Thursday, December 31, 2009

#1 - Facebook

It was the decade when...

You were your status update.

100 days, 100 trends. And what tops our survey? What trend of the aughts surpasses all others?

Obviously, the Internet played a massive role in the aughts. Perhaps the major role. Our connection with our friends, lovers, and acquaintances was mediated by the information superhighway. And those who controlled the means of communication controlled our lives. The aughts saw a grand drama of competing social networking sites striving for our allegiance and online devotion. What began as a Friendster flurry quickly morphed into MySpace mania. With MySpace it appeared, for a brief respite, that the general populace had agreed unilaterally on a social networking site to triumph over all others. But alas, the actual site proved unwieldy, prone to profiles of women of ill repute and myriad alt-rock bands promoting their latest faux Arcade Fire-esque album. The neatness and clarity of Friendster was lost in the graphic overload. MySpace could not sustain itself. Another social network was required to bring us together.

Enter Mark Zukerberg, Harvard Sophomore and future billionaire. After beginning his nascent website in 2003 (from his dorm room) as a social network for Ivy League students only, it was only a matter of time before the burgeoning entrepreneur realized the potential of his new creation. Originally called "The Facebook," one received immediate cache upon invitation, in the early days at least. A world away from MySpace's free-for-all webpage design structure, "Facebook" (the "the" was dropped early on) was a clean, organized way to present your internet identity to the world. Once the site went fully mainstream, accessible to any and everyone, it vanquished it's rivals, dominating the social networking market to this day. Overnight Zukerberg's elitist online club became a social force to rival Google.

So why? What is it about Facebook? How did an elitist online club for Ivy-League brats turn into the most important trend of the decade? As in comedy the answer is always: timing, timing and timing. The world of social networking was being explored as far back as AOL Member Profiles (Remember those?) and the early aughts proved a viable crucible for competing design schemes and website structures. In retrospect it should have been clear to all media barons that Social Networking was bound to become a central part of social reality in the 21st Century and yet the major Internet tech companies like Google and Microsoft offered little in this format. Social Networking, thank God, was left to the amateurs and entrepreneurs. It was just a matter of which site found the secret ingredients to provide the most viable and addictive service. The alchemy of Internet success in this arena was, as yet, a mystery. The turning point was when Facebook opened up it's website to open-source 3rd-party applications, facilitating all manner of programs and services on the site. Sure, most of these applications ended up annoying users, like the ubiquitous "poking" applications, but overall the business plan was steady and open to endless improvement. In short order, Facebook went from an alternative social network for those outside the MySpace universe to the only viable convergence point of social networking on the Internet.

Facebook has become as much a place as a website. A nexus of actual identity and web persona, Facebook is both a representation of a person's external self and a subjective representation of their own sense of identity. Online chats, wall commentary, photo tagging, private messaging - all have become as substantial as most corporeal interchanges between persons, the virtual realm asserting itself as not merely a supplement to "real" interaction but a full-on replacement of it.

A person's Facebook page is a delicate destination. A locus of personal thoughts and feelings as articulated by a user's myriad preferences in books, movies and television shows, Facebook is also a repository for evidence about an individual's social side, with endless tagged photographs of a subject bleary-eyed at drunken parties or other such embarrassing candid moments. As the site has grown to dominate its market Facebook's users (meaning about everyone) have only grown to rely on the site more and more. Reading one's friends one-line status updates with the ferocity of a Talmudic scholar, one's social connections are as virtual now as they are real. Were are not replacing the real, merely expanding it's boundaries. This expansion, the dissolution of borders between actual and virtual identity, is the aughts' greatest legacy. A legacy that will only continue to grow and expand as our technology further blurs our knee-jerk notions about reality and the way in which we interact with it and each other.

Facebook was the victor in the aughts' battles of social networking. The site is a crossroads for all travelers to swap stories and exchange ideas, to post photos and update one's "stutus," which, when considered existentially, is quite an update to make on a daily basis. Facebook is now embedded in the very texture of contemporary society; to not be a part of it is to withdraw in some extent from modernity itself, so sweeping is the influence of Zukerberg's creation.

And for these myriad reasons we find Facebook the aughts' most influential and important trend. Now excuse me while I update my profile with the news.

You AUGHT to remember.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

#2 - Hipsters

It was the decade when...

Apathy was the new black.

Like the hippie of the sixties and the yuppie of the eighties, the aughts too featured their own archetypal personality, a persona born of the ideological vacuum left by a post-cold war world and cauterized in the anxious miasma of a post 9/11 America. The hipster, raised in the affluent and vacuous 90's, is a child of privilege who, without rejecting his bourgeois roots like the hippies before him, merely attempts to neutralize the fact by ironically appropriating the aesthetic of the working class. Not to be confused with solidarity, this arch performance is a variety of liberal guilt that's been internalized and then regurgitated as self-conscious meta-commentary. A hipster is not dressed so much as costumed, each item and accessory meticulously chosen to juxtapose a hipster's privilege with their assumed blue-collar aesthetic. At the root of every Hipster-ism is the tension between authenticity and artifice, the hipster embracing the latter as if it was a variety of the former. Hipsters are truly fake in the most literal sense of the term.

There has always been bohemians dwelling in certain enclaves of urban centers, loci of struggling young artists, writers, thinkers, revolutionaries and philosophers who, despite what might be a middle-class or aristocratic background divert themselves from the mainstream path to success; one might think that hipsters offer little new in the way of social phenomenon. This is missing the crucial point. Whereas all other Bohemian movements, from the Belle Epoque world of Puccini's La Boheme, to the beatniks in the 50's to the hippies in the 60's, have sought out alternate enclaves of living in order to better seek out the grand philosophical ideas of truth, beauty and authenticity. The hipster is the negation of these ideals, deliberately rejecting such quests as vain exercises by sentimental people naive enough to believe in these antiquated ideas. The hipster instead exists as a living quotation mark, every facet of the personality a tacit rejection of any all proactive assertions. The Hipster is the death of hope, for hope implies an ability to rectify contradictions and achieve progress. A hipster's existence is a censure of all efforts to viscerally engage with the word in anything but an ironic context. In this way the Hipster is, of course, the extension of post-modern thought as applied to an actual individual; post-modernism taken, as it were, "to the end," penetrating the very essence of subjectivity. If post-modernism's central tenet is it's rejection of modernism's obsession with "the new" and "the true," (replacing such ideals with the negation of meaning) then the Hipster is the movement's living breathing foot soldiers.

Being a Bobo, a cousin of the Hipster but absent the pretense, my interaction with the aughts more prominent social group has been mostly tangential. A social phenomenon replete with analytical interest, my feelings toward the group have always been apathetic at best. Seeing how apathy is the dominant stance of a hipster toward, well, everything, the reaction is not without some appropriateness.

If the earnestness and "free-love" flower-power dreams of the 60's seem silly to jaded modern eyes at least we can say that the Hippies really believed in their dreams of social progress, free-love and liberated consciousness. True Hipsters, believing only in irony, exist in an ocean of ill-matching yet meticulously chosen signifiers, undoing all meaning rather than bolstering it. Neither left nor right, political ideologies are something to be undermined and not endorsed - a lazy cynicism about progress is a staple of the hipster diet. But, maybe this is the end of history; Francis Fukuyama's dream of capitalist democracy's triumph is, in fact, true, but the price we pay is that we all morph into self-referential, uber-sarcastic, consumption pod people who, in capitalism's sneakiest trick, think that this very consumption is the purest expression of our individualism. Self-obsession and the free-market go hand-in-hand, and by being too "meta" to believe in meta-narratives anyway, the hipster is nothing if not the most intense of naval gazers, all the while, like a moth to a flame, subscribing subconsciously to the most insidious kind of groupthink, conforming to the most rigid and insidious social standards.

The most insidious aspect of Hipsterism is its illusion of authenticity. In order for this grand post-modern gambit to work, the Hipster himself must be convinced that his tastes and aesthetics are entirely determined by a solipsistic self-awareness which allows him to pursue his tastes and cultivate his style based on his little more than own subjective appetites. It's a variation on a old joke: I wouldn't want to belong to any club that I had to be member of. Going by self-disclosure, there is no such thing as a Hipster; all candidates would easily deny their inclusion in this non-group. The Hipster just "digs what he digs," it's all just personal preference. To admit any solidarity with any "movement" or "scene" is to confess a kind of positive engagement with social reality, a reality that Hipsters claim to be above. To be a Hipster is to be deeply conformist yet wholly unaware of this fact. That is the ultimate irony. It's an irony which must never be spoken of lest such a breach rupture the whole architecture of disaffection that is the Hipsters raison d'etre.

In case you haven't noticed, I don't like Hipsters. I suspect the only way to eradicate this hipster problem is satiric ridicule.

You AUGHT to remember.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

An Interim: What are the top two?

Hi readers. Here we are, on the cusp on the Teens, saying goodbye (and good riddance) to our beloved aughts. Any idea what the top two selections might be? What are the two most prominent features of the decade not yet mentioned? I'd be curious to hear what you think. Of course, I know what they are but then again....I'm writing the thing! The correct guess undying respect!

#3 - 9/11

It was the decade when...

Reality showed Roland Emmerich what for.

Decades do not begin on January 1st. They begin when an transitional event occurs, re-calibrating the social coordinates of society; a moment of Hegelian flummox in which the past recedes backwards, turing yesterday into ancient history. Though almost two years had elapsed, the aughts did not really begin until the beautiful morning of September 11, 2001. There is little need here for me to recount the horrible events of that day, or to analyze the myriad ways in which 9/11 fundamentally altered our very identity as Americans. We know all this already. Best perhaps simply to remember, and most importantly...never forget.

You AUGHT to remember.

#4 - YouTube

It was the decade when...

We got a whole new kind of boob tube to waste our time on.

Once upon a time there was no YouTube. That time: 2004. Not so long ago. YouTube released its Beta version in February of 2005. It officially launched in November of that year. By 2006 it was impossible to imagine life without the site. I think the wheel took longer to be embraced upon invention. By the end of 2006, TIME magazine was calling "You" the person of the year and everything from entertainment to politics had been transformed by the still nascent website. Though there had long been video on the Internet, the perception of the World Wide Web pre aught-five was still that of a primarily text based interface. YouTube was a major catalyst in turning the internet into the multimedia platform it is today. The site was the most democratic form of media distribution ever invented, handing to the laymen the opportunity to turn their private home videos and amateur mini-movies into cultural phenomenon at no cost whatsoever. Sure competition was stiff but, when a video did break through the cacophonous din and "went viral," shared from one user to the next like an internet social disease, the impact was felt from coast to coast, water-cooler conversations all but dominated by suggestions of clips to view.

Given the multiplicity of content on YouTube, its interesting that the website still has the reputation of being, essentially, the worlds biggest interactive collection of America's Funniest Home Videos. Though there is no Bob Sagat lurking about making cornball jokes, it is true that many of YouTube's biggest smashes were of this low-fi, pratfall variety: Cats playing piano, skateboarders flying off of ramps, Helen Keller falling of the stage in an amateur production of The Miracle Worker (my personal favorite). The more asinine the better, America's appetite for the silly knew no limits. And, given YouTube's five-minute video time limit, such easily digestible folderol made sense.

While these videos are without question a popular dimension of YouTube's appeal, the power of the website resides elsewhere. In the political arena gaffes by candidates are inevitable. Only in the aughts however could a gaffe be recorded once and then easily accessed by millions of users over and over and over again. (And linked to on Facebook pages and blogged about and twittered and....) Those campaigns not hip to this sea change often found themselves embarrassed and recoiling, like incumbent Virginia Senatorial candidate George Allen who, caught on tape in 2006 using the racial slur "macaca" at a rally, was later forced to apologize for the slip. Yeah, he lost. Many other such political moments got the YouTube treatment, changing the democratic process in America forever.

Creative entrepreneurs have also taken advantage of the site, in some cases transforming their YouTube videos into full-blown careers. Performer Liam Sullivan went from unknown to comedic sensation when he posted his now classic "Shoes" music video on YouTube in 2006. When Philadelphia videographer James Rolfe began comically reviewing the bottom-of-the-barrel video games of his youth, the persona of "The Angry Video Game Nerd" was born. Rolfe even had a cool theme song. Before long he was hired by to be an exclusive feature of the site. Jeffery Self and Cole Escola were two unemployed 20-something friends just bored enough one day to start posting irreverent YouTube clips under the moniker the VGL Gay Boys. After a video about gay marriage in California went viral their popularity skyrocketed. Hollywood came a-knocking and before long the duo had their own TV show on Logo television, a gay Rowan and Martin for the internet age. The VGL Gays Boys, like Liam Sullivan and the Angry Video Game Nerd, are but a few examples of the awesome opportunities granted anyone with a computer and imagination in the 21st Century. The world of YouTube is littered with such success stories.

YouTube created its own universe of memes. Reaction videos to 2 Girls, 1 Cup being a paradigmatic example, much of YouTube became a matter of call and response in the aughts; a single video inspiring a slew of responses, remixes and parodies. Yes it was funny when we heard the audio tape of Christian Bale excoriating a crew member on the Terminator set, a verbal parade of purple profanity and mean-spirited sarcasm to make David Mamet envious. It was even funnier, however, when the clip was overlaid onto the viral sensation "David at the Dentist," the whole becoming so much more than the sum of its parts. Even narcotic use was effected by the site; the (legal) psychtropic Salvia came to be known as the "YouTube drug," the substances five-minute high perfect for recording and uploading for all the world to see. Video trends took on a life of their own. Beyonce's Single Ladies dance is almost better known because of its myriad parodies than for the original video itself. Yes, the aughts were a decade when pop culture could be endlessly rejiggered to one's own taste. After Chris Cocker gained national attention for screaming "Leave Britney Alone!" into his computer screen it was hours, not days, before parodies started to proliferate YouTube. Even celebrities like Seth Green got into the act with his own spoof of Cocker's teary-eyed missive, acutely aware that going viral is the way to stay relevant in 21st Century media.

The amount of content on YouTube now is staggering. Getting ever closer to the fantasy of watching whatever you want to, whenever you want to, and for free, YouTube has changed media consumption forever. Not one to let a major internet hub fall into other hands, Internet giant Google purchased YouTube in 2006 for over a billion dollars, eventually discontinuing their own YouTube-esque service "Google Video." With camera phones now offering instant YouTube uploading there will be no limits to peoples ability to document and share their lives with the world. Hell, we're there now. YouTube was the aughts' most perspicuous example of the paradigm shift toward user-driven content in mass media. The question is whether at the end of the next decade there will be any big-media left whatsoever, or will YouTube be all; the whole of media completely decentralized and fragmented yet located and uploaded onto one website? It's possible.

You AUGHT to remember.

Monday, December 28, 2009

#5 - American Idol

It was the decade when...

An Idol was no longer a golden calf.

American Idol - A series of memories

I remember Kelly Clarkson, voice sand-papery as Tom Waits after a bender and as teary as a newly crowned beauty queen, squawking her way through the First Season's climatic ballad A Moment Like This for what felt like the 20th time. Indeed, American Idol became a new kind of Miss (or Mr.) America for the 21st century. Only bigger. Kelly Clarkson couldn't have known it when she became Idol's first reigning champ but, the show was about to change (and dominate) the music industry in the aughts, the winner all but guaranteed a one-way ticket to super-stardom. And the runner-up, in the case of the Justin Guarini (he of Sideshow Bob coiffure), a one-way ticket to total irrelevance.

I remember Clay Aiken, eliminated during prelims, getting the chance to redeem himself as a wild card selection by singing Elton John's Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me, nailing every note and giving Idol one of its greatest, and cheesiest, performances ever. Somewhere Barry Manilow was smiling. Clay would go on to win America's heart but lose the competition. Ruben Studdard, a performer whose repertoire of gestures while performing consisted of a numerous ONE. (Smile earestly, Place hand to heart, then reach out. Keep smiling) took the top spot. Clay, you were robbed. But it's OK because now you're a big happy gay daddy.

I remember Fantasia (easily the best name for a pop star since Madonna), acting like she had already won the competition, sitting down stage center, delivering George Gershwin's Summertime with more soul than any American Idol contestant had ever before or would ever again. When the single mother took the prize later on in the season, it all just felt like a bygone conclusion. Fantasia remains, despite her lack of mega-selling records, at once the rawest and most polished talent Idol has discovered.

I remember Dunkleman. Sorta. Do you?

I remember William Hung, a man who did the impossible. From an ocean of horrible auditions - a veritable smorgasbord of delusional losers, attention hungry pranksters, ostentatiously costumed narcissists, and mentally unstable psychos - one man sunk so low he reached new heights. William Hung, performing the now definitive rendition of Ricky Martin's She Bangs at his American Idol audition, was so atrociously awful, so deliciously inappropriate, so the opposite of talented, that the "singer" became nothing short of a celebrity in his own right. Public appearances followed, as did a record deal. Some of Idol's top 10 contestants can't boast that. Was Hung a performance artist whose act demonstrated a deconstructionist critique on the concept of "talent" and "fame?" Or maybe he was just the kid in the class who didn't know that he was being made fun of. Probably the latter. Hung, alas, dropped out of UCBerkeley to pursue his music career. The Grammys have not been forthcoming. Hung's fame brings to the fore one of Idol's most troubling elements: its cruel, (admittedly) hilarious, and ethically dubious audition process. Sure, many of the show's more over-the-top wanna-bes are cognizant enough to realize the nature of the dog and pony show that they are about to put themselves through. Many court the shame. But a great swath of the contestants appear truly convinced of their own aptitude for Pop stardom, only to be laughed out of the room by the judge's panel (and, through extension, by America). These individuals, often decidedly void of social skills and marginally disturbed, are paraded in front of a snide and salivating public who, eager to gawk at the freaks, live vicariously through the judge's caustic and dismissive remarks. William Hung was a success story of a sort I suppose. To call it a triumph of mediocrity would give Hung too much credit. Perhaps his narrative is more a revenge of the un-gifted. And, like most revenge, it's ultimately unsatisfying. And so we are left with question: Who was this joke on anyway? Hung? Or us?

I remember "nice judge" Paula Abdul promoting Idol on Seattle local news, sounding like she had spent the morning doing body shots to help the Quaaludes go down easier. She was rarely more coherent on the show.

I remember Melinda Doolittle singing like a superstar week after week and then, maddeningly, acting as demure as some virginal giesha during her interactions with the judges. Having misplaced her neck week after week, Doolittle nonetheless consistently displayed utter showmanship with her full-throttle, highly focused and vocally controlled performances. To make My Funny Valentine tolerable to hear yet again is an achievement. To make it one of the best performances in Idol history? That's a miracle. Her Achilles's heel: the girl couldn't take a compliment. It's hard for America to put you on a pedestal if you act like a doormat. She was voted off before the finals.

I remember Simon and Ryan, sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g. Just kidding. I mean, that's silly. I mean, it's not like they are making homophobic gay innuendos at each other all the time or anything. I mean, not on a show that only featured an (kinda) openly gay contestant in its most recent season. I mean, nah, they would never kiss, in a tree or elsewhere. I mean, that would just be gay.

I remember Sanjaya's hair. We must all worship Sanjaya's hair. A pompadour of endless mutability, the skinny Indian boy's one-of-a-kind coiffure gave a far better performance on Idol than the singer did, Sanjaya himself being Idol's worst top-10 contestant in the show's history. But the hair, that was a thing of beauty. A piece of modern art to be displayed in a museum and pondered over. Or perhaps vacuum sealed and dissected in a lab. Or maybe pickled and left in the catacombs of a church the way they do the rotting appendages of Saints. The locks of Mr. Malakar are a national treasure and must be preserved!

I remember some blond boy bursting out into strange popping noises in the middle of his song. Trying to bring a unique spin to his performances Blake Lewis utilized his mad skillz as a beat boxer on America Idol in the biggest effort yet to turn the art form into a mainstream trend. And the boy was good. Since Blake's second-place finish, the results have not been promising; Beat Boxing remains a fringe music style. Were all of Blake's efforts for naught? Not really. There are some consolations to be had. For example, everyone knows who you're talking about when you reference "that beat-box guy."

And finally, I remember Adam Glambert, who, employing the magic of eye liner, black hair dye and vocal cords of indestructible carbon microfiber (well, one assumes) gave artistically limping American Idol (Lambert would have eaten the previous season's runner up, Bop! magazine ready David Archuleta, for breakfast) a shot of pure Ziggy Stardust-quality. Deeply anachronistic, Lambert's theatrical, glam-rock persona was a throwback to a musical era of high artifice, ambiguous sexuality, and musical experimentation. Perhaps this is the reason that, despite the consistently brilliant performances delivered by the leather lunged rock n' roller, the more palatable, "good 'ol Southern boy," Kris Allen ended up snatching the prize away from Glambert's black fingernailed hands. America's tastes remain guarded. David Cook, that's edgy. Adam Lambert, that's full on Studio 54 territory. But Kris Allen's victory was Pyrrhic; since the finale the media coverage has been focused not on the apple-cheeked winner but on his flamboyant runner-up.

You AUGHT to remember.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

#6 - The Great Recession

It was the decade when...

The free market cost us a whole lot.

Greed was very good in the aughts. Goaded on by the radical free-market zealots populating the Bush administration, the American economy resembled not so much a self-regulating system in the invisible hand paradigm of Adam Smith as it did a full-blown Reno casino with the taxpayers tied to the roulette wheel. And like a frothy-mouthed gambling addict on a lucky streak, there is no stopping the madness until it was too late. During the better part of the aughts, for the sharks within the financial system, times were good indeed: the Cristal champagne flowed at crowded velvet-roped clubs, credit was loose, and the word "bonus" came to mean a nothing short of a small fortune. The Masters of The Universe were back, "the hostile takeover" being replaced by "the credit default swap" as the archetypal dubious financial transaction of the decade. Complex mathematical financial models, totally inaccessible to laymen, became the backbone of our financial system, an apparatus so complex that even its practitioners didn't fully understand how the economy was working. All that mattered was profit, and, for some, there was plenty of that.

Sub-Prime loan. The quality of the investment is advertised in its name. You think that people making, oh, 20k a year (if that) would know better than to buy a $500,000 home but, hoodwinked by mountebanks peddling low-interest rates and manageable monthly payments, these sad-sacks couldn't help but reach for the American Dream when the carrot of home-ownership was dangled above their heads. "What's an Adjustable Rate Mortgage you ask? Don't you worry your pretty little head about that, that's just technical gobbledygook." And as these real estate robber barons bundled and sold the mortgages to ever-higher strata of financial institutions, the real estate bubble swelled to the point that the whole American economy rested upon the ricketiest of foundations. The pillars of American finance were weighed down with mounds of bad debt that could never be repaid. What happened when all these checks suddenly came due? What happen when that adjustable rate mortgage, well, adjusted? Let me put it thusly: did you ever play Jenga?

After the housing bubble burst, the shock-wave rippled through our economy, all but leveling its totemic institutions to the ground. The wealth of America had become little more than a slight-of-hand trick orchestrated by a few ingenious and unscrupulous bankers who put momentary profits ahead of sound long-term financial planning.

The narrative of the collapse of 2008 is now legendary. A domino metaphor is almost too easy to describe what took place in the fall of last year; perhaps a Nagasaki analogy is actually more fitting: it all just blew up in our faces. A mushroom cloud of cash whose fallout will prove radioactive for years to come. Lehman Bros was the first to fall. The headline was almost unthinkable but, there it was on the front page: Lehman Bros. files for bankruptcy. It was clear that this was a whole new depth of fissure in the capitalist system. Washington Mutual followed suit, the biggest bank failure in American history. It was looking like 1929 again. Insurance giant AIG was next on the chopping block when the United States Government performed a deus ex machina, saving the institution (and maybe the nation) from total financial ruin.

The economic collapse did provide America a living receptacle of loathing, disgust and resentment. His name was Bernie Madoff and, if history is just, the "Ponzi scheme" is no more; "Madoff scheme" will do very well, thank you! Stealing billions (billions!) of dollars from his investors, Madoff kept up his deceitful charlatanism for years, the robust economy allowing him to delay paying the piper as long as business was good. When the bull turned into a bear, and a really mean bear at that, there was no where else to hide. Madoff was through, his investors were broke, and America finally got a sense of just how corrupt and insane the world of finance had become. Yet Madoff is something of a whipping boy. Though he was without question corrupt, Madoff was, in a sense, a product of a system that encouraged behavior which, if not downright illegal, teetered ever so close to impropriety. Viewing Madoff as a singular and isolated example of corruption is to to ignore the myriad Bernie Madoffs that operated within the confines of a deregulated and corrupt system. These 21st Century Gordon Gekkos may have not broken the law but they nonetheless plundered America, turning our entire economy into a big game of "hot potato." Guess who was left holding the vegetable when the music stopped? That's right. All of us.

If there is a silver lining to the bleak clouds that now hover over America it is to be found in the resurgence of liberal Keynesian economics. If the crisis of '08 doesn't put the final nail in the coffin of Monetarism then we are all doomed. The economic meltdown has thoroughly discredited lassez-faire mandarins like Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan, the latter of whom finally admitted that he "found a flaw" in the system. "I don’t know how significant or permanent it is. But I’ve been very distressed by that fact." Well, about time you stopped jerking off to Atlas Shrugged and took a gander at the real world Mr. Greenspan.

"Experts" like Greenspan set the stage for this grand drama to unfold, blindly confident in the all-powerful wisdom of the "market." What we're left with is a disaster on a par with nothing in America since the crash of '29. But there is also hope. Hope of a future where greed may be kept in check by powerful regulatory forces and the "market" is utilized not as a grand schematic for all social organization but a tool, amenable to control, to help further the prosperity of society and welfare of the general populace. But, until these dreams are realized, we remain isolated in our private hoovervilles, singing the new anthem of The Great Recession: Brother can you spare a 401K?

You AUGHT to remember...

Saturday, December 26, 2009

#7 - Fake News

It was the decade when...

The real news seemed fake and the fake news seemed real.

Let's face it, a lot of shit went down this decade. Compared to the temperate seas of the 90's, a decade so devoid of dramatic news that years were spent obsessing over a presidential hummer, the aughts were a roiling tempest of global turbulence, financial meltdowns, ecological disasters, foreign wars and game-changing historical events which, when seen in totality, mark this as the most significant decade for news since the 1960's and maybe earlier.

The news itself was news this decade. With the method of information dissemination being reinvented daily by the Internet, traditional news sources found themselves scrambling to keep up and stay profitable. On television, all three of the long-standing grandfatherly network news anchors either retired or expired, and with their passing so too the primacy of "the Nightly News" as the central authoritative televised presentation of the days events. Even Walter Cronkite finally gave up the ghost. No television program would ever be able to fill the role that the "Nightly News" used to play, not in the fragmented and blog-filled world that we suddenly found ourselves living in. That being said, there was one news program in the aughts that reported the news thoroughly and accurately while at the same ladling the comic absurdity of the modern world over every story it reported. I am of course talking about The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, without question the decades most important news program.

Ushering in a golden age of satire The Daily Show with Jon Stewart reasserted irony as the primary weapon of truth-telling in civil society. The show was the news media's sarcastic conscience in an era of unabashedly biased cable networks, barking media "pundits," political "spin-rooms", and shrinking financial resources for bread and butter field reporting. The aughts were an era where sycophantic "reporters" with dubious credentials infiltrated the White House press corps, lobbing softball questions to GW in times of great national crisis. An era when the 24 hours news cycle amplified every political skirmish into a hysterical crisis only to be discarded and forgotten by the next day. An era in which the talk show host with the most stringent views or most outrageous performance skills garnered the highest ratings, truth and thoughtfulness be damned. It was in this context that The Daily Show, though far from unbiased, acquired a carapace of authority and integrity shared by no other television program. To those who counted on a fair analysis of the news The Daily Show became a nightly ritual for many Americans, replacing both late night talk and traditional evening news. Host Jon Stewart went from being a successful stand-up comic and sporadically employed film actor to the most trusted man in America. Eminently astute and endlessly hilarious, Stewart combined old-fashioned borscht belt humor and the hyper-intellectual comedy of Ivy League publications like the Harvard Lampoon, with a dose of Tim Russert's inquisitional rigor thrown in for good measure. Unlike the self-congratulatory echo-chambers of 24-hour news networks, The Daily Show actively courted intelligent debate of a kind not seen on television since William F. Buckley gave us his parting switchblade smirk on Firing Line.

The shows most important function was its role as a media watchdog, ruthlessly exposing the lunacy and hypocrisy of the "legitimate" cable news channels, which, in the show's meta-analysis of the field, come across as inane and opportunistic loci of blathering idiots and any-for-a-rating gambits. How else to explain Glenn Beck or CNN's Star Wars hologram? By dismantling the edifice of legitimacy that the "real news" claimed a monopoly on, the void left behind was to be filled by a different kind of program, one with no obligation to seriousness but which nonetheless was executed with the utmost of integrity. The Daily Show's ridicule of mainstream news paved the way for its own meteoric rise to success. When Jon Stewart appeared on CNN's long runing debate program Crossfire the comic all but torpedoed his hosts, turning his appearance into nothing less than a full-blown confrontation, accusing his hosts of "hurting America." The show was canceled a few months later, all but coronating Stewart as America's voice of reason.

The Daily Show grew so popular it became a miniature star factor with many of the series' correspondents moving on to widespread Hollywood success. Steve Carrell joined Judd Apatow's cadre, transforming himself into a major film star. He then conquered the small screen yet again as the read role in TV's hit sitcom The Office. Ed Helm's eventually joined Carrell on The Office and later landed big screen success in 2009's biggest comedy smash, The Hangover. Rob Courdroy too has cultivated a modest film career after his tenure on The Daily Show.

But it was former correspondent Stephen Colbert who turned his faux-newsman persona into a one-man cult of personality on The Daily Show's remarkable spin-off The Colbert Report. A lampoon of blowhard talk show hosts of a sort popular on Fox News, The Colbert Report is even purer satire than its source. Never breaking from his assumed egomaniacal pomposity and party-line conservatism, Stephen Colbert (the character, not the actor of the same name) is a textbook lesson in satirical construction. From the beginning Colbert had his finger on the pulse of America. Introducing the word "truthiness" into the American lexicon during his first episode, the word could arguably be the most vital addition to the American vocabulary in years. When Colbert was plucked to bring his act to the Annual Press Correspondent's Dinner in 2006 his set left the room in a dazed silence, the routine being a sustained and penetrating critique of the Bush Administration's policies and the press' coverage thereof. After bombing in person, when the footage hit the internet Colbert's speech immediately turned into a sensation, eventually running a victory lap as the most watched video on iTunes. It still remains one of the most overtly confrontational and politically brave moments by a member of the press during the Bush administration.

With The Daily Show and The Colbert Report (as well as their cousin in print, the sublimely hilarious weekly news periodical The Onion) satire and humor acted as the spoonful of sugar to help the medicine of go down. As real news veered ever closer to the precipice of absurdity, more and more did the silly and comic approximate the actual texture of reality, even when the truth was anything but funny. With an administration and congress more closely aligned with the ideological perspective of the Daily Show's creative team now in power, it remains to be seen if the show will be able to maintain its critical satiric edge. But whatever happens, without the fake news of the past ten years the real news would have simply been unbearable.

You AUGHT to remember...

Thursday, December 24, 2009

# 8 - Hooking-up

It was the decade when...

No one had "sex" anymore.

Note: College and Grad students, feel free to submit this essay as your own for a course in "Contemporary Neologisms and Hegelian Philosophy."

The Hookup: A Dialectic Analysis

In the aughts, one expression has surged in popularity, especially among the young. One expression embodied, in itself, a shift in the culture's sexual mores. This shift, I hope to prove, could not have occurred without the expression, the language facilitating the needed symbolic restructuring that social pressures demanded. Eventually, so common was the expression's use that it itself began to alter behavioral patterns, as opposed to merely accommodating them.

I am, of course, talking about "hooking-up," the aughts' catch-all term for any casual sexual interaction. By deconstructing the subtle ways in which the word functions, we can analyze both how behavior dictates language and, reciprocally, how language dictates behavior. A dialectic analysis allows us to trace the evolution of the expression and its widespread integration in society.

Employing the dialectic concepts of thesis, anti-thesis and synthesis we can trace how "hooking-up" became such a dominant phrase in our collective vocabulary. In a traditional dialectic, within each thesis is a contradiction which leads to the antithesis -- which then brings about synthesis.

What was the thesis here? As the 21st century approached, a generation was coming of age that had never lived through the sexual revolution of the sixties or the gender politics of the seventies. Women were equals to men prima facie; they no longer had greater pressure to get married than men and were actively discouraged from having children at too young an age. Concurrently, sexual interactions outside of marriage were by now the norm, safe-sex education and the pill rendering the activity consequence-free for those responsible enough to take precautions. The result was a society where casual sex, of one sort or another, was becoming more and more prominent.

And here we arrive at the contradiction. Even though social pressures were creating a need for loose and easily-disposable romantic detachments, the lexicon of terms to describe this variety of sexual behavior was wanting. Options of expression were limited and inadequate. There was a severity to saying that you "had sex." The disclosure was too invasive, too clear, too forward. It was even worse to "make love" when obviously you were doing no such thing. Expressions with a more casual feel were tainted by a misogynistic cant: "Get laid," "scored," "hit a home run," "got some," "nailed her" (which is almost impossible to imagine or make sense of with the opposite pronoun, continuing a tradition of male-centric slang descriptions of sex)," are but a few examples. They all share a view of sex as conquest, a vantage point almost always masculine in perspective. Suddenly these terms began to sound as antiquated as "free love." There simply was no word to express the new sexual politics of the 21st century.

What kind of language would be required to accommodate these new social pressures? It would have to be gender neutral, for one; women as much as men were engaging in this casual sexual behavior, and it sometimes involved two women or two men. It would have to deflate the importance of sex, making the activity as mundane and routine as walking the dog or getting a latte. It would need to maintain a certain level of discretion, allowing people to discuss the topic without admitting much in the way of specifics. And finally, it should allude to easy detachment. "Hooking-up" was the perfect candidate.

Already an expression in common - though different - usage before the aughts, to "hook-up" with someone meant little more than to meet them in person. It was inevitable in retrospect that the word would get re-appropriated to imply, now almost exclusively, some sort of sexual interaction. This re-appropriation was the anti-thesis to the contradiction created by a vocabulary and social climate that were deeply mismatched. "Hooking-up" could mean anything from a stolen smooch at a party to full-blown intercourse. In either case, one was not inclined to press the point further and inquire just what a person meant when they said they had "hooked-up" with someone. "Hooking-up" was a catch-all; a phrase allowing people to both confess their intimate behavior to others and simultaneously reveal almost nothing. The verb "to hook" was the perfect symbolic image for interpersonal connection in the aughts. Hooking implies easy unhooking. Other verbs in the vicinity carry with them a deeper sense of permanence: to link, to join, to latch, to meld. Hooking, with its intimations of tenous permanence, was the ideal metaphor for sex in the aughts.

As the phrase caught on we reached the synthesis point in the dialectic. From first accommodating new social realities, the phrase began to proactively create them. "Hooking-up," as an expression more than an activity, normalized casual sex to such a degree that inhibitions against such behavior were slackened to the point of non-existence. "Hooking-up" became an expectation, a fully integrated aspect of modern life for the young. Language, not merely expressing our ideas, actively sets the coordinates of our social reality, creating culture, not just defining it. There needs to be a stabilization between external behaviors and internal representations of such behaviors, these representations being embodied by words and expressions. The relationship is a two way street. The important thing is that they not get too misaligned; such tensions, as seen in the early aughts, can lead to dramatic change, both within a individual and society as a whole.

Does "Hooking-up" have a half-life in our collective consciousness, or is the notion here to stay? I suspect the former. The synthesis of the dialectic that brought us to this point may itself be a new thesis with its own internal contradictions. The cagey ambiguity at the center of the expression - its failure to express much at all - implies a certain retrograde prudishness that we still hold with us. There is something dishonest about "hooking-up," something delusional. "Hooking-up" takes away the sex from sex, neutralizing its awesome power. We still feel anxiety about the broken down gender roles and sexual negotiations that the modern world foists upon us, unable as we are to integrate a truly coherent sexual ethos into a world where procreation can be accomplished in a lab and men and women share social equality (in theory if not practice). "Hooking-up" may not, in the final analysis, resolve this neurotic predicament. It's a temporary solution to a long-term problem: the human animal.

You AUGHT to remember...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

#9 - Reality TV

It was the decade when...

Reality got really fake.

Growing like a cancer throughout the Aughts, Reality TV began as a benign fad that quickly metastasized into a full-blown fixture of television programming, threatening the health of the entire medium. Reality TV was junk food: cheaply made, bad for your health, greasy, deeply addictive and prone to cause indigestion. Never had the term boob tube seemed so apropos. As the appetite of the audience grew more and more insatiable, the competition to create new content devolved fast into a race to the bottom, the shows growing ever more outlandish and sensationalistic. With nearly as many channels as there were viewers to watch them, the need for cheap and salacious material to stand apart from the fray became all consuming.

And who were the stars of Reality TV? From the evidence on display in show after show, the only casting criterion was that you be as unreal as possible. A unappetizing lot of stripper skanks, desperate nobodies, muscular meatheads, nerds with the social skills of small rodents, and celebrities climbing their way back onto the D-list, the stars of reality television were Hollywood's shortbus of non-talent would-bes and has-beens. Though they all ostensibly have passed psychological exams, watching the programs one would be hard pressed not to suspect that a few unscrupulous doctors were slipped a bribe or two; how else to explain the Charenton Asylum level of insanity on display?

As the decade wore on the format consolidated into recognizable mini-genres, each with their own cliches and quirks. A quick run-down of the two most popular, and abysmal, types:

Celebrity Verite
Beginning with the surprise success of The Osbournes, Celebrity Verite was one of reality television's most durable genres. The idea: take a quirky, off-beat celebrity and document their daily life, it's bound to be entertaining. The Osbournes worked because, despite the obvious eccentricities of its leading man, the show captured an honest dynamic of family life. As with all reality TV trends, when series came and went the spark of originality soon disappeared, replaced instead by ridiculously contrived scenarios and spontaneity-free dialogue. Whatever gonzo verisimilitude made The Osbournes a surprising charmer is totally absent from more recent Celebrity Verite exercises. The unwatchable Keeping Up With Kardashians is proof enough of that. Other prominent examples: The Anna Nicole Show (Anna Nicole Smith), Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica (Lachey and Simpson), The Simple Life (Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie), Hey Paula! (Ms. Abdul), Hammertime (M.C. Hammer), Hogan Knows Best (Hulk Hogan), The Girls Next Door (Hugh Hefner), The Two Coreys (Haim and Feldman), Tori and Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood (Tori Spelling), My Life on the D-List (Kathy Griffin) and Being Bobby Brown (Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston).

Reality Romance
Reality dating (quite opposed to dating in reality) in the Aughts began with a sour note, the now legendary Who Wants To Marry a Millionaire, a one-night special aired on Fox in 2000 in which a terrified blonde named Darva Conger found herself betrothed to a "multi-millionaire" with a lounge singers name, Mr. Rick Rockwell. The marriage, it need be noted, did not last. It wasn't even consummated. From this blatant glorification of gold-digging and misogyny, the only place to go was up. And yet, descent was achieved. With the bland Bachelor and Bachelorette as the template, dating shows became the most formulaic of all Reality TV. The Set-up was always the same: A central "bachelor" is looking for love. A harem of contenders longingly pines for their would-be suitor. A weekly event or outing or contest helps determine that weeks elimination, chosen, ostensibly, by the bachelor him/her self. At the end of the series our lead selects his/her soul-mate; riding off into the sunset together they live happily ever after. (Or at least until they receive residuals.) From show to show, the structure is practically set in stone.

The difference between one show from the next is the novel band of contenders that the producers select and whatever manipulative twist can be thrown in at the last minute to spice up the otherwise tired formula. Same-Sex romance was explored on Boy Meets Boy (gay bachleor, with both gay and - unbeknownst to the lead - straight boys vying for his affections) and the hastily canceled Playing It Straight (the exact opposite of Boy Meets Boy, with a bachelorette seeking a male companion). Those of ample appetites got their moment in the reality sun with More To Love, the dating show for people with waistlines as big as their hearts. Various has-been celebrities got into the act, looking for love as the star of their own dating reality show. Tilla Tequila swung both ways on A Shot at Love, while Brett Michaels made it his goal to nail each of the contestants on the ludicrously skanky "Rock Of Love." Rap star and human timepiece Flava Flav scored big ratings with his show, Flavor of Love. It lasted three seasons despite its star finding true love at the end of each iteration. Curious. Failed Flavor of Love contestant "New York" proved so popular that the outlandish loudmouth got two seasons of her own dating extravaganza, I Love New York.

Fooling no one, the pretense of romance on any of these programs is about as authentic as Tila Tequila's breasts. That's not the appeal. We just like to watch the carnival. The freak-show is alive and in full force. My favorite of the genre? Joe Millionaire, the 2003 Fox dating show in which a gaggle of airheads think they are being courted by a dashing young millionaire only to be told in the finale that he is, in fact, a construction worker. The show was nasty, ridiculous and impossible to stop watching.

The structure of reality dating has been copied in other reality shows from America's Next Top Model to Scream Queens to the dating-in-all-but-name Brody Jenner vehicle Bromance. The format itself has gotten so old it almost makes one pine for the days of Love Connection.

Of course there is so much more to Reality TV! I didn't even get to talk about the surfeit of dance-focused shows like So You Think You Can Dance or Dancing With The Stars. And what about competition programs like the original reality phenom Survivor or Emmy darling The Amazing Race! Wife Swap gave us the "God warrior" as well as Richard Heene, the man who would go on to give us the hoax of the decade - the balloon boy. And RuPaul's Drag Race! I didn't even get to talk about RuPaul's Drag Race! Our cups runneth over...

And lest anyone be concerned about my viewing habits after reading this, fear not; I don't actually watch this crap. I learn everything I needed to know from The Soup!

You AUGHT to Remember...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

#10 - Harry Potter and the Enchanted Bag of Money

It was the decade when...

Boarding school never looked so good.

Harry Potter was the Aughts' biggest franchise, a series of books (and later movies) that cast a spell not merely on children but the whole of civil society. To call them "childrens books" is akin to calling the Atlantic Ocean a really big lake. Grown men and women showed no qualms when reading the books in public, often on on park benches and on subway trains, all but advertising their devotion to the series. J.K. Rowling could do no wrong. It wasn't kosher amongst even the most pretentious of the intelligentsia to sneer at the books the way the same crowd did (and should have) for the two other publishing bombshells of the decade, The Da Vinci Code and Twilight. Take that same superior attitude toward the Potter books and you were likely to lose friends fast. Rowling's creation was critic proof, despite whatever Harold Bloom says.

By the time the door-stopper of a final Harry Potter book came out, the release was greeted with the kind of promotional roll-out usually reserved for Michael Bay films or Olympic ceremonies. Deep queues of people dressed as Hufflepuffs and Slytherins waited for hours outside bookstores to grab their midnight copy of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, which, after their persistence and patience, they proceeded to read until completion in the wee small hours of the morning. No book can, or maybe ever will, receive such a mardi-gras of celebration upon release. When the smoke had cleared, the series had sold over 400 Million copies and had been translated into over 67 languages. Rowling, who had once subsisted on the government's dole, heads into the next decade a billionaire.

The trick of Harry Potter was Rowling's employment of a traditional coming-of-age narrative filtered through enchanted cheesecloth, creating a "magic" world that was, in fact, analogous to our own. Hogwarts was in most important respects like any boarding school, except at Hogwarts one could converse with the portraiture or learn how to brew aphrodisiacs in chemistry class. Though the muggle (that's Potterian for non-wizard) world seemed anemic and bland next to the Hogwarts fairly-tale, look deeper and its clear that each was but a reflection of the other. All the magic in Harry Potter can be read as a parody of more mundane realities. Even Quidditch, the most popular sport no one has ever played, is little more than an elaborate game of soccer (excuse me, football) taken into the third dimension.

Rowling's myth-making was not the genesis-like creation of an entirely new imaginative eco-system, as was the case with fantasy classics by Tolkien and (dare, I say) George Lucas. Rather than inventing her menagerie of enchanted fauna from thin air, Rowling's potpourri of character types are a grand buffet of mythic creatures and traditional Christian and pagan bogeymen: Wizards and witches, dragons and trolls, giants and werewolves. Rowling was churning through the entire back-catalog of childhood fantasy to make her epic. But, underneath the spells and sorcery were adolescent realities: schoolwork, puberty, nascent sexuality, and the tenuousness of innocence and youth.

The Potter phenomenon did not begin in the Aughts (the first book was published in 1997), but it was the release of the first Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, in 2001, that kicked off Potter's march toward total cultural dominance. The following series of films based on the books have too been wildly successful in their medium. How successful? Well, all six of the films made so far are among the top 25-highest grossing movies of all time. That successful. And, for the most part, they have achieved artistic as well as commercial success. Though the first two films reek of a heavy-handed and antiseptic Hollywood aesthetic (the blame mainly falling on the director Chris Columbus' less-than-subtle approach), as the series pressed onwards Warner Bros. hired adventuresome and sophisticated directors, supplying greater depth and melancholy to the story. Alfonso Cuaron, Mike Newell, and David Yates have all sat at the director's chair, bringing their dinstictive styles to the property.

For the adults in the room the real joy comes from watching the entire payroll of the Royal Shakespeare Company gnaw at the expensive, stony scenery the way only a British thespian can. Has Alan Rickman, an actor with 16 variations of a sneer, ever been put to better use than in the role of Severus Snape? Could Ralph Fiennes be any more ominous and serpent-like as the Dark Lord Voldemort? And how genius is Maggie Smith as McGonagall, pursuing her lips with the hilariously submerged indignation and hysteria that only the two time Academy Award winner can summon? Or consider Emma Thompson as a batty "divination" instructor? Or Kenneth Branagh as...well, the list goes on. The brilliant cast is the series' secret weapon: not only are they all impeccable in their roles, they're English as Fish & Chips. An cast chock full of Sirs and Dames supplies a national authenticity (the Potter stories, for all their universal appeal, are as British as Brideshead Revisited or Coleman's Mustard) to a production as Hollywood generated and financed as a Transformers film.

When the final installment (halved into two films, lest the cow be anything but totally dry upon final milking) hits multiplexes starting next year, it will be the final curtain to Potters hegemonic dominance on childrens fantasy entertainment. Rowling, the most profitable writer in history, now finds herself with an impossible act to follow. Maybe she'll just spend the rest of her life dropping scandalous morsels of gossip about the characters from her books. Sure, we now know Dumbledore's a homo, but maybe Ms. McGonagall was actually a 60's radical. Or perhaps Ron grows up to become an S&M fetishist. The possibilities are endless. Meanwhile, the books will remain staples of a child's literary diet, easily on a mantle next to the best of Lewis Carrol or C.S. Lewis. Personally, I would like Rowling to keep telling Harry's story. He grew up with us, shouldn't he grow old with us too? Who wouldn't want to read Harry Potter and the Irreversible Herpes Spell? Or Harry Potter and the Cursed Marriage of Doom? And finally, we can't forget Harry Potter and Potter and the Mage's Magic Adult Diaper.

You AUGHT to remember...

Monday, December 21, 2009

#11 - Tweens

It was the decade when...

Grown men and women were forced to use the word "tween."

Pop quiz. Before you were a teenager you were a....what? Well, for almost all of human history you were, simply, a child. But, one day the early-mid aughts, some corporate douche (actual it was probably a whole boardroom full of doucheitude) realized that he could drum up a whole consumer base by inventing a new demographic to exploit. Enter the "Tween." As in, "inbetween." As in, "inbetween childhood and high school." Clever? I thought not. Those oh-so-magical years from 8-12, notoriously the worst of all youth (especially the later few, with the inchoate stirrings of puberty in the background), are now the focus of our national attention and the drain funneling away our excess cash. A demographic defined almost entirely by what it consumes, a tween cannot be extracted from their taste in music, or clothing brand loyalty or movie going habits. With almost all other media splintering down into more and more refined niches, the Tweens represent the last remaining monolithic mass market to advertise to. No group is more susceptible to slavish groupthink than a pre-teen, the age when solidarity with and acceptance by one's peers is paramount to ones own sense of identity. Sell to one, sell to all. You are what they buy. And they bought a lot. Tweens, funded by an apparently endless stream of cash from their dazed and clueless parents, shopped with the abandon and mouth-foaming need that only a child could summon guiltlessly, when cost is nothing and obtainment is all. I don't think there were a lot of piggybanks cracked open, it was more like an ATM.

A massive, synaptic-ally interconnected, multi-platform, synergistically marketed network of TV shows, pop bands, movie-musicals, fantasy-novels, clothing brands, and video games - to those in the matrix Tweendom is all. It's celebrities are just the biggest things ever! The music's like, the most fun in the world. Duh! To those unplugged, Tween culture is a hermetically sealed media-dome, inaccessible to those outside yet totally transparent; the tweens themselves were a kind of body-snatched alien race living amongst us. The circular totality of Tween culture is its most amazing feature. Tweens were a self-contained subculture that metastasized into the decade's most game-changing (and profitable) pop-culture phenomenon.

Acting as a kind of central ventricular pump for all things Tween, the Disney Channel hatched more bankable stars this decade than anything other media incubator. A locus of pre-sexual romantic angst, blandly cheerful gonad-free pop, pixie-stick hyper situation comedies, and white-strip-print-ad-ready cherub superstars, the Disney Channel was ground zero for the pre-teen set in the Aughts. From here we can sketch our new Raphael-ian tableau. (The school of Athens? The playground of Tween!) To do so, I have to channel my inner 11-year-old-girl, so, here we go...

Oh My God! So like you have to talk about Zac first, cause he's like hottest boy evah! Seriously though, super serious now, he has really proved himself a worthy, like, mega-star since his debut in HSM. He has so pushed his mad skillz as an actor! Like, for example, he really stretched himself in Hairspray cause he went from playing a singing and dancing hunky high school student to like, a singing and dancing hunky high school student in like the 20's or 60's or, you know, ancient history. I totally bought it! But speaking of HSM..VANESSA! VANESSA HUDGENS! She is like, so beautiful and so talented and it's so not fair! And she gets to date Troy Bolton in HSM and then really date Zac in real life. Again...not fair!! Ok, yeah, she sexted. Like, so what? LOL! I totally love her. But not as much as I love JOE JONAS! He is the middle one in the Jonas Brothers and, OK, like I love them all, I do, I love all the Jonas Brothers, but totally the one. Just something about him is so dreamy. And you know he'll be totally a gentleman cause he always wears his purity ring. And of course, I can always listen to his music. Oh, and if you're gonna talk about awesome music you can't not talk about Miley. Miley Cyrus OMG! Only the most awesome biggest most amazing actress/singer/songwriter/dancer/producer ever!! The star of Hannah Montana, the best show on TV! Miley is like, everyones hero. I can't believe that you hadn't heard of her, she's like the most famous person on the planet, duh! Ok, gotta run, my Mom got tickets to the matinee of Wicked; I've seen it, like 10 times. I'm totally Galinda! Yeah..HSM, Jonas, Hannah Montana. That's all you need to know. There is like, totally so much more but I'm gotta go. CYA!

You AUGHT to remember...

#12 - The Metrosexual

It was the decade when...

Put-together straight men threw off everyone's gaydar.

I Am the Very Model of a Modern Metrosexual

I am the very model of a modern metrosexual
I have good taste in matters both specific and quite general.
I know that when a gent is getting ready to go out at night,
It's needed for his self-esteem that shoes and belt should match just right.

I'm very well acquainted too with fashions that are high couture,
From Prada shirts to Fendi belts to Marc Jacobs' entire oeuvre.
And 'cause my wardrobe closet overflows with clothes that I enjoy,
Now other members of my sex are calling me a girly boy!

[Now other members of his sex are calling him a girly boy!
Now other members of his sex are calling him a girly boy!
Now other members of his sex are calling him a girly boy!]

I'm very good at picking out real diamonds from Zirconia.
My ear for music, delicate as songs of a Euphonia.
In short in matters of good taste, specific and quite general,
I am the very model of a modern metrosexual.

[In short in matters of good taste, specific and quite general,
He is the very model of a modern metrosexual.

And in the morning I wake up and head directly to the loo.
Before I leave I have about an hour of grooming to get through.
I brush my teeth, I jeuj my hair, I wax and I exfoliate.
I look so hot that I'm aroused; I drop my pants and masturbate.

And at the club so late at night, the girls they swoon and follow me.
The work paid off! I look so good, I've nabbed a pussy colony.
But when I try to make a pass, it doesn't matter what I say.
It seems that they just can't believe yours truly isn't really gay.

[It seems the girls just can't believe his truly isn't really gay.
It seems the girls just can't believe his truly isn't really gay.
It seems the girls just can't believe his truly isn't really gay.]

The grooming of your body is important if your tres hirsute,
A manscaped torso is a must to look good in your birthday suit.
In short in matters of good taste, specific and quite general,
I am the very model of a modern metrosexual.

[In short in matters of good taste, specific and quite general,
He is the very model of a modern metrosexual.

Why most men choose to act and talk as if they were neanderthals,
Is but a question which I know cannot be solved in schoolyard walls.
A man can know the rules of sport and pledges of fraternity,

But get a manicure and some would call it an absurdity!

Though I don't mind that people think that I am gay when they see me,
I know that it's a compliment. I know my sexuality.
Try "acting straight?" Well, I don't know, I guess I've never really tried.
But I'm one man, I'm proud to say, with no need to become queer-eyed.

[But he's one man, he's proud to say with no need to become queer-eyed.

But he's one man, he's proud to say with no need to become queer-eyed.
But he's one man, he's proud to say with no need to become queer-eyed.]

So in the Aughts, well, here I was, a new kind of celebrity.
I fooled them all to think that I was more than just a jerk yuppie.
But still, in matters of good taste, specific and quite general,
I am the very model of a modern metrosexual.

[But still, in matters of good taste, specific and quite general,
he is the very model of a modern metrosexual.]

You AUGHT to remember.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

#13 - Skinny Ties

It was the decade when...

We all dressed like Mad Men.

Neck wear of ratpackers and reservoir dogs, the skinny tie had been hibernating for decades before resurfacing with a vengeance in the late Aughts. Men of all ages rediscovered the joys of the svelte necktie slowly, the girth of the apparel shrinking little by little over the decade, from the fat, iridescent slabs that dominated millennial neck wear (Thank you Regis Philbin!) to the sleek and chic near near uni-dimensional style prevalent today. (For proof of this evolution see Ryan's Seacrest's wardrobe over 10 years.) The effect is young, fun, streamlined and classy. Adjectives like swag and swinging are not inappropriate. For those of a stylish mien, the skinny tie has all but cornered cool. Somewhat less flattering on those of a more portly build, the skinny tie looks best on men as lean as their neck wear. Sporting a tailored suit, an anachronistic pair of brightly colored converse sneakers, and a skinny tie loosened around the open neck, the fashion-forward man of the late Aughts looks not unlike a slacker substantiation of the The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.

Of course, that gray flannel suit was itself wiped clean of mothballs this decade with the hit television show Mad Men on AMC. Probably the most fastidiously accurate (and luscious) recreation of mid-century fashion and design since Todd Haynes' Far From Heaven (another of the decade's artistic highlights), Matthew Weiner's Mad Men is like attending a design showroom of early 60's modernism. Skinny ties and thick rimmed glasses abound, with perfect matching handkerchiefs poking out of every suit's breast pocket. It's style porn. Luckily the show surrounding the vintage duds and leather backed Eames Chairs is equally rich in characterization. Dramatizing a glamorous, lost New York of rigid workplace gender roles, two (or three+) martini lunches, incessant cigarette smoking and flush post-50's abundance, the characters of Mad Men nonetheless teeter on the edge of a social and sexual revolution that would come to uproot the customs and mores of their lives and the world. It's telling that no decade featured such a revolution of style from beginning to end than the 1960's did, a signal of the more real turbulence quaking beneath the shallow fault lines of the fashion world.

Some might chalk up the rise of the skinny tie and the success of Mad Men as two unrelated phenomenon, but I can't help but suspect that the two are more inextricably linked; when fashion trendsetters and the Hollywood hoi-polloi converge on the same aesthetic seemingly independently of each other it's a clue that something is afoot in the American subconscious. Perhaps we, like the employees of the Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency, are living in a world where the center can't hold, the new revolutions heading our way threatening to collapse the apparatus of stability and material comfort we strained to erect. In the sixties it was the sexual revolution and newly energized leftist movement that undid the world of the Mad Men. The vague but persistent march of globalization and ecological disaster threatens ours. Though I lament to say it, if I had to guess what style of necktie will be popular in ten years, I would expect a resurgence of the loud and bombastic variety that dominated the late 60's and persisted in popularity through the whole of the 70's. Made with thick and heavy synthetic fabric and featuring bright, unsubtle stripes, the tie of the teens is (well, will be) what happens when the whole edifice of civil society starts to fall apart, as it did in the 1970's.

The mens necktie as barometer of social unrest and economic stability? Yeah, I'll go there. (College students, there is an essay for you!) For now, the skinny tie and the slim suit are emblems of control and simplicity in a world that is increasingly anything but.

You AUGHT to remember.