What to Call the Last Decade: Unwanted?

Decade in Review
AP Photo

There have been many labels given to the decade just ended. Why the confusion? An end-of-year opinion now from Rebecca Mead of The New Yorker:

In retrospect, it might be recognized as a troubling harbinger that, ten years ago, no consensus could be reached on what to call the decade upon which we were about to embark.

The ohs? The double-ohs? The zeros? The zips? The aughts?

We still don't have a good collective name for the first decade of the twenty-first century. But perhaps that's appropriate, since it turned out to be the decade in which there were no good answers.

It began in overwrought hysteria about the Millennium Bug. Having readied ourselves for that disaster, the one that actually DID materialize came as a surprise.

It has been suggested that the appropriate designation for this decade might be "the post-9/11 era." Others argue that to give the decade such a name would be letting the terrorists win - as if the cumulative casualties of war and the infringements of civil liberties that took place under President Bush were not already evidence of at least partial victory on that score.

The decade saw the unimaginable unfolding: the depravities of Abu Ghraib, and the horrors of Hurricane Katrina; the catastrophic popping of a housing bubble, exposing an economy built not even on sand but on fairy dust; the astonishing near-collapse of the world financial system, and the discovery that the supposedly ironclad laws of the marketplace were only about as reliable as superstition.

And, after all this, the still more remarkable: the election of a certified intellectual as President, not to mention an African-American one.

There was the ascent of the digital realm, with our happy surrender to the omnipotence of Google.

And what of those other unlikely innovations and unforeseen blights of the era - small plates, Sarah Palin, Chinese drywall, jeggings (that's jean leggings).

Given all that has emerged in the past ten years, the failure to invent a satisfactory name for the period seems fitting - a reflection of our sense that the so-called aughts were not all they ought to have been, and were so much less than they promised to be.

With its intractable conflicts and its irresolvable crises, its astonishing accomplishments and its devastating failures, the decade just gone by remains unnamed and unclaimed, an orphaned era that no one quite wants to own, or own up to.

For more info:
The New Yorker