To be honest, I wasn’t even thinking about the fact that this decade is ending until I saw the Onion’s AVClub summing up the last ten years by picking their favorite tv shows, albums and movies. Years ago, when my friend Troy’s Cheeky Monkey website was a collective effort, Troy actively sought year-end “best of” lists from his friends, including a decade overview in 1999. The most difficult thing about those lists was avoiding repetition. How many times could I say I liked “The Sopranos” before seeming like I liked little else?
Things have changed. This has been a strange decade and not just for culture. The Bush administration’s unnecessary war in Iraq in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 2001 had a paralyzing effect on this country and its culture. We became the land of magical thinking: if we conform and don’t question, then we’ll be safe and we’ll win the war and the troops won’t be harmed. If you do anything else, then the terrorists win. This attitude wasn’t just about politics. The post-9/11 timidity seemed to influence all media. Anyone who challenged this mindset fought an uphill battle just to be heard. Not an ideal atmosphere for creating interesting work.
The other major influence on culture in the 00’s? You’re looking at it right now. My blog? Yeah, right. No, I was referring to the internet. With its immediate access to almost anything, mainly video and audio (text seems to be lagging behind, thank God), the internet has changed the economics of show business, helped put record and dvd stores out of business, and altered how we think of and experience entertainment. Two examples of how downloading from the internet has changed how I experience entertainment. Two weeks ago, I saw the tv show Glee for the first time. I liked it. Within a week, I had seen every episode save one, either by downloading or watching on the official website. Previously, when I discovered I liked a show, I would have to (old school) wait for re-runs and plan my life or vcr around them or (new school) borrow or buy dvds of episodes I missed. The difference is one of time. Then I had to wait; now I have easy access and instant gratification. I still pay for much of my entertainment and have justifications when I download something for free. The fact that I even care makes me a bit of a fossil.
A better example concerns Jacques Rivette’s movie Out 1. Long considered a holy grail among cinephiles, the movie seems made for obscurity (it’s French, it’s 13 hours long, there are very few copies of the film, a new print hasn’t been struck since the early 70’s, etc.). I had resigned myself to never seeing it and only reading about it in books. Then, in 2006, it was announced that the film would be showing in New York and in London. The New York screening quickly sold out. I began planning a trip to London to see the movie, but before I booked my airline tickets, a second screening was announced in New York in March 2007. I went, liked the movie, and accepted that it would be the only time I would see it. Two years later, I found a copy on the internet complete with subtitles and downloaded it. It’s now on my hard drive; I can watch it any time I want. From impossible to see to once-in-a-lifetime event to something I own (for free) in the space of two years. That’s how the internet has changed things.
I think this easy free access to whatever you want has fragmented culture and entertainment to an unprecedented degree. There is no more mainstream, the center could not hold. This in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, particularly if you live in times during which the mainstream sucks. When Michael Jackson died earlier this year, it was said that “there would never be another Michael Jackson,” meaning “there would never be a pop star that big.” To which I reply “Good!” If it saves me from having to hear his shrill threadbare music again, hooray! I would rather live in a world in which the mainstream has crumbled and I can find Out 1 or Deltron 3030 online than be stuck with a monoculture that doesn’t interest me at all. However, this fragmented culture doesn’t seem to produce anything that speaks to or explains our current times. Everything exists on its own terms, pursuing its own goals. There was a lot of work from the last ten years that was very good, but it’s hard to think of much that was great and even harder to think of anything that addressed the times and expressed what it was like to be alive during them.
Looking over my list of favorites from this decade, there’s little that couldn’t have come from an earlier decade. We often heard how this was a golden age for television, and while there were many good shows (sometimes it seemed like too many), nothing from this decade impresses me as much as The Dick Van Dyke Show or The Prisoner or Monty Python’s Flying Circus, shows that aired over 40 years ago, and are both of their time and transcend it. With few exceptions, there’s been little in the last ten years that does this.
Eventually I will post my list of favorites from the last ten years, but first I had to explain how difficult it was coming up with such a list.