This decade deserves a fitting name. Forget the Ohs or the Zeroes. How about the Zeds?
Depending on whose definition you use, in less than two weeks, we’ll either begin the last year of the decade or actually end it. Perhaps it’s indicative of the uncertainty of our times that we haven’t yet named it. We can listen to ’80s music and rehash ’90s politics but what numerical term should we attach to cultural events that occurred in the early years of this century?
Lost in all the talk, technobabble and apocalyptic hyperbole about the new millennium has been a poor, neglected, nameless decade. With all our bold efforts to build a bridge to the 21st century, we forgot to establish so much as a modest footpath to its first set of years.
Of all the frames of reference, it’s really the look and feel of the decade that defines the time. The year is too ephemeral, better suited for eclectic Top 10 lists; the century is too long, more the province of historians. Whether one has actually lived it or experienced it only through media, we tend to look back at a decade and assign it certain abstract and tangible attributes. The ’50s were defined by conformity. The ’60s rocked with rebellion. The ’70s showed us bad hairstyles and horrible clothes. The ’80s were all about materialism. The ’90s will always be known with a wink and a nod by their irony and the (mostly) pseudometaphysical meaninglessness of “Seinfeld.”
Although the decade is ending soon, we actually have some room to maneuver. Most decades don’t actually begin until a few years after their nominal start. They also tend to cascade on a few years after the actual finish. A song or film from 1972 is more likely to be thought of in our mind’s eye as part of the ’60s. The ’70s didn’t really start until the close of the Vietnam War. The ’80s strutted in with the Reagan Era in 1981 and ended when Bush the Elder shuffled out of office. The ’90s coincided with Bill Clinton’s rise to the White House in 1993. It was an era filled with promise that ultimately dissolved in a churning stream of cultural warfare and political spin. The current decade began not with the millennium but with 9/11 and – for better or worse – our response to that horrific event.