In terms of geo-politics, the last decade was one of immense significance, but culturally it was an era that was so artistically bland, that it had no name till it was almost over. Until 2009 almost nobody referred to the noughties.
1. The event of the decade – Global Warming as Fact
Bookended by cataclysmic events, the noughties started with two of the worlds tallest skyscrapers in New York’s financial district being blown up in the name of God and ended with the castration of Mammon and the simultaneous failure of the US banking system, its largest mortgage companies, insurers and car manufacturers. The former was so visually extreme it would have seemed ridiculous as Hollywood fantasy, the latter so ideologically challenging that it would seem ridiculous as New York Times fiction. The Towering Inferno and Bonfire of the Vanities had been quenched by reality.
Both these things were signals of something of longer term significance: resource wars in the Middle East and a challenge to Western hegemony from the Far East, secular changes which will determine the course of the rest of our lives. For optimists, however, the problems caused by both are solvable via continued prosperity through growth and innovation.
But the event that really defines this decade, the parade-pissing, motherfucker of all events, was the realization that prosperity could actually be the problem not the solution. Despite antegalilean tabloid sentiment, the noughties were the decade when global warming was confirmed by scientists as fact, just as the earth orbits the sun. Global warming is a problem that could actually be exacerbated by growth and as such is the worst thing to happen to humans since fleas on medieval rats.
2. Art – For The Love of God, Damien Hirst
Nothing defines the decade in more compact form than this diabolically expensive piece of shit. It’s almost impossible to think of anything more disgusting than a diamond encrusted skull, it combines the graveyard exploitation of a human skin lampshade with the ostentatious vulgarity of a gold plated toilet. It didn’t sell, so unfortunately there isn’t a single Russian gangster or Connecticut hedge fund manager to crucify for purchasing it. Instead, it belongs to them all, the people who took tainted money and unimaginatively tried to launder it, by buying taste, via a largely obsolete but prestigious medium – gallery art. Who knows, perhaps Hirst was indeed joking, in which case this was genius rather than an ironic, decade defining, atrocity.
3. Movies – The Fog of War, Errol Morris
Since Being John Malkovitch is technically from the previous decade, Adaptation would have been a worthy choice here. The complex, surreal fantasies of Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze or to a lesser extent Michel Gondry, created something truly original and groundbreaking, with enough clever-clever self-awareness to satisfy a conference on Post-modernism. But I’m choosing the opposite, a superficially ordinary and simple movie of an interview with a man in a suit. The Fog of War is an historically important confession from a dying man, Robert McNamara. It’s a film that looks simple but hides a subtle complexity which could only have been pulled off by someone of the caliber of Errol Morris and for all the contrived cleverness, Kaufman and Jonze couldn’t dream up something so morally and intellectually challenging as this interview. In the tiebreaker between Adaptation and The Fog of War, fact beats fiction at its strangest.
4. Celebrity – Sex Tape, Paris Hilton
Is celebrity a cultural category? Yes, if celebrity is something in its own right, celebrity for its own sake. The decade with no name until 2009 had plenty of Frankenstein-like tabloid creations: from two-headed monster, Branjelina, to bald-headed train wreck, Britney. But above all, Paris Hilton epitomized someone who was famous for no other reason than fame itself, a talentless circle-jerk of celebrity, catalyzed by fucking on camera in front of millions then whored out to TV stations that can’t show a single piece of this piece-of-ass ass’s ass.
5. Food – The Cupcake.
Cupcakes are the hamburger of deserts – a portable, sandwich-sized item that can be eaten in the car or on the street without cutlery. There’s a big difference between burgers and cupcakes, however: a good burger is a great, delicious and manly thing, whereas cupcakes are children’s food. They are to Laduree macaroons what spam is to filet mignon, the most boring of cakes – sponge, whose ordinariness is concealed by its look rather than flavor, using toppings of different colored icing. Appropriately enough, the transition of cupcake from boutique to global was triggered by extended pajama party, Sex and the City’s visit to the Magnolia Bakery in New York’s West Village and for most of the noughties a line of bleating humans has extended from its entrance to somewhere several hundred yards away. The length of this line could act as a barometer of the sugar coated, let-us-eat-cake, reality-denial of the noughties. As the ripples of the great recession seep through every crevice of society, turning bakery cake lines to soup kitchen lines and the mood from denial to anger, perhaps – hopefully, it will wither.
6. T.V. – The Wire, HBO
I haven’t had a TV for most of the decade (by accident rather than design, and not because I’m a snobby intellectual ponce – I love TV) so I’m going to be completely dishonest here and pick something where I’ve only watched a part. I’ll rely on the better judgment of friends such as Jason Kottke and the fact that almost everything that I’ve seen on TV in that last ten years that has been good has been on HBO. While the BBC rested on its laurels and became victim of the endless Simon Cowellesque vaudeville that renders TV less interesting and unpredictable than watching people play Guitar Hero when its not your turn, HBO demonstrated that the length and pace of an extended TV series allows for superior character development and depth of plot than a movie. Perhaps this was the point where TV overtook film to become the medium where the best talent operates.
7. Internet – Flickr.
Internet applications are rarely designed – marketing departments communicate directly with engineering, rather like developer driven architecture, where the architect is employed by the contractor. It used to be that deliberately crippled UI was considered a virtue, this could apply to the arguably elegant minimalism of Craigslist to the complexity of Wikipedia which self-regulates against uncommitted publishers or the Horrendous anti-design of Myspace which was supposed to be less off-puttingly elitist. Facebook put that theory to rest with its modernist style and attention to detail, but Flickr was the first popular web application that was really well designed. This was largely to do with the founders, Stewart Butterfield and Caterina Fake who defied the stereotype by being both geeky and urbane. Similar to Vimeo, the beauty of the application has influenced the content and Flickr has become a source of stunning photography. Flickr was the first mature Internet application.
8. Books – People don’t Read, Steve Jobs.
People should listen to Steve Jobs, he might be the one, the messiah, all his products start with ‘I’.
My choice for the book that defined the decade is no book, and Job’s infamous statement that people don’t read.
“It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” he said. “Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.”
Jobs was referring to the Kindle, which is by all measures a success. However, I suspect that jobs is right, Job’s ‘iSlate’ will surely be a multi-media device based on the fact that a black & white, video-less gadget which you can read a paperback on but can’t properly browse a website, makes the Kindle a loser in the long run. People read, they just don’t read books. iSlate will be bigger than the Bible.
9. Architecture – Nothing in Particular, Zaha Hadid.
The architecture of the last decade was epitomized by ‘funny shaped’ signature buildings by signature architects where brand took precedence over substance, like a signed picture without a drawing. Its origins were in the fragmented splintered shapes of deconstruction, but ended up in more fluid, organic, double-curved forms that were previously the exclusive domain of product and car design. The architects that defined this style predated the trend or the computer modeling that allowed it to become a built reality rather than something that only existed in drawings; in the picture above, showing Hadid’s weird collaboration with Lagerfeld for Chanel, the designers themselves look like they are computer generated. This style of architecture became popular because it fitted the niche created by a speculative bubble. A building with an unsubtle, unusual shape, but boring floor plan and crude detailing has maximum impact for minimum design effort and can be done quickly. Zaha Hadid was once great – as a paper architect, but this is the style that Dubai made possible, it defines the decade architecturally, and history may not be kind to it.
10. Music – Killing in the Name, Rage Against The Machine
For 2009, the coveted UK Christmas Number 1, which had been dominated by winners of the reality TV talent show, the ‘X-factor’ for four years running, was won by Rage Against The Machine after a grassroots campaign organized on Facebook. As the traditionally saccharine festive season rings out with ‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me’ rather than an orange tanned, pre-pubescent with super-glued hair in a zoot suit and flared collar white shirt singing ‘grandma I love you, you’re swell’, to the tune of Nessun Dorma and a cash register ringing up, perhaps Santa is real after all. The next decade is going to suck, but it will have a better soundtrack.
Goodbye to cupcakes, and X-factor and Paris Hilton and Dubai tower blocks, and all that.