine a First Down) as to whether a period is deemed a triumph of Progressivism or Conservatism...

Yes this decade is probably no worse than those around it. The problem with being in trends is you just can't see whether it's one that's going to stay around or not. I always think there is another few turns of the ratchet on people's sensibilities that can never be undone- ie youths stabbing each other in London can be dealt with through law, but probably is now around to stay in the same way you could legalise drugs to break the criminal economy associated with it, but self-medication itself is here to stay as well.

Dan Holloway said...

This is a highly entertaining as well as instructive account. I'm trying to compile my cultural review of the noughties at the moment and I'm struggling to buggery. So much technological innovation; so little creative innovation. What was new and truly great this decade? We have no wequivalent of punk, cyberpunk, rave (new OR old), britpop, grunge, hip hop. What DO we have? I don't know - but i DO know one thing. I wasted most of the noughties, only really taking my writing seriously from 2008. I worried at the time that I'd left it too late - that "the next big thing" was going to happen before I goty my act together. The fantastic, exciting news for us as creatives at the start of our venture is that the Noughties were so dull the cultural door is still wide open for us - we have the chance to be at the front of the queue!

Remittance Girl said...

The noughties was the decade I retired from the western world and settled instead of oppressive heat and politics in the tropics.

I don't think it was all that different from the Nineties actually, except that everything got more obvious, so I was glad to escape the brunt of it.

I'm still crossing my fingers for the demise of Dubai as a shrine to conspicuous consumption, but I'm not holding my breath.

It reminds me of the old 1920's song, "Ain't we got fun?" with the unforgettable line: 'The rich get richer and the poor make babies'.

Really, not much has changed, has it?

Anne Tyler Lord said...

Wow! That is quite a summary. The noughties was a time of great change for me, so I wasn't noticing the changed until the last few years. I agree with many of your points. I am disgusted with Reality TV, Obama-no impact, Madoff-type corruption, rampant crime, and I am a fan of good advertising, too - now hard to come-by.

I like your statement about a trend I see with friends and family - your analysis is so true. I have felt it myself a few times, but realize why I do it - So, I have a little sympathy for our overwhelmed lives, and the search for a simpler time, even if it is a myth. Your statement is very powerful:

"A (recent) mythical past, a return to a womb, albeit one outside the body, swaddled with toys and other soothing familiar landmarks with kitemarks. We are all infantilised (aka dumbing down) because we fail to think socially, but like a buffeted windsock, allow ourselves to be fragmented and atomised in a world that seems ineffably complex to our overhelmed individualism.
Hence we want our pacifiers, to rebuild the nursery of familiar landscape around ourselves. Hence we shop for retro. There, I've said it."

"We seem to be labouring harder than ever, in fear of losing our jobs. Our commutes seem to be taking ever larger chunks out of our day."

This point is maddening to most. My husband and I are experiencing this, and more. The promises of opportunity for those who work hard and are good at what they do, and the promises of technology just aren't there.

Sulci Collective said...

Thanks guys for all your responses.

Anonymous said...

nice post. thanks.