Zeitgeistless-ness?

In response to my two-part column about the difficulty of knowing what to say about the present decade -- or even what to call it -- I've heard from Peter Oliva who proposes a way to sum up the recent past in a simple fashion. "I would suggest calling these years the 'Oh Ohs,'" he writes, "for obvious reasons."

I'm increasingly partial to "the Zeroes" myself, but he may be on to something. See also Eric Rauchway's alternative.

The first of those columns was here, and the second here.

It still seems odd that the decade is almost over without any commonly accepted way to refer to it ever emerging. It seems a kind of blindspot in the popular culture
April 8, 2008 7:18 PM | | Comments (10)

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I will say that in the music scene that I follow the closest -- the DIY underground hardcore/punk scene(s) -- there is a general consensus that we are in "the throwback era" of music. Music is compared to what it is a "throwback" to, or bands consciously try to sound as if they were coming at you from 1982. And in many cases they pull it off quite well -- Government Warning and Career Suicide are two hot bands in what I would call the "real" punk scene of today, and their records often sound very 1982, right down to the production values.

As well, even more mainstream bands are treated this way. Wolfmother are a "throwback" to Led Zeppelin and Sabbath, for example.

On Dennis Perrin's blog he recently commented that his said was upset he lived now, in our era, because "everything's already been done." Punk, art, etc. Like a little Fukuyama telling us we're at the end of history, is the impression I got. My girlfriend also laments she was't around in the 60s when things seemed much cooler than today.

Angry Brigade Communique No. 8, from 1971, reads: "All the sales girls in the flash boutiques are made to dress the same and have the same make-up, representing the 1940's. In fashion as in everything else, capitalism can only go backwards -- they've nowhere to go -- they're dead."

Very interesting to hear that, Oliver, and the Angry Brigade reference is good to see. They were influenced by, among other things, the Situationist International, which wouldn't be surprised by this impasse at all.

On the other hand, the sense of being too late runs deep. If you read about the 1920s or '30s, you find that people in Greenwich Village were already lamenting that the day of the true Bohemia had ended -- that everything was becoming willed and fake.

As much as one might agree that the current dreadful decade seems prone to "zeitgeistless-ness" or seems resistant to easy summary ("Lost in the Bushes"? "Internet uber alles"?), we shouldn't overlook that in math itself there's no widely agreed-upon term for "the numbers less than 10" other than, perhaps, "the single digits," which of course wouldn't really apply to 2001, 2002, etc.

With previous historic "periodization," it has mostly been a case of, hey, let's call the 1990s the, um -- well, how about the '90s?! What "the '90s" (or "the '60s" or "'70s") signifies, as Scott has indicated, is generally not "nuance-friendly" -- because our agreed-upon meanings frequently ignore many countervailing trends present in the period. But still, coming up with the name itself was no sweat, always a happy factor for public discussion. What it actually designates -- we'll leave that to the pointy-heads and the politically inflamed to argue about. We all really know that the '50s means Elvis and the Fonz. What else was there?

So the fumbling after a simple handle for the 'oughts, aughts, naughts or zeroes may have less to do with cheap media nomenclature -- groan -- once again failing us in our time of need and more to do with the lack of a politically neutral designation borrowed from arithmetic, a simple-seeming signifier that's close at hand, that doesn't actually designate much of anything historically or culturally but on which we can project almost anything we want yet still feel we're being historically "precise" -- precisely because the term has been borrowed from numbers.

That said, I vote that historians forget the whole thing. Books will simply jump from one decade to the next, Iraq War I and Iraq War II, the Bush presidencies, the dotcom bust and the current recession will all happily merge, and future students won't be saddled with the problem of remembering how to distinguish between the damned things. See? Simple.

"It still seems odd that the decade is almost over without any commonly accepted way to refer to it ever emerging."

We're just trying to forget.

"...other than, perhaps, 'the single digits'..."

Middle digit of one's left hand, raised high & looking back (in anger)?

Hey, Scott. Great minds think alike. Back in 2004, I suggested calling the decade "the uh-ohs."

Haven't many people called it "The Noughties"?

Barkley Rosser, Jr. opted for "the zeroes" over at MaxSpeak, before the blog was shut down.

Oliver mentions Dennis Perrin's reflection on his daughter's ennui with contemporary music and recycling. The passage of decades is like an imperfect sieve for music. The worst can be ignored, the recognized best can define the past, and the unjustly forgotten can shove off to oblivion, sparing us any sense of loss.

I kind of like the very catchy "The hands-down worst effing decade since the 1860s, man"... but maybe that's too trendy?

My friends and I, back in '99, were hoping that "The Naughties" would catch on.

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