Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Decade!

Although the media has hardly noticed, today is the last day of the decade I call the Naughts (I think they think it ended last year, which is incorrect). Over all, I think the Naughts were a very bland decade, much less flashy than say the Sixties or the Eighties. Even the Nineties I think were more interesting. But then the Naughts had much that made it different from other decades.

For myself, this would be the first decade I would spend without my parents. My mother died in October 2000, just shy of seeing the new decade and new century in. For myself this meant a huge change in my life. My sister is much older than I am, and had married while I was still very much a child. My brother was pursuing his own path. As a result, I found myself caring for my mother, very much a part of the Sandwich Generation. It would take a toll on my personal life, but I do not think I would have had it any other way. Regardless, the loss of my mother meant a very big change in the role in which I saw myself. I was no longer a caretaker, so I had to essentially redefine myself. Now that 10 years have passed, I find I am redefining myself again. I have decided to try to make a living at what I was born to do: writing.

As to the world beyond myself, perhaps the biggest impact on pop culture was the growth of the internet. The internet had been around since the late Sixties and the World Wide Web since the mid-Nineties, but the Naughts would see phenomenal growth. As the decade passed more and more people began accessing the internet by broadband. The higher speeds of broadband allowed for the rise of video sharing sites like YouTube. The various broadcast networks, such as the BBC, ITV, NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox began offering their shows on the internet. Cable channels such as TNT and USA did as well. Netflix, the video rental site, also began allowing movies to be viewed on the internet.

While social networking sites had existed in some form since the Nineties, the Naughts would see a phenomenal rise in their popularity. First MySpace and then Facebook became very popular, creating a new form of communication for many. Towards the end of the decade Twitter would arrive on the scene, creating the phenomenon of microblogging. Blogging, which had been around since the Nineties, would become a bit of a fad in the years 2004 and 2005, giving rise to thousands of blogs (including this one). By the end of the decade blogging would be an established part of pop culture and an important source of information for many.

Relatively uncommon at the start of the decade, cell phones would become as common, if not more so than landline phones. What is more, as the decade passed, cell phones would become more and more powerful, with more and more functions. In the early Naughts, it was remarkable if a cell phone had a camera. By the end of the decade cell phones would be capable of accessing the internet, and would essentially become, micro-computers.

In film computer generated imagery came to dominate. In many films it was used to create special effects, replacing the models and even make up of old. Computer animated films tended to be more popular than traditional cel animation. The success of Spider-Man in 2000 led to a new cycle of superhero films, including a revived Batman franchise, a new Superman movie, an Iron Man franchise, and the decidedly adult Watchmen. Epics of all sorts were popular during the Naughts, including Peter Jackson's adaptation of Lord of the Rings, the Star Wars prequel trilogy, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and The Matrix trilogy. A new cycle of fantasy movies also came about, embracing both animated films (the Shrek franchise, How to Train Your Dragon) and live action (the Harry Potter films and Lord of the Rings). Independent films grew more popular, from Little Miss Sunshine to Juno.

In music rap dominated the early part of the decade before, thankfully, heading towards extinction in the latter part of the decade. Power pop would make a comeback, with such new bands as Farrah, Hellogoodbye, OK Go, My Chemical Romance, The 88, and Throwback Suburbia. Heavy metal, indie rock (which was often power pop), and post punk also made comebacks. Synthpop would also make a noticeable comeback, particularly in one of the biggest artists to emerge at the end of the decade. Lady Gaga borrows a good deal from Eighties synthpop in her songs. R&B would come to dominate the charts in a way it had not since the Sixties. Many new artists made their way to superstardom. Lady Gaga would even be included in Time magasines 100 Most Influential People. Taylor Swift would emerge as country's only real superstar of the decade. Katy Perry would become one of the most popular pop rock performers. Digital technology would revolutionise the sale of music, with many songs downloaded from a computer rather than bought on CD, through programmes such as Napster and ITunes. The rise of video sharing sites would mark the rebirth of the music video, abandoned by MTV early in the decade.

Television in the Naughts would be rather depressing. For much of the decade American broadcast television was dominated by police procedurals (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Law & Order, Criminal Minds), reality shows, and talent competition shows (American Idol). While I liked many of the police procedurals (I am a big Law and Order fan), I despised many of the reality shows, many of which are simply exploitative. Cable finally caught up with the broadcast networks, producing such hit shows as Mad Men, Burn Notice, Leverage, and Nip/Tuck. For the broadcast networks and the cable channels alike, the biggest change may have been the increase in the number of people connecting to the internet via broadband. As a result, many shows would be watched on the network and cable channels' web sites, as well as downloaded through programmes such as ITunes or sites such as Amazon.

As far as literature, the Naughts may be remembered as the Decade of Harry Potter. The Harry Potter series became the smash hit of the decade, selling in numbers usually only reserved for the Bible. The book series would produce movies, games, and other memorabilia. Indeed, the Harry Potter series created a boom in young adult books, with such series as the Artemis Fowl series, A Series of Unfortunate Events, the Percy Jackson series, and many others. Sadly, among the most successful of the young adult series would be the Twilight Saga. While it has a large number of fans, there would be many more who would recognise how poorly the books were written. The decade saw an increase in the popularity of genre fiction, including mystery, fantasy, horror, and romance. It would also see the rise of digital books, read on such devices as Amazon's Kindle.

Sadly, print media would not see the success that books would. With more and more people turning to the internet for their information, newspapers and magazines would suffer. Many would fold during the decade, including some of the major newspapers and magazines. Yet others would go totally to the internet. Amazingly, according to the National Endowment for the Arts, the decade actually showed an increase in reading.

For me and many others, the Naughts would be a decade of tears. Many greats in the fields of film, television, music, and literature. It would be impossible to cover them all, but I will cover those who meant the most to me. Perhaps the deaths I took the hardest were musicians. Beatle George Harrison died at the start of the decade after a long bout with cancer. Both as as a Beatle and a solo artist, he had an impact on my life I cannot begin to measure. John Entwistle died in 2002. The Who was always my second favourite band after The Beatles, and had an enormous impact on my life. Mr. Entwistle composed some of my favourite songs. This year saw the death of Doug Fieger, leader and founder of The Knack. The Knack is my second favourite American band after Cheap Trick, and "My Sharona" my third favourite song of all time. Many of my favourite actors also died in the decade. As many of you know, I have always had a crush on Janet Leigh. I was very hurt when she passed from this world. I also have a crush on Cyd Charisse. Perhaps best known for her fantastic legs, she was a very fine actress and possibly the greatest female dancer on the silver screen. Two of my favourite actors died within a day of each other. Patrick McGoohan was John Drake and Number Six (whom I think were one and the same) and Dr.Syn. I remembered him from childhood from the Disney miniseries The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh and from the TV series Danger Man and The Prisoner. His characters taught me much about honour and decency. Ricardo Montalban was Khan in the TV series Star Trek and the movie Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. He was also a bona fide movie star who later made many guest appearances on television shows. Mr. Montalban had a phenomenal voice and could play almost anything. Jack Lemmon will forever for me be Baxter from The Apartment, the everyman who always gets taken and never does the taking. He played many similar roles, always convincingly. Tony Curtis was the handsome leading man, but so much more. He had a gift for comedy, but could play drama equally well. Leslie Nielsen may well have been Canada's best import. He was the handsome leading man in the early days. He was the commander in Forbidden Planet and Frances Marion in the Disney mini-series The Swamp Fox. He always had a gift for comedy, however, and in his later years he would use that to revive his career. With a deadpan delivery he could be hilarious. Television saw the passing of so many great actors who played some of my favourite characters: Don Knotts, Bob Denver, Don Adams, Gene Barry, Frank Gorshin, Peter Graves, and John Forsythe. Kurt Vonnegut was one of my favourite authors of all time, and in my wildest dreams I would like to think I was influenced him. Even given such greats as John Updike (one of my other favs) died, I think Kurt Vonnegut was the greatest author to pass in the Naughts. Robert B. Parker was another one of my favourite authors to die, just this year. He gave the world detective Spencer and Police Chief Jesse Stone. Frank Frazetta was one of my favourite artists of all time. Indeed, he was perhaps the most famous fantasy illustrator of them all.

Over all, I think the Naughts were a bland decade in television and to a lesser degree music. It was actually quite a good decade for movies. Sadly, it would be a decade that would see so many great actors, musicians, authors, and artists pass. My hope for the Teens is that it is a more colourful decade, producing better movies, music, television, and books. I also hope for fewer tears in the Teens, although I fear we might see even more of the greats from pop culture pass.


Raquelle said...

Wow! What a comprehensive overview. I'd never heard of the "Sandwich Generation". I may be part of that too. I'm so sorry to hear that this has been a decade without your parents. :-(

And I agree it's been such a difficult decade for pop culture fans in terms of deaths of their favorites. We lost so many during the Naughts (again another term I'd never heard of!).

I don't agree about rap heading towards extinction. I think it's still very popular and it's pretty much here to stay until something replaces it. I don't think that an industry that makes that much money will disappear without something else to fill that void. :-)

I agree with this decade being bland in television. I blame Reality TV, which is cheap to produce, mindless to watch and reaps big rewards. It's poor quality and it bumps out the other good quality TV such as the short-lived Pushing Daisies which was beautiful, funny and well-written. At least we have Mad Men!

Great post Terry as usual. Hope you have a splendid New Year's!

Mercurie said...

Thanks, Raquelle! I have to admit losing my mum was rough. I think I suffered something akin to "Empty Nest Syndrome," only it was my mother dying, not kids moving out.

I have to agree I exaggerated about rap. But then it is no longer nearly as popular as it was a the start of the decade. Lately, the only rap artist to top the Billboard charts has been Eminem. I suspect that it will slowly fade away, and I really can't say I won't be thankful when it is gone!