Worst Decade Ever

A new research poll says most Americans think the last decade was a disaster. Marty Beckerman on the cultural touchstones, from James Frey to Paris Hilton, that ruined the new millennium.

12.31.09 2:54 PM ET

A mere 27 percent of Americans hold a positive view of the closing decade, according to a recent Pew report, which confirms the bleeding obvious: Approximately a quarter of our countrymen are either A) congenital liars or B) in desperate need of eyes, ears, and brains. As for the three-fourths of you who actually observe the world, welcome to the friggin’ club!

Kurt Vonnegut and Norman Mailer croaked while Carlos Mencia and Glenn Beck continued to breathe; Hunter S. Thompson and David Foster Wallace killed themselves when Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore should have.

To paraphrase former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld—who is one of the many reasons why the ‘00s were a long, hard slog—the ‘00s were “a long, hard slog.” From the unfathomable atrocity of the 9/11 attacks to the unfathomable atrocity of Twilight, from George W. Bush’s half-assed Iraq invasion to Paris Hilton’s half-assed Confessions of an Heiress: A Tongue-in-Chic Peek Behind the Pose, from the sanctimonious bull of the Taliban to the sanctimonious bull of Eating Animals (HEMINGWAY WOULD NOT APPROVE, JONATHAN), this Wretched Temporal Vacuum of Soul Death known as the Aughts devoured every possible speck of human joy; I visited the 21st century and all I got was this lousy collapse of the world economy.

We have collectively endured—nay, survived—a dark, traumatizing era of Torture and Propaganda and Fundamentalism and Paranoia and Havoc and Facial Stubble and Star Wars prequels that robbed young people of what should have been the best years of our lives. Everything in the past 10 years was a complete disappointment: Kurt Vonnegut and Norman Mailer croaked while Carlos Mencia and Glenn Beck continued to breathe; Hunter S. Thompson and David Foster Wallace killed themselves when Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore should have (They both deserve hospitalization for heart attacks—and not simply because of their politics).

Here is a (partial) list of further tragedies:

A Million Little Pieces
Hurricane Katrina
Jersey Shore
Space Shuttle Columbia
The Secret
Lower-back tattoos
Michael Jackson croaked and you felt bad for making all those hilarious jokes
Anthrax letters
Larry the Cable Guy

What a strange, unpleasant, abysmal excuse for a zeitgeist. Of course, the ‘90s were not the cheerful paradise that pre-9/11 nostalgia suggests; we had Columbine and Oklahoma City and baggy jeans on women and frosted tips on men and ebola and Rwanda—but at least we had Nirvana instead of the Jonas Brothers. By the way, Kurt Cobain successfully managed to kill himself, unlike every melodramatic emo singer who dares to scratch his dainty wrist with a Bic safety razor.

I could discuss TV ( The Simpsons was still funny in the ‘90s) and movies ( Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull did not exist in the ‘90s), but the point is that everyone— including me—lost their minds over the past 10 years: Millions upon millions of overzealous zombies really cared about Terri Schiavo’s jiggling semi-corpse, really cared about Janet Jackson’s slippery nipple, really cared about saying “freedom toast” instead of “french toast,” really cared about cells frozen in sperm banks more than adult cancer sufferers, really cared about whether John Kerry’s horse-like Botoxed face would embolden the terrorists, and really cared about amending the Constitution to burn all copies Brokeback Mountain or whatever. When historians look back on this despicable, indefensible, anxiety-ridden decade, they will wonder: Why was everyone so weird? Why was everyone so intense? WHY SO SERIOUS?

Luckily our nation is coming out of this peculiar, inexplicable, ugly authoritarian haze: We had a modern Moon Landing Moment with the inauguration back in January, even if hope-and-change bubbles were quickly burst; the international community respects us again (74 percent in 2009 compared to 37 percent in 2008) excluding the odd lunatic with flammable underwear; our national debate increasingly revolves around mind-numbing technocratic economics instead of the frenzied, insufferable Culture War; and millions of lost jobs will eventually return for everyone who did not stupidly pursue a career in journalism or publishing. Also: The new Star Trek flick captivated the non-geek population, which is a miraculous sign that our future is bright; the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice and green-skinned intergalactic sex.

Yes, I’m calling it now: The ‘10s shall be a life-affirming decade of prosperity, creativity, and global harmony. The nations of the world shall join hands; the rapacious warmongers shall smelt their swords into ploughshares; the wealthy shall feed the famished with no expectation of recompense; the enchanting woodland critters of the majestic forests shall chirp at our feet, nuzzle our brightened cheeks, and celebrate our compassionate restoration of Gaia’s precious ecosystem; and humanity shall finally— finally—realize its infinite potential for Truth & Love & Brotherhood & Grace & Beauty.

Until the world ends in 2012, I mean.

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Marty Beckerman is the author of Generation S.L.U.T. (MTV Books) and Dumbocracy (Disinformation). He has written for Playboy, Discover, Radar and Huffington Post. His Web site is